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Writing by Felicity Castagna

Girls In Boys’ Cars is a book about two girls named Rosa and Asheeka who end up kind of accidentally, on purpose, stealing a car from one of their boyfriends. Rosa and Asheeka are sick of everything really. They’re sick of the suburbs and spending their weekends hanging out in the parking lot of McDonald’s and the boys, they’re sick of all the boys for all sorts of reasons so they take off and find themselves in even more trouble than they were in before they left.

At the start of the novel and the play, soon to open at Riverside Theatres, Asheeka is missing and Rosa’s looking back on all the things they got up to that summer from her cell in a juvenile detention facility. Does Rosa regret all those things she did out there on the road?

No I don’t think so.

In writing the book, I wanted to tell a different kind of story about young women on the edge of adulthood – I wanted to write about girls who are funny and I wanted to write about the complicated relationships that we all know girls have between each other when trying to work out who they want to be on their own terms makes for all sorts of tensions when they try to be with each other.

These girls are living in my neighborhood, in Parramatta, where I’ve lived for over twenty years. It’s Australia’s third largest city after Sydney and Melbourne and I think it’s a place that is so deeply representative of contemporary Australia – a rapidly urbanising, diverse area with a large youth population that is still trying to find its own unique voice. I’m endlessly fascinated by all those small things that define local places and I’m really interested in the way that a place shapes your characters and your plot. Part of what I was interested in doing with Girls In Boys’ Cars was taking two very urban girls and seeing what would happen when they go on a road trip through regional Australia. I think we all come from very local places with their own specific cultures, for Rosa and Asheeka leaving the city is a bit like going to the moon.

I often get asked questions about writing Western Sydney but I’m not ‘writing Western Sydney’ I’m writing this one small specific place, Parramatta, where I’m always endlesslessly wandering around and around the streets. I think the reason why I often get asked to talk about Western Sydney is that people think it is a simple definable thing, as though the people and the place can be defined by set of dot points. There are almost 300,000 people in my Western Sydney neighborhood alone – we are a huge number of complicated, contradictory stories.

Rosa and Asheeks love and care for each other deeply but also can’t stand each other at the same time. They have different levels of privilege, different relationships with their families, boys and their own status as girls but they also come from the same place. I wanted to show how different we can be even within our own geographical communities and I also wanted to show that struggle—and failure—to completely understand the other people in our place even when the intention is genuine.

These girls are not defined by any simple notion of what it means to be here and they aren’t defined by any simple idea of what a girl’s story is either. Growing up one of my favourite books was Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. I loved the way the boys in that book just drive off from life and I guess I always fantasised about being able to do that too. But as an adult I’ve thought a lot about how women and girls don’t get to inhabit these kinds of stories. Boys on the road are looking for adventure, women always seem to be running away and driving themselves over cliffs like Thelma and Louise. I wanted to write something where girls get to be the agents of their own kind of road story even if it’s complicated and everyone else is always getting in the way.

I wanted a lot of it to be about the frustration of not quite knowing how to convey your story and not feeling like anyone was interested in listening to it anyway. I think ultimately that’s what drives everything that Asheeka and Rosa do.

Soon, Asheeka and Rosa will be brought to life on stage in an adaptation by Priscilla Jackman who has been commissioned by The National Theatre of Parramatta at Riverside Theatres in Parramatta. Like these girls I’ve spent a lot of time eating Maccas in the parking lot across the road from the theatre and sitting in the back of cars going up and down Church Street. I feel like this production brings the complicated lives of every girl I’ve ever met on my street into the theatre. It’s like bringing them home.

Girls in Boys’ Cars is at Riverside Theatres from 19 October to 3 November. For tickets and more information see here.

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