back to top

11 Things You Might Not Know About "Looking For Alibrandi"

Jacob and Josie originally lived happily ever after in the book.

Posted on

It's been 25 years since Looking for Alibrandi was first published, and it remains one of the most well-loved Young Adult books in Australia. To celebrate the anniversary, we spoke to author Melina Marchetta and learned a few things about the book...

1. The book isn't based on Marchetta's life, but rather her world.

"I wrote because I loved reading so much, but I was disappointed that I didn’t see myself in those words. There was nothing about my or my family's experiences out there, including on film.

"[But] I think that what happens if you write too much about your personal experience is it does become a limited experience... I always say if we had to write about our own lives - well mine anyway - it would be so so boring. Especially as a writer, a lot of the excitement is happening in your head. But writing about your world is a lot bigger."

Advertisement

2. Josie was inspired by a few people in Marchetta's life.

Robyn Kershaw Productions

"She was a combination of people I knew. She was very much my younger sister, but she was also my older sister’s experiences; some of the things my older sister did went into anecdotes of what Josie had got up to... She's a bit of a Frankenstein in the sense that she's bits and pieces of all these people and I just stuck them into one little character."

3. And so was Jacob Coote.

Robyn Kershaw Productions

"I think with your first novel, no one’s really an invention of your own. Once again, he was a hybrid. Different traits from different people. So no one particular person can lay claim to him at all, but I’d say that he’s a couple of guys. I would never tell them that though, and they're cool enough to have never presumed it would be them.

"There have been one or two guys in the last 25 years who have claimed they're Jacob Coote, and they are nothing like Jacob Coote. That’s the hardest thing, when someone you just don’t even want to think about believes he is this amazing character you created. Because I love Jacob Coote and trust me, he is not the guys who claim they are him."

4. The very first version of the story Marchetta wrote was pretty different. Josie wasn't Josie, for starters .

Penguin

"I had written a version when I was 17 where the girls name wasn’t Josie, her name was Genevieve Tyson," Marchetta told BuzzFeed. "And she lived down the coast in Kiama - I have never been to this place in my life. She lives with her single mum, and she meets her father for the first time that year. And it's about her hanging out at the beach with her friends and being in love with this Aussie guy. She never identified as Italian, because she didn’t grow up with her father... It didn’t work because obviously I wasn't writing about what I knew at all.

"A couple of years later I just moved that story into Sydney, into the Sydney that I knew really well, the inner west. I still had the girl who lives with her single mum but I made the cultural side of things a little more important. And she does meet her father for the first time and of course she does fall in love with the Aussie guy. So it didn’t really change that much in that respect, but I think the city of Sydney and the cultural element came into it and changed everything."

5. And the completed draft of Josie's story was pretty different from the finished product. It included Josie in uni, and a happy ending with Jacob Coote.

Penguin / Via samantha-lin.com

"When Penguin received the manuscript, it was double the size that it is now. [It continued] two or three years later. Just ridiculous. Ridiculous happily ever afters.

"She spends a year at university going out with this guy who is just a creep and he kind of puts her down, so it makes her understand what she maybe did to Jacob Coote. And then one day she's driving down a road in Redfern and her car breaks down and guess who fixes it? You know, it's just all that romantic loveliness that you’d like to happen in the real world but obviously doesn’t. So [the publishers] basically said to me, 'pick one year in her life, pick one voice (it used to be first person and third) and tell the story of what happened over that year.'"

Marchetta told BuzzFeed losing the extra years in Josie's story wasn't too hard because she was most attached to the earlier part, and was able to incorporate all the important elements. "So, with the guy she goes out with who’s critical, some of that criticism I put into the mouth of someone like Sarah, who was one of the girls in her group, or even Ivy or Carly Bishop, who were the girls she was up against all the time. So I didn't lose what had to be said in those couple of years, but I certainly lost characters.

"What was hard was choosing the voice, whether to go for first person or third... I knew that I would have to limit all of this to Josie's point of view really, and I was worried that I would lose something in doing that. And at first it was diary entries, but then I thought to myself, you know, with a diary entry, your audience is yourself. I actually wanted it to seem as if she was talking out there to whoever was reading, so then I had to change even that first person point of view."

6. Marchetta originally wanted to incorporate her grandfather's stories, but ended up focusing on her grandmother's.

Robyn Kershaw Productions

"I went to Italy for the first time when I was 19... I met my great aunts, and they would just tell us stories, and I remember writing all these stories down. Some of those stories have become Katia’s stories of when she left Sicily and all the crying and hysteria, that’s what my aunts were telling me.

"And I came home, and I remember saying to my mum that I wanted to ask my grandfather questions. He lived up in North Queensland, and if we ever saw him, he couldn’t communicate with us in any way but telling us stories, and we would kind of ignore him, like, 'oh my god he's telling another one of those boring stories again'. I remember saying to my mum I just really need to speak to him, because I want to write something and I want it to be about us. Unfortunately he got Alzheimer's and [Mum] came back from a trip to Queensland and said, 'you can't, he doesn’t remember who I am'. It was just this tragedy of not only losing that part of your grandfather, but also losing every single story he had told.

"So I had to concentrate on my grandmother - on my lovely, ditzy, happy-go-lucky grandmother, and for that reason it’s a story about three women, and not a story about two women and a father. And I just think it’s interesting how a circumstance could dictate the way you end up writing a book, but that’s what happened and as much as I think it’s sad, and the stories from my grandfather would have been so rich, I just love that I was able to, in a way, tell my grandmother's story of coming all the way overseas in the 1930s and being in this strange land."

Advertisement

7. The book was rejected several times before it was finally published by Penguin.

instagram.com

"I used to burn the rejections - back in the day we used to have incinerators in our backyards, and you could burn your rubbish. I was a very dramatic, tortured person... Physically I’ve still got about six rejections, so I would say it probably got rejected about seven or eight times in some way.

"[But] I remember someone scribbling on one saying, 'by the way you have a really strong, fresh voice, don’t give up on this'. So I felt like I got encouragement with every rejection."

8. But it was an immediate success when it was published.

instagram.com

"It was immediate. I knew in the first couple of months that it was kind of going through the roof. It sold out quite quickly. I mean, it didn’t have a massive print run in the beginning, but I remember it came out in October and it was sold out by December, so they were stressing about getting copies out for Christmas... And as much as that film was made in 2000, the book came out in 1992 and the film offer came at the end of 1992. I agreed to it mid-1993 because I just wanted to be sure. So that was how quick the response was to it.

"I think the novel could be considered an overnight hit, but I would never consider myself an overnight success, because from when I was 19 to when I was 27, that was all about rejections, writing, rejections, writing, and then Penguin having it for a couple of years and it was just a big exercise in rewriting, but the rest is history, I suppose. The rest is 25 years."

9. Writing the book gave Marchetta the confidence to go to university.

Robyn Kershaw Productions

"I did leave school when I was 15 - I just didn’t have the confidence that my sisters or my friends did. But when this novel was being contemplated, especially by Penguin who ended up publishing it, I think I was about 23 when they started expressing interest in it. I remember thinking if I’m smart enough to write a novel, I’m smart enough to go to university. So I went to university. It just gave me that confidence.

"When I think about the fact I was a wallflower all my life - I was a very good observer of the world, but I was a wallflower - and in a good way it’s really taught me to have to go out there and talk to people, and I think that I’m more confident in the world as a result of the success of that novel, but it’s not just about success. People talk to you, they tell you the most personal stories, they confide in you as if they’ve known you forever. You could be signing over a table and only know someone for one minute, and they will tell you something so incredibly personal, that there are many times I’ve had a cry over the signing table. I think that there's a privilege to people allowing you into their lives, and I suppose in a way they’ve felt that I allowed them into my life with this particular story."

10. Marchetta says she'll never write a sequel.

instagram.com

"I think for a couple of reasons. One is, my grandparents are all dead, and I don’t think I could kill off Katia, and the other thing I honestly feel deep down is that I captured an aspect of an older Josie when I wrote about the character of Mia Spinelli in Saving Francesca. I’m not saying that Josie would grow up to be Francesca’s mum, because Francesca’s mum is a university lecturer and Josie would definitely have become a barrister. But they're both driven, Mia and Josie, and I would always wonder what it would be like for a character like Josie to have a complacent child like Francesca.... So I felt that I put some of Josie into Mia as a character.

"It’d have to be something pretty powerful to make me write her story, and if I was ever going to write it, it would be her today rather than a couple for years after Alibrandi. It’d be interesting to see what she’s like as a 40-something-year-old woman, but it’d have to be a pretty good story for me to want to go down there. And I just want to write other stories. You know I’m writing Jimmy Hailler from Francesca’s story at the moment, and they’re adults now, they’re in their twenties, and it becomes something different. But they’re the characters that come back to me - the ones that get older, and you wonder what happens as a result of them getting older and life happening to them."

11. But she totally thinks Jacob and Josie belong together.

Robyn Kershaw Productions

"Look, I don’t want to be one of those soppy romantics but I just want her to be with Jacob Coote. I don’t want to think of her with anyone else. So maybe she did drive down that road and maybe her car did break down in front of Jacob Coote’s fantastic auto shop and they reconnected. Who knows, but I just still think that she'd be the type to be fighting the fight...

"That’s why I won't write a sequel, because then someone would say that’s unrealistic, and I think, well let's stay in unrealistic land, and people can say, 'the writer wants more than anything for Josie and Jacob to be together, and so in that lovely fantasy world that we have, they're allowed to be together."

Catch Melina Marchetta at the Emerging Writers' Festival, 14-23 June 2017.

Promoted

Every. Tasty. Video. EVER. The new Tasty app is here!

Dismiss