This post is part of an interview series featuring the authors of Family Stories from the Attic, an anthology of essays, creative nonfiction, and poetry inspired by family letters, objects, and archives. Monday posts are featured on the Hidden Timber Books website, and Wednesday posts are featured here. Learn more about Family Stories from the Attic at the bottom of this post. Without further ado, let’s meet Julie Thorndyke, author of “Aunt Becker’s Secret.”
Julie Anne Thorndyke
Q: Did you write “Aunt Becker’s Secret” with a particular person/reader in mind?
Julie: This story is the result of a private quest to understand the lives of women in my family. Reading some of the family history information collected by a distant cousin, it astounded me when I realised that I knew some anecdotes about my great-grandfather, but nothing at all (not even the first name!) of his wife. I also knew very little about her daughters, including my great-aunt Becker, except my grandmother’s often-repeated phrase that Myrtle “had a flair for writing.” I surmised that if my aunt had been a writer, there should be some documentary evidence that I could discover. So I went on a quest through the wonderful digital archives of the National Library of Australia’s TROVE to discover these women who were largely unknown to me.
At this early stage I wasn’t writing for a particular reader, but just for myself. Once I had enough factual evidence to form the skeleton of a story, rather than try and tell a whole family saga, I decided to focus on my aunt and use the theme of writing to bring cohesion to a manageable piece of short creative nonfiction.
Q: How has the publication of your piece influenced the work you are writing today or your writing in general?
Julie: I was very fortunate to see the call for submissions for Stories from the Attic. Like most writers, I send out many more submissions than I receive acceptances. “Aunt Becker’s Secret” matched the theme and requirements for this unique anthology—so grateful that I came across it on a late night search of the web! Having my story accepted has been a tremendous boost to me as a writer of creative nonfiction. This is the first time I have used real family events in a story. Many possibilities have opened up that I would like to follow through. One of the fascinating aspects of family history is the way patterns seem to repeat in subsequent generations. For example, that sense of “oh, she was a scribbler like me.” I think there is great value in telling the stories of ordinary women, relating the events they experienced, and celebrating their struggles and triumphs.
Q: What is a fun, interesting, or unusual fact about yourself that you’d like to share with your readers?
Julie: Every year my family goes swimming with dolphins and sharks! LOL. For nearly thirty years, we have holidayed each January at a lovely unspoilt beach on the east coast of Australia. It is lovely to see dolphins dart through the clear green waves, but we found out recently that there are actually many more creatures lurking in the water than we realised. It is a breeding nursery for great white sharks. I have yet to see one of these up close.
We did have two more cuddly visitors at our beach house early one morning: a mother koala and her joey (baby) sheltering in the paperbark tree (photos below).
Q: What books are you reading at the moment?
Julie: Just now my bedtime reading is Growing Pains – the Shaping of a Writer (1977), the autobiography of Daphne du Maurier. It is a second-hand copy I bought online—I love to collect books that invite you into the thought processes of writers. I also recently read Jeanette Winterson’s wonderful new book Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? In my study there is a small stack of poetry journals to dip into whenever I have a spare moment, and in my role as poetry editor, loads of new tanka submissions to read for Eucalypt: a tanka journal Issue 22.
Connect with Julie
Top photo, the baby koala (joey) in the paperbark tree.
Bottom photo, Julie’s beach mentioned in her interview.
Family Stories from the Attic features nearly two dozen works of prose and poetry inspired by letters, diaries, photographs, and other family papers and artifacts. Editors Christi Craig and Lisa Rivero bring together both experienced and new writers who share their stories in ways that reflect universal themes of time, history, family, love, and change.