I met Australian author Roseanne Hawke at the Omega Writers Conference in Brisbane in October 2013. She gave a fascinating keynote speech, so I've invited her onto the blog today to introduce you to her.
Iola:Welcome, Rosanne. First, can you tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What motivated you to start writing? What kind of books do you write? Where are they set?
Rosanne:I’m from South Australia and was born in Penola. I lived on a sheep farm until I was six. I grew up in Central Queensland near Banana where my father was a grazier. My eldest daughter Lenore motivated me to write when we lived in Pakistan as aid workers because I told her a story that she liked. She had the vision of walking into a bookshop and buying a book that her mother had written just for her. Jihad was that story.
I write for children and young adults and have tried different genres within those fields but I mostly write realism and often in a different cultural context from my own. Most of my books are set in Australia (The Messenger Bird is even set in my house) but some are set in Pakistan or Azad Kashmir. Parts of Jihad are even set in Afghanistan.
Iola:You are a Christian but write books aimed at the general market. What made you choose this rather than the Christian market?
Roseanne:I wanted any young person to be able to have access to my books. I actually felt ‘called’ to write for all young people, not just Christian ones.
Rosanne:Yes, it has been suggested to me to write for the Christian market, and I may one day. One lady said she hoped I’d write a book for God but I don’t see a difference between my spiritual life and secular life. Nor do I think we should divide ourselves that way. If I create a work I do it for God whether it mentions him or not. Creating a beautiful work of art is giving glory to God, and that is what I hope to do.
Iola:You choose topics and titles that could be seen as provoking or controversial, such as arranged marriages, modern slavery and teenage sex. What attracts you to these topics?
Rosanne:It’s strange, I don’t set out to write what some call an ‘issue’ or ‘problem’ novel, yet a character’s story will move me and I start writing her or his story. The character always comes first and if my character is going to be forced into marriage, then I write that.
Because I have lived in the Middle East for ten years I have some background to write novels like Mountain Wolf. I was crossing the border into Azad Kashmir when I got the idea to write Marrying Ameera; that was when I heard about forced underage marriages happening there. I suppose it is compassion that attracts me and moves me to write to give such young people a voice.
Iola:What kind of feedback do you get from readers? From their parents? From teens?
Rosanne:One parent told me that Zenna Dare got her daughter off drugs. I’m not sure how that happened but it is amazing how a book will affect different readers. Pakistani-Australian girls and boys thank me for writing about their culture. One girl said I got Marrying Ameera just right – she was surprised her name wasn’t on the cover. One boy told me he read Taj and the great Camel Trek three times. A teen reviewer said she didn’t realise a book could change her point of view on asylum seekers like Soraya, the Storyteller did.
I am some people’s favourite author so that’s nice. I even got a package of letters from a class of 4-5s in Kazakhstan. They were so shocked about the ending of Soraya, the Storyteller that they each wrote me an epilogue. I don’t blame them as I also find it difficult to understand what our government is doing to asylum seekers.
Iola:There is a view that Christians shouldn’t write novels: they should write non-fiction, because this is truth while fiction, made up stories, are lies. What is your opinion of this?
Rosanne:I think this may involve a misconception of what fiction is. I think there is probably more truth that matters in fiction. There is a great writing book called The Lie that Tells the Truth by John Defresne. This title sums it up well: Fiction shows the trueness of human nature and lets us explore our human condition. We are not only entertained but we are moved, and learn more about life and ourselves than we may think possible.
Iola:I like that idea. I've read similar quotes from other authors, and I believe novels can speak to people in a way non-fiction sometimes can't. Now, which of your books is your personal favourite, and why?
Rosanne:This is always a difficult question as with over twenty books there will be reasons why each one is special. But I’ll say Zenna Dare here because when I finished writing it I can remember thinking that if I died in the night I knew I had left something worthwhile. The story echoes some of my personal journey and has much in it that means a lot to me: inspiration from my husband’s and my family history, Cornish themes (we are both fourth-generation Cornish), a setting that we subsequently moved to, local history, secrets, mystery, music. And perhaps the most important thing to me of all: that of relationship and reconciliation, not only on a human and cultural level but spiritual as well.
Iola:What was the last novel you read? Would you recommend it? What do you like to read for recreation? What author do you recommend, and why?
Rosanne:My son Michael gave me The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton for my birthday. It was shortlisted in practically every award at the time. It has over 800 pages so I kept it to read over Christmas. Yes, I recommend it for its innovation and writing style. It’s about a crime on the goldfields in New Zealand in 1865. Usually long books could be cut, but I didn’t think that about this one. It was written so well that you could see the twenty characters (!) It was very clever. Our writing improves if we stretch ourselves and read the Miles Franklin shortlist, for example.
I’m often reading YA or children’s books. I think Kate Di Camillo is an author whose writing is beautiful and her stories move me; I loved her Because of Wynne Dixie. We have so many good Australian authors too. When you say ‘recreation’, I find it difficult now to keep reading a book that has not been carefully crafted and is really an early draft. I find a well written story that moves me is true recreation for me.
Iola:Where can people find out more about you and your books?
Rosanne:My books are available in any bookshop even if they are not on the shelves. Just order them, though a few older ones are out of print. My latest books from 2010 onwards are also available as e-books. One of my books is available now in the U.S. Its title there is Spirit of a Mountain Wolf.
You can also find me at my website (www.rosannehawke.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/RosanneHawkeAuthor) and follow me on twitter (@rhawke53).