Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

How childhood experiences influenced my writing

I was born in Tasmania more than sixty years ago and went to Princes Street Primary School.  There weren’t a lot of children living along our windy bush road so a grocery bus picked us up at six in the morning and we waited for it after school. The kids on the bus had to deliver newspapers in the morning and groceries in the evening, as we bumped our way to school and home again, often sitting on provisions, packaged in brown paper and tied with string. 

Back then, our neighbour drove a horse and cart to Hobart once a week, and there wasn’t a public bus to take people into town.  The government, however, provided a library bus that visited our neighbourhood once a week.  My mum would walk me down to the bus to borrow a book.  It was a real treat.  I was particularly impressed by an entire row of books about myths and legends from all over the world.  I just loved reading (we didn’t have TV) and I would fly to magical worlds through these books and hear about wondrous creatures like unicorns, witches and evil trolls.  So my fascination for magic, myth, and mystery probably influenced my popular girls’ series, The Faraway Fairies

I was a lucky kid because my parents raised me using the ancient, practiced art of benign neglect.  This custom has largely been lost today.  Also, I was the only girl in the area so I learned to box, play footy, cricket and British bulldog (British bulldog is now banned and children aren’t allowed to play it, but my parents didn’t seem to mind if I got squashed, had my knees skinned and was covered in bruises afterwards).  For my eighth birthday I was given a sheath knife and a bow and arrow set.  My brother and I soon became American Indians and found good use for the knife, scalping my little sister’s dolls.  We ran wild through the bush and my parents never saw the risks we took, climbing cliffs, shooting those arrows and leaping amongst branches and occasionally sneaking off and bare-back riding various local horses, without the owners’ permission.  I also loved the ocean and learned to surf and sail.  When I wrote my series The Dragon Blood Pirates, as Dan Jerris, I drew on these experiences.

My grandfather had a shack at Clifton with a locked gate across the only access road. There were aboriginal middens behind the sand dunes and my brother and I found old axe heads and flints amongst the cracked shells and bones around the fireplaces.  We loved the idea of being aboriginals and formed our own tribe.  We collected shellfish and ate them, threw spears, took sacred vows, and read everything we could about the mysterious people that once walked on the land where we now played.

These experiences further developed my love for history and artefacts.  Later, I was lucky enough to travel widely, through Europe, Asia, and the Middle East and explore ancient monuments and see for myself all the wonderful things I had read about as a child.  My brother also developed a fascination for aboriginal history and became an archaeologist.  He has just been involved in the new ABC documentary, First Footprints, about the history of the Aboriginal people.  He’s also had some amazing experiences and been caught in storms, tsunamis and earthquakes. 

I believe these influences have helped me create my latest books, Arky Steele, The Cursed City and Arky Steele, Guardian of the Tomb, which are about two boys having exciting archaeological escapades in Mongolia and South America.

Underpinning my writings, I believe that children should feel safe, so my stories have happy outcomes.  Parents are never far away and, in the case of Arky Steele, his parents are venturesome and caring. Perhaps they are a little like my parents, they let Arky play and explore, fall, take risks, encourage him to get up again when he makes mistakes, and give him the ability to think freely and see adventure as a way of life.

Eleanor Coombe (aka Dan Jerris)

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