Australian writer, Sally Piper told me all about her research into fear for my Research Secrets column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum this month. She revealed that as a solo woman bushwalker she often felt afraid and wanted to know where this fear came from.
When I first found out about this I thought Fear was a very strange thing to want to research. Where do you start? Sally Piper started by reading memoirs of other female walkers and discovered how women self-limit their free movement because of real and perceived risks, which can cause themselves to live smaller lives.
“Fear… is born of a story we tell ourselves.” Robyn Davidson
This discovery inspired her to write her novel, The Geography of Friendship.
Her novel is about female friendships under pressure and is based loosely on the national park, Wilsons Promontory in Victoria, Australia where she had played as a child. But she had to deconstruct the landscape a bit to fit her purposes.
Ultimately it was inevitable that to really feel the fear she was going to have to do the walk herself. So to really understand what it was like to walk the Prom she undertook the 5 day hike alone noting how she felt, the weather, the terrain and how sounds were distorted by the absolute quite.
Sally believes that if she had not done the hike she would not have captured the beauty or the threats of the Australian Bush the way she did in her novel.
Her advice to other writers is to experience first hand what you hope to subject your characters to.
“Research can sometimes occur by osmosis. Before I’d even taken my first step on the hike I started to collect new material for the novel, most notably by the way others (mainly women) responded to me doing the hike alone.”
You can read the full interview in the March 2019 issue #209 issue of Writers’ Forum.