by Kim Kelly

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Our Millthorpe Pop-Up is a celebration of Australian writing, our books all gathering together in a little gold-rush era village with stories whispering from every wild colonial verandah post. So tell us, Linda, how has your Australianness, or your experience of Australia, inspired or influenced your storytelling explorations?

I was born in England and came to Australia in 1954 at age five with my parents and three siblings; another brother was born here. For me looking back, it was the best thing my parents could have done for us kids. We lived in a rural area too, which was great. My mother hadn’t wanted to leave her home, her mother, and the things she was familiar with, but Dad was an adventurer in many ways. Poverty and three cases of polio in the family made life quite difficult during my high school years.

I have always loved reading, and Mum often bewailed how often I’d be absorbed in a book when I was supposed to be doing my jobs. Until high school, my book reading was almost entirely England based, and my fumbling attempts at writing mimicked Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. However, in my Catholic primary school, we received the School Magazine every month, and I developed an interest in Aussie stories. Added to that were the Australian poems we learned by heart, which stirred in me an appreciation for the country itself; I began to identify more with Dorothea McKellar’s “sunburnt country” than with the “field and coppice” of my birth.

I loved the Illawarra region where we lived, the mountains to the west, the lake at our back fence, but going to teach in the Central West of NSW gave me new versions of the country to appreciate. The many places I have lived and the many miles I have travelled over this land over the past sixty-five years have taught me much about this land and the effect it has on people and their outlook, both Indigenous and immigrant.

For over fifty of those years I didn’t write – apart from essays for my mature-age BA and Grad Dip, and official educational submissions and reports – although Mum always said my letters were like novels. Then as I turned fifty-seven, with a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from and a supportive husband to encourage me, the creative writing floodgates opened.

Many of my poems and short stories are grounded in this wonderfully varied country. My so-far-unpublished chapter books are set in the Central Australian outback, my novels in the dairying country and bush of 1950s and 60s eastern NSW, and my life stories are fully engaged with this country, especially those that deal with my time teaching in remote indigenous communities of the Northern Territory.

As they are for visual arts, the light and colour, the openness and variety of this continent are an amazing stimulus for writing.

If you were to set a tale in Millthorpe, with its many layers of history – from the Wiradjuri wars to boutique stores – what sort of a tale might you tell?

When I lived and worked in Dubbo, I was made welcome among the Wiradjuri adults from whom I learned such a lot as I taught them General Skills at TAFE. The stories of their childhoods and growth into adults created in me an interest in Indigenous culture and their history after European settlement. I would love to tell a story from a hundred or so years ago about a friendship between youngsters from both cultures.

What a beautiful idea, Linda. Now, please tell us about the wonderful tales you’ll be bringing to the Millthorpe Pop-Up from far and wide.

My second, recently released Australian young adult novel, Thursday’s Child, “brilliantly written” according to its first reviewer, is set in 1960-61 Australia. It is the linda coverstory of a young teenage girl, Tori, who struggles to achieve her ambitions in a male-dominated society. She faces difficulties that seem insurmountable, but is determined to do whatever is necessary to achieve her goal.

My first young adult novel, Ben’s Challenge, set in the late 1950s, is about a boy’s struggle to come to terms with the loss of his father and to find the person responsible for his death. The book tells a story of tolerance and mateship, discovery and adventure.

I also have many other tales to tell, short stories and poems based on my years in remote Northern Territory communities.

What’s your favourite Australian story – be it a novel, a film, or legend? And why do you love it?

I love many Australian authors and books, from the twentieth century through to present days. As a young teenager, I loved the books by Ivan Southall and Colin Thiele. For some reason, I missed out on Norman Lindsay, Ethel Turner, May Gibbs and many other well-known Aussie children’s authors – probably because, given my background, I read a lot of books by English authors. In high school I read several Aussie books like Patrick White’s Tree of Man, Frank Dalby Davison’s Man Shy, and Vance Palmer’s The Passage, because they were part of the English curriculum.

In my twenties and thirties, I read Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia, Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of His Natural Life, Frank Hardy’s Power Without Glory, CJ Koch’s The Year of Living Dangerously, Thomas Kenneally’s The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, AB Facey’s A Fortunate Life and others, but It’s really only in my later life that I have caught up with Miles Franklin, Ruth Park, Robert Drewe, Tim Winton and Peter Carey.

I love Ruth Park’s time-travelling Playing Beatie-Bow, a great novel for kids that blends history and the present (1970s). It seems that my love of history, and for children’s and young adults’ books has followed me through life. I am also now reading and enjoying contemporary authors like Jackie French, Kaz Delaney and Kim Kelly.

A big favourite of mine is Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, and also the story behind the writing of it, Searching for the Secret River. Grenville tells the story of settlement along the Hawkesbury River, partly based on her ancestor after whom Wiseman’s Ferry was named. She deals honestly with the associated killings and destruction of Aboriginal life – unwelcome facts of history that many prefer to gloss over. The story is real and well told, the characters, their moral choices and the outcomes of those choices clearly defined.

Describe the view from your storytelling window today.

I have often written my rough drafts away from home – in parks, by the lake or even in cafes – just to get away from the distractions of life, household tasks and the internet. But these days I am writing at the desk in my study more frequently than I once did.

I need only turn my head sideways a little to see through the big picture window into our side yard and the street that runs up the hill. Through the trees, I see several houses, a couple of boats on trailers, and the cars and trucks that occasionally pass by in our fairly quiet neighbourhood.

It’s the trees I love most, and we have lots of them on our block. They are mostly spotted gums that rise straight and tall above a few shrubs, the native garden and the lawn. It has been dry for far too long, and dead leaves litter the browned-off grass. Our struggling jacaranda and the neighbour’s Japanese maple add a softer green to the palette. Patches of shade, sunshine-dappled, reduce the intensity of the sun’s heat. Beyond the nearby houses are more trees, and I am thankful that not everyone wants to make this lovely community into the bare city suburb from which they came.

If you were to write the Great Australian Novel, where might you begin?

I would just begin to write and hope it would be good enough.

I’m sure it would be, Linda. And cheers to that! Thanks for bringing your story love to Millthorpe.

linda visman

Find out more about Linda here.