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Posts tagged ‘Thursday Island’

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.

To writers, looking at pictures of Hugh Jackman is work…honest

Pictures, YouTube videos, magazines…we writers have the best excuse to study them all. Whether it’s Hugh Jackman, Johnny Depp or Justin Babemagnet, they’re our source of hero material. The same with travel. Anywhere a writer goes is fuel for a future book, and the trip most likely tax deductible. Check with your accountant on this, it’s not my field, but we have to get our material from somewhere. Vacations are a great resource.

A few years ago I sailed to Cape York and Thursday Island on a converted cargo vessel. Before setting off I decided this would be a complete vacation. I wouldn’t take notes, hunt out possible locations, collect local real estate magazines for property references. My writer brain would be completely off line. After travelling widely in the name of research, this really appealed and I soaked it up. Snorkelling, fishing, sight seeing, wining, dining, all done without a notebook in sight.

Then I came home and…I’m sure you can guess the rest. Yep. I wrote the entire trip into a book called Island of Dreams which was later serialised in Woman’s Day. And I kicked myself for not keeping receipts as proof that I’d been working the whole way. Because I had. Unbeknown even to myself, I’d stored away scenes and story possibilities for what became a widely translated book, one of my favourites.

Research beckons...

Lesson learned. No matter where I’ve travelled since, I consider the trip at least partly research. Because the well has to be filled somehow. Your first few books may be written from experience and set in familiar places. But sooner or later you’ll need new input and the stimulation of new experiences.  You may not use any of it for months or years, but you will find yourself dipping into the well and coming up with a snippet you don’t remember storing away, and giving it to a character in a current project.

You see, writers are never off duty. Always some part of us is observing and taking note of the people, sights, sounds and smells we’ll later use in a story. That’s just how it is.

There’s only so much you can learn from online research. To really bring a location to life, you have to be there and feel how it feels. Writers of fantasy or paranormal books have different challenges. For the most part you can’t physically visit the places in your books. But I’ll bet anything that the rainforest glade on Planet Glorious will have its inspiration in some magical place you visited here on earth.

What’s your favourite kind of research? Have you been intrigued enough by an author’s research to want to visit the places she describes? I created a restaurant in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia and had readers asking for its address, as sorry as I was that it’s made up. People also say they’d like to visit Carramer, my South Pacific island kingdom. It’s a fantasy, too, but if you visit Noumea and Hawaii, you’ll see where my inspiration came from. Research is fun and writers are always doing it, whether we know it or not. So look at your hunky guy pictures and dream of your faraway places. For a writer, it’s all in a day’s work.


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