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Five minutes with author Holly Ringland

HerCanberra Team

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, is a celebration of the power of female relationships to conjure strength, resilience and hope — even in the darkest times.

This enchanting debut tells the story of a young girl, the daughter of an abusive father, who has to learn the hard way that she can break the patterns of the past, live on her own terms and find her own strength — with a little help from the language of native flowers.

Holly Ringland grew up barefoot and wild in her mother’s tropical garden on the east coast of Australia. Her interest in cultures and stories was sparked by a two-year journey her family took in North America when she was nine years old, living in a camper van and travelling from one national park to another. Set between the sugar cane fields of northern Queensland, a native Australian wildflower farm and a celestial crater in the central Australian desert, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a love letter to the Australian landscape and reminds us of the innate connection between self-identity and home.

We chatted with Holly ahead of her appearance at Muse next week in conversation with Robyn Cadwallader, author of The Anchoress.

The Lost Flowers has a bit of a gothic, fairytale sense to it – did you, or do you, love fairytales?

I do love fairytales, and like so many early age book lovers, I’ve loved them since I was a child. All the European favourites were my favourites: Enid Blyton, Hans Christian Andersen, The Brothers Grimm, the Golden Book anthologies.

But I also desperately loved stories by May Gibbs and Dick Roughsey, which my mum introduced me to; stories like Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and The Rainbow Serpent allowed me to understand and connect with the country, flora and fauna I lived in.

Alice learns about flowers from her mother and grandmother – who did you learn from?

I spent the first years of my life playing in my grandmother’s abundant garden that grew alongside her house. All matters of the heart were directed to that verdant avenue: Granny taught me there is comfort to be taken from being among the forces at work in the natural world. As I grew up I watched my mother turn to coaxing flowers from dirt in her own garden. In 2009, I was researching for another story when I came across the Victorian language of flowers for the first time. As I read about this 19th century floral craze that swept across Europe, a spark came to life in my mind. It remained there, flickering in the background, until 2014 when I started writing Lost Flowers and the spark ignited.

I knew from being in the gardens of the women who raised me that Australian flora often thrives under harsh conditions, in extreme landscapes and weather. Thornfield and its language grew from there, as I considered the ways we find to use our voices even when we’re not able to literally tell our stories. Poring over books and botanical art, pairing native flowers with meanings was a deep source of wonder and light while I was writing the darker, harrowing parts of this novel.

How important is it to us as humans to tell our family stories?

I think making meaning of where and who we come from is an innate human desire, and an ancient, intergenerational storytelling practice.

How did you find writing from different cultural perspectives?

I found it an essential responsibility to include stories and characters from varying cultures in Lost Flowers. There were many generous friends, experiences and resources I consulted, drew from and used to write them.

Did you find the writing of the book cathartic to life trauma you have endured?

The genesis of this novel was trauma. I’ve lived with male-perpetrated violence for a lot of my life, which silenced my voice, courage and the dream of being a writer I’ve had since I was a child. In 2012, I started researching the relationship between traumatic experience and the process of writing fiction. It was through this research that I discovered Tom Spanbauer’s concept of ‘dangerous writing’, which is the idea of going into the sore place we all have inside of us, and writing from there; using fiction as the lie that tells the truth. I realised that I’d never written from the sore place. If anything, I’d written around it, aside it, in spite of it. Never from it.

So, my research became my own call to arms, but threw up all kinds of questions for me. What would become of me and my life if I wrote the thing I was most scared to write? What story would emerge, and how might it live in other people’s hearts, if it ever saw the light of day? What else can trauma be made into, other than unrememberable memories? These kinds of questions are why I wrote The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart. I don’t know if I found it cathartic to write at the time, though I do feel it’s the hardest and best thing I’ve written in my fledgeling life as a writer.

You lived in Canberra some years ago, what are you looking forward to seeing on your visit?

The stark beauty of the surrounding bushland, especially the gums and ironbarks. A cocktail at Tilley’s! The silhouette of Mt Ainslie at twilight. Portobello Markets! The Aussie natives in bloom at the ANBG. And Muse bookshop!

What is on your TBR pile right now?

At the top of the top it’s Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko, Understory by Inga Simpson, and an advance reading copy of Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton.

GIVEAWAY

We have two copies of Holly’s novel to give away to two lucky readers. To win, email [email protected] and describe your favourite native flower in less than 200 words with the email subject line ‘The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart giveaway’

Entries close COB 15/4/18. Winners will be notified on 16/4/18. Only winners will be notified. 

the essentials 

What: Holly Ringland in conversation with Robyn Cadwallader
When: Wednesday 18 April from 5.30-6.30 pm
Where: Muse, Ground Floor inside East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston
Tickets: $12 (includes a complimentary glass of house wine or soft drink). Purchase via TryBooking
More information: musecanberra.com.au/events/ringland

Feature image: Giulia Zonzas

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Her Canberra

Sometimes a story is bigger than one person...that's when the HerCanberra Team puts its collective head together to come up with the goods. Enjoy! More about the Author

  • Amy

    I can’t put this book down. Im sure I can at times while reading smell the flowers in Alice’s world. I hope not to wait too long for Holly to publish another book.