It is a pleasure to welcome Tanya Heaslip to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews for A Tea Break with Mrs B, an author interview series. To help celebrate the release of Beyond Alice we sat down for a chat. Thanks Tanya!
What is your drink of choice as we sit down for a chat about your new book?
Oh, a nice hot strong cup of English Breakfast tea – preferably with a cheeky bit of ginger in it!
Can you give us an overview of your writing career to date?
I started writing as a little girl and dreamt of being a writer when I grew up. But then I became a sensible lawyer and that put an end to that. But I went to work in Prague in the 1990s and on my return was compelled to chronicle the stories of the Czechs. For years I scribbled. Then in 2002, I started in earnest, and have written constantly since then (in between work). In 2019 I finally published ‘Alice to Prague’, then in 2020 ‘An Alice Girl’ and this year, 2021, ‘Beyond Alice.’ Three books in a row is not for the fainthearted!
How different was the experience of writing Beyond Alice compared to your previous two releases?
This is the third in the Alice series, and is about teenage coming of age years, split between boarding school and holiday outback adventures. It was different in that I wrote in conjunction with many of my former boarder friends, who fed me stories and fact-checked my work, and immersed themselves in the writing process with me. It was so much fun working this way.
What kick started to creation of your new book, Beyond Alice?
After my first book, people said to me, ‘You think Central Europe is exotic, but for most Australians, Central Australia is just as exotic. You should write about your childhood in the outback.’ So I did, and that became ‘An Alice Girl.’ But the story finished at age 12 when I was just about to leave for boarding school. When it was released last year, many people wrote to me, some of whom had been to boarding school themselves, and they said, ‘Please write now about the boarding school years.’ So I did!
What themes and issues dominate Beyond Alice?
Themes of dislocation and loss: moving from an isolated life of innocence in the outback at age twelve to a place of stone and concrete small skies, no stars, the city, and a new world of rules and bells.
Themes of childhood trauma: the loss of family at such a young age and the attempt to assimilate into a new world of hundreds of girls, strict mistresses who were there to control but not to care, surviving bullying and trying to find a new identity for myself.
Themes of independence and resilience: surviving meant creating a new family with the girls and finding ways to make meaning out of homesickness. Playing the guitar and singing country songs, and writing and telling stories of the outback to the girls, became my way through.
How long did it take you to write Beyond Alice?
I didn’t have very long – about four months in total and then two months of editing. Nothing like a deadline to focus the mind!
What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing Beyond Alice?
The joyous reconnection with my former boarder friends, and the healing we experienced as we went back into the memories and revived them. One friend said to me, “I wish we’d done this many years ago. Would have saved me hundreds of dollars in therapy!”
What do you hope readers will take away from the experience of reading Beyond Alice?
An understanding of what life at boarding school was like in the 1970s, hopefully some laughs from the mischief we got up to as we tried to skirt the system, a connection for those who endured similar boarding/high school challenges, and enjoyment of all the outback adventures we squeezed into those teenage years during holidays.
What writers have inspired you to become a published author?
Enid Blyton as a child. I devoured her adventure stories, where kids used their initiative and came out on top. And as a result, so many adult adventure/detective writers now! And Sarah Turnbull who wrote ‘Almost French’, which inspired me to write my memoir in Prague.
What does your writing space look like?
Very small and cramped. It is also my legal workspace, so it has papers and documents everywhere. I’m constantly trying to tidy it up without success. My husband made me a standing desk, so I mostly stand to write. I dream of a big airy writing space one day!
When you are not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Reading (I have a huge TBR pile!), walking in the beautiful wilderness of the outback, spending time with friends and family, enjoying good wine, and – hopefully in the future – returning to travel. Sigh.
What book is next on your reading pile?
Rick Morton’s new book ‘My Year of living Vulnerability.’ His ‘100 years of Dirt’ resonated deeply with me. So many bushmen were traumatised in the same way. His writing is evocative and insightful and un-put-downable!
What are you working on writing wise at present?
I’m thinking long and hard about book 4. The working title is ‘Return to Prague.’ It looks at the courage of the Czechs who fled communism, and the meaning of ‘home’ as they endeavoured to carve out new lives in Australia, along with the unexpected trauma many felt when finally allowed to return to their birth country. It explores the issues of dispossession and dislocation and how inevitably you have to find a new way to belong after you leave home. These are very real and raw issues that confront refugees across the world.
Thank you for the lovely tea break and chat Tanya. Congratulations on the release of your new book, Beyond Alice.
Thank you, Mrs B! I’ve loved it and so appreciate being invited to talk to you.
From the happiness and freedom of her bush childhood, Tanya Heaslip is sent to a boarding school sixteen hundred kilometres away from everything and everyone she loves. As these years pass surrounded by the friends she makes, Tanya’s memoir is a humorous and inspiring story of strength, resilience and the realities of Australian outback life.’A tender, raw and beautiful coming-of-age adventure, that forces Tanya to pivot between the vast freedom of desert life, and the rigid expectations of city boarding school. From start to finish Beyond Alice is beguiling!’ Renee McBryde, bestselling author of The House of Lies
In 1975, twelve-year-old Tanya Heaslip leaves her isolated home in outback Australia and is sent sixteen hundred kilometres south to a girls’ boarding school for an education the bush can’t provide.
The freedom of her young life gives way to an unfriendly world of stone and concrete, high walls, small skies, uniforms, harsh words and endless rules that make no sense.
In common with many children of the outback, Tanya struggles to adjust to boarding school. Yet, over time, her fellow boarders become her new family and Tanya survives both by writing, and by telling her stories of family, race meetings, gymkhanas, campdrafts and stock camps to her loyal friends.
Tanya’s pain of losing family and the trauma of dislocation are ultimately transformed into five life-changing years. She emerges stronger and more resilient, now determined to carve out her own life.
Warm, humorous and uplifting, this is the story of a small girl who triumphs.
Beyond Alice by Tanya Heaslip was published on 4th May 2021 by Allen and Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Connect with Tanya here: