Book of the Month
This month's book club read is Whisky Charlie Foxtrot by Annabel Smith
Whisky and Charlie are identical twins. But everything about them is poles apart. It’s got so bad that Charlie can’t even bear to talk to his brother anymore – until a freak accident steals Whisky from his family, and Charlie has to face the fact he may never speak to his brother again.
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Meet the author
What gave you the idea for writing Whisky Charlie Foxtrot?
I had an idea for a novel about two brothers who were obsessed with getting into The Guinness Book of World Records. Thinking about their first encounter with the book, in October 2002 I wrote a sketch about a woman in a toy shop, looking for a Christmas present for her nephews. But at the end of the sketch was a note saying ‘twins’ – so I obviously got off track pretty quickly.
How early on in the writing process did you introduce the structure of the two-way alphabet into the story?
The structure was there right from the start. My boyfriend’s brother had taught me the alphabet and I was practicing it constantly and the thought came to me of writing a book around that. There was never a version without the alphabet.
Are there autobiographical elements to this novel, or did it come mostly from your imagination?
My father and his only brother were estranged for more than a decade and though I never intentionally set out to tackle that subject, my subconscious tipped me in that direction. There are other elements which are loosely autobiographical: my family did emigrate from the UK to Australia in the 1980s, though we came by plane, and ended up in Perth rather than Melbourne. But the feelings of alienation Charlie experiences at his new school were very much my own. The anecdotes of the voyage to Australia are based on my husband’s family’s emigration by boat, in the 1970s.
One might think of a coma as a fairly static event: a long period of unconsciousness book-ended by the initial cataclysmic accident and the regaining of consciousness (or death). How did you overcome the narrative challenge of having created a potential static scenario: the lengthy bedside vigil?
My research revealed a number of medical complications which added narrative tension to a potentially stagnant situation. The structure, in which the present-day story is interspersed with significant episodes from Whisky and Charlie’s past, also provides some drama amidst the stasis. But I think the most important aspect of Whisky’s coma is the way it changes those around him, so the real ‘action’ of the novel happens at a psychological level.