Wednesday 2 October 2013

Author Interview: Tania McCartney on Why Caroline Chisholm?

Regular visitors to Buzz Words know how much I love history for kids so I'm thrilled to welcome Tania McCartney as she explores the life of one of the greatest contributors to colonial Australia, Caroline Chisholm. 

Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend is the fifth book in the Aussie Heroes series by New Frontier. With so many eminent Australians to choose from, why Caroline Chisholm?

Oh goodness, where do I start? I think I initially chose Caroline because I knew so little about her—nothing in any great depth, anyway—and she fascinated me. I also appreciated the family and community focus in her work, and her endless sacrifice and dedication to the downtrodden and displaced.

I also knew that her story had been pretty heavily unrepresented. There are few biographies or life accounts on Caroline, and scant has been written for children on her life. Despite having a catalogue of places, suburbs, institutions and buildings named after her in both Australia and England, there is no national monument, not even a bronze statue, and in 1992, she was stricken from the five dollar note in favour of Queen Elizabeth II.

I suddenly felt a bit ferocious about her. So, she was my choice.

What did you find most impressive about Caroline’s life’s work?

Again, when do I start? For me, it wasn’t just the selflessness and support she offered others, it was the relentlessness, the courage and the fact that she refused to take no for an answer.

The other thing she did was refuse to align her work with any political party or cause. This meant her family was often in dire financial straits. It was the support of her colleagues and the community that kept her family afloat at these times. But only just.

Even in the lowest times, through financial strain and severe ill health (Caroline developed kidney disease that eventually killed her), this was one gutsy woman.

Why do children need to know about Caroline’s life?

Because of the selflessness. Because our general populace have moved so far away from community and family ties. We are such an I-focussed society now and it’s producing generations of ostracism, loneliness and depression. More than ever before, kids are in danger of overt self-focus and I’m hoping this book in some small way shows even a few kids that giving—support, sacrifice and generosity—is such a large part of our ultimate life happiness.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

I think I became too attached to her. This really surprised me. Like my NLA picture book, Australian Story, I spent a surprising amount of time weeping over Caroline’s story and the plights of so many. What people went through at Settlement—both Indigenous and introduced—is just heart-wrenching.

So, I found the research process very emotional and this made things tough at times—Caroline’s was a life of sacrifice. It doesn’t surprise me in the least bit that a Catholic body is campaigning for her canonisation. She’s just that good!

What did you love the most about it? 

How proud I felt. How heartened. But also, how princess-like! Caroline almost single-handedly made me feel princess-like and trust me when I say I’m not the least bit princessy (okay, I’ll admit I don’t like camping but I do like bushwalking and gardening and I don’t mind getting stuck into the composting!).

Here was a woman who didn’t bat an eyelid at extreme temperatures or conditions or snakes or bugs or bushrangers or politicians or literary giants. She even gave birth to her fourth child, Sydney, aboard a ship for England. It nearly killed her. This was one gutsy, phenomenal woman, who put comfort aside in order to help those in need.

That is what I loved most about writing this book.

Will you write more historical faction? Are you hooked?

Totally. I’m currently exploring a book on May Gibbs because, again, I feel she is so under-represented—at least in children’s book circles. When I speak to school children, I’d so love every single hand to pop up when I ask if they’ve heard of Snuggle Pot and Cuddle Pie. Dorothy Wall would also be amazing to write about and I have a real fascination with Florence Broadhurst—again not someone kids know a lot about. What a life she lived.

In the meantime, I have a picture book on Captain Cook in production right now—for the National Library, and that’s extra exciting because it’s being illustrated by friend and fellow-Taswegian (did you know this term comes from Royal Australian Navy slang of the 1930s? Fascinating!) Christina Booth.

In a way, I think I’m drawn to write about particular historical figures because they tend to ‘call’ me. I may have a small fascination with their story, but it’s the ones who speak the loudest that really get my attention. I have quite a few people in my head, so we’ll soon see who wins the shouting match …

Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend
(New Frontier, Oct 2013, $14.95, paperback, 9781921928482)

‘If Captain James Cook discovered Australia––if John Macarthur planted the first seeds of its extraordinary prosperity––if Ludwig Leichhardt penetrated and explored its before unknown interior––Caroline Chisholm has done much more: she has peopled—she alone has colonised in the true sense of the term.’
—Henry Parkes’ Empire newspaper, 15 August 1859

The fifth book in the Aussie Heroes series of junior historical fiction, Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend is an illustrated chapter book for children aged 8 - 12, and covers the remarkable life and work of one our Australia's greatest philanthropists. The book features beautiful illustrations by Pat Reynolds.

Tania McCartney is an author of both children’s and adult books, and has been writing professionally for over 25 years. An experienced magazine writer and editor, she also founded respected literary site Kids’ Book Review. She is passionate about literacy, and loves to speak on reading, books and writing. Her latest books include Eco Warriors to the Rescue! (National Library Publishing), Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo: A journey around Canberra (Ford Street), Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend (New Frontier) and An Aussie Year: Twelve months in the life of Australian Kids (EK Publishing). Tania adores books, travel and photography. She lives in Canberra with her family, in a paper house at the base of a book mountain.

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