22nd June 2016
Written by Wendy Orr
Released: July 2016
Book title: Dragonfly Song
Author: Wendy Orr
Published by: Allen & Unwin
Intended Audience: 9 +years
Tell us about yourself.
I don’t like counting how many books I’ve written, but apparently there are more than forty. Many have been published overseas, in 27 different countries as well as Australia, and quite a lot have won awards. Two of them (Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea) have even become films - but my favourite thing about writing is the magical feeling of a new story beginning.
What is your book about?
Aissa is an outcast girl on a small rocky Aegean island in the Bronze Age (in about 1460 BCE, or 3476 years ago, to be precise. She’s been mute ever since she witnessed a terrible tragedy - though sometimes, when it’s really needed, she can call animals with her singing. Bullied and abused, she believes that her only hope is to become one of the acrobats sent to the Bull King's distant island, to take part in the in the dangerous game of bull-leaping. However the biggest challenge for Aissa is simply to learn to control her gift.
Who is your target audience for this book?
Ages ten and up.
What aspects did you find challenging about this book?
I’d always heard this story in verse, but it seemed too complex to tell that way. Finally, a couple of years ago, I woke up one morning and thought, ‘I can write it in a combination of verse and prose.’ I suggested that to my publisher, and as she didn’t have hysterics, I started. However it seemed that the closer I got to deadlines, the more I wrote in verse, and then I would have to go back and rewrite some of it into prose.
Aissa’s depths of despair were also challenging. Most of us have at some time experienced feeling as if we’re on the outside looking in, or feeling despised and worthless, so I had to draw on that.
The other big challenge was the historical research. Although I’ve mixed in the fantasy element of being able singing to snakes and other animals, the rest of the novel is firmly set in its period of the late Minoan period of Crete. It’s a fascinating period, but because there are no written records apart from accounting lists of who owes what to which god, there are many conflicting theories and some very way-out opinions. Questions to archaeology forums often sparked great arguments amongst the archaeologists! So I’ve worked out what seems logical to me - because in the end, for a novel, I just want people to feel that they’re living in this story, not having to learn from it.
Why does your book offer the reader that differs from others covering similar subjects?
I can’t think of anything similar!
How did the idea for this book come about?
The Minoan culture of prehistoric Greece has fascinated me for many years, because as well as being an amazingly sophisticated civilisation, lost in the mysteries of time, they appear to have been quite a feminist society. However AIssa’s story began when I was doodling with a fingerprint app, and drew a dark, unhappy girl with a twisted mouth and a head of messy curls. I knew that she belonged to this culture, but was an outsider, and I had to learn her story. As I figured out more about her, I had to go deeper into learning about the society she had come from… like why the statue of priestesses are usually shown holding snakes. It seems obvious that the snakes are sacred, and part of some rituals. Since no one knows what that ritual might be, I decided that the priestess of each island would sing snakes up out of a pot, like an Indian snake charmer with his flute, to make the sun rise each morning - and to prove her power.
Another fascinating thing about the Minoan culture is the number of paintings, sculptures and carved jewels showing teenage boys and girls doing acrobatic feats - handsprings or cartwheels - down the back of giant bulls. Many people believe that this might be the origin of the myth of Theseus, a young prince of Athens who was sent as tribute to King Minos of Crete, to be eaten by a bull monster. What if they were not sent to be eaten by a bull monster, but to leap the bulls in a great and bloody festival? What if the tribute youths came from all parts of the Aegean that the great Cretan navy controlled? It soon became clear to me that the only way for Aissa to free herself would be as a bull dancer.
As Aissa’ home island started to take shape, I decided that it was in the northern Aegean, or possibly even into the Black Sea, and that it was an isolated, rocky island, without the trading wealth of many of the other Aegean islands. Although I researched islands and climate in that area, inspiration for it came from many different places: a rocky beach in Denmark, where I picked up a piece of chipped flint - an offcut of some long ago tool; houses that were half cave and half rock, built into rocky hillsides in France, and the extraordinary bright blue Source de la Sorgue in France, apparently too deep to measure, bubbling up under the shelter of white limestone roof. ‘You should see it in the winter,’ a local told me, ‘when the mist from the hills comes down to meet it.’ I immediately thought - ‘and what if it were a hot spring, like so many hot springs in Greece and Turkey?’
And each time I decided something like that, I saw a dragonfly the next day...
Find out more about Wendy Orr
Wendy Orr was born in Edmonton, Canada, but grew up in various places across Canada, France and USA. She studied occupational therapy in the UK, married an Australian farmer, and moved to Australia. She’s the author of many award-winning books, including Nim’s Island, Nim at Sea, Rescue on Nim’s Island, Raven’s Mountain and Peeling the Onion.
Wendy has always been fascinated by the Aegean Bronze Age. Doodling on a finger-paint app in 2010, she sketched a dark, curly-haired girl with a twisted mouth, and knew that she had to find this unhappy girl’s story. The plot and Aissa’s fictitious island formed as Wendy researched and read, but the story was sparked to life by serendipitous, seemingly unrelated events, such as finding a piece of chipped flint on a Danish beach, and taking a wrong turn and ending up at the extraordinary deep blue Source de la Sorgue in France. Most mysteriously, every time that she made a significant decision or discovery about the story, Wendy saw a dragonfly the following day…
Wendy Orr's website: www.wendyorr.com