Wombat Books Blog

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Once ... We Chatted with Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth minWhat prompted you to write Once?

I am an oral storyteller as well as an author, and some of my favourite stories to tell are those told to me by my grandmother when I was a little girl. My great-great-grandmother was Scottish and grew up on the Black Isle in the Highlands of Scotland. Her name was Ellen Mackenzie and one of the stories she told was about a famous curse cast against the Mackenzies of Seaforth by a warlock called the Brahan Seer. The warlock predicted the fall of the house of Seaforth, and many years later the curse came to pass.

Whenever I told any of my grandmother's stories, I used to introduce it by saying 'my grandmother's grandmother grew up in the shadow of a cursed castle in the Highlands of Scotland. When she came to Australia she brought only one small chest, but her head was filled with the stories her grandmother had once told her. She told them to her granddaughter who told them to me, and now I shall tell you ...'

One day I was saying this to a room full of children, and a little girl put up her hand and asked me if my grandmother had ever gone back to her grandmother's home - the cursed castle in Scotland - and I said, 'yes, but not till she was quite an old lady.' The little girl asked why she waited so long, and I said, 'well, when my grandmother was young, the world was at war. It was a very dark time, and she could not travel wherever she wanted.'

As I spoke, I felt the idea spark inside me. I wrote the words down after my storytelling session had finished, and over the next few days I built it into the book you can read now.

What do you think the most inspirational thing is about your ancestors?

They were very brave and resourceful. None of them had an easy life, but they all worked hard and did the best they could, and built lives filled with love and joy and purpose.

How do you believe your ancestors influence you still today?

I remember their stories, and think how difficult life must have been for them. I try hard to be as strong, courageous and resilient as they were, no matter what happens in my own life.

Why do you think it’s important to listen to the stories of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents?

They have learned so much and have so much wisdom to bequeath. I feel it's very important that we learn from history, and try not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

What story do you remember the most that one of your forbearers told you?Once Digital ARC

The story of my great-great-grandmother Ellen Mackenzie has always been very important to me. She and her sister grew up in a loving family, but her parents both died when she was still just a girl, and her uncle inherited everything. He sent Ellen and her sister Jane out to Australia by themselves, and they had very little money or help. I've often imagined what that would be like - how lonely and frightened they must have been, and how strange Australia must have seemed in comparison to the Scottish Highlands, and how much strength it must have taken to rebuild your life from nothing ... and yet also how exciting and adventurous it must have been too!

Once takes us from a sailing ship to bush fires to a world at war. Do you feel a connection to these moments of our history?

Yes, indeed. My ancestors lived through those dangerous, difficult years. They loved and feared and suffered and prevailed, and because of their courage and determination, I now live in this beautiful, peaceful country. I am reaping the rewards of what they sowed. I have tried to honour their memories and their stories in this book.

How can we learn to listen to the stories of our past?

I think learning to listen is one of the most important life lessons. Everyone has a story to tell. By sharing our stories, we connect with other people. We come to understand their hurts and their hardships, and we feel a kinship with them. Stories link us to other humans, both those that came before us and those who follow us. Telling our own story is a crucial way to understand our own lives, and to grow towards compassion and empathy.

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Sharing Memories with Catherine Bauer

Catherine BauerColourful Memories is a touching tale about sharing memories and moments with your  family. What inspired you to write this story?

There were several things that inspired me to write this story, but at the end of the day if I had to pinpoint one thing, it was my own memories of my dad sharing his own childhood stories with me and my brother and sister when we were children. He grew up in Germany during WWII – he was 11 when the war ended. Dad was the second of five children and they didn’t have a lot, but my grandparents worked hard and they were happy. My dad had lots of adventures – funny and exciting – and he wove them into the most magical stories that had me completely enthralled.

What’s a cherished memory you can remember your grandparents sharing with you?

So many – but whenever I visited my Australian grandma, who lived in Sydney, the first thing I’d do was pester her to show me “the dancer in the bottle’’. It was a wedding present to my grandparents and one of her treasured items – they were only married about 14 years before my grandpa died. It was a special liqueur, that had real gold flecks in it. There was a music box in the base and a dainty ballerina that spins around. She’d carefully remove it from the sideboard, wind it up and we’d sit and watch the ballerina dance while she told me about their wedding day. After my grandma died and her house was packed up, my aunty sent me the bottle!

My German grandparents kept chickens in their back garden and when I visited them, we’d go out early in the morning to look for eggs – still warm in the nesting boxes. I remember the smell of the straw, my oma tucking a hen under her arm and letting me pat it. She also had newly-hatched, fluffy, yellow chicks, which she kept in her kitchen where it was warm and toasty. I used to hand feed them and play with them for hours!

Do you keep photo albums for your kids? Do you ever find the time to remember moments and photos with them?

I have loads of photos – some in albums and others in boxes. I also like to have framed family photos around the house of special moments and events. With everyone being so busy these days with school and sports, we don’t always find the time to sit and look at albums together. But we often share our memories of special moments, holidays, funny things that have happened and milestone times in their lives – “firsts”, birthdays, Christmas and school events.

There’s a certain nostalgia in this book about bygoneScreen Shot 2018 07 06 at 10.37.06 am times. Do you think the times our grandparents and parents experienced were simpler?

Yes, in some ways I do. My grandparents and parents experienced war in different ways in Europe and Australia and that was definitely a struggle and time of worry for them. But as my dad would sometimes quote “we were too poor to have problems”. This means beyond their basic needs, there was no pressure to have “stuff” – the latest this or that, the newest, biggest, shiniest thing. And of course there was no technology which can be as much a hassle in our lives, as a help.

Do you have any tips about sharing memories with grandchildren and children?

I think that when you’re sharing a wonderful moment – whether it’s doing something spectacular, like taking a trip somewhere; or something simple like walking the dog or making a cake together  live in that moment and enjoy it but then talk about it later as a way of re-living it and etching it on your hearts and in your minds.

Colourful Memories with Wombat Books is out the 15th of July 2018.

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