Carolyn Denman has just released her debut novel, one I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Songlines is a fresh and unusual YA urban fantasy, with a unique supernatural twist: situating Paradise in a remote corner of the Victorian countryside. Songlines begins with Lainie Gracewood finishing off her last weeks of school, unaware that her university plans are about to be derailed. Her mission to protect her aunt’s farm from unscrupulous mining prospectors becomes an exploration of the land’s profound ties to humanity – and the role a close-knit network of farmers plays in safeguarding this sacred connection.
Lainie’s character was a real highlight for me. I liked her adventurous spirit, her wicked sense of humour and her practical approach to every issue – whether it be looking after an orphaned joey, or finding a way to save the farm’s precious cave system with its hidden secrets. The mystery of the river which sends its sorrowful music into Lainie’s dreams, the role the Garden of Eden plays, and the inclusion of a strong romance element keeps the story spinning along. Songlines is an absorbing story I think would suit all readers of YA, from young to old.
Carolyn kindly agreed to answer some questions for me.
What sparked your idea for this unusual story?
I guess the initial musings were all about the concept of Paradise. What was God’s original intention for us? What would life in Eden have been like if we hadn’t screwed it up? I was especially interested in the idea that prior to eating the wrong thing (symbolic or literal) Adam and Eve apparently had no concept of Good and Evil. Lots of juicy threads to explore!
How much of Songlines draws on your experience of country?
I was born and raised in suburban Melbourne, which doesn’t easily lend itself to an inherent connection to country, but I can’t deny that I have always been more of a ‘river and mountain’ person than a ‘beach’ person. As an adult I moved to a small farm as soon as the opportunity came along, and dragged my family with me (sorry about the snakes, Mum).
Australia is a land full of spiritual life, moving and calling and reflecting the supernatural. It doesn’t matter if you’re a city business manager, an Indigenous child in a rural town, or a farmer striving to scrape by until the spring sales – everyone can find a connection with country if they choose to watch and listen and care about the legacy they leave. There are so many more spiritual threads here than I could possibly write about – and as a non-Indigenous author it isn’t my place to write about them – but I do believe that there is common ground between cultures where everyone can find some footing and learn to walk together. I’m sincerely hoping that Songlines reveals that.
Who is your favourite character and why?
Wow, tough question. Let’s see. Aunt Lily was named after my great aunt, who always had a wicked sense of humour. Lainie has a lot of my eldest daughter’s characteristics. Bane, of course, is just dreamy. Tessa represents all the people I went to school with that I dismissed as shallow and stuck-up, but now that I’m older, I realise that they were just the same as me, which makes me the shallow and arrogant one. Noah…I seem to argue a lot with Noah in my head. He really would make a wonderful best friend. I think I’ll pick him.
What did you find the easiest part to write – and what was the most difficult?
The easiest for me is always dialogue, because writing out a conversation is always so much more satisfying than talking to actual people who don’t tend to hold up their end of the conversation the way you want them to.
The hardest parts are the references to anything Indigenous. I have no right to tell their stories, or make use of their culture, but I also didn’t feel right about producing a novel with supernatural themes, set in Australia, without acknowledging them at all. It is a really tricky balance.
Will there be a sequel to Songlines? If so, can you give us some hints as to what to expect?
I started writing the sequel about five whole minutes after finishing Songlines. In fact, all four books in the series have been drafted, but now is the time for me to learn from all my mistakes, improve my craft, and make all the books the best they can be.
In terms of what to expect, I can only tell you that extended periods of time in Eden make for some quirky new behaviours. Oh, and you do get to discover why all the farm dogs keep disappearing.
Thank you, Carolyn!