Avid reader and keen Hooked on NZ Books He Ao Ano reviewer Savarna Yang chats with Kate de Goldi about Eddy, Eddy, which is a finalist for the Young Adult Fiction Award in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.
Savarna: What was your main inspiration for writing Eddy, Eddy?
Kate: The character of Eddy. I’d been thinking about him for some years: a young man wandering the suburbs in the course of his work and working furiously to suppress the emotional fallout from his recent past. I wrote the first chapter and then got side-tracked by two other books. But Eddy’s environment and family came into focus over those years, and by the time I sat down to work properly on the novel I knew it would be set in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes.
What character do you most relate to or feel the closest to in Eddy, Eddy and why?
The honest answer to this is that – as with many writers – a lot of the characters in my novels have shadings of myself. I recognise Eddy’s complex mix of love and fury with his uncle, and substitute parent, Brain. I recognise Boo’s deep attraction to Eddy and her impatience with his emotional elusiveness. Delphine is a version of a girl child who recurs in a number of my stories – precocious, awkward, intense, loquacious, yearning to connect – not a million miles from my own young self. And Sue Lombardo is a kind of wish-fulfilment character for me: someone who is largely at peace with herself and the complexities of the world and spiritual belief.
Why did you decide to set Eddy, Eddy in the aftermath of the Christchurch Earthquakes?
I spent months in Christchurch in 2011 and 2012, so I was very familiar with the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes – the bulldozing of buildings, the great gaps in the cityscape, the sunken abandoned houses, the thousand and one difficulties of daily life in that period, and the city-wide feeling of great loss. Not to mention funeral traffic and orange cone phobia! So, the minutiae of that time was immediately at hand when I began writing – but I also recognised that setting as a fitting backdrop for a character experiencing great inner turmoil and loss. The wounded city mirrors Eddy’s own wounds.
Did you have a clear idea of where Eddy, Eddy was going to go in terms of plot before you started to write the novel?
I rarely know the plot of a novel when I begin. I always start with a character whose emotional landscape interests me in some way. I knew that Eddy was an orphan who’d been brought up by his uncle and was in retreat from his recent past. The ‘why’ of it all emerged as I wrote. I’ve always liked the idea of his art articulated by Paul Klee who described drawing/painting as ‘taking a line for a walk’. Similarly, my instinct is to get my character moving and thinking; eventually, I discover where they’re headed and why. This novel got going when I realised Eddy was a pet carer – a job that took him around the city and, crucially, brought a whole new cast of people into his life.
Another important factor was the decision to mirror, to some extent, the structure and theme of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The story plays out across spring and early summer to Christmas, so this seemed fitting. And, of course, it determined that there would be three people (mirroring the three ghosts in A Christmas Carol) who helped bring Eddy to some sense of a resolution in regard to his recent past.
If you wrote a sequel to Eddy, Eddy what do you think it might be about? Would Eddy still be the main character?
I’ve not ever thought of my novels having sequels. I’ve often been asked the same question in regard to The 10pm Question but I never felt any inclination to check out Frankie once the book was done. It’s the same with Eddy and his world. Somehow, the story, once told, has always felt complete – or at least that part of the characters’ lives is complete for me the writer … they continue living their lives, as it were, but my part in those lives is done! I’m nearly always interested, I guess, in a character’s life at the crest of some simmering crisis, and once that’s explored I want to bow out and think about other characters.
That said, I think of Eddy, Eddy as one of a what you could call a circle of companion novels that explore different characters across four generations of a family.
Eddy, Eddy brought me close to tears in some places. Can you think of a book that has made you cry before?
The last book that made me cry was There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom by Louis Sacher which is about a 10-year-old bully who is struggling at school. It’s also a very funny and wry book and it’s the only time I remember in a book laughing my head off and then, almost simultaneously, weeping.
For you, what is the best part of writing?
The best part for me is the moment when a novel enters its downhill slope – perhaps two thirds of the way through. It’s the moment when the work of the hopeful, exploratory uphill trudge starts to make sense, to fully come together in my head. At that point there’s a kind of inevitability about the rest of the story and, for me at least, it starts to feel like I’m catapulting downward to the end. I’m a rather slow writer – the front end of a book takes me quite a long time…but these days I know to trust the trudge and look forward to the downwards rush.
How did you feel when your first book was published?
Astonished. Disbelieving. Shy. It’s the same with every book.
When you were a child did you want to be a writer? Or something else?
I think I always wanted to write. Strangely, I didn’t think of that as ‘being a writer’. Writers were a remote concept for me. They were either dead or living in England and America. But I was a fanatical reader and – like so many nascent writers – I just wanted to recreate for myself the language and story pleasure I found in all those books I read and reread. Not quite knowing how to be a writer, I did what seemed to me the next most logical thing – hang out all day with books: I went to work in a library. I still secretly want to be a librarian.
What was your favourite novel as a teenager and why?
Hard question! I can’t choose between Pennington’s Seventeenth Summer by KM Peyton and Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack by ME Kerr. One is about a sixteen-year-old English boy, the other about two American teens around 13 years. Both were written in the early 1970s – a time when fiction for teenagers was really coming into its own. The two books have quite different narrative voices and lexicons and their characters occupy quite different socio-economic milieus, but the writing in both is nuanced and layered and smart, often very funny, and psychologically acute. Both Dinky Hocker and Patrick Pennington are belligerently anti-social and their sourness with the adults in their immediate sphere and their consequent rebellions are thrilling. But there are other, sympathetic adults around too, and good friends. The realist suburban/urban and school settings are wonderfully evoked and both books are just as persuasive today as they were fifty (!) years ago. I think what has consistently held my attention over those five decades is the sophistication and emotional subtlety of both novels, the language stretch and classy sentence making. Interestingly, both novels are in the third person. The first person colonisation of YA fiction broke out a few years later!
What do you think makes a book successful?
A book is an act of communication. I think a book is successful if someone, somewhere, has wanted at some time to read it - to pause, step out of their world, be inside and with the story – or the poems, the memoir, etc – listening and thinking, caught by what the writer has needed to say to them, and ultimately altered by it.
About the interviewer
Savarna is 15 and lives in Ōtepoti Dunedin.
About the author
Kate De Goldi is one of New Zealand's most celebrated authors. She has published a range of short stories, collections and novels for adults and children. Read more about her on her Writer's File.