{guest post} Growing up in Australia – the books that inspired me

Alice Miranda in Japan

Today I’m hosting Jacqueline Harvey as part of the From Australia with Love blog hop.

I spent my childhood living in the south western outskirts of Sydney, initially in Ingleburn and then when I was nine we moved to the much more rural surrounds of Camden.  It was the 1970s and 80s when farm land was being carved up to make way for housing estates.  A place where young married couples like my parents could afford to put down roots and live the great Australian dream of home ownership (or in reality have a manageable mortgage with enough money left over for a new Ford Falcon station wagon and the odd holiday at the beach).

From an early age my mother would take me and my younger sisters to the public library where I looked forward to a new haul of books each week.  I especially loved the smell and to this day, there is a certain scent in libraries and the books within them, that immediately takes me back to childhood.

I would also look forward to mum buying Little Golden Books when she did the shopping and over the years we amassed quite a collection.

There were books I fell in love with from the start.  The giant Richard Scary volumes where there was so much to look at – a sort of ‘Where’s Wally?’ for my generation without the man in stripes.  I adored anything and everything Enid Blyton and would often re-enact the adventures of the Famous Five and Secret Seven in the back yard or paddock – depending on the nature of the story.  Five Go Off in a Caravan necessitated venturing beyond the boundaries of the garden – I mean you didn’t want to be able to see the back door when you were meeting shady characters and solving mysteries.

Growing up in Australia, I loved all things English and European.  While it was blazing hot and forty degrees at Christmas time in Camden, I did my best to imagine what it would be like sitting by a crackling fire, decorating the Christmas tree, drinking egg nog (I had no idea what it was but it sounded interesting) and watching the snowflakes floating gently down outside, creating a perfect postcard scene.  One of my all-time favourite books as a child was Heidi, set in Switzerland.  That was a country that captured my imagination and when I was fortunate enough to visit in 2007, I was completely mesmerised by the Alps and the architecture.  I felt like Heidi was there too.  In the past few years I have spent a lot of time in England and I have to say I love it every bit as much as I imagined I would as a child.

Of course I read lots of Australian books too and one of my favourite authors was Colin Thiele who captured what it was to be an Aussie kid, growing up in a small town, making friends and having adventures.  He introduced me to places like the Coorong and the opal fields of Coober Pedy; the mighty Murray and the beaches of South Australia (which I visited for the first time last year).  One of my teachers read February Dragon to our class when I was ten and I can still remember it vividly.  Whenever there’s the threat of a scorching day, a westerly wind and a taste of that acrid smoke which somehow penetrates closed doors and windows, it reminds me that somewhere, the dragon, straining on his chain, has just been released.  Another favourite was Ruth Park’s Playing Beatie Bow.   The idea of time travel and the history of The Rocks was absolutely fascinating to me.  I think I fell in love with everything old as a very young child and I would nag my parents to take me to visit historic homes on the weekends and in the holidays.  I imagined what it would be like growing up in a mansion surrounded by endless gardens and secret places, where a new adventure was just around the corner.

The stories I write now are very much a combination of imagination and experiences.  I spent most of my working life as a teacher and Deputy Head before becoming a full time writer at the end of 2012.  My books are frequently set in school but also explore my love of old houses (which I still visit whenever I can), the joy of travelling and creating mysteries where the children are in charge of the solutions. I have had a couple of horses too – as a child and an adult, and we always had dogs and cats growing up, so including some cheeky animals such as Alice-Miranda’s pony Bonaparte, seemed a natural addition.

I spent my twenties living in the NSW Southern Highlands, which is probably about the closest in terms of landscape and village life to the UK as we have anywhere in Australia.  Alice-Miranda, Clementine Rose and their friends live in small villages where there are quirky characters, old houses and plenty of intrigue.  Of course their stories involve school too and in Alice-Miranda’s case she attends boarding school.  While I didn’t go to boarding school, I have spent my career working in schools with boarding.  When children ask me where the characters live I am deliberately vague.  Some believe it’s Australia and others are certain it’s the UK.  I think children are usually happy to make up their own minds.

So how have the books I read as a child inspired me as a writer today?  First and foremost I loved the idea of adventure and the children taking charge.  The settings are inspired by places I have experienced and imagined and the characters – well who knows exactly where they come from.  I was fortunate that books and reading played a huge role in my life as a child and I can only hope that my books will be read and enjoyed by new generations of readers.


Clementine Rose and the surprise visitor

Jacqueline Harvey is a born storyteller.  A highly experienced former teacher and Deputy Head of Junior School, she is the author of 16 novels for younger readers and a CBCA award winning picture book. Her bestselling Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose series’ are published internationally and have garnered various short listings and awards.  Jacqueline travels widely, speaking and teaching in Australia and overseas. She is a passionate advocate for literacy with a particular love of reading aloud.  Her latest titles are Alice-Miranda in Japan, Alice-Miranda Shines Bright and Clementine Rose and the Farm Fiasco.  You can find out more at www.jacquelineharvey.com.au

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