Lucy Christopher on Grannies in the Desert

Lucy Christopher is the author of the Printz Honor book Stolen, which you can start reading now on Figment! It’s the story of a teenage girl who gets abducted and taken to Australia’s Great Sandy Desert, where she’s kept by a mysterious man who’s been stalking her for years. Here, Lucy shares some insight into how she created this gripping, moving novel.

Being an author involves many things. It involves sitting in a small dark room, tap-tapping on a computer for hours, days, weeks . . . nay, YEARS . . . on end. It involves speaking in public to large groups of people, often trying to make the process of tap-tapping on a computer in a small dark room sound really interesting. And it also involves research. This is my favorite part of being an author, and I’ve done some pretty strange things in the name of it. Sometimes they helped my writing. Sometimes they didn’t!

Even though Stolen is the first novel I had published, I’d actually written a manuscript before that, for slightly younger readers. This book, Flyaway, was published about a year later. But when I started to write it, I didn’t know anything about swans—or birds, for that matter. Which was a problem, considering the story is about helping a swan learn to fly again, and the main characters are all bird-crazy. So what did I do in the name of research? I got a job with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, of course!

My job required me to lead groups of schoolchildren around local nature preserves and talk about the birds we saw. No idea why I got the job in the first place, since my knowledge of birds was feathery at best! A fact that was surely obvious to the interviewer when he asked about my experience: “Oh, I always look up at birds when they fly over the motorway,” I told him. I knew what a seagull was, and maybe a robin. So “terrifying” is one word that could describe my first days on the job. Picture it: Thirty 10-year-olds, with me, alone in a 10,000-acre wetlands preserve. Where it was often chucking it down with rain, too. I learned quickly. “Talk about the birds you most commonly see” was the advice given. So I learned an awful lot about tufted ducks and coots. Not much of which made it into the book. About swans.

When I was writing Stolen, I decided I needed to get to know the Great Sandy Desert in Australia, where the novel is set. I rented a four-wheel drive and participated in a “tag-a-long tour,” which basically involved driving 4,000 miles over the course of three weeks right through “the Sandy.” What I didn’t bank on was that the other drivers who’d also signed on to the tour would all be retired. In Australia, we call these types of travelers “Gray Nomads” because . . . well, you can imagine why! So, no six-foot-tall blond hunks on camels with remote outposts where they made sandpaintings in the nude! Nope, it was me and the grannies traveling through some of the most remote, hot, and dangerous landscapes on Earth. And they were the best traveling partners I could have wished for, with so much knowledge and history among them that they didn’t blink an eyelid when our vehicles got bogged down in sand or blew tires, and when we got lost in a place that even the GPS couldn’t recognize. I still think about their tales around the campfires. Those moments definitely shaped how I described the desert as first experienced by Gemma in Stolen. And they’re among my most memorable, too, where I’ve really loved being an author.

Thumbnail photo from Flickr: peterkelllystudios.

2 thoughts on “Lucy Christopher on Grannies in the Desert

  1. How come research for school essays aren’t this exciting? I’d love to be able to travel through the settings my books take place in.

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