Much-loved and prolific author, Sue Whiting tells PaperbarkWords about her new children’s novel Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast (published by Walker Books Australia).
Sue writes about Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast:
Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast is a page-turning adventure story set in Antarctica that blends realism and fantasy. It is the story of ten-year-old Adventurologist-in-training Pearly Woe. Pearly wants nothing more than to become a member of the Adventurologists’ Guild, a top-secret group of stealth adventurers. Pearly’s family are members of the Guild – her Grandpa Woe was the founder – but to date Pearly has been a less than remarkable student and she worries that she will never be good enough.
Worrying, on the other hand, is something that Pearly does have a talent for – she is an expert worrier, her anxieties often impacting her decision making. Pearly is also a hyperpolyglot and can speak 27 languages, including some animal languages. This last skill is particularly handy as Pearly’s best friend and partner in adventure is Pig, who is … well … a pig! Pig helps Pearly control her anxiety and is useful on adventures as he has a supersonic snout that can sniff out trouble. Safe to say, they are quite the unusual pair!
In Pearly and Pig’s first adventure, Pearly’s parents are missing, Pig is pig-napped and Pearly ends up as a stowaway on an icebreaker ship, the Mighty Muncher, heading to Antarctica where the famous but villainous Ms Emmaline Woods, with the movie star teeth and personal photographer is intent on finding the Great Hairy Beast. Somehow, Pearly must put a lid on her worries, find her parents, rescue Pig and save the beast and the day!
Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast is unlike any book I have written before. I think of it as my distraction-from-the-pandemic project. Having said this, the book was actually about fifteen years in the making, and it would never have been written if not for the thousands of kids who after listening to my Antarctic adventure story during school visits gazed at me with excited eyes and said, But what happens next? and Have you written that story in a book? Their enthusiasm was without doubt my inspiration.
For many years, I pondered – with little success – on how I could take this tale and make it into a book. During this time, I was also trying to write a picture book with the characters of Pearly and Pig. For many reasons I couldn’t make the picture book text work, but I loved the characters too much to let them go. Then one day I had this scathingly brilliant idea. Why don’t I put Pearly and Pig on Antarctica and have them star in my Antarctic adventure story? To be honest, it was a rather batty idea, an idea that threw up countless and seemingly insurmountable creative challenges. How on earth could I make this even remotely believable? The challenge, of course, was too delicious to pass up, and it took many years and several failed attempts to puzzle it all out, and in truth, I believed I wouldn’t be able to pull it together in any way, shape or form and relegated it to the bottom drawer to stay there forever.
But March 2020 changed all that. Like Pearly, I was consumed with worry, and I found I couldn’t bring myself to write the realistic contemporary suspense novel I was planning, so in desperation I pulled Pearly out of my bottom drawer and decided that if nothing else I could escape into Pearly’s world and block out the harsh realities of the pandemic. So, each day as Pearly desperately tried to overcome her fears and make the impossible possible, I hid away from my own fears and tried to make this incredulous tale somewhat credible.
From the outset, Pearly Woe was always a worrier. The kind of kid who lets her imagination take hold and is prone to catastrophising. Here’s an example. When her parents are taking too long getting milk and bread at the local shops Pearly thinks: “Maybe they’ve been swept off the road and into the swirling currents of the Lemon Tree River? … Maybe they’ve been in a head-on crash with a semitrailer laden with steel girders, or live sheep – or both! Maybe they’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up in the African Animal Safari Theme Park and are surrounded by a mob of angry elephants …” (The real reason they were delayed is probably worse – and the reason that Pearly ends up on her Antarctica adventure, but Pearly doesn’t know that yet!)
With the onset of the pandemic, the importance of Pearly as the “Expert Worrier” became elevated. I was certainly worried and prone to thinking the worst, and I sensed that today’s kids might be feeling the same way and would relate to Pearly and her worries. Now more than ever, I thought young readers needed to know that worrying is part of being human, and that there are ways to overcome anxiety. Two quotes attributed to Mark Twain really informed my writing with regard to this. Firstly, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” (Haven’t we all?) And “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” My hope is my young readers will empathise with Pearly’s vulnerabilities and then cheer loudly for her when she is able to step up and act despite her anxiety! To me that is what true courage is all about.
Two years on and, heck, the pandemic is still with us, but I am happy to report that Pearly and Pig will be heading into the dense jungles that rise from the mighty Mekong River in a new adventure – Pearly and Pig and the Lost City of Mu Savan – scheduled for publication in early 2023. Once again, I need to thank Pearly (and Pig) for providing me a safe place to escape to while hiding away from Delta and then Omicron! And my sincere hope is that the reading of this slightly incredulous tale will provide welcome escapism for my young readers too.
Thanks for delighting us with another of your books, Sue, and writing about its genesis for us here. As always, Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast is a stunner. It has an engaging protagonist, tells a gripping story and also has the deeper layers that will make it a classroom favourite and potential award nominee.
My interview with Sue Whiting about The Book of Chance at PaperbarkWords blog.