Who can say what sparks the idea for a book? For me, it’s not just one idea – rather, it’s a kind of a weaving of many ideas, many inspirations, until it
is hard to find the first thread. One such thread was the memory of Dickens’s character Fagin, who “mothers” the young Oliver Twist. Fagin was in fact based on true life, the returned convict Ikey Solomon. I was also taken by the description of Queen Victoria’s dolls, small wooden tuck-comb dolls, a type of wooden peg doll, and how she cared and collected 132 of them throughout her childhood, sewing clothes and inventing biographies for them, sometimes based on real people or characters at the theatre.
I was also struck by the childhood of Victoria herself, the princess the ultimate doll, captive to the whims of the power brokers around her, and her collection of dolls. I was also fascinated with the idea of dolls being transitional objects, the term coined by D.W. Winnicott in 1951 to describe the special meaning that children attribute to their toys, an extension of attachment to the mother and the promise of her return.
I was also captivated by the Romany tradition of burying dead children by the side of the road with acorns in each hand, resulting in entwined trees so they’d never be lost or forgotten. And ultimately I always knew that somehow I would also use in this novel the house of my convict ancestor William Price, built in Richmond, NSW, circa 1827, and which still stands, now an antique shop, the interior nearly unchanged, the banister burnished by the palms of generations. I was struck by a concertinaing of time. Here was a house, the beginnings of a new empire, a new life, humanistic as Georgian houses can be, built within a whisker of a decade of his transportation. What had William left behind? The sorrow of banishment, the loss of his family, his country and all he’d know and the burden of a singular crime, all the past sealed in the foundations by a hand hopeful for the future.
Sandra Leigh Price lives in Sydney. She graduated from the Australian National University, Canberra, with a Double Major in English Literature and Drama, and co-established a small theatre company before moving to Sydney to pursue a career as an actor, then turning to writing. Wet Ink magazine published an early chapter of The Bird’s Child, her debut novel.
Grab a copy here or read our review of The River Sings