Danielle Binks is not only a delightful person, she’s also a literary agent and a talented writer – which is a pretty stunning combination. She was kind enough to answer some questions for bookclub about the creation of this month’s LoveOzYA title, THE MONSTER OF HER AGE, her love for pop-culture icon Drew Barrymore [author note: I knew it! This is was the thing I wondered when reading this book!], and the hard times she went through during the writing.
* Tell us a bit about the backstory for your book, and how the idea came to you
The Monster of Her Age was cooked up in a very strange pop-culture cauldron “what if?”
It was a little bit my love for Drew Barrymore (a renowned child-actor), a deep-down admiration for horror movies, Hollywood as the epicentre to kick-off the #MeToo movement, the rolodex brain I have for Internet Movie Database (IMDb) behind-the-scenes movie trivia … all culminating in me attending ‘Books at MIFF’ at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2017 and in my role as literary agent and pitching my author’s books for potential adaptation; finding myself sitting opposite a movie producer who’d worked on a horror film starring a child actor and me having the impulse to ask them if they’d be willing to see if the actor’s parents were willing to be interviewed by me for this idea I had. They were. And in developing a line of questioning I pretty much came up with my story, which is;
In a neo-Gothic mansion in a city at the end of the world, Ellie finds there’s room enough for art, family, forgiveness and love.
Ellie Marsden was born into the legendary Lovinger acting dynasty. Granddaughter of the infamous Lottie Lovinger, as a child Ellie shared the silver screen with Lottie in her one-and-only role playing the child monster in a cult horror movie. The experience left Ellie deeply traumatised and estranged from people she loved.
Now seventeen, Ellie has returned home to Hobart for the first time in years. Lottie is dying and Ellie wants to make peace with her before it’s too late.
When a chance encounter with a young film buff leads her to a feminist horror film collective, Ellie meets Riya, a girl who she might be able to show her real self to, and at last comes to understand her family’s legacy.
A story of love, loss, family and film – a stirring, insightful novel about letting go of anger and learning to forgive without forgetting. And about embracing the things that scare us, in order to be braver.
* What was one of your favourite things about writing this book?
I got to write a fictional Australian film history – imagining that we had a Golden Age of cinema here in Australia, starting in the 1920’s and building alongside America. And then I got to create and insert a fictional family of Tasmanian thespians into that fictional film history. It was totally reading Taylor Jenkins’s Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and watching Apple-TV series For All Mankind that gave me the idea (and courage!) to even attempt to pull on a few threads of history and reknit them as needs be.
So I thoroughly enjoyed that; I loved that I got to insert this family into the world’s first feature film (which really was Australian – The Story of the Kelly Gang 1906 film by the Tait Brothers, first screened in Melbourne’s Athenaeum Hall!) I got to pretend that a Lovinger descendent played the titular role of Ned Kelly. I partly chose to set my book in Hobart because of the Errol Flynn connection there – that being his hometown and where he supposedly learnt the sea-side swashbuckling that would serve him well in Hollywood, but I’m not a huge Errol fan myself so I made up a long-standing feud between Mr Flynn and a Lovinger descendent who beat him out for a role playing Lancelot in a King Arthur retelling.
The Lovinger’s were greatly inspired by my love for the likes of Drew Barrymore, Carrie Fisher, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Sofia Coppola – these women from filmic dynasties – and I totally loved creating one of my own, with a mind to putting Australia centre-stage.
* Please share something about your personal connection to the story you chose to tell in your book…
I got to write a romance! The romance I wanted to read as a teenager, and one that even feels hard-won as an adult. There are parts of myself that I’ve kept locked down for my own very personal reasons – some internalised, many most definitely attached to fear – but writing the story of a young woman coming to grips with all sides of herself, and learning to do the things that scare her in order to be braver … yeah, I had to get brave in the writing of this one too. And maybe the likes of Becky Albertalli put this more eloquently; but writing the romance between my protagonist Ellie and a young woman called Riya who (literally!) comes bounding into her life saved me a little bit. I wrote this book during one lockdown and edited it during another, in that time my grandmother passed away and my uncle died, I channelled a lot of the grief and trauma I was experiencing into this book … but I needed Ellie and Riya in there too, I needed to pour my heart out for them in order to heal and reveal parts of myself.
It was good for me, and I hope it’s a balm for readers out there – the ones who need to see themselves on the page, and maybe haven’t before. I see you. I wrote this for you. And me.
* What other media inspired you during the writing of this book? Songs, TV, movies, other books…it’s all grist for the mill!
HORROR MOVIES! Horror movies play a big part in this book – given that Ellie’s grandmother, the infamous actress Lottie Lovinger, got her big-break playing ‘The Final Girl’ in a gory horror film … and then Ellie and Lottie appeared together in an indie horror movie in which Ellie played the child monster, and didn’t have a great time on-set or dealing with the infamy that film bought her.
I chose the horror-genre to spin Ellie and Lottie’s experiences around, because my little movie-trivia brain knew that horror-films are an important category for female actors; it’s the one area of film where women even have more speaking-roles and speaking-time than men! (no, seriously; the Geena Davis Institute did a study into this!) and I know many female actors have had a heck of a time on horror film-sets (from Shelley Duvall’s traumatic experiences on the set of The Shining to Linda Blair’s back-breaking work on The Exorcist; and I actually use a quote from Linda at the beginning of my book; “The Exorcist has been a very interesting cross to bear.”)
I love horror movies, and I watch them *constantly*. So I was quite happy to convince myself that watching them was also ‘research’ for the purposes of this book. As to that, here’s a quick list of some faves;
- The Exorcist (duh)
- It Follows
- Get Out
- Ginger Snaps
- Jennifer’s Body
- The Devil’s Backbone
- Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde
- The Orphanage
- The Lure
- Tigers Are Not Afraid
- The Descent
- The Babadook
- Dark Water (2002 version)
- Child’s Play
And if you’re looking for horror television shows right now, I really loved;
- The Haunting of Hill House
- Black Mirror
- Black Summer
- Sweet Home
* Why write for teenagers?
Partly because I still so acutely remember being a teenager, and I’m still needing to look back at that time to understand how I got to where I am … the further away you get, the more you have these Sliding Doors realisations of how everything could have gone differently if not for the flap of a butterfly’s wing (or maybe I’m thinking this now as someone who just got through playing around with a fictional history, and just *slightly* rearranging events to suit a new timeline? I’ve got multiverse on the brain!)
And yes, I am fascinated by the breakaway moment that happens in young-adulthood. I am a huge John Steinbeck fan, and one passage from his novel East of Eden that stuck with me as a teenager – I think I carry the imprint of that into my work now, and always will:
When a child first catches adults out — when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not always have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just — his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.
“It is an aching kind of growing.” That’s my work, in a nutshell. My first book The Year the Maps Changed was about a young person realising that their own government, and ‘leaders’ around the world can fail regular people, and to counter-act that you’ve got to help who you can when you can. The Monster of Her Age is Ellie realising that her family failed her as a young person; and that anger, grief and love can co-exist – and in fact, they have to in order for her to save herself.
“It is an aching kind of growing.”
Danielle, thank you so much for joining in with us this month on #LoveOzYAbookclub! It has been so lovely reading your responses <3
To everyone reading along, I hope you’re enjoying the book! Stay tuned for our discussion thread for THE MONSTER OF HER AGE on our FB page, and have a fantastic week.