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INTERVIEW: Holly Ringland

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


Today I welcome Holly Ringland, author of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?

Oh, yes. Daydreaming has been an escape and salvation throughout my life, like books. I had a boyfriend once, when I was younger, who’s favourite criticism of me was that I always had my head in the clouds, in 'Holly-land'. It’s taken twenty-something years for me to realise what a gift an active imagination is; to be able to daydream, and wonder, and ponder is the best way I know to enrich our interior lives.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Ever since I was a child. My mum taught me to read when I was three (thank you, Mama!) and it was then that I first grasped an understanding of what an author was. It was Sungglepot and Cuddlepie that did it. Lately, Mum has been joyfully recalling how, aged three, I walked out of my bedroom clutching my May Gibbs books and announced with great ceremony I was going to grow up and be like her. I don’t remember ever knowing anything else about myself so surely: I have always wanted to be a writer.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?

I was born in Gladstone, Queensland. Now, I live between Manchester, England, with my English partner, Sam, and the Gold Coast hinterland, Queensland, with my parents who very kindly share their home with me as my base when I’m, in Australia. It’s heaven. Three acres, Mum’s garden, and our three dogs. I feel so incredibly lucky every time I get on the plane here or there. I love to read, write, garden, cook, hike, swim in salt water, travel, and be with people I love.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
It’s strange feeling that rises when I think about what my answer is. This is my first book and so, in some ways, it feels like this story has been brewing in me all my life. 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 a PhD in Creative Writing. I used my research to look at 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 that place; 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.

How extensively do you plan your novels?

I handwrote the first 11,000 words of Lost Flowers in May, 2014; they poured out, and then dried up. I knew enough to know not to force it, and to take care of my mental health (I was bereaved at the time) so I stepped away from writing prose to focus instead on daydreaming. You were such a force for good in teaching me this, Kate. I did that for about 14 months – vividly dreaming the story to life – before I returned to writing in August 2015. I wrote the 100,000-word first draft in the following three months, finishing at the end of October. I didn’t plan it extensively, but while I was gathering and developing the story in my mind I did uncover major skeletal bones before I went near my keyboard. I’ve learned about myself that I can’t write blind to find where I'm going… when I’ve done that in the past I just end up writing hundreds of thousands of unnecessary words, trying to find my way. I believe nothing is wasted, all of those words got me to where I needed to be, but writing is enough of a leap of faith as it is, I don’t need extra fodder for the anxieties and doubts in my mind. I find writing to be more joyful when I know vaguely where I’m going in the story, versus writing through darkness to find my way.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

In the past, I have. Usually I’m driven to write by the kind of dreams that are so potent and so vivid that they don’t leave you alone the next day. They haunt me with their realness, even if they’re not frightening in nature. They’re the dreams I know I can only exorcise by writing them out.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?

Many. Writing Lost Flowers changed my life in innumerable ways.

Where do you write, and when?
If I’m not in a project, but am free-writing, I will write whenever and wherever I can. Like, a café, or a library, or a hotel room, or my Mum’s kitchen table. When I’m in a project, I need a base camp, like my office, where I can pick up and leave off and pick up what I’m working on, on a daily basis. I seemed to need that stability when writing Lost Flowers. Maybe the process will be different with my next work. Sometimes the creative process is a wonderful mystery!

What is your favourite part of writing?
The daydreaming and the researching and the connecting and the imagining. I can’t get enough of that time when everything is possible. Also, I love observing how my natural response to being in that phase means that I physically embodying the story. While I was writing it, Lost Flowers spilled over into all areas of my life, which is no bad thing! My wardrobe has never contained so many florals/birds/butterflies/books motifs. Our dreams are worth working hard to honour and enjoy. And embodied, if we so like.

What do you do when you get blocked?

I step away from the keyboard and deliberately redirect myself to spend time with my imagination in a gentle way. I deliberately make space and time to do other things that feed my senses, like going to a plant nursery and getting into the garden, or, I go to the art gallery and sit to look at the corners of paintings where the details are, or I go to a stationery shop (because the smell alone of crayons and pencils and paper can be enough to cause a shift), and I carry a notebook and pen just in case. But I keep a close ear to my inner self talk and storytelling and make sure the loop tape that is play is kind. Self-flagellation and writing don’t work for me. My writing blocks are nearly always connected to anxiety so when I’m blocked, I know my mind needs compassion and I’m learning how best to respond.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I really believe in the adage, input is output. If my output is thin, I know it’s time to go foraging. I take my cues from bowerbirds, except rather than gathering to dazzle and impress a mate, I gather to dazzle and impress myself. Whether it’s going for a slow walk in the golden hour and taking photos, or cooking something delectable no matter how long it takes or the mess it makes, or doing yoga with candles, or wearing red lipstick, or listening to live music, or travelling to a place I haven’t been before, I find inspiration by feeding my mind things that awaken my sense of wonder.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

If possible, I burn essential oils and make the space I’m writing as aesthetically lush and bright as I can. That doesn’t only mean having a space near natural light, or a vase of fresh flowers on my desk, or a stack of the books of that most inspire me but also having evocative writing tools within reach, like a notebook with sumptuous creamy pages, or a pen with glossy black ink. I need both analogue and digital. Sometimes I work in silence, but most often I listen to classical music, or soundtracks, whatever it is, it has to be music without lyrics.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Alice Hoffman, Brooke Davis, Myf Jones, Favel Parrett, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Kate Forsyth, Inga Simpson, Zora Neale Hurston, Eliza Henry-Jones and Anthony Doerr.

What do you consider to be good writing?

To be frank, writing that I take with me to pee. If I can’t bear to be away from something I’m reading for those ten seconds, I know it’s good. When I was writing Lost Flowers and I was asked what kind of book I wanted to write, my instinctual answer was, something readers can’t put down, but then when I thought about what that actually looked like for me, it was the book you take with you to pee. But also cook, or fold laundry, or do anything that requires you should technically put down your book, but you just simply cannot.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
You are braver than self-doubt will have you know.
Give yourself the love and kindness you didn’t receive.
The answers can always be found in books.
Fear will never go away, it’s part of the process. Offer it a seat, buckle it up, give it an iPad to watch, and get in the driver’s seat. This is your road trip; fear doesn’t get to dictate where you go.
Your first draft is perfect, it only has to exist: you can’t edit a blank page.

What are you working on now?

I’m daydreaming to life the bones of my next novel. At the very beginning of gathering and researching. Protecting the seeds before they sprout. It’s the most delicious time.

You can read my review of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart here.

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The most enchanting debut novel of 2018, this is an irresistible, deeply moving and romantic story of a young girl, 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.

After her family suffers a tragedy when she is nine years old, Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her estranged grandmother, June, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak. But Alice also learns that there are secrets within secrets about her past. Under the watchful eye of June and The Flowers, women who run the farm, Alice grows up. But an unexpected betrayal sends her reeling, and she flees to the dramatically beautiful central Australian desert. Alice thinks she has found solace, until she falls in love with Dylan, a charismatic and ultimately dangerous man.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a story about stories: those we inherit, those we select to define us, and those we decide to hide. It is a novel about the secrets we keep and how they haunt us, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive. Spanning twenty years, set between the lush sugar cane fields by the sea, a native Australian flower farm, and a celestial crater in the central desert, Alice must go on a journey to discover that the most powerful story she will ever possess is her own.

My Thoughts:

An astonishingly assured debut, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a story of love, loss, betrayal and the redemptive power of storytelling. It is both heart-breaking and life-affirming.

A coming-of-age story with a vividly evocative Australian setting, this novel follows the story of Alice Hart who must learn to escape the shadows of an abusive father in order to build a life for herself.

At the age of nine, Alice suffers the tragic loss of her mother and baby brother. She is taken from her seaside home to live with her grandmother, June, who grows bush flowers and takes in battered and abused women so they can heal in peace. June has developed a secret language of Australian native flowers, to help say the things that are too hard to speak aloud.

Mute and damaged, Alice slowly begins to recover from the wounds of her past, but there are too many secrets, too many shadows. Hurt and betrayed, Alice flees the flower farm and heads into the hot red heart of the Australian desert. She begins to rebuild her life once again, and falls recklessly and dangerously in love.

Sensitive, sympathetic, and vulnerable, Alice is like so many young women, struggling to make sense of their life, wanting to love and be loved but hurt by the danger of feeling so deeply, and needing to find their own voice so they can finally speak up and tell their story. Her journey is one that feels so familiar, and yet is uniquely and powerfully her own.

The Australian landscape, and its strange and beautiful flora, also has a potent presence in the novel. I absolutely loved the use of the secret language of flowers, and how it helped those inarticulate with pain and grief find a way to speak out, tell their story and so find release and healing. The sparkling waters and deep dragging undertow of the seashore, the dull green-grey of the bush with its hidden beauties only visible to those who take the time to see, and the extraordinary fierce grandeur of the red heart of Australia were evoked with such clarity and intimacy, I could feel the heat on my skin, taste the dust on my tongue, smell the tang of eucalyptus and salt in the air.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is beautiful, powerful, intense, and tender, a book to shake your heart and bring a lump to your throat.

You might also be interested in my review of Sixty Seconds by Jesse Blackadder.

I was lucky enough to interview Holly for the blog this week, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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