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Posts tagged ‘Julia Gillard’

A writer? No, an Australian writer

Sometime between the stone age and the getting-stoned age of the 60s, my family got off the ship, Fairstar, legs wobbly after six weeks sailing from England, and took a look at our new country. I was with my parents, Arthur and Elizabeth Newsum, older sister Maureen and baby sister, Leigh in very English coats with velvet collars and Mary Jane shoes we’d soon swap for shorts t-shirts and thongs. Well maybe not thongs. I suspect English toes separate in the wrong places for thongs.

Our parents had about ten pounds ($20 today) to their name. No home. No jobs. I was grown up before I understood how terrifying that must have been. Three kids and no idea what the future held.

When you're new, it can take a while to fit in.

When you’re new, it can take a while to fit in.

In England Dad had sold insurance door to door. He tried that here but the doors were simply too far apart. He trained with Fosseys as a store manager, his work taking us to alien places called Grenfell and Orange where the spiders were bigger than we were.

If you’d told me that years later I’d return to Grenfell as their Australia Day Ambassador, having sold 29 million of my books worldwide, or that Maureen would have an OAM for her work with kids who have cancer, I’d have told you to pull the other one. But in Australia anything’s possible. Migrants can go from zero to hero in a blink. You don’t need to be born rich or special. You might even end up running the country. Ask Julia Gillard.

Our old house in Grenfell had burned down. Now where do we put the plaque? The upside was meeting people who remembered our family, including a boy mum had earmarked as husband material for me. Gay had a different meaning then.

This year I’m Australia Day Ambassador to Bathurst where I’ll give the Australia Day address, thank our indigenous people for letting us share their land, present awards and tell the community what we already know: despite heatwaves, droughts, flooding rains and even giant spiders, this is still the best country on earth.

On my first trip back to England as an adult, my mother asked if I held it against her for bringing us here. Are you kidding? True, I burst into tears when the plane landed at Heathrow. But that was only my DNA catching me in unexpected ways. The real sense of belonging hit me when we flew into Mascot after dark and the cabin lights were dimmed so we could enjoy the carpet of light unfolding beneath our wings. That was home.

I was the first Australian citizen in our family, unless you count my late husband who became Aussified, as he called it, in Darwin in the 50s in between crocodile hunting expeditions. I’ve been everywhere from Thursday Island to Kakadu, across the Nullarbor and to Cradle Mountain in Tassie. Purely as research for my books of course. I never tire of exploring Australia and sharing her wonders with my readers around the world. Her beauty and her terrors, she’s my wide brown land now.

Do you read or write about Australian backgrounds? Where is home to you?



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A version of this article was first published in The Hoopla online, January 2012.

If you’re happy and you know it…write it down

The last week in politics has been truly extraordinary, not least because the long-anticipated leadership challenge finally happened, but because – as a commentator on the ABC’s Q & A pointed out – we were treated to an honesty we haven’t seen in political life  for a long time. Politicians the likes of Anthony Albanese showed their feelings to an almost uncomfortable extent. Even Prime Minister Julia Gillard let her red hair down and her personality shine through. We weren’t just told what these people believed, we saw it for ourselves.

There’s a lesson here for writers.

However uncomfortable it may be, it’s vital to get your feelings out onto the page if you are to connect with readers. You’ve heard the maxim “show, don’t tell,” but what does it mean in terms of this connection?

Like the politicians this week, we must see for ourselves, not only what your characters are going through, but how it makes them feel. What do your characters believe in? What will they accept – or not accept? Why? Above all, we need to know why. What in their history and life experiences explains why they believe as they do? How do they act as a result?

 Recently we experienced the fourth anniversary of Kevin Rudd’s historic apology to the aboriginal people for the annexation of this country by what were then outsiders arriving here by ship. For many years I believed I had no part in this debate because I came to Australia as a migrant from England. Then it dawned on me that many of my ancestors came from the same part of England as Captain Cook, a Yorkshireman. How could I be sure that none of my forebears had served with him, playing a role in those early events? I couldn’t and suddenly I understood where I fitted into that puzzle.  On their behalf and my own I made an unreserved apology to the aboriginal people a full ten years before the parliamentary version. Putting my feelings out there in an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald was tough. Despite everything I’d written, I wasn’t used to putting my personal feelings on the page, but the cause was sufficient that I made the effort. And it felt good.

I’m sure the politicians who shared their real feelings this last week felt the same. Without spin, without hype, they showed us who they really were. I did the same in my article. That was a lightbulb moment for me and my future writing. Ever since, I’ve tried to dig for those feelings and share them through my characters. I may not always succeed as well as I’d like to, but it’s important to keep  trying.

Sharing your feelings is hard. As someone once said, it can feel like sitting down at the keyboard and opening a vein. You bleed with your characters. But you also celebrate with them, laugh with them, cry with them, sometimes die with them. And you write more truthfully as a result. Just as we voters knew truth when we heard it this week and when I reached my own epiphany, your readers will recognise when you are writing honestly. So next time you’re tapping away at the keyboard and find yourself laughing, getting turned on, or with tears running down your face, take it as a sign that you’re connecting with your readers on a deep emotional level. They’re no longer reading about your characters, they’re sharing the experiences, exactly as it should be.

Have you ever had an emotional experience while writing? How did it affect the end result? Share by making a comment below.


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