It's been a two-and-a-half-year wait but the much-anticipated release of the Warrnambool-based Aboriginal children's fiction novel Wylah: The Koorie Warrior has finally arrived.
And the book - which is aimed at 8 to 14 year olds - is generating a lot of buzz within the publishing and film industry with many insiders keen to turn it into an animated series or feature film.
Its Warrnambool authors, Jordan Gould and Richard Pritchard, say it's only just starting to sink in with publishers Allen and Unwin/Albert Street Books sending hundreds of books to sign for a promotion.
The book will be stocked in book stores around Australia including some of the larger departments stores and online.
It all started in 2019 with just an idea and some images. They hadn't even started writing it but a kick-starter campaign quickly reached its goal in just three days. A week later, that amount had doubled, sparking national media interest.
More than 200 people from around the world financially backed the series.
"We had half a dozen publishers interested, however not all of them understood what we were trying to achieve," Pritchard said. "We didn't want to be just published authors, we wanted to change how society views Aboriginal people," Gould said.
They secured a two-book publishing deal with the sequel already well in progress.
...we wanted to change how society views Aboriginal people- Jordan Gould
Pritchard said the first thing he did when he came up with the idea to create a female Koorie warrior, was talk to Aboriginal elder Uncle Locky Eccles. "I wanted to get his permission first because I'm sensitive to cultural appropriation, and Uncle Locky thought it was a fantastic idea," he said.
That's when Gould came onboard, and together they spent endless hours on Zoom during lockdowns writing the book.
The book is a bit How to Train Your Dragon meets Moana meets Hercules. "It's the heroes journey - a fantastical, historical story," Pritchard said. "One of the things we are conscious of is the sensitivity to culture. We don't want to lose that."
Publishing his own work was something Pritchard has wanted to do ever since he was about 16.
Inspired by his Samoan culture where women are as much warriors as men, Pritchard was keen to tap into that under-represented side of Indigenous culture.
Seeing how much his mother had to work for her four children, he said, had influenced his writing. "She would always fight for us," he said. And it's that same warrior spirit that shines through Wylah in the book.
His long-held ambition to publish his own book came after years of working on other people's creations including two animated films - Happy Feet and Happy Feet 2 - and four major films - Mad Max Fury Road, Prometheus, The Great Gatsby and Pacific Rim Uprising.
The book is hopefully the first of many with the pair already having the story arc planned out for 12 books as well as spin-off books.
Set in Warrnambool, it includes the local Indigenous language which the authors hope will make the text ideal to be rolled out in schools.
"It's the Peek Whurrong language, my tribe. Uncle Locky and Uncle Robbie (Lowe) both have dedication in the book," Gould said.
He said he was keen to include Indigenous words in the book, to revive the language of his people.
Iconic south-west locations feature in the book including Middle Island, the Twelve Apostles, the Grampians and the Otways.
"You could write a tourist map from it. That's one of our things to do is approach the council and tourism Victoria because in the book we have mapped out a path for kids to follow if they were on holiday," Pritchard said. "The place where we pictured Wylah living was Point Ritchie, Moyjil."
The book will also be displayed on billboards including one in Warrnambool from June 6 which will say: 'Warrnambool, the home of Wylah'. "It will be great for the community to drive past and see that," Pritchard said.
The book helps fill a gap in Aboriginal literature. "There is no middle grade fiction literature out there written by Aboriginal people," Pritchard said.
While Gould and Pritchard are keen to turn it into an animated series, they want to finish a few more books first. "We're definitely going to be doing a TV series or a film of it but story comes first," Pritchard said.
"We want people to connect with the book, either the characters or the story or the culture," Gould said.
"There's definitely a need for more fantastical, Aboriginal stories.
"I see Wylah as a spearhead to lead a new era of stories. A new era of media. I don't want Wylah to be the only type of story of its kind."
Writing the book, Gould said, had helped him learn more about his own Aboriginal culture - something he knew little about until he was in grade six at school.
"I grew up in Warrnambool and I didn't really grow up with Aboriginal culture," he said. "In year six I found out I was Aboriginal. Mum finally told me.
"In primary school there was a bunch of racism going around about Aboriginal people so I thought that was just the norm and, as a kid would do, I would join in to fit in with the crowd.
"Then when I found out I was Aboriginal, I ended up going on an apology spree and going around to all the other kids that I wasn't very nice to."
But it is not just Gould's Aboriginal culture that features in the book, his experiences with autism are reflected in the character Po.
"I wanted to make him in the image of how I was when I was younger. I was pretty bad with autism when I was younger. I couldn't sit still. I couldn't focus but I had a big knack for creativity," he said.
"I just wanted to make things, same as Po. I wanted to make Po similar to how I was when I was younger. I wanted someone who was obviously on the spectrum so when other people on the spectrum read it they relate to him same as I do."
Pritchard is just as enthusiastic about Po's character. "We love that Po has autism. He's like the action kid - he's got the action pack in his backpack. He's the engineering tech wiz," Pritchard said.
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