Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Interview: Dianne Bates

Today Buzz Words Books is hosting Dianne Bates on her blog tour for her latest title, a YA novel, The Girl in the Basement. It is released this month by Morris Publishing Australia and is now available online and in bookshops. 

Dianne Bates is well-known in the children’s book world, having published over 120 books and won the Lady Cutler Award for distinguished services to children’s literature. She lives in Wollongong NSW with her award-winning YA author husband, Bill Condon. Di has won numerous grants and awards for her books, some of which have sold overseas and in translation. You can find out more about Di, her books and other projects at Enterprising Words.

Welcome to Buzz Words Books, Di. Your new novel, The Girl in the Basement, is very timely with the recent release of the three women kidnapped in Cleveland, Ohio. Where did you get the idea?

The Girl in the Basement is based on the real-life discovery in 1987 of a Polaroid photograph picked up by a shopper in a Florida (US) car park. It showed a girl around twenty, and a boy around ten who were both bound and gagged and who appeared to be in the back of a van. Disturbed by the photo, the finder took it to police.  Hundreds of stories about the picture were run in national media. It was also featured on the TV program, Missing People. The boy was thought to be Michael Henley, who had gone missing from a camping trip 17 months earlier. The girl, identified as Tara Callico, had disappeared 75 miles away a year earlier while out cycling. Both Michael and Tara were from New Mexico but were unrelated. For their parents, it was the first inkling of what had happened to them.

I remember being very distressed by the story and often wondered if either of the victims were ever found. As it turned out, there were numerous unconfirmed sightings of Tara in 1988 and 1989, mostly in the southern half of the United States. However, she has never been found, alive or dead. Remains found in the Zuni Mountains in June 1990 were eventually identified as Michael’s. It is believed he died of natural causes. Thus the identity of the boy in the photo is still unknown.

In The Girl in the Basement the story is narrated by a teenage girl, Libby, who is taken on the night of her 16th birthday. Her kidnapper is a serial killer looking to start a ‘family’.

It must have been difficult to get into the minds of two such different people.

Yes, it was. I must say I struggled more with the teenage voice than I did with that of the kidnapper who Libby thinks of as ‘Psycho Man’ but whom she eventually comes to call ‘Papa’. I was helped in my writing to understand the psychology of a captive by reading several books written by Jaycee Lee Dugard, Natascha Kampusch and Sabine Dardenne who were held by different psychopaths at different times.

Why do you think teenagers would want to read a book about a kidnap victim?

Wikipedia reports dozens of cases of kidnapped victims over the past century; some have been found alive but many were murdered. More than any demographic, young women are likely to be victims of crime, especially kidnapping, so it’s not surprising that teenage girls would have a fear of being abducted by a stranger.

The Girl in the Basement sets a scenario of how the combination of being a teenage girl, over-indulging in alcohol, being alone, being in the wrong place and being very unlucky, can predicate abduction. My book also shows a young woman’s resilience in dealing with her captor and how she sustains herself with the hope of being rescued.

Is there a hopeful ending to your novel, or would that be giving too much away?

Since it’s a thriller I really can’t divulge the ending, but I can tell you that Libby never abandons hope. Like most teenage girls, she is fiercely independent, brave and resourceful.

Can you talk about the writing of the book and the drafting processes?

Finding the impetus for writing was easy enough; the first real problem was to decide on and find the narrative voice. Both Psycho Man and Libby demanded to be heard so I finished up having multiple voices, Libby telling her story in first person present tense, the kidnapper’s story being told in third person present tense. I wanted show Libby always living in the moment, whereas the kidnapper, being more elusive and anonymous, needed to be presented in a cloak of mystery. The use of present tense means there is more immediacy to the story as events unfold.

There were countless drafts of this book. Before submitting it to a publisher, I not only underwent weekly copy-editing workshops, but I also paid for the finished draft to be assessed by a professional, in-house editor. She made many suggestions, all of which I followed to finish with a manuscript I finally decided was publishable.

Thanks for dropping by Di and all the very best on your tour. You can see yesterday's interview with Di at author Alison Reynolds' site. Tomorrow Di will be interviewed by Chris Bell.

Comment on any of the blogs or websites (including Buzz Words Books!) throughout the tour to go in to the draw to win a free copy of the book. 

Books are available from any bookstore in Australia, many online stores as a paperback (including Amazon) and eBook, and from Morris Publishing Australia.  

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