Writing The Starlings
The Starlings isn’t just about football (at least I hope it isn’t), but football is at its heart. This is odd, because football hasn’t been a big part of my life. I’ve always been that awkward anomaly – a Melburnian without a footy team. When I was a child my father was a Melbourne supporter. He (and sometimes my brother, who went for South Melbourne) would go off to the MCG together, wrapped up in coats and carrying rugs and thermoses and sandwiches and thick slices of my mother’s excellent fruit cake. It was a man thing. My mother and I were never invited, and we didn’t wish to be.
It took me years to become interested in AFL footy, and longer still before I began to understand how much people’s footy teams meant to them. It was a late education. I still feel, when I watch a game of footy, that I don’t at all comprehend the finer points of it. I think you probably have to play it yourself, or at least watch it closely for many years, before you get to that stage. But I think by now I do understand the rules of the game, or most of them, anyway. And I understand the importance of the game – and of other sports too, of course – to people’s lives. Sport gives us drama and beauty and excitement and achievement. And profound happiness – as well as profound grief. It gives us the possibility of experiencing an intensity that ordinary everyday lives often don’t contain.
And so exploring the significance of sport was one of my first concerns in writing The Starlings. This linked naturally with another area of interest – heroes. We find heroes in all sorts of places, but people to whom sport is important are likely to seek and find their heroes within those sports. We need heroes: they inspire us and excite us, and show us the vivid possibilities life extends to people who push a little harder, climb a little higher. If we can’t find heroes in real life we tend to create fantasy heroes – life-saving, building-jumping, evil-annihilating, miracle-performing champions. I wonder whether, in more overtly religious times, saints and angels provided this kind of hero-flavour in our lives?
And my other interest was in Nicky’s reading, through which he tries to make sense of his world and his family. Of course the books Nicky reads are books I also read as a child, and I enjoyed revisiting them for the purposes of the book – although, sadly, the illustrated edition of the Lambs’ Tales from Shakespeare I read has long since been lost. It was fascinating for me to return to the Tales and to Roger Lancelyn Green’s version of King Arthur, because now I was reading them through the prism of Shakespeare and Malory, both of whom I had studied at university. I think they are both excellent adaptations – colourful, vigorous and accurate. I hope The Starlings does them justice.