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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lombard

Inspirations - The Hot Chip and Gravedigging Club

First up, I originally wanted to call this "The After School Hot Chip and Gravedigging Club" - I think it's more resonant, but it gives away that the group are at a school in the title. It was also hard to tell the story efficiently having the meeting after school... lunch recess doesn't pull the kids away from their after school and home lives, is more visible for the teachers, and means the school controls access to hot chips.

The idea for the story came from my trip to Bendigo late last year, where I saw the Sandhurst Gaol - a goldrush-era jail which has been incorporated into the local school, had executions, and may in fact have some prisoners buried on the grounds, now part of the school.

From there, it's straightforward to have a ghost at the school, and make connections between prison/school.

In my original idea, I wanted the school to be corrupted by the gaol's history, and for the teachers to be nasty and controlling. I didn't have the heart to do that to teachers! In the story they make some snide comments, but from their point of view what they are asking the kids to do is reasonable. Instead I trusted that school is a heightened environment where small restrictions are magnified. And there is a broader critique - that a school can be a factory for teaching future workers to survive the boredom of their jobs, and that the things it teaches may not be relevant to the students of the world we live in.

The goldrush elements are also inspired by the Bendigo region, where there was an anti-government Red Ribbon Rebellion, a precursor to the more famous and successful Eureka Stockade. In the story, I've chosen to keep the location vague - so I can't get in trouble for not getting local details right!

The group of misfits bonded by a secret purpose that has been in eveything from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Breakfast Club to Sailor Moon. I gave everyone a nickname/alias to get across their characters quickly - I particularly like the fence-hopping scene where they approach the obstacle in different ways. The reacher can fill in the blanks on the elite kid, the sports kid, the burnout, etc.

There's also a tribute to the 7 mysteries trope of Japanese school stories, just for fun.

And then there's the gravedigging! I hit up friends who are good with tools for advice, but as I say in the story your local library has lots of info on crime... I cheat a bit so that the gaol isn't perfectly incorporated into the school, so the grave isn't covered by CCTV. And of course the kids don't have to actually deactivate any building alarms.

The line from the principal about the banning of hot chips is a real quote from a principal in Australia on this topic. It's not quite on the scale of diggers on the goldfields being forced to fund the government but having no say in it, but it's the kind of petty oppression that would feel severe to a student - after all, when you are under the authority of others in every part of your life, small injustices can feel harsh.

Notebook's obsession with goldrush inventions is a hyperfixation to contrast with how her teacher makes the class learn about stuff he's interested in, but isn't that relevant to Australians.

And of course the end is a fakeout - you would expect the nugget to turn up, but the real golden treasure is hot chips.

On style I used Notebook as an excuse to be more playful with language in this story. In the last couple of stories, a plain style felt right for the narrator, but it was nice to unbend for this one - without going quite as a wild as I did in the pulp hero story.

Overall this isn't a horror story, it's a school adventure with some macarbe touches, that celebrates kids testing their boundaries. There were lots of ways to steer the story into a darker ending - after all, you never know what a ghost will do if you set it free. Instead there's an uplifting ending where everyone at the school, teachers and students, decides to stop playing the game of reward and punishment for a day, and take control of their lives.

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