Today my guest is Sophie, the lead character in Christine Stinson’s wonderful new novel, IT TAKES A VILLAGE, released by Pan Macmillan. I read Sophie’s story on flights to and from Sydney recently and could only be grateful I had empty seats next to me both times. I cried and laughed and cheered with Sophie. I was transported into her slice of Australia in the 1950’s (and no I’m not old enough to remember that era!) and didn’t want the story to end.
I hope you enjoy the interview with her.
Sophie, welcome to the blog and thanks for taking time out of your busy life to talk to me.
Thanks for having me, Helene; I’m so happy to be invited! You’re letting me relive some lovely memories.
Good memories keep us warm at night, don’t they. Let’s start with what your childhood was like. A girl growing up in Australia in the 1950’s lived a very different life to one who lives in 2011. Now children tend to be glued to computers and homework. Tell us a bit about what you did after school and on weekends.
I had homework to do, too, as well as chores every day. But there was still plenty of time to play, particularly in the early years when Mick and I were friends. We were always outside – there was no television when we were growing up, we made our own fun. Riding bikes, racing the go-cart Mick built with his father, climbing trees, the whole neighbourhood was our playground and we could go just about anywhere, as long as we started making our way home again when the street lights came on. Things changed when I was in high school, after Jenny moved in across the street and we became best friends. People like Miss Margaret, the biggest crank in the street, thought we were too old to go careening all over the neighbourhood. We were supposed to start acting like “young ladies”. I suppose we did have to grow up some time, but that didn’t mean we stopped having fun. I can’t tell you how excited we were when Jenny’s mum and Grandpa agreed we were old enough to go to the pictures in the city on our own! We both had Saturday jobs by then to pay for our own tickets, too. (I was working at Mr Nicholl’s corner store, Jenny worked at the Paragon Milk Bar up the road.)
That demarcation between childhood and being ‘young ladies’ is still there I guess but I can’t help thinking it’s happening at a younger age…
Postwar Australia wasn’t affluent. How did that impact on you? What lessons did you learn then that still hold true today?
I had no idea we weren’t affluent. As far as I knew, everyone had their collars and cuffs turned once they’d frayed, every girl’s dresses and skirts were made with good side seams and hems to be let out and down as they grew. Nearly every house in the street had a vegie garden as well as fruit trees out the back. Quite a few of our neighbours kept chickens, too: there were always plenty of eggs, just picked or bottled fruit and fresh vegetables to go around. Nothing was ever wasted, that’s for sure. I still have trouble throwing anything out unless I’m absolutely sure it’s past its use-by date or beyond salvage.
My parents always had a great deal of trouble throwing anything out and it was guaranteed the minute something was turfed out it was suddenly needed.
You lived with the very real impact of WW2 on your grandfather and the men of his generation, too.
I did, although it was years before I fully understood what that impact was. Some of the neighbours – Mrs Hogan, Mr O’Hara, the McAllister sisters – had lived through both World Wars. Just about everybody I knew had lost someone close to them: a brother, a husband, a father, friends. Yet despite the terrible sense of loss, there was so much pride, too, in those who’d gone off to fight. I can remember Mrs Hogan telling me, more than once, that no sacrifice was too great when you were fighting for principles, for freedom, for your country. But I have to confess there were times when I wished Grandpa hadn’t gone away to war, that I could have known the man my friend Jean Pennybaker remembered. The one who used to laugh a lot and take Grandma out dancing on a Saturday night… I’m glad, in the end, he found peace.
You were a very independent young girl. Was that something inherited from your mother? Was it something that came from the stigma of being called a bastard? Or was it because you had to be independent because your grandfather was away so much?
Looking back, it was probably a mixture of all three. I was very young when my mother died, the only ‘memories’ I have of here are the ones Grandpa and Mrs Hogan gave me. Miss Margaret was always talking about her, too: the old battleaxe never missed a chance to tell me Sarah Barton was ‘no better than she should be’. She also never let me forget I was a bastard. I can only say that I’m really glad my mother went her own way and did the things she did. I wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t!
Indeed and you obviously inherited bucket loads of her independence and spirit. What are some of the things you loved most about living in a close neighbourhood?
It was more of a love/hate relationship when I was younger. Everybody knew who I was and it seemed as though there were eyes everywhere, watching me, ready to report any bad behaviour on my behalf to Grandpa or Mrs Hogan. By the time I’d reached my late teens, I’d realised that most people were only looking out for me. Except for Margaret McAllister, of course, she never did mellow at all. Without giving too much of my story away for those who haven’t heard it yet, I’ll never forget how my friends and neighbours rallied around me when I needed them most. More than anything, they taught me that you don’t have to be related by blood to be a family.
Thanks for visiting Sophie, it’s been lovely chatting to you.
Christine Stinson grew up loving books, reading other people’s as well as writing herown in exercise books as a hobby. She also finished school, went to university, married, raised two children and taught languages in high schools for many years. Since the publication of GETTING EVEN WITH FRAN (Pan Macmillan, 2010) and IT TAKES A VILLAGE (Pan Macmillan, 2011), she now writes full time and reads in her spare time.
Find her at www.christinestinson.com
Growing up in conservative, postwar Australia isn’t easy. For eight-year-old Sophie, who has just been told she’s a ‘bastard’, it seems that she lives in a world of secrets, unanswered questions and whispers.
Who is her father and why did her mother never tell anyone who he was?
With only her reclusive grandfather to raise her, and more than one neighbour expecting her to go off the rails like her mother – after all, apples rarely fall far from the tree – Sophie struggles to find her place in the world.
In a time when experiences are shared around the kitchen table, over the back fence or up at the corner shop, Sophie learns that life is rarely simple, love is always complicated and sometimes it takes more than blood ties to make a family.