Devastation Road: Readers’ Notes and Discussion Points

 

Clues and Puzzles

 “The clues were in front of them the whole time. Matt and Chess should have been able to see who killed Debbie. 

Can you?”

When I first set out to write Devastation Road I wanted it to be light-hearted. I wanted to write an entertaining mystery that wasn’t too heavy.

Where in the novel is this puzzle element clearest?

Some murder mysteries skip over the notion of death and the horror of the violence that has occurred. They emphasise the puzzle element, and the lives of the detectives. The story might even be amusing, with the mystery operating as a Cluedo game.

Can you think of any TV series that are like this?

Has anyone ever hosted a murder mystery party?

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Violence and Bodies

“My first real picture is the body — a damp white shirt and a tight black skirt and high strappy shoes on white feet, the whole thing streaked with mud … Deb’s face, blue-white, hard-looking, more like china than skin, framed by ringlets of dirty yellow hair.”

I have given quite a clear description of the body. Why do you think I did that. Was it just to shock the reader, to get an emotional reaction?

These days there is a lot of violence on screens. Is the description of Deb’s body different from bodies shown in violent movies or games?

Do the deaths in film, TV and games seem like actual death or are they something else?

What about games where a character just evaporates. Is this meant to be death? What effect does it have on the way we think about dying?

Do we ever see a dead body in the real world?

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Huge Timeless Empty Space

“Walked off the edge. The words sent a hard tight feeling right around my skull. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was connected to something huge, some timeless empty space that I couldn’t quite imagine. Just for a second I felt immensely sad, and afraid. And then it was gone.”

What do you think Matt is thinking about here?

Can you think of other things in the book might be related to the idea of death or infinity?

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Death

“I couldn’t help feeling that if I walked into the bakery she’d still be there behind the counter. Not tomorrow maybe, but one day. The fact that she wouldn’t be there, or anywhere, ever again and that she’d never wear her little earrings or pat her stomach and say ‘shaddup’, or say anything — or see anything — well, it just seemed so much for one person to lose.”

But when I was writing the scene where Matt and Chess find Debbie, I was very aware that I had two fifteen year olds who had just found and touched a dead body, and that this person was their friend. Suddenly it didn’t feel right just to write this as a light-hearted puzzle.

What do you think? Do you enjoy Death in Paradise? Midsomer Murders? Are there books and shows you enjoy that contain violence and dark things?

Do you think it is possible to go too dark? Why?

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Reflections and Mirrors

“I could see her reflected in the drinks fridge at the bakery, a shadow rippling and drifting in the dark mirror, and I saw her locking the bakery door, smiling, waving, separated from us by the glass.”

Why does Matt remember Debbie in this way? What is he thinking about here? What effect does it have on you, the reader?

What does Matt make of death? Does he understand it? Do you? Does anyone?

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Off to the Loony Bin

“Chess gave up waiting for an answer and went off into one of her mini mental attacks. Not a screaming fit or anything. Chess’s mental attacks are very quiet, but they do mean something is getting to her. She starts whispering to herself, very fast, so that you can’t understand the words, as if she was possessed or something. She draws invisible diagrams on her knees. Today she was also counting things off on her finger tips. She never did any of this when there were people around, apart from me, which is just as well. She’d be whacked straight into a loony bin.”

An editor once told me she believed Chess had Asperger’s syndrome or autism. Do you think she has?

Are there people like Chess who would not be described in this way?

What would it mean if Chess was labelled with something like Aspergers? How would it change for the way we think about her? How would it change the way we behave?

Might Chess be just nerdy? What does that mean?

Does it matter how she is classified?

Does it ever help to classify or label people?

Are there things in the novel that help to explain the way Chess is?

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Lessons

“I was floored. This was completely unknown territory to me. I’d always thought binge drinking meant having a huge Friday night. I didn’t know people did it for four days in a row.”

There are a lot of things Matt begins to understand in the course of the novel. Can you think of some others?

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Friends and Memories

 “One afternoon I’d been left out at Chess’s and we’d been playing Monopoly on the verandah. It’d been OK. I’d been enjoying it mainly — the chairs were stronger then — but Monopoly isn’t that good with just two people and I remember getting bored. I made her show me the fish.”

What happens in this scene?

Is the way Matt sees Chess at the end of the book the same as he saw her at the beginning? What has changed?

What does Matt discover about Jeanette?

Matt discovers some things about Jeanette and Chess just by remembering things. Why is he able to understand them differently now?

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Friendship

“It was also supposed to say we’d been friends for a long time, and something about how important that was, and something about remembering what it’s like to be a kid, and something about days that are good and bad at the same time. It was also about jokes. How a thing could be funny even if no one else in the world thought so.”

How important is it that Matt and Chess have known each other for a long time?

Would you call this a friendship at the beginning of the novel? At the end?

Are they the same kind of people? Do they like similar things or have the same strengths and weaknesses?

How important are jokes in their friendship? In all friendships?

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Grief

“There were grooves down her face that hadn’t been there before, big, deep grooves that looked as if someone had folded her cheeks over from top to bottom and creased them. Together with the blotchiness of her skin, it made her look physically sick. I wondered whether grief acted like that, like some kind of disease.”

This is Matt’s description of Debbie’s mother Annie.

Does he notice grief in anyone else in the novel?

Do we all experience grief in the same way? Do you know anyone who is grieving? Can we understand what it is like if we have not lost anyone? Can we try?

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Saying the Right Thing

“I leaped to my feet. ‘We better go.’ It had been a reflex action and it had come out a lot more suddenly and rudely than I’d meant it to.

That’s one big problem I have. I reckon I can read people all right, I mean, see how they’re feeling and everything — well, better than most people my age — but when it comes to actually showing how sensitive I am, and actually being helpful, I’ve basically got no idea what to do or say.

…‘Thank you Annie,’ I said, trying to sound calm. ‘It was really nice of you to ask us here. We all feel more . . . We know you better . . . We’re really sorry about poor old Debs.’

Brilliant, wasn’t it. Real poetry. I cursed myself silently. It put more tears in Annie’s eyes. Through them she gave me a look that was half grateful and half pitying. She touched me on the arm. ‘You’re a good kid, Matt.’”

At a couple of points, Matt tries to respond to the grief he sees. He tries to help. Where else in the book does he try this?

Is there a right thing to say?

Can anyone help at all by saying something helpful?

How well does Matt do?

Does it matter?

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Yackandandah Or Allandale?

“The window to my little office was on the west side of the building, facing a scrubby paddock and a few neglected apple trees. We were right out on the edge of Yackandandah, past the public hall, the council offices and the community centre (an old house). Across the road from us was a decrepit servo, and the house of an old couple, both totally deaf.”

The book opens with a scene in a a Craft Gallery and Tea Shoppe, somewhere on the edge of Yackandandah. Does this building exist?

When I first wrote the book, I set it in Yackandandah, but some of the buildings I wanted to use were not in the right place. I didn’t want the story to be controlled by the actual layout of the town. So I renamed it Allandale. I didn’t want to be challenged by people pointing out I had things in the wrong places or I had described them wrongly.

Can you see things that are not exactly like the real Yackandandah?

How important is it that every detail is correct?

Can I use a real street as a setting? Can I use someone’s shop? Their house? Why or why not?

How does fiction relate to the real world? Do you prefer it if TV shows and movies and books are set in real places that you know?

Can you think of shows that are set in places that are like real places but not named? Can you think of shows that are set in actual places?

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What Do They Really Want?

There is a piece of advice for writers that suggests that when you are forming a character you need to think about what they want. Then you need to think about what they really want.

Here a reader might say that Matt wants to find out who killed Debbie. He wants to kiss Tara.

But the questions of what he really wants refers to deeper things.  Matt spends a lot of time thinking about how other people are feeling, and what they are thinking … What does Matt really want … in the world, in his life?

What about Chess? What does she want? What does she really want?

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Anger

“‘Look at you, up there. Hiding!’ … Wando went on shouting. ‘Hiding from the sunlight. Think you’re safe there don’t you. Think the Eye of Ra goes down every night in the west.’… Wando staggered sideways … The stumble made Wando angrier. He stepped back into his sunlight and his voice went up a notch in volume and meanness. ‘Eh?! Is that what you think?’”

In this scene Wando is angry. Is this just anger or is it mixed with something else? Are our emotions ever just one thing? Can you divide them up into neat categories: anger, fear, confusion, hatred, love?

What is causing his behaviour? Is behaviour ever caused by just one thing?

What other incidences of anger are there?

Matt is often irritated with Chess and sometimes shouts at her or stomps off. Is this anger?

What about Craig’s swearing and violence in Chapter 16? Is this anger?

In Chapter 25, Andrew shouts at Matt:

“He let my shoulder go with a violent shove and tried to get around Annie. I started backing out the door.

‘If she says one word . . .’”

What is Andrew angry about?

 

 

 

 

 

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