The concept of Verdada, a place for lost things, is really fascinating. How did you come up with it?
This is a question that has plagued man for millennia. When you lose your socks, where do they go? Who decides whether you find them again or not?
OK, so maybe it’s not one of the great philosophical conundrums, but it’s still something I used to think about as a kid. Then I began to take it one step further: what if there are people — kids — whose job it is to make those arbitrary decisions about whether you get your iPhone charger, your socks, your gloves, your bike, your lunch money back? And what if those kids are lost things themselves, either because they’ve fallen through the cracks in society, or because they’ve lost their sense of perspective, or have lost their original birth parents for whatever reason. I have a friend who was adopted from overseas as a baby, and he had no hope of ever finding out who his birth parents were. But then, one day, he did find out, and he got to meet his birth mother, who was lost to him, just as he was lost to her. Of course that was the beginning of a much more complicated kind of very different journey, but it did make me think about the nature of fate and loss and belonging.
Edsel’s name came from a car model, the Ford Edsel (Henry Ford’s son’s name was Edsel). This is the kind of car that almost runs over the baby Edsel Grizzler in his cardboard box in the front driveway when he is left for his adoptive parents to find. I ultimately abandoned the box idea because JK Rowling used that in Harry Potter, and even though I’d written that part of Edsel Grizzler before HP came out, I knew that no one would believe that I wasn’t just a big old plagiarist, so I changed that. But I still thought the name was interesting enough that I should keep it.
Why a trilogy?
This was originally going to be a stand-alone book. But once I got into the story, I began to see that there was a much larger story to tell. Good characters go on a journey, and while the first book does do that for Edsel, I felt that there was a longer and more interesting character arc to follow. I wanted Edsel to go from a slightly disconnected loner to someone with friends, as well as someone who understands who he is a little better, just as we all would like to do.
This isn’t to say that it was easy. I’m not a traditional plotter — I tend to be a “pantser”, as in I fly by the seat of my… This usually works for me, except when I hit book three of this series and began to wish I’d foreshadowed some of the plot points I was now developing back when I wrote the first two. But just as I always do, I scratched around and fumbled along, and I’m really happy with what I ended up with.
On the media release for Ghostly Shadows you are quoted as saying “If a kid were to read my book and, as a result, begin to think about how they can find joy in the everyday, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.” Was this something that you consciously had in mind while writing the book?
It wasn’t the main point — I’m not really into “morals”, as such. But I also believe that we only get one life, and if we spend that wishing for something better, we miss the opportunity to “smell the roses”, as they say. This is hard for young people to understand, since the size of their future is much greater than that of the sum of their memories, but as I say, if a child reads my book and goes, “My life isn’t all that bad, even though I don’t have the latest generation of the latest gadget”, I’d think that was a bit of a win. There’s an internet meme called “first world problems”, such as “I was all warm and snuggled up in bed before I realised that I hadn’t plugged in my iPad charger.” I’m aware that I’m a bit of a bleeding-heart lefty, but those sort of problems, when compared with what’s happening in places like Somalia and the Middle East, seem rather shallow. I think that story is a very powerful way to express that idea.
George’s bit at the end
James has written a whole lot more than the Edsel Grizzler books. To find out a little bit about his life as a writer, tune in next time for part two of this interview. In the meantime, check out his website.
Catch ya later, George
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