I talked last week about the writing of Pearl Verses the World and how it flowed as if Pearl was telling me her story. After I’d written Pearl and, amazingly, got word that Walker Books would publish it, my thoughts turned to what to write next. I’d found the verse novel form such a satisfying way to write, that I knew I wanted to write another one. But writing about Pearl had been emotionally draining, so I wondered if I could write something a little lighter.
I started with two things – a character and a hobby. I wanted to use a male main character to make sure I focused on using a different voice. I decided I wanted my boy to be one of those kids who isn’t sporty or super smart or super popular or super anything really. At the time my own kids were, among other things, spending time making up domino topples. We seemed to have acquired over the years several sets of dominoes and, although no one ever played the game, we had a lot of fun setting up domino topples. Maybe not quite as good as this world record topple:
So I had a kid who loved domino toppling, and that was about it. I didn’t know what the conflict was going to be, but as I ran through ideas, I decided that if Pearl Verses the World was about a girl who felt she didn’t have any friends, then this new character should have a group of friends. And, when I started writing and introducing those friends, I knew that this is where the conflict would come from. Because, very soon, it emerged that John’s best friend had a problem, which meant John had a problem too. In the book John claims that Dominic is his best friend ‘not just because his name sounds like domino’, but I have a confession to make: I chose the name because it sounded a bit like domino. And it is more than his name that is like John’s hobby – because poor Dom is in danger of toppling, metaphorically.
It was at about this point that I realised this story was not going to be lighter than Pearl Verses the World and, as I wrote and discovered that Dominic was very sick, I wondered whether this was a story I could handle. And I spent a lot of time worrying about the ending – both for the sake of my characters and for my young readers.
I won’t give a spoiler and tell you how it ends, but I can tell you that there is some hope in my ending, because this is how I believe stories should end. With hope. Not neatly wrapped up, but with some sign of good to come, at the very least. But I’ll also tell you that this ending has led to a lot of questions. I’ve had letters and emails, and kids in schools and festivals all over Australia ask me what happens next. And the answer is, I would only be sure of that if I wrote a sequel – which isn’t planned.
Back to the writing. I found the writing process perhaps less straightforward than for Pearl Verses the World, but, as with Pearl, I did feel that the main character, in this case John, was leading me through the story and sharing events with me. My job was to shape the words. When I didn’t know what would happen next I stopped writing for the day and, when I sat down the next day, I always knew what was next – although, as I’ve already said above – I did have a tousle over where and how to end it.
Eventually though I settled on the ending and, after rewriting and editing, off it went to Walker Books who, once more, said yes. And, a year after Pearl was published, Toppling was too. That was ten years ago. And what a ten years it has been!
Do you have questions? I’d love to answer them. Comment below. Or post them on my social media – Twitter, Facebook or Instagram (#toppling or #readwithsally) , and I’ll answer them there. Thanks again for being part of my Readalong.