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Friday, 23 April 2010

Author Interview: Elizabeth Mellor

Elizabeth Mellor is a friendly, quietly spoken lady with an obvious passion for what she does. And she does a lot.

Professionally, Elizabeth is a social worker and therapist who has spent much of her time working with families, couples, parents and those who have experienced trauma in their lives. Now, she works mostly with other professionals, from psychologists and social workers to teachers, training them in handling such things. She works with her husband, Ken, with whom she has also written four non-fiction parenting books, providing advice on the emotional development of children.

Aside from this, Elizabeth writes (her non-fiction work, plus two novels: Oscar’s Way, published in 2002, and Bushfire in 2010), paints and teaches meditation. These are the things she credits as 'feeding' her. In fact, she never imagined she would even be writing non-fiction, as she loves the creative side of telling stories through her fiction and painting.

Having lived in the Dandenong Ranges for many years, including through the Ash Wednesday fires in 1983, and now based in country Victoria, fire is something Elizabeth has had to deal with for most of her life. She was stuck at home, alone, for thirteen hours during a terrifying firestorm in 2002. She didn’t choose to stay, she said, the fire came along so quickly she “had no choice; I had to stay”.

Then came Black Saturday in 2009. This was a devastating event in Australia’s history, the worst fires ever experienced in the state. This time, although the fires were close, Elizabeth’s home was untouched. But she herself wasn’t. “Everyone was touched by it; it was permeating the atmosphere,” she says, and she and the people around her community all knew someone affected.

It brought back some terrible memories that had to come out. She was also concerned about the children and teenagers involved and wanted to do something to help them. And so Bushfire was born. The first draft took six weeks to write, with Elizabeth describing herself during that time as "completely anti-social”, taking every spare moment between her work and other commitments to write.

In my chat with Elizabeth, we spoke about the way an idea can hit – “usually at 3am” she laughed – and the lack of control a writer has over the direction of her characters. Whilst writing Bushfire, Elizabeth was at times so surprised by the development of her characters that she “had to take a walk for a couple of hours to get over it”.

I asked Elizabeth if she would have any advice for other writers. “Write. Read. Spend time with people in that age group,” she suggests. She also says that, as a reader, she can always tell if a writer has written as an expression of who they are. If they haven’t, she is left cold. “Be true to yourself as a writer and a person. The rest follows.”

And what does she read? A huge variety: from Jane Austen and other classics, to mystery and fantasy genres, Anne McCaffrey and Nicole Mones. She immerses herself in a mass of children’s books, currently loving Gabrielle Wang, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan and John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice books.

So what’s next for Elizabeth Mellor? Even she is unsure: her ideas are 'unpredictable' she says, and she has interests in so many different genres and subjects. Watch this space.

To purchase Elizabeth Mellor’s latest novel, Bushfire, head to bushfirebook.com.au.

Read my review of Bushfire.

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