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Elisabeth Holdsworth has had an intriguing career in the public service sector. In her first novel Those Who Come After, she takes inspiration from her life and takes the reader on a journey that will stay with you long after the book is over. Here you can read what she has to share about her writing and inspirations.
Where were you born, brought up and where are you now?
I was born in the south-west Netherlands, a province called Zeeland, on an island called Walcheren where my family had lived since the thirteenth century. Zeeland suffered some of the heaviest bombing of the second world war (the island where I come from is directly opposite the Thames estuary) so my earliest memories are of bomb damage. My parents and I migrated to Australia in 1959. My secondary and tertiary education took place in Melbourne. These days I live in Goulburn, a regional city about fifty minutes from Canberra.
What was your first career choice and what made you choose it?
My first career choice was to be a public servant. The choice was economic. They offered to be for my university education.
What inspired you to be a writer?
My mother was a great story teller. She had little formal education and came from an illiterate family but she had taught herself to read and revered anyone who wrote books. In another life she would have been a novelist. She taught me to read and then helped me to write my first book when I was about five. My father supplied some of the drawings for this childhood magnum opus. I still have this first novel and treasure it for the effort my parents put into it.
What should readers expect from Those Who Come After?
There is tragedy in this story but also humour. I hope readers will enjoy revisiting some of the migrant experiences of the late 1950’s and 60’s. Parts of the novel are about the period immediately after the war. No-one has written about this time much, the experiences of parents who survived the war is absorbed by the children, we were a frail generation those of us who came after the war. Perhaps readers in Australia will be able to relate to that.
How much research or preparation has gone into creating the characters and world of your book?
Years and years. A lifetime really.
Which writers do you admire and why?
I admire a lot of writers but always return to Chekhov. He believed in the concept of artistic authenticity. Remember Chekhov trained as a doctor. Chekhov tried to depict life as it really was but did so in a way that we understand as great art. Chekhov influenced modern writers such as Alice Munro and Annie Proulx both of whom I very much admire. He also cast a huge shadow over Australian writers such as Patrick White, Elizabeth Jolley and Peter Goldsworthy.
My other great heroes in writing are Tolstoy and Milan Kundera. Tolstoy for his humanity and liberated views about woman. Kundera for rethinking the possibilities of the novel. Kundera’s The Art of the Novel is one of my bibles.
Do you think writing a second novel will be easier now that the first is complete?
I’ve already started the second novel, it’s quite different but seems to be flowing.
Which have you enjoyed writing more, fiction or non-fiction?
I enjoy the rigour of non-fiction but for me the great enterprise in writing is the novel. There is nothing like that high when you know that you’ve nailed a character or a situation. There is nothing like that low when you return to your writing the next day and realise that what you thought was brilliant is in fact gibberish. I live for the highs and try to learn from the lows.
What do you hope readers will take away from Those Who Come After?
I come from a different world, a different time. Parts of the novel are autobiographical, I hope readers will find resonances in their own lives of the times and worlds they come from.
What should readers expect next from you?
Expect the unexpected.
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