Where did the idea for the story come from?
Initially the idea of the balloon travelling through different children’s lives was more about the journey. I liked the idea that the balloon’s journey could show that people are all interconnected, even if they don’t know it. It was an idea that wallowed in the back of my mind for two or three years without form.
It was a personal crisis that eventually prompted me to finally write it. By this time, the story had become immensely personal and deeply philosophical to me. It poured itself out onto the page. Through the writing process, the story became much more about letting go of loss and disappointment, while recognising that one person’s loss is often another person’s gain… if only we could see the big picture.
Lily’s balloon touches the lives of three different children. Do you think we often miss the things that interconnect us?
Do we ever! One of the down sides of being part of an individualistic society (in which we’re all encouraged to pursue our dreams) is that we don’t always notice what is going on for the people around us. Lily has to give up something she wants very much because Tom and Amelia need it more. All the characters in the story find peace, comfort and beauty when they stop looking down and choose to look up. We can see things so much more clearly when we look outwards and upwards instead of focusing on ourselves.
The balloon has a history and a future that the reader doesn’t suspect. Is there an object you have that has touched multiple lives?
For me, the things that survive from the past to the future are the stories that get handed down. These stories often define our past and shape our future. And I think it helps to connect those stories to an object. In our family there is a cowbell and a typewriter that my great grandfather brought back from Gallipoli, as well as a number of books, journals and paintings that have been passed down through the generations. These objects can help us understand our place in the world, where we have come from and are going to.
Why did you choose a balloon to interconnect the lives of the children? Why is the balloon symbolic to you?
I think the balloon is a flexible metaphor that can mean different things to different people. A balloon in itself is something small and insignificant, but it represents so much. Often balloons signify joy and hope and love - they mean that loved ones are gathering and something good is about to happen. For Lily, the gentle bobbing of the balloon brings calm to a situation she finds overwhelming. So naturally she is devastated when the balloon drifts away. But actually, Lily no longer needs to hold onto it. Just watching it soar to the clouds is enough to bring her joy. For Tom, the balloon is a gift, that helps him appreciate and capture the beauty in front of him. For Amelia, the balloon reassures her that she it not forgotten by her father. The journey of the balloon is not significant on it’s own - it’s what it brings to others that gives it meaning.
How is the balloon symbolic to each of the children?
The balloon means different things to each child, because each child has very different needs. Lily needs to focus her attention on something calming because she’s overwhelmed by what is going on around her. She wants the balloon all to herself, but little does she know how much it’s needed elsewhere. Tom, who is disabled, needs to feel empowered to create and contribute to his world and to appreciate the beauty in it. Amelia needs to know that her father loves her and remembers her. Each person has the balloon only for as long as they need it. Lily’s Balloon is gentle reminder to stop, look up and see the big picture.
Lily's Balloon is out 31 July.