The Writing Life

Nice essay by Geraldine Brooks on writing about the world beyond Australia, but with Australian eyes.

“The bookshelves of my Australian childhood were garrisoned by foreign troops, filled with stories by faraway English people who wrote of things I couldn’t see or touch or know: A.A. Milne, Enid Blyton, C.S. Lewis; The Wind in the Willows, The Secret Garden, The Snow Goose. These were good books, but they came between me and my country. Australia had been an independent nation since 1901, but in the 1960s, my imagination was still a British colony.

The characters in my childhood books built their tree houses in reddening rowan trees; they did not scramble up scribbly gums…

One day, I hope to write an Australian novel. But I now know I will have to work for it.”

Clive James has written about this beautifully, too, in Unreliable Memoirs and now, as ever, Geraldine Brooks best describes the feeling: The Writing Life.

People always ask me why I write novels about European history. I’ve never cried more over a book than The Snow Goose; never been more desperate to get my hands on a book than Saturday afternoons at Nunawading Library, browsing the shelf that held both Geoffrey Trease and Rosemary Sutcliffe.

That’s why. That, and the fact that it is, objectively, fascinating.

I have written one very Australian book: the picture book, Billabong Bill’s Bushfire Christmas. But that, too, was set in the past, in that late 50s/early 60s world that does genuinely feel now like a different country.

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