I’ve always loved stories. Family legend has it that I used to spend hours playing in the sand pit, with a dog on either side of me and Rocka the horse leaning over me, his head just touching my shoulder, while I told them stories. I have to say, dogs and horses are great audiences, apart from their tendency to drool occasionally. But people are even nicer.
In case you imagine we were a filthy rich horse-owning family, let me assure you we weren’t. The horse period was a time when my parents entered a “let’s-be-self-sufficient” phase, so we had a horse, but no electricity and all our water came from the rain tank.
As well as the horse and dogs, we had 2 cows (Buttercup and Daisy and one of them always had a calf), a sheep (Woolly,) goats (Billy and Nanny) dozens of ducks, chooks, and a couple of geese, a pet bluetongue lizard and a huge vegie patch. I don’t know how my mother managed, really, because both she and Dad taught full time, but she came home and cooked on a wood stove and did all the laundry by hand, boiling the clothes and sheets in a big copper kettle. Somehow, we were always warm, clean, well fed and happy. She’s pretty amazing, my mum.
Once I learned to read, I spent my days outside playing with the animals (I include my brother and 2 sisters here) and when inside I read. For most of my childhood we didn’t have TV, so books have always been a big part of my life. Luckily our house was always full of them. Travel was also a big part of my childhood. My parents had itchy feet. We spent a lot of time driving from one part of Australia to another, visiting relatives or friends or simply to see what was there. I’ve lived in Scotland, Malaysia and Greece. We travelled through Europe in a caravan and I’d swum most of the famous rivers in Europe by the time I was eight.
This is me and my classmates in Scotland. I am in the second front row, in the middle, to the right of the girl in the dark tunic.
Sounds like I was raised by gypsies, doesn’t it? I was even almost born in a tent –Mum, Dad and 3 children were camping and one day mum left the tent and went to hospital to have me. But in fact we are a family of chalkies (Australian slang for teachers)- and Dad was a school principal during most of my life. And I am an expert in being “the new girl” having been to 6 different schools in 12 years.The last 4 years, however, were in the same high school and I still have my 2 best friends from that time.
No matter where I lived, I read. I devoured whatever I could get my hands on — old Enid Blyton and Mary Grant Bruce books, old schoolboys annuals. I learned history by reading Rosemary Sutcliffe, Henry Treece and Georgette Heyer. I loved animal books — Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby books and Mary Patchett and Finn the Wolf Hound. And then I read Jane Austen and Dickens and Mary Stewart and Richard Llewellyn and Virginia Woolf and EF Benson and Dick Francis and David Malouf and Patrick White and Doris Lessing and PD James and…the list is never ending.
This is me posing shamelessly on a glacier in New Zealand.
This is me in Greece with my good friend Fay in our village outfits. The film went a funny colour, but you get the idea. I’m the one in the pink apron.
I escaped from my parents, settled down and went to university.To my amazement I became a chalkie myself and found a lot of pleasure in working with teenagers and later, adults. I taught English and worked as a counsellor and helped put on plays and concerts and supervised camps and encouraged other people to write but never did much myself. It took a year of backpacking around the world to find that my early desire to write hadn’t left me, it had just got buried under a busy and demanding job.
I wrote my first novel on notebooks bought in Quebec, Spain, Greece and Indonesia. That story never made it out of the notebooks, but I’d been bitten by the writing bug.