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Lychees or Peaches? With author Ian Trevaskis: why we all need a Border Collie named Peggy

Kicking off our new author interview series, Lychees or Peaches, is author, Ian Trevaskis. Let’s go Ian!

 

 

1 Hard questions first: Lychees or Peaches?

Definitely lychees

2 If you were written about in a newspaper, what would the headline say?

Acclaimed Author Admits He Made It All Up!

3 What is your favourite line from a book or movie?

“Take no prisoners!” from the movie Lawrence of Arabia

4 Which genre do you usually write in? And why do you think this is so?

Children’s picture books. Because I’ve never really grown up.

5 Tell me a secret about yourself that nobody in the whole world knows? Go on tell me, nobody but me is listening.

Back in the good old days when I was a kid I had a Border Collie called Peggy. We would often sit on the back verandah and discuss the day’s events. She was never judgemental and I could tell her all my fears and aspirations. She would occasionally nod and offer a lick. 

6 What was your latest book about?

‘Edge of the World’ brilliantly illustrated by Wayne Harris is about a fishing village near the edge of the world grieving for a mother and her children drowned at sea. Toby, the husband finds some magical silver pots in his nets and over time paints the village and brings life and hope back into their world.

7 How did you come up with the title? Did it come to fistycuffs with your editor?

Simple – the village was near the edge of the world! My editor (Donna Rawlins) and I figured that was probably an appropriate title and there were no fisticuffs, probably due to the amount of wine consumed when making the decision.

8 When you daydream about singing on The Voice (I know you do) which song do you sing and if you could have any celebrity judge in the world turn for you who would it be?

I can’t sing to save myself and I’m not prepared to kid anyone to the contrary.

9 We won’t ever force you to sing, Ian – it could result in a national disaster! What do you really, really, really, love?

Apart from my gorgeous wife and four incredibly talented children, it would have to be the complete series of ‘The Famous Five’ by Enid Blyton.

10 Can you show us a quick snap of your work desk? No tidy spic and span ones please. I won’t believe you.

This looks way too tidy, Ian. Someone needs to go in a mess it up!

11 Serious stuff now: where can we purchase your latest book?

‘Edge of the World’ can be ordered through Walker Books Australia (a paperback edition was recently released) or from any major bookstore if they don’t have it in stock.

 

Thanks for taking the time to do Lychees or Peaches, Ian!

If you’d like to find out more about the mysterious Ian and his tidy desk, he has a website here!

Interview: Writing in Virginia’s Shadow with Mary Pomfret

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A review of Mary’s ‘Writing in Virginia’s Shadow’ can be found here.

1.      Writing in Virginia’s Shadow is a collection of interconnected stories that ponder the writing life for working class women. The title suggests influence from Virginia Woolf’s work. Can you talk a little about how her work influenced the inception of your book?

Well, I guess it all starts with Virginia Woolf’s wonderful essay “A Room of One’s Own” which addresses the many issues that might influence a woman’s practical capacity to engage in a writing career should she have the talent and desire.

Woolf makes it clear in her analogy of “Shakespeare’s sister” that talent and drive are not enough for any person, male or female, to devote themselves to a writing life. However, she makes the very strong point that in a patriarchal society the demands and expectations of women are different from those imposed on men.  I know that Woolf wrote the essay in 1928, and of course things have changed a lot since then for women.

And although women’s lives have improved greatly in the last century, material matters, social expectations, and familial responsibilities still impinge on the artistic freedom of women. Clearly, most women in the contemporary western world do not spend Monday mornings hand washing and wringing the family laundry and generally they do not scrub the floors on their knees. Most have computers, electricity and hot water on tap. Yet still, women who write encounter difficulties, particularly if they are not from the privileged classes.  Although much progress has been made, women writers whatever their social class, still experience psychological struggles as a result of the dominant patriarchal order, which still might seem to favour the writing of men and the subjects that promote the perspective and interests of men.

Virginia Woolf noted, “This is an important book, the critic says, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room”. The description of a child eating an orange sitting on her mother’s lap by the fire in a suburban lounge room, can be just as vivid as the description of Napoleon riding a horse in the battlefield. Woolf was well aware that it is not the ordinariness of the subject but the quality of the writing which matters but that this is not always recognized in a patriarchal world.

2.      The collection utilises different forms of writing: short story, email, letters, and vignettes. I’m intrigued about how this lovely group of writings came together. Did you write with a theme in mind? or did you select from work that had previously been written?

Much of the writing in this collection formed my creative honours thesis. Because I possibly am more of a creative writer than an academic one, I used the ficto-critical approach which allows a certain creative freedom to address theoretical concerns. Hence the letters and emails from and to Virginia Woolf. And here I must give credit to my honours supervisor, Dr Sue Gillett, who introduced me to the ficto-critical form.

The short stories came together in the organic way that most stories do. I began by writing three separate stories, as a trilogy, and then I saw how easy it would be to link the characters because the themes connected them.

3.      Most of the protagonists are women, excepting a story about Sam and his book launch. How do you see this particular story fitting into the work as a whole?

Oh dear, poor Sam and his book a launch. Sam is perhaps more of a caricature than a character. And the same could be said about the egotistical Nigel, who launched Sam’s book. Sam appealed to Nigel’s vanity and attempted to emulate his cool confident style but without much success. I guess what I was getting at with these two, is that Nigel had a wife at home, Leah, with considerable writing talent, yet he failed to recognise her talent or support her work. He preferred to promote the work of the talentless Sam who stroked his ego by his hero worshipping attitude. Leah clearly did not give Nigel the adoration his ego required. As Virginia put it in 1928:

‘How could he go on giving judgment, civilizing natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and dinner at least twice the size he really is?”

4.      The character Sam shares the same name as Samuel Clemens. Can you share with us any meaning or connections we can take from your use of Samuel Clemens as a character?

Most astute of you, Julie, to ask me this question. Samuel Langhorne Clemens was Mark Twain’s pseudonym. I think perhaps “our Sam” wasn’t legally his name at all, but maybe he was a “John Smith” who felt Sam Clemens was a more suitable name for a writer of his perceived, but in fact dubious talent. My attempt at irony I guess: Mark Twain was a wonderful talent, “our Sam” clearly was not.

5.      For me as a reader, a theme that came through strongly is the idea that attitudes and responses to particular fiction vary widely depending on age, socio-economic status and gender. Is this an idea that you considered when putting this project together?

Once again, my fictional stories just tend to evolve. I rarely set out to write about a particular subject or issue. The theme of women, captivity and the material matters which influence their ability to fulfil their creative potential just seemed to develop and then fictional letters and emails sprang from there. I think I have read somewhere that the way in which you perceive the world, depends on your position in it. Your perspective in other words.  So, I figure that your age, gender, socio-economic status and perhaps race and family of origin are the basic footing for your view of the world. In the case of the writer’s perspective, my own included, these factors undeniably have an influence on the stories we write and the point of view we take.

6.      In the fictional letter from Margot to Virginia, Margot writes:

…I feel that writing of stories, stories with female characters who are from the working class, will do more to advance women’s position in society…because such stories would be accessible to more women than are the writings of academic theorists.

Can you talk a little about this idea and how your own work might relate to it?

Well, I guess I have a thing about  “ivory tower” perceptions of life. Take for example the writing of the French feminists – beautiful as it undoubtedly is – I don’t feel it is as easily understood by people who have not had the opportunity to study literary theory. Perhaps I am wrong, but I feel fiction has the power to explore complex issues in simple ways which touch the imagination and heart of the reader.

7.      Thank you for taking the time to chat with us Mary. I’m hearing rumours of another book. What else can we read by Mary Pomfret and what can we expect in the future?

Yes, Julie. Most exiting! My new collection of short stories ‘Cleaning out the Closet’ will be launched at the Basement on View (next to the Bendigo Art Gallery) on April 10, at 7.00 pm.

You can read a review of ‘Writing in Virginia’s Shadow’ here

Fuckadoodle! It’s just_a_girl ! Interview with debut author Kirsten Krauth

just-a-girl

When the opportunity arose to chat with Castlemaine author Kirsten Krauth about her unique debut book just_a_girl, I jumped at the chance. The novel is bursting with themes of loneliness, sexuality and relationships in a modern world, and we had a lot of fun exploring and unpicking those themes and it was great to get some insight into the evolution of the book. I hope you enjoy it too.

1                    Just-a-girl is an intriguing novel written in a non-traditional format, with a mix of diary, and third person. Is the final book as you had initially planned, or did these formats evolve over many drafts?

The mix is pretty much the same as when I started writing, but the draft I sent to the publishers was different in some ways to the final book. Layla is pretty much the same, with her choppy and cut-off sentences. But Margot’s sections were originally written in the form of a prayer, each one starting ‘Dear Lord’. If you look at those entries there is a rhythm to them that intones, as if she is speaking to someone. It still works, but more as a stream of consciousness. Tadashi was always in third person and past tense, because I thought you needed a character who offered a chance for pause, a bit of respite after the two very strong and direct female voices. He is also quite removed and I thought that style suited him.

2                    The characters in just_a_girl are believable and well-drawn; you’ve been able to get into each of these character’s heads to portray them in a realistic way, but all three characters are very different to each other. How, as a writer, did you prepare yourself to get inside your characters heads?

The strong voice of each character emerges first and if I like that voice, I run with it. Using certain stylistic phrases helped me get into the psychology pretty early-on and quickly. For instance, Layla’s character has virtually no commas or run-on sentences; whereas Margot’s character has a comma whenever she pauses, and her sentences can go on for pages! Simply saying one of Layla’s made-up words (‘fuckadoodle’) would make me laugh and I’d find the mood of the piece. Placing characters in a particular location, with a particular emotion, helps dramatically. I find it easy to empathise with a character, and I get to an emotional place where the language stems from where they are (whether it’s on the train or on a rollercoaster).

3                   As you mentioned earlier, the sentences in Layla’s diary are often cut up, short and stuttery and ignore normal punctuation rules in a way that might do an editor’s head in. Can you talk a bit about conversations with editors and readers you have had while working on just-a-girl about writing it in this style? 

That’s a beauty of a question! I didn’t really see it as a diary but as an insight into how Layla’s mind works. As an editor, I was aware of the difficulties of this kind of writing. It runs the risk of turning readers off very quickly. But as a writer, I wanted the style to completely reflect where Layla’s head was at. At the beginning of the book she describes her thoughts as being like a ‘grasshopper’s spring’ and it was more crucial for the writing to reflect that, than to be grammatically correct. With texts, messaging, and other forms of writing these days, the rules of grammar are being relaxed, and I don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing. My editor did query the style and encouraged me to run on some of the sentences. But I stayed pretty firm on it as I wanted the character to be distinguished by her strange use of language. I’m lucky that nearly all of my readers have had the resilience to push through and run with it. I love books like Trainspotting and A Clockwork Orange that play with language and style.

And  what lead you to the decision to have Margot’s character italicized?

I see Margot as a character who is unravelling. Her anti-depressants have been keeping her together (but numb) and now, having gone off them, she’s starting to spiral. It’s like she’s trying to convince herself (not convincingly) that everything is okay. The long sentences in italics give a hint that she is not coping, but also that she is immensely lonely. Her long rants (to herself) are a way of venting when she doesn’t have someone else to connect with. And this juxtaposition of styles points to the lack of communication between Margot and Layla, too. I’m very sensitive to the way looks on the page, how text is arranged. We experimented in final drafts with doing Margot’s chapters in roman text, but I couldn’t do it, because the italics had become an integral part of her characterisation.

4                    Margot and Layla are mother and daughter, but your third character, Tadashi, comes out of left field, and although he connects with Layla in the story, he has a very separate story line. In her review of just_a_girl, Angela Meyer draws a connection between the three characters and says of Tadashi,

…there’s a disturbing metaphor of objectification in his story, which echoes some of the actions of male characters in the story threads of Layla and Margot. He has literally replaced a flesh-and-blood woman with a doll who keeps quiet and is available whenever he needs her. She is pretty and poses the way he wants her to. There are parallels with the sex video that Layla makes for Mr C, an older man, and in her relations with her 18-year-old boyfriend, and also in the harassment she suffers—and never reports—from her boss.

What do you see as the connection between the three characters, or what drew you to connect Tadashi to Margot and Layla within the novel?

I see all characters as not-quite connecting, either with each other or the world around them. I liked the idea of Tadashi being a commuter on the same train as Layla, appearing and disappearing, almost as if Layla summons him when she needs him, but with a fragility that never quite extends to friendship. All the characters project their fantasies of what ‘real life’ and an ‘ideal relationship’ should look like onto others. In Margot and Layla, it’s their shared Mr C. Tadashi imagines love and nurturing in the only space he feels comfortable – and takes this ideal to an extreme. In general, I like leaving the threads of narrative untangled so the reader can weave them together how they like. It’s one of the reasons that I love Murakami’s novels (who is a big influence on this book) because he’s not interested in tying all those threads together. All the characters are also exploring sex and power, the way they are cast (aside) sexually, who they can trust, how others’ look at and respond to their bodies, to what extent all of this can be controlled. Angela’s interpretation is terrific as I think it’s about posing: how they present to the world versus how they really feel, and what happens when they are truly exposed.

5                    Leading on from this idea of sexual identity and objectification, in her review of just-a-girl, titled, Are Teenage Girls Just Like That? , Elizabeth Lhuede delves into the portrayal of sexually precocious young teenage girls in literature, and the written compared to actual motivations of girls’ behaviour, whether it‘s born out of early sexual abuse, suffering that shaped the parents who raise them, the invasiveness of the internet, or perhaps simply ‘teenage girls are just like that’. Is this something you explored and constructed in just-a-girl? Or did you write the book as it came to without delving into those themes?

The idea of sexually precocious (or physically precocious) teens came out of my direct experience. I was an early developer, like Layla. I found this intensely challenging, as my body was garnering unwanted attention in public (from older men rather than boys), before I had any emotional or intellectual capacity to deal with it. I wanted to explore this divide. My experience did not come out of sexual abuse, so that’s a realm I didn’t research, but was very moved by Elizabeth’s analysis.  I thought it was an area that hadn’t been explored much in fiction. As with Layla, though, by the time I was fifteen all the other girls had caught up, so it was a very particular timeframe. If you read closely, though, Layla is actually quite naive and inexperienced when it comes to her sexuality, but she masks it by talking about sex a lot, and putting herself in dangerous situations where she has to confront things head on.

6                    Lastly, I hit my elbow in the shower the other day, and instead of my usual expletive I blurted out that word of Layla’s that you mentioned earlier, Fuckadoodle! I’m thinking you’ve started a new catch, what do you think!?

LOL, we are in sync! As I mentioned earlier, I just had to say that word to myself, and I was off in Layla-land. My dad has developed a whole string of profanities that go along after it in a poetic way; quite hilarious. It does make reading in public hard though, if there are any kids around! Feel free to move it along. I love Kath n Kim and J’amie and all those characters who make up their own words. That latest one, ‘quiche’, just absolutely cracks me up.

Thanks Kirsten!

You can read my mini review of just_a_girl here. Kirsten can be found at her blog, Wild Colonial Girl , and on twitter @WldColonialGirl . There is also a great interview over on ANZ Lit Lovers  called Meet the Author, with Lisa Hill and Kirsten.

Just_a_girl is published by UWA Publishing, 2013. I read the E-book.

Elizabeth Jolley interview with Julie Proudfoot

At the time of this interview ( October 1999) Elizabeth Jolley had just released her fourteenth novel: ‘An Accommodating Spouse’, and released only one more book in 2001: ‘An Innocent Gentleman’ . Sadly, she passed in February 2007. This interview was conducted for Mystic Ink Magazine.

 

When reading Elizabeth Jolley’s work with her strong characters you can be forgiven for imagining a woman with a domineering presence. Her presence is powerful, but you will also find yourself drawn in by her quietly endearing sense of humour, her modesty, and her generosity that come through with such warmth when she speaks. This humbleness and humour, you will find, is also present in her work. In her book,  Central Mischief: Elizabeth Jolley on writing her past and herself,  Jolley says, “I want, in my writing, to be optimistic and fond”. I think this sums up her personality as well as her writing.

Her words are full of meaning, and will entice you to read her work again and again, and her work can bear many readings, leaving you enjoying and seeing more of her depth of understanding of people and her exploration into the human mind while enjoying her fascinating characters.

Jolley’s work has often been referred to and studied by feminist groups for her strong, independent, and sexually confident female characters, but Jolley has denied having developed feminist issues in her work. Simply saying she enjoys writing real and interesting female characters.

J.P. Elizabeth your writing is very often the private details and internal
thoughts of your characters’ minds about their lives and relationships,
topics many of us avoid discussing in our own lives. Do you feel it takes
courage to be true to your thoughts when you write?

E.J.  Much fiction writing examines the private details in human life,
especially thoughts and wishes. Any writing needs courage because some
people might dislike your work.

J.P.  Helen Garner recently referred to writing as a ‘sickness’that must
be attended to’. How do you feel about your writing life?

E.J.  I don’t see writing as being a sickness. It is an art, which has to
be kept alive, and worked at with an excitement and the hope for something
special to occur.

J.P.  Do you believe anyone can write or is a talent required?

E.J. A talent or an interest in writing is help but great discipline is
needed to carry on the wish to write. A feeling for language and
compassion for human individuals are needed, also constant observation, the making of
a quick note, and mixing with people.

J.P.  Do you have a set writing routine?

E.J. No, I work whenever I have the chance and get up very early to make
time.

J.P. When you write a novel do you write prolifically and then go back to choose what to
leave in or out or do you go ahead and write the novel chapter by
chapter?

E.J. No, I never write prolifically, I write small unmatched fragments
and weld them into a story or novel in what I feel to be the best way (for
me) I re-write, and always rearrange order of events to structure the work.

J.P. Elizabeth I have read that you were writing for twenty years before
publishing, do you feel there are constraints or processes involved in
publishing?

E.J. I was not accepted by publishers and their readers because, I think,
at the time I was offering “different” material here in Australia.
Everything has been published now, except the novel I am not finished
with. It is hard to get in the Eastern seaboard publishers if you live in
Western Australia, and I feel that this was the case.

J.P. You have the ability to convey immense feeling and meaning in your
work. Would you attribute this to your abilities as a wordsmith, or
perhaps your understanding of human nature?

E.J. I try to understand human nature sexual and otherwise, if there was
no mystery about life and death etc. I suppose there would be no writing? I
suppose that is the case. I love language and people and places

J.P. There is often sexual tension in your work, in your opinion how much
sex, if any, is good for a story?

E.J. There is a “lot of sexual tension about.” – sorry for the cliché.
Sexual matters create tension of all sorts between people; most mistakes
in life are sexual in origin. I would not place too much in a story or novel
and by suggestion is more powerful than straight boring telling. ‘Crude’ is
not a good thing either, it becomes boring.  I try to be interesting!

J.P. At a reading from your most recent book, The Accommodating Spouse,
you read a childhood story of your own, and spoke of the importance of
recollecting and writing our own childhood. Why, in your opinion, is it
important to write our childhood?

E.J. If people want to write their child hood it may be soothing to them,
also experiences which belong to one person might not be known about by
other peoples and can become interesting material in a book – but not
overdone in length or in incident. However, writing about your own
childhood can be a bore to other people, as our dreams may be boring to
other people.

J.P.  In your work there is a strong sense of place coming through, I am
referring to the Australianness and Britishness of the landscapes and
characters. Do you feel your work can be enjoyed cross-culturally?

E.J. Yes I think people like to read familiar backgrounds and they like
to be offered a wide variety of backgrounds. British, Australian and
European backgrounds are very important to me to show things about characters. I
hope I am being enjoyed a bit in different places – rather awful to see
one of your own books being sold for 5 cents on a charity stall!

J.P.  Elizabeth you have a website on the Internet, do you find this
helpful in bringing you additional exposure, and have you ever considered writing
and publishing e-books through the Internet?

E.J. I know nothing about web sites. I do not have anything to do with
computers except to supply grandsons with “the necessary” and the money
for the computers’ needs. I can’t even type and I can’t ‘compute’, – that’s
how I am; I do not fret over this.

© Julie Proudfoot Melbourne 1999.

Home Schooling Life – Interview.

Carleen lives in country Victoria and is a Mother of five children. My first contact with Carleen began with our mutual interest in alternative nutrition. During our many phone conversations I became curious about the way she and her family live: Carleen home educates her five children; two of her children were born at home; electricity is drawn from a generator or solar power; their food is mostly organically grown, some from their own garden. I wanted to learn more about what this means for everyday life, so decided to visit Carleen and her life.

After dropping my six year old off at school I continue on my way out of town. I think about what it is I really want to ask Carleen. Although I’ve sent my questions on ahead I want to know a little more. I want to know that I am not depriving my children by not offering them this life.

I turn off the main road and drive up the long dirt track that keeps to the wire fence line, stopping once to open the gate that allows me to drive into the next paddock, then continuing on to the mud brick house. The dogs announce our arrival barking and yapping around the car. There is work in progress on one side of the house. Later Carleen tells me her two eldest sons have decided to build another room there.

My two younger children are with me. I knock once on the open screen door, and at Carleen’s invitation we let ourselves in. My children are happy playing on the floor with Carleen’s younger children, Tali ten, Liam five, and Eric three. We settle in for a cup of tea and a chat.

Carleen has five sons. I imagine her up early lining up her children at the kitchen table, books out, doing their times tables. Not so. Rather than presenting her children with regular set school work Carleen helps the children learn about their interests by making information available, and answering questions as they arise. Carleen says,’I believe children learn in blocks of time, three to six months, working hard at something they are interested in, then dropping it and starting something new. Rather than twenty minutes per day or week as in school.’

J.I.    Carleen you prefer to use the term ‘Home Education’ rather than ‘Home Schooling’.

C.S.    Yes, I don’t like ‘Home Schooling’, it gives the idea of a school structure, and home being like school. I use the term ‘Home Education’, as I think of education, as being learning. I have come to believe that the whole of life is an education, you can’t just block education into sections and buildings.

J.P.    Do you come across a lot of negativity about the way you choose to educate your children?

C.S.    A lot of people have the attitude that we don’t learn anything until we step into a building — an education establishment. I think we learn by doing things, by getting involved in life. Basically what I have done, and worked toward as a parent and as a member of the family, is totally opposite to the majority, and people are always asking why.

It is something I have questioned all along, when you live outside the norm, you have to question, and other people do that on my behalf; everyone has had ideas and attitudes, particularly when the children were young.

Now I don’t care, and no-one argues anymore. I have a son who is eighteen and has finished his degree. He recently won an award in his field at LaTrobe University, and has also been nominated for Young Australian of The Year.

The person Joel has grown up to be, is everything that I wanted, envisaged. I still constantly try to point them in the right direction, trying to encourage them to have right actions, right beliefs.

A friend sent me a card recently, congratulating us as she understood what we had given and what we have had to go against, to do what we’ve done.

When people talk to our children they’re impressed with the kind of children they are, and it is really nice to hear that coming back from other people, that that is what they see — the end result that I have been aiming for all these years. Whereas when the children were young, it was only a belief.

J.P.    What is ‘Home Education’ about for you, being true to yourself, being true to your ideas and thoughts?

C.S.    Yes, and I could not, not do that. There isn’t a part of me that couldn’t. It     would be like living a lie to try and do what somebody else thought I should do.

J.P.    Is it about instilling a sense of independence?

C.S.    Yes, and a sense of who they are, not what someone else thinks they should be. I have had to struggle hard with that one. I believe that people are who they are, they should be allowed to be who they are, and develop that. It is about, being, growing, bringing up my children how God wants me to. I will do whatever it takes for that to be the outcome.

J.P.    Carleen you are involved with PACSA (Parents Association for Children of Special Abilities) how did you become involved with them?

C.S.    When Joel, (now 18) was a child I began to go along to their meetings. I believe all children are talented. It is a matter of discovering each child’s special abilities.

J.P.    Carleen do you feel schools can meet children’s educational needs?

C.S.    They can’t. Smaller schools can perhaps, if any school can. In smaller schools children can think, they have the time to think, you can converse, even with the teacher, the teacher is not an out there, unapproachable person.

J.P.    How do you provide your children with the information they ask for, or need?

C.S.    When it comes to music we’re lucky as there are a variety of musicians in the house. We get books from the library, or

sometimes we find a person who is knowledgeable in a particular area. We go on excursions; recently we went to a dairy to learn about dairy farming.

When Joel was thirteen he was interested in welding, so I enrolled him in a     Tafe course on welding, which lead to his interests in computers. Dion, who is sixteen, was interested in Bee Keeping so he spent a week at an apiary and began working there, and now he is working on a worm farm.

J.P.     You mentioned you enrolled Joel in a Tafe course at age thirteen, have you set an age at which you feel your children can be educated out of the home?

C.S.    Not really, but I suppose that is about the age that I would do that. We provide them with any information they need until they are old enough to make decisions for themselves about what they are interested in and know what they want to do.

J.P.    Where does your strong belief in yourself and your ideas come from?

C.S.    I can’t even answer for myself why I feel so strongly and believe, even despite the fact that I don’t think anybody has supported how I wanted to educate my children, how I wanted to parent my children.

My grandparents instilled in me the belief that I was fantastic, that the person     who I was, was wonderful, and I can remember my Grandfather telling me that I would go a long way in life. My grandfather was also very politically aware, and he encouraged me to think about things and not just go along with people.

J.P.    Can we talk a little about home birth? What benefits do you see in home birth?

C.S.    Everything, being in your own environment, in total control, not being stressed out by everybody watching, able to climb into your own bed afterwards. It is just so uncomplicated. You don’t have to have somebody who decides to tell you what to do and when you can do it. ‘Stop pushing, stop breathing, push now, take this…’

When I was nine, I asked my Aunt what it was like to have a baby, she said, “it was like shelling peas”, and I thought, yes, exactly, it is natural, it is hard work yes, but it is just normal, having babies, that is what our bodies are meant to do. We can incorporate that into our lives.

J.P.    Were you concerned about needing medical intervention for yourself or your baby?

C.S.    When I asked the doctor who attended my births, if he would come, he looked me and said, “you could die at home”, and as my response was that if I was going to die I would rather die at home than in hospital, he didn’t hesitate to come.

J.P.    Your third and fourth children were born at home, but your fifth child was born in hospital, why did you decide against a home birth for Eric?

C.S.    We had Rhesus incompatibility.

J.P.    So if you foresee a problem you would choose to have the baby in hospital.

C.S.    Yes.

J.P.    Carleen can we talk a bit about your life style in general? When we spoke on the phone to arrange a time to meet, you had not changed to day-light-saving time. Are you ever accused of being out of touch with society, and does that concern you?

C.S.    A friend’s Father was disgusted that I didn’t know anything about a particular war going on. The way I see it, yes, it would be important for me to know if I could do something about it, but I can’t, so there is no point worrying the children or myself.

Carleen is keen to show me her vegetable garden and I am keen to see it. We wander out the back door and the children hover about doing their own thing, playing with the puppies, riding bikes. Tali, ten, shows us his flower garden. His mother tells us he has recently taken an interest in plants and flowers. By the look of the healthy display he is obviously doing a great job.

Carleen takes hold of the wheelbarrow with a bucket and we wander down to the garden following a vague track in the worn brown grass. A dome shape chicken cage is in the vegetable garden, chickens included. The straw, food scraps, chickens eating, excreting, and scratching make a wonderful soil to grow the vegetables in. Carleen tells me that when the chicken’s work is done the dome is moved on to the next spot. I then become aware of a number of circular vegetable patches in the garden where the chickens have been.

After feeding the chickens, picking strawberries, and collecting the eggs we make our way back up the track. I say to Carleen that it seems like hard work, ‘well, no, not really, when you are loving every second of it,’ she answers.

Our visit is over and as I drive away I am lost in the thoughts I take home from my time with Carleen. I immediately want to go pick up my daughter from school and never again have the morning argument about why she must go to school.

As I reach home, although I am inspired to live a healthier lifestyle, and I want chickens in my back yard, I decide that I am doing the right thing for my children. It is about choice and what we choose for our children and ourselves within our own lives, our own capabilities, and our own beliefs. It is as individual as the people we are and what is best for some might not be best for others. I’m pleased that I’m content with the life I provide for my children and myself.

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