Rainfish by Andrew Paterson
“Outside, we ran, leaving the church behind us like a gigantic iceberg. I almost cried with relief to be in day-light with the birds and the wind rustling the branches of the trees.” (Rainfish)
Rainfish is a beautifully crafted debut novel for middle-grade by Andrew Paterson, published by Text Publishing.
Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Andrew.
Where are you based, what is your background and how does writing fit into your life?
I’m a medical doctor based in Cairns, Far North Queensland. I grew up in Innisfail, which is the little town the story’s set in. I’ve been writing ever since I could write, it’s something I always felt I would spent a huge part of my life doing.
You won the Text Prize for this book. Please tell us a little about that process.
Rainfish took me over ten years to write, during which time I sent it to manuscript appraisal services a few times and entered it into things and sent it to agents all without luck. I kept thinking it was finished and then reviewing it and realising it needed lots more work. I had a good feeling when I sent it to the Text Prize, and it was amazing to win, but it was surprising just how many changes were still in store for it. I was agonising over important things like the ending within hours of having to finalise it! Thankfully the people at Text were a great help throughout that and ended up being right in all the advice they gave me.
I love the title Rainfish. Please tell us about the rainfish.
The rainfish of the title are based on a fish we called mudcod when I was a kid, though they are known by a few different names. They live in freshwater creeks in Far North Queensland. What I always loved about them is that they can be pretty big and still live in very shallow drains. In Rainfish legend has it that these fish have power over the rain, and should never be caught.
How have you incorporated Aboriginal beliefs into this story?
The Mamu people of the area in Far North Queensland where Rainfish is set have many traditional stories, however the story of the rainfish is not an authentic Aboriginal story but one I made up for the novel. I thought it would be better to use a made-up story as I don’t have Aboriginal heritage.
How does the cover reflect or enhance your setting or tale?
I think the cover’s great. It’s by Cathrin Peterslund, and I think it captures the mysterious dark feel I was going for in certain parts, particularly when they went fishing in the rainforest, and also the sense of foreboding with the half-hidden black panther.
Please introduce the two brothers in your story and their family circumstances.
Aaron, the main character, is about to start high school. He’s the kind of person who gets too caught up in his own imagination. Also he feels guilty more than he should. His big brother Connor reads a lot and is good at schoolwork while at the same time not being very street smart. They live with their mum who starts the story single – their dad left when they were young.
How have you brought uncertainty, conflict and dread into the narrative?
Aaron does something way out of character, stealing a set of rosary beads from a priest. This puts both his guilt and his imagination into overdrive to the point that he can’t tell, and hopefully the reader can’t tell either, whether some of the things he’s seeing are real or not. For instance, he feels some big ‘thing’ is following him, which at first he thinks he’s just imagined, but then it begins to manifest in real ways.
Some of the conflict comes through his relationship with his brother, who’s trying to catch the rosary beads thief, and the dread comes as everything begins to close in on Aaron, and the ‘thing’ following him gets closer and more real.
What message might the flood bring?
The flood brings a mix of good and bad to Aaron. Good in that it makes it harder for the police to catch him, bad in that the dangers he’s been fearing suddenly become very real. The thing he’s worried about could be a bunyip type monster that lives in the water so is not put off by the flood. From a narrative point of view the flood brings things to a head.
Who would you particularly love to see reading Rainfish?
Lots of writers say they were voracious readers as kids. Although I was a reader I wasn’t voracious. Partially I felt the books weren’t aimed at someone like me. Although there are morals and themes in Rainfish I wanted it to principally be a fun book and a page turner and hopefully it is that. Although I want kids to read it, most of my friends are adults and so I want them to read it too. Hopefully they can enjoy reading it.
What are you writing now or next?
I am writing another teen novel, this one in space. At the same time I’m writing another one set in Innisfail with slightly older kids. I’m not sure which one I’ll finish first.
What are you reading that you would like to recommend?
I’ve been reading lots of YA fiction, and it’s opened my eyes to the amazing stuff out there: when I was a kid I felt like you had to jump from Where The Wild Things Are to The Lord of the Rings without there being much in between. I would recommend two books by MT Anderson: Feed, and Landscape with Invisible Hand. Especially Landscape with Invisible Hand. Even though it’s written by an American, as it has a lot to say about colonisation I think it should be a must-read for Australians, kids and adults alike. Aussie books wise, I loved The Peacock Detectives by Carly Nugent and It Sounded better in my Head by Nina Kenwood. [So glad you mentioned Landscape with Invisible Hand, Andrew. It’s a standout that may not be well-known in Australia. I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian when it was published.]
Thank you very much for your responses, Andrew and all the best with Rainfish. It is a fine work.