Born in the north of England, Katie Stewart came to Australia at the age of nine. She started her working life as an archaeologist and ethnohistorian, then went on to teaching and to being a mother. She later worked in a school library, but her lifelong dream was to be what she is now. She is married to a farmer, has three children, writes and illustrates books, and lives north of Northam with lots of pets. Sounds idyllic, right? In this blog post, Katie talks about the highs and lows of being a regional writer.
I always wanted to live on a farm. I’d lived in the country most of my life, but not on a farm. So when my fiancé, who works in the Department of Agriculture, said he wanted to go back to the family farm, I thought a dream had come true. I headed into married life with a head full of idyllic pictures of my future.
As a writer, there is huge inspiration to be found on a farm. Wandering over the top of the hill in midwinter, taking in the vast green landscape around me, I’ve often had to stop myself from twirling Maria-like over the paddock, arms raised, singing at the top of my voice. Okay, I’ll be honest, sometimes I don’t stop myself. Not a pretty sight, I’m sure, but who sees me but the birds?
For my picture book Where Do the Stars Go? (Fremantle Press, May 2021) living on the farm was a great advantage. Like Possum in the story, I wandered along the creek until I found enough examples of ‘stars’ to make the story. The environment and inspiration for the book was there on hand. I lived what I wrote.
Then there’s the peace and quiet afforded to the writer/illustrator at her computer. A twittering bird, a bleating lamb, even the short-lived roar of a tractor heading for the shed has to be preferable to the constant street noise in some city houses.
Sad to say, though, there’s a downside. Living on a farm is wonderful until something goes wrong with the services city folk take for granted. Our house on the farm is in a ‘dead spot’ as far as mobile signals go, so to use our mobile phones means a walk to the top of the hill. Believe me, I don’t feel like singing when I’ve had to trudge up there to receive a confirmation code, or to report the fact that our power has gone off, thus rendering the landline useless as well. Power cuts are so frequent that we’ve had a generator plugged into the house wiring so that we can just flick a switch to use it, rather than having to search for extension cords.
The distance from Perth can be a hassle too. There are so many things I’d love to be able to attend, at the Literature Centre or a SCBWI function, for example, without having to arrange accommodation to save a long trip home in the dark. I’m slowly learning to combine things to make a daytime trip more worthwhile, like coffee with a fellow author and shopping for things I can’t get here, on the same day as a meeting at Fremantle Press, as I did recently. I belong to a lovely writers’ group here in Northam, but I still wish I could get together with fellow children’s authors more often. There’s so much to learn from them.
That said, I couldn’t live in the city. I’m a country girl. I’m here to stay.
Katie Stewart’s picture books are full of gorgeous and accurate depictions of Aussie plants and animals. Where Do the Stars Go? and What Colour Is the Sea? are available in all good bookstores and online.