When We Were Two had been brewing in my head for a while. I’d always liked the idea of a road trip story. I liked the idea of the journey itself lending a certain pace or tempo to the narrative, a forward movement where things would be constantly changing. I also liked the idea of the leaving itself, the running away to something better.
For a long time I tossed around who I might take on this journey. I coupled together someone old and someone young, I imagined a boy and a girl and I wondered about the possibilities. In the end, however, I settled for two brothers, Dan and Eddie Wheelan, a decision which no doubt stems from my own life, growing up in a family of boys. I remember being very protective of my younger brother who endured a learning disorder and who was constantly singled out for special treatment and suffered all kinds of torment and teasing. In that way, I suppose, I had a good idea of the bonds that exist between brothers.
Unlike my two main characters, the setting came easy. I’d always liked the Northern New South Wales area and the stretch of towns along the Oxley Highway so I used Gunnedah as my starting place and Port Macquarie as the end. I liked the idea of that, the idea that the boys take off from a flat and dry inland town, from the cruelty and brutality of their father and head towards the sparkling blue sea.
Strangely enough, I never usually know how my stories will end but with When We Were Two it was different. While the beginning and the end were clear in my head, I had no idea about the middle, about the journey itself. So, to complete the puzzle, I flew to Tamworth, hired a car and drove the two hundred miles from Gunnedah to Port Macquarie. Whenever something caught my eye, I’d stop the car by the side of the road and I’d jot things down, small details that I could use later on.
While I was driving I imagined who the boys might meet along the way and I remembered something I’d read. I remembered the recruiting marches that started up during World War One when the news came flooding back about the numbers of casualties our soldiers endured on the battlefields. To drum up fresh support for the war, men across Australia would go on the march. On their way to enlist, they’d pass through towns and each time their ranks would swell with more men slipping into line. Consequently, when Dan and Eddie reach the town of Walcha they do exactly that. They join a band of men and, like the journey itself, these kind men change their lives forever.