'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Author Interview: Bernadette Kelly

Kids' Book Review Editor Jo Burnell was delighted to have the opportunity to chat with Bernadette Kelly, author of the popular Riding High and Pony Patch novels. Jo asked Bernadette about her latest book, Australian Writers of Influence, published in October 2014 by Black Dog Books.

The Our Stories Series by Black Dog Books has covered explorers, heroes and the federation. Your recent addition to this series introduces us to Australian Authors of Influence.

From where did the idea for this particular book come?
I have always enjoyed writing non-fiction and I find it an incredible opportunity to learn about all kinds of things. When I became interested in looking more closely at the lives and work of some of our early Australian writers, I happened to mention the  idea to the publisher for Black Dog Books. She then suggested I do a book on the subject for the 'Our Stories' series.

How did you go about digging up information from so many years ago?
I started with the internet. Google is one of the best tools for writers. Researching for me is a bit like what it must have been for the miners in the gold rush. With each new 'turn of the spade', I look for another shiny nugget of information to show itself. There is a treasure trove of information online if you are prepared to spend some time exploring.

Finding just one small but intriguing fact gives me 'gold fever'. The wonder of it spurs me on to see what else I can find and before I know it I have a whole pile of interesting snippets and I'm trying to decide which are the best ones to put in the book. But the internet can also be misleading. All facts need to be carefully checked and double checked for accuracy and that's where the library, old newspaper articles, and reference books become really, really useful.

Creative people can have crazy ideas. Who was the most madcap writer you found?
I'm not sure if madcap is the right way to describe him but I am in awe of the ambition that must have driven William Lane. To convince a shipload of about 500 people to leave everything behind and start a new life in Paraguay is quite a breathtaking feat. That he also had such confidence (dare I say, arrogance) to think he could control them all with his strict rules has me shaking my head in wonder. This story strikes me as one where the saying, 'truth is stranger than fiction', very much applies.

Louisa Lawson is my all-time hero because of the way she employed mostly women when she ran The Dawn press and especially in the way she resisted pressure from the all-male Typographical Union to fire all the women. Of all the writers you discovered, who is your greatest hero?
I would agree that Louisa Lawson must have been an incredibly strong personality and I cannot help but admire her for that. Of the writers in the book, another hero for me would be Miles Franklin. Strict expectations on behaviour and attitude for females in those days that would have been difficult for any young girl, let alone one as curious, spirited and ambitious as Miss Franklin appeared to be. Her novel, My Brilliant Career, set Miss Franklin apart. I do believe though, that she paid a high personal price for her success, and the negative reactions about the book from her family probably complicated her relationships with them for the rest of her life.

Who was the biggest rogue?
Adam Lindsay Gordon certainly strikes me as a man who liked to take risks and challenge authority. I suspect he was the type of friend who would have been great fun to be around, but also the one most likely to lead you into trouble or danger.

Was there someone you wanted to include in this treasure trove of stories that just couldn’t fit in?
Yes there was. Joseph Furphy was a farmer, an author and a poet who wrote under the name of Tom Collins. His novel, Such is Life, shows the lives and relationships between the bullock teams and the pastoralists they worked for. It was published by the people who ran The Bulletin and came to be considered an Australian classic.

If you were to write a full length re-enactment of one writer’s life, whose story would you tell?
Louisa Lawson. It would be wonderful to further explore her life, beliefs and the problems she would have had to overcome to create all those opportunities for women in her newspaper business. I think her story would translate well into an historic mini-series for TV.

Bernadette Kelly is an Australian author of fiction and non-fiction for children. Her books include the Riding High and Pony Patch series of novels and numerous educational readers. Out Stories: Australian Writers of Influence was published by Black Dog Books, an imprint of Walker Books, in October 2014. Visit Bernadette's website and Facebook page to find find out more her books and her love of horses.