INTERVIEW: Darlene Oxenham author of Beach Sports Car

Where did the inspiration for your story come from?
My inspiration for Beach Sports Car came from two sources – my childhood memories of Useless Loop and the inventiveness of my father.

My father was born in a time when things were not as easy to get as they are now. He was also born in a small town, Denham, which was remote from all major towns. At the time Denham was not an easy place to get to. The only road into town was a dirt road and driving there often took days. Because of this my father became very clever at fixing things and creating new things from old parts. My father always sees new ways of using old things, and this is exactly what he did when I was young. We had a beat-up faded pink Volkswagon that my father had cut the roof and front doors off, which we drove along the beach. We often used the car to go shelling – my father would drive the car and we would look out for the telltale sign of a small air hole in the sand. This air hole signalled that a baler shell lay beneath the sand, and it was then my job to jump out of the car and dig the shell up.

So Beach Sports Car arose out of these childhood memories and into the story I wove the character of Annie who is loosely based on myself. In many ways it did not matter to my father that I was a girl, he still gave me the same opportunities to drive the car or steer the boat or fix the car – if I showed an interest in something he let me be involved. I also included my beloved dog Patches in my story as he was an important part of my life at the time. He was a lovely dog and we used to go everywhere together.

Tell us about Useless Loop – it’s a fascinating name for a place!
Useless Loop is a small mining town in the north of Western Australia, situated across from the town of Denham in the Shark Bay region. Useless Loop produces salt and gypsum and when I lived there this was exported around the world to places like Japan. Also when I lived in Useless Loop it was not a closed town so anyone could go in there. Now it is closed and if you want to visit you must first get permission from the mining company.

I am not sure how Useless Loop got its most uncomplimentary name but it is quite a beautiful place. It’s right on the coast and has very white beaches and blue green seas. At least this is how I remember it from childhood. I haven’t been back to Useless Loop since I was very young and from all accounts the actual town site has changed a great deal. However I believe the rugged beauty of the coastline would remain the same. For a child, Useless Loop was a totally fascinating place that offered many things to do and places to explore.

You use a lot of subtle humour in telling the story; how did you approach the writing process?
This is the first piece of creative writing that I have ever written and so was unsure how to approach it initially. In the end I decided just to start, to write whatever I could in the initial writing session. So I just launched into writing the story. I knew what the overall storyline would be and where I was heading – creating this beach sports car – so I just started writing. After this first session I went back and amended things. I added certain details by visualising life in Useless Loop at the time. I then included the mother character, and added more detail about Patches and gave him more prominence.

In the process of refining and adding detail I also thought carefully about what might engage children in the story and humour was one of these things. So I included Patches running away from the noise and peeing on the car. I thought things like this were real and children could relate to them – plus they showed what Patches thought and, in the right context, were humorous incidents. I guess as a person I like to laugh and tease and this has come through in the book.

What message can kids get from reading Beach Sports Car?
One message that I hope kids get from reading Beach Sports Car is that you can reinvent things and make the old new again, that we don’t always have to have that bright new shiny thing, that we can use old things to have fun. I hope kids see that things are more meaningful if they invest something of themselves in them, as Annie did with her Dad.

From this story I hope that kids can see that if you have a vision or dream that this can be realised. I hope that kids have dreams and strive to achieve them.

At the very least the message that I hope kids get from reading Beach Sports Car is that stories are fun and therefore reading is fun and everyone should do it.

Books discussed
Cyclones and Shadows
Waarda series for young readers: Beach Sports Car

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