The Story of My Book: Christopher Currie on The Ottoman Motel
28-year-old Queensland author Christopher Currie made headlines a couple of weeks ago for proposing to his girlfriend in the acknowledgments section of his just-released debut novel The Ottoman Motel. The novel itself is also worthy of attention and Chris has guest blogged for us to tell the story behind The Ottoman Motel - which was longlisted for the Australian/Vogel Award in 2007.
There is sort of a purgatory in every computer I have owned, where shards of stories with forgettable file names sit in folders marked STORIES 2001, STORIES 2002… and each folder gets subsumed into another folder and those folders get copied onto new hard drives, until I have thoroughly forgotten not only what each story is about but that I even wrote them in the first place. The Ottoman Motel started its life as one of these shards. It was only a couple of paragraphs, and told of a young boy sitting in a generic foodcourt with his parents in the middle of a boring and nameless roadtrip, lying his head on the table, thinking about all the layers of food that had built up on it over the years.
It was around 2003 I was thinking of starting my first novel-length manuscript. I was going back through my unfinished/unstarted story ideas, and came across the boy in the food court. I started to think of why him and his parents had stopped to eat, where they were going, and why none of them really seemed to be looking forward to getting there. This boy became Simon Sawyer, the eleven year-old central character to my book, and as the world of him and his parents was fleshed out, I came upon the idea of Reception, the town they visit in The Ottoman Motel. I had been long obsessed by the way small tourist towns close down during winter, and the idea of this type of town as a modern-day ghost town intrigued me. The best way to explore the town was always going to be a disappearance. Having Simon disappear was too easy, and too predictable. What about his parents going missing? Once I had Simon stuck alone in this strange town, the story really started taking shape.
The first version of this story that I came up (and I wrote in fits and starts over the next four years) with was insanely ambitious: a maybe-supernatural Twin Peaks-esque ghost story with the narrative running through the viewpoints of eight separate characters, where too many mysteries were set up and too few resolved. It showed enough promise, I guess, to be longlisted for the Australian/Vogel Award in 2007, but by then I was thoroughly sick of the sight of it and put it away in the proverbial bottom drawer.
Luckily enough, in the middle of 2009, I got the opportunity to show the first few chapters to Text Publishing, and I was signed up, with the proviso that I was happy to do significant redrafting on the novel. What has emerged from at least two complete rewrites is hopefully a leaner, more lyrical and more compelling mystery story. It is by no means a thriller, as some people have assumed, as the disappearance serves only as a catalyst to explore the dynamics of the town. And it is by no means a book for YA readers, despite the main character (one of three voices you hear in the book) being eleven years old. But if you enjoy mulling over a mystery that gives you room to breathe, and appreciate exploring that moment in your life where your childhood imagination bumped up against the harsh realities of an adult world, then I really hope you will at least pick up my book and start reading.
P.S. I spent an hour trying to find that original story shard yesterday, and eventually found it. But when I tried to open Foodcourt Scenes.doc, my computer froze up and refused to work. Perhaps it was a message to let the dead lie.