The multi-talented Dr Ilsa Evans
Meet my June 1st Author Stalker victim, the multi-talented and incredibly witty Ilsa Evans.
I reached out to Ilsa after reading her wonderful novel, Family Baggage https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9781867270744/family-baggage/ a story about the life of three sisters, clearing out the family home after the death of their mother, and the secrets that come to light after the discovery of her diary.
The seed of inspiration for the novel came in part from the death of her own mother, though Ilsa notes that Family Baggage is purely a work of fiction...though she also admits she did head to Antarctica just after its release (a bucket list item).
Speaking of Antarctica, while she was gone Ilsa's gorgeous dog Grady staged a great escape from the dog-sitters, crossed an entire suburb and survived an altercation with several cars!! But luckily she made it back home. Now Ilsa jokes that you need to buy her books so that she can pay the vet bills! But relax folks, beautiful Grady is ok...and if you keep reading you can see an adorable pic of her.
I truly loved this book. I myself have been through the emotional rollercoaster of memories that came from dismantling the lives of my late parents, and my childhood home, after the death of my father in 2015. Luckily for me, unlike for Kat, George & Annie, there were no major surprises, but the stress of the whole experience still leaves an imprint on you that never goes away.
Whilst stalking Ilsa's website, in preparation for writing my post intro, I came upon her very funny 'About' section:
'I was raised in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne (two parents, three sisters, assorted pets - great childhood) and, after failing matriculation in quite spectacular fashion, joined the RAAF at the age of seventeen. Blissfully unaware of how bad my hair looked, I enjoyed three very enjoyable years before leaving to complete a BA majoring in medieval history - which ably demonstrates how in touch I was with the local job market.
At the same time I also joined the Army Reserves and spent part of the next fifteen years running around in camouflage gear whilst trying to master the intricacies of the M60 machine gun. In 1995, after enjoying (some more than others) a variety of jobs - I found myself back at university, this time completing first a teaching degree before deciding to focus on issues of gender, particularly violence against women.
I completed my PhD in 2005, which led to a report on the long-term effects of DV on survivors. Oh, and along the way I managed to collect three children. Mine, not other people's.'
Not only is Ilsa currently the Course coordinator of a team spearheading Family Violence education in Melbourne, she is also a prolific writer who has been Short-listed for two Davitt awards, and has published an astonishing 16 books over the past twenty years, covering multiple genres including short stories, young adult fantasy, murder mystery & fiction.
Ilsa says she finds writing, mainly done on weekends, cathartic. I am totally in awe after hearing, during an interview with Valerie Khoo, that Ilsa wrote her very first novel as something fun to do to offset the heaviness of doing a PhD in the long term affects of family violence, while also raising three young children after exiting a 'challenging' relationship.
Go grab yourself a copy. It's a brilliant read. And now, without further ado, I will hand you over to the remarkable Dr Ilsa Evans.xx
Q1: What was your inspiration for this story and how long did it take you to write the first draft?
A: The genesis of Family Baggage came shortly after my own mother’s death eight years ago – and the subsequent impact on family dynamics. The death of a parent is like having a grenade lobbed into the middle of everything, with the explosion laying bare fault-lines that sometimes you are able to mend over time – and sometimes not.
One of the things I love about writing is that you can package up trauma – and then gift it to other people. They might be entirely fictitious people, who only exist in your own head, but it’s still a rather cathartic thing to do. A little sadistic I suppose, but I’ll ignore that angle!
However, I still had to be in the right place to start writing the story, and have enough distance to ensure that it was fictitious – even if some of the threads were quite close to home. So I picked the manuscript up and put it down several times over the next few years, and in fact wrote another couple of books in the meantime.
But then the story itself got impatient, as they sometimes do, and demanded a greater level of commitment. From that point, I think it took about six months – and that included having several family members read it to make sure I wasn’t unintentionally launching another grenade!
Q2: You are hosting a spectacular dinner party. Name four dream guests you would love to have seated around your table, and what would they be dining on and drinking?
A: Oh, interesting! I would have my mother, even though she would be quite cross about the aforementioned family dynamic stuff (and probably the book also).
I would also have Mary Wollstonecraft https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Vindication_of_the_Rights_of_Woman who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792 simply because I would just love to regale her with how far we have come as a society. I think she’d also be pretty thrilled to learn that her daughter grew up to write Frankenstein!
And then because I imagine such a dinner party would be best served by a good mix of the living and the dead, I would have Michelle Obama and Julia Gillard. I think they’d both get on, and also be good at filling any conversational lapses.
Now I’m going to cheat a little and have one extra guest (because my dinner party is all women and everyone knows they take up less space), which I’ll leave for my own offspring. They can tag-team for the evening.
(Your precious offspring are more than welcome at the table Ilsa. Shelley.xx)
So what to serve? I’m a pescatarian so maybe a green Thai fish curry or pesto salmon or a mushroom risotto. A nice pinot grigio would go well – I’d just have to pace myself so I don’t miss any of this amazing experience (plus… my mother’s there).
Q3: What is your favourite book of all time and why?
A: I actually don’t think I have a favourite of all time. But I am going to go with Farmer Boy of Little House of the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmer_Boy
I had devoured all in the series except that one and then, one amazing day when I was about nine years old, in Grade Five, there it was on the reading trolley as it approached my desk. I was so excited that I whistled (a newly learnt skill) – and was promptly dragged from my desk by the nun in charge and sent down to the principal to get the strap. But regardless of that, I think any book that makes us whistle with joy is worth remembering.
(Love this story Ilsa. Not the strap, but the whistling and excitement over the book! Shelley.xx)
'A few years ago, my youngest daughter and her wife gifted me this carved pile-of-books stand. I am incredibly lucky in that all my offspring give (usually!) very thoughtful gifts but this one is especially precious. Years before, during a rather difficult time, I had seen something similar overseas and commented how much I liked it. And then unexpectedly, a long time later - there it was underneath the Christmas tree. I just love it.'
Q4: If you could travel anywhere in the world to write for a year, where would we find you?
A: England – and if I have to be specific, York. Although I doubt I’d get much work done! Even apart from the hours spent gazing out of my window (mullioned leadlight glass, most likely in a turret overseeing The Shambles), I would use York as a jumping off point for spending weekends at a range of European hot-spots steeped in history.
Q5: Describe your go-to reading spot at home and what book/s would I currently find there?
As an empty nester, I no longer have to hide to get my reading done. So the lounge-room it is, often with the television in the background (so that I can look up every so often and try to stay abreast of world affairs). Bookshelves line my study and also the family room, but the only books beside me in the lounge-room are my to-be-read pile, which is admittedly quite high.
At the moment it holds Still Life by Sarah Winman https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9780008283353/still-life/
Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales https://www.penguin.com.au/books/any-ordinary-day-9781760893637
The Woman Who Knew Too Little by Olivia Wearne https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9781867203834/the-woman-who-knew-too-little/ (Just added this to my tbr list Ilsa. The Somerton Man story is so fascinating. Shelley.xx)
How to Behave Badly in Renaissance Britain by Ruth Goodman and The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding by Holly Ringland. (Oh how I adored Esther Wilding and Holly's exquistite prose. Shelley.xx)
Q6: Tell us a bit about a typical writing day…
A: Well, firstly I love them! Because I still have a day job (in academia), writing generally takes place on the weekend and is like my downtime. Believe me, I am far too self-indulgent to do something that I don’t enjoy thoroughly. So I start early, probably with my first coffee of the day at around 6.30am, and then write until mid-afternoon. The only reason that I stop then is that I start ceasing up – both physically and mentally!
Ideally I’ll have the whole weekend to write, and I’ll start each session by editing what I last wrote. And sometimes, when I get towards the last quarter of the book, I will need to take annual leave from the day job side of things – because the work-in-progress simply won’t let me go!
'My desk, where occasionally stuff happens.'
'The view behind and beside my desk, which I swivel around to stare at when the occasional stuff isn’t happening. I spend a lot of time twirling around in my chair so each view is important.'
(Ha ha that made me chuckle. Shelley.xx)
Q7: As a lover of words, is there a special quote you would like to share with us?
A: ‘Read books, fight evil.’ I have this as a sticker on my car but I don’t know if it’s a quote (I can’t find anything online that attributes authorship). So I’ll also go with ‘Well-behaved women seldom make history’ (Laurel Ulrich, 1976).
Q8: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
A: Apart from that darn day-job, then spending time with family. Reading as well, plus bush-walks (I live on the edge of a national park in the Dandenong Ranges), and tennis. Oh, and travel. I LOVE travel. I’ve just got back from a trip to Antarctica – absolutely amazing. And now that I think of it, probably a better place for me to go for a year to get some work done. I wouldn’t be tempted to spend as much time outdoors!
'The view (usually) on the floor beside my desk.
And yes, she is doing well in recovery!'
(Grady...The Escape Artist! OMG she is too cute! Shelley.xx)
Q9: Any advice for aspiring authors?
A: You are never too old, or too… whatever. I get a lot of people who say that they always wanted to be an author – as if that ship has sailed. I think life sometimes just gets in the way, particularly for women. For starters, child-rearing is not particularly writer-friendly. But priorities shift. Never give up. In the meantime, join a writer’s group or a book-club or just keep that ship in port by subscribing to writing journals or author events or great blogs like this one!
(Note to self...Ilsa says it's never too late. Shelley.xx)
Q10: In a few lines, which debut/emerging Aussie author should we look out for?
A: Hmm, this is probably the hardest question of all. I’m an avid reader – but no debut/aspiring authors came to mind. So I looked back over my Goodreads tally for the year, and out of 33 books, not a single debut author. So I think the message here is actually for me – do something about that!
(Hit me up if you need some debut recommendations Ilsa! Shelley.xx)
Things you might be surprised to find when cleaning out your deceased mother’s house:
a secret diary
a family mystery
a new lease on life
Grief-stricken middle-aged sisters George, Kat and Annie give themselves a week to pack up their childhood home and divide their mother’s belongings. Beloved items are contested: an Eames chair, a collection of war medals, a learn-to-read book.
The sisters – bossy Kat, mediator George and petulant Annie – are hampered by sibling rivalry, the prickly demands of their own offspring, the needs of their disabled younger brother and, in George’s case, the after-effects of a spot of adultery.
The discovery of a decades’ old diary divides the women further: not only do they learn what their mother really thought of them, they learn that she had a life entirely of her own. They are not the family they thought they were – and their mother was so much more than she seemed. This revelation might be the key to George’s freedom…
Thank you Ilsa for being my June 1st Author Stalker victim. xx
Family Baggage is available now through all leading bookstores and online retailers.
If you would like to find out more about Ilsa, you can find her here: