AUTHOR VIRGINIA KING has lived most of her life in Sydney, but has travelled to many places. Sheʼs been a teacher, an unemployed ex-teacher, an audio-book producer, the author of over 50 childrenʼs books, and an award-winning publisher. These days Virginia is a full-time writer who paints a bit, living in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney with her husband and four pet alpacas. The Selkie Moon Series has grown from her love of travel, psychology and folklore. In The First Lie, The Second Path, The Third Note and The Fourth Door she explores how the timeless elements from folklore underpin modern life, as thirty-something Selkie Moon travels the world to untangle a labyrinth of cryptic clues and discover the truth about herself.
After writing many children’s books and running a publishing company I wanted to write a novel. About what, I didn’t know. Voice in head: Do you have to know? Or do you just sit down at the keyboard … and wait?
At the back of my mind was the Selkie myth. The seal-people who come out of the sea, peal off their skins and dance on human legs. One Selkie loses her pelt and must live as a human until she finds it again. I’d always loved the story. Could I use it as the inspiration for a novel? Voice in head: How the hell do you do that?
My great philosophy is: Learn to write by writing. That’s how I learned to write children’s books, so I sat down at the keyboard and stared at the blank screen. Still the scariest thing, even today – the great abyss waiting to swallow you up. I gazed into the abyss and one sentence came:
All she had to do was jump.
At first she was Selina, which means moon. I wrote several chapters about Selina’s attempts to overcome her fear of the sea, her prickly relationship with her mother. But writing in the third person began to feel dishonest. Then I got bored. If the author’s bored the reader hasn’t got a chance. I abandoned it but I kept returning, knowing something had to change. Selina became Selkie and the story flipped to the first person. Voice in head: Why would that work? The story isn’t about me. But as soon as I was speaking in Selkie’s voice, the story took on a life of its own.
Voice in head: Possibly longer if you’re already a writer and impatient. From that one-sentence beginning I immersed myself in the unknown adventure of the evolving novel with no idea of the characters or what was going to happen next. That’s another writing philosophy of mine:
Let the writing be the thinking.
Many authors including Stephen King, John Fowles, Julia Cameron and Kate Grenville talk about how their characters create themselves. It’s the writer’s job to get out of the way. That’s been my experience too. Sometimes as I’m writing, I laugh out loud or scream, when a character says something I had no idea they were going to say – something I didn’t want them to say – and the story takes off in another direction. Voice in head: Hold onto your hat!
It’s been a perilous journey to places I didn’t even know existed. There are scenes I could never have plotted if I’d furrowed my brow for a million years. Like the spiralling journey of psychotherapy, each stage has taken me deeper into the unknown.
That’s Selkie Moon.
Milan Kundera says it well in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He talks about his characters being his own unrealised possibilities, that they cross a border he’s been afraid to cross, that beyond the border there’s a secret that the novel asks about.
Selkie Moon has taken me to places beyond myself. She began as my secret.
She still is.