How did you come to be a published author?
I have always been interested in the written word, and as a child, I always dreamed about writing books.
It wasn’t until 2006 when a friend told me about her amazing early life, that I decided to write her biography. In the Shadow of the Golden Pagoda was published in 2008 by Catbird Media, a small, innovative publishing house on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.
At the time, my husband and I ran a small cattle property near Gympie. We had a little red bull that was always getting into mischief, so the three books in the Adventures at Cloverdale Farm series came to be. These books are in libraries, schools and childcare centres all over the country.
From there I wrote Drifting: Verses from the Heart.
I have just completed a ghost writing assignment for twelve books in a series of safety books for children, OH NO MO! says. And my latest venture just gone to press is a photographic book of birds, Bird Scuttlebutt (I wrote quirky verses for each of the birds). This book is aimed at the 2–10 age group. There are two more books planned for this series.
For In the Shadow of the Golden Pagoda, you presented the recollections of Sunshine Coast local Gillian Boyer in vignettes, from a happy childhood in 1930s China, through the outbreak of WWII with its curfews, food shortages and the constant threat of arrest, to her family’s journey in the post-war years. How did you go about writing such a fascinating tale?
It was really great fun. We had lots of meetings armed with my tape recorder and notebook along with many cups of tea. Gillian’s memories came flooding back and it was great therapy for her. Her mother had kept a diary about their China experiences, and that was a great help. I also contacted some people that Gillian had known in various parts of her life overseas and met with some of them. I checked all my facts carefully.
What are the challenges of writing biography (with a living subject)?
I suppose the biggest challenge was to stick to the subject at hand and not go wandering off on tangents not connected to the biography. There was a lot of going back and adding extra bits to finished text as Gillian remembered other details, but that was a good thing for the storyline.
How long did it take to write your poetry anthology, Drifting? Was the process of selecting content (and culling your work) difficult?
Elly Bingham, the photographer, gave me a selection of beautiful photographs, so it was just a matter of making a selection to suit the size of the book, deciding on the variety of poetic styles and choosing a photograph to suit. I find that when I get the first line of a poem, the rest of the verse usually follows quite easily. I only needed to cull a couple of the poems to fit the page size, so that was not much of a problem.
Some of your poetry seems to reflect on the oft-conflicting social imperatives of progress and environmental conservation. Are these issues that you are passionate about?
I love nature and all things green with a passion. I wrote ‘The Lonely Bush Track’ [see below] recently when I saw a new development sign near our place. It concerns me to think that with the constant razing of virgin bushland for development, generations of our children will not have the pleasure of listening to the calls of the birds and marvelling at the wonders of our natural environment.
What is your role at Catbird Media?
I keep busy with marketing for Catbird Media, and of course writing picture books and poetry, which is now a way of life for me and which I really love doing. I’m not uni educated; I got my skills from the ‘School of Life’, one of the very best institutions of learning, I think.
Catbird Media is a team of women. Why do you think publishing houses are mostly made up of women?
I can’t speak for other publishing places, but our Catbird ladies work very well together: between us we can handle anything and everything, and we do it in the nicest possible way.
You originally contacted The Australian Writer magazine regarding the style and grammar column, ‘Frustrations of an English Pedant’. Would you call yourself a pedant?
I definitely have pedantic tendencies. It was so nice to read your words and discover that I was not alone with my frustrations!
What is your biggest frustration regarding modern grammar?
It never ceases to amaze me that even printed billboards can have spelling mistakes. Surely the signwriter would check his plan before dipping his brush in the ‘paint pot’? My long-suffering husband has learned to put up with my ‘pickiness’ when we go to town. There are spelling mistakes everywhere, or so it seems.
Sometimes I just can’t help it. I find myself walking into shops and asking things like, ‘Are you aware that you have spelt Caesar incorrectly?’
‘Oh, really?’ is the disinterested reply. ‘I’ll tell the boss about it.’
Just this morning I was at an antiques fair and a nicely printed sign above a display read ‘Antique Vetinary Implements’. My husband had to pull me away quickly before I embarrassed him.
Probably my biggest frustration in modern grammar is listening to newsreaders who use poor English. Newsreaders, in my opinion, should use the English language correctly. We constantly hear them saying ‘different to’ instead of ‘different from’ or ‘pitchers’ instead of ‘pictures’ or (my very favourite) ‘the reason why’.
I am quite happy to use and hear our relaxed form of English, including slang, in everyday life—that’s the Australian way. But when it comes to knowing the correct English usage in all its forms, most of us come unstuck. Why is this? Do we blame the school syllabus or is it that people just don’t care enough about this?
So, where does that leave us?
I think that a Pedants of Australia Organisation might be a bit of a hoot!
Do you have any editing tips for fellow writers?
My biggest advice for fellow writers would be to know who would be interested in the subject of your book before embarking on your journey to publication. Ask yourself – ‘Is there a market for a book on the particular theme I have chosen?’ If you are thinking of self-publishing, this is an extremely important question. In order to have a steady stream of sales, you need to have researched your market.
When your manuscript is finished, it is worth considering having your work edited by a professional before publication. It gives a polished finish to your words to present to your readers. It will cost you but, in my opinion, it is money well spent.
The Lonely Bush Track
‘Did you see it, Charlie? That sign at the end of the track?
they’re offerin’ rural charm –
50 bloody lots of it!
It’s a load of old baloney, I say –
they think they can do anythin’, them developers.
They should be lined up and shot, whadda ya say, Charlie?’
See the lonely bush track?
no more will it yearn for lost olden day shadows –
the drover, his missus off to town in the dray
their brood of bush kiddies carefree and happy
laughing and chasing with careless abandon
as they play in the potholes and dust on the track.
See the men in their hard hats?
watch the hungry machines
gnash their jaws on the bush track
impressing the townies
creating a facelift the track does not want
fillers for potholes rejuvenate ruts
macadamized botox will smooth out the surface
‘Progress – they reckon – yeah well –
serves ’em right if the ghosts come back to haunt ’em.
Patricia Young 2012 ©
The original version of this article was published as ‘Writer at Work: Patricia Young’ in The Australian Writer issue 377 (September–December 2012).