The enchantingly ethereal Holly Ringland - Photo Credit: Daniel Boud
'In the weatherboard house at the end of the lane, nine-year old Alice Hart sat at her desk by the window and dreamed of ways to set her father on fire.'
(The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart - Harper Collins March 2018)
Oh my goodness. WHERE do I start.
I read Holly's spectacular debut, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, in late 2018. https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9781460754474/the-lost-flowers-of-alice-hart/
Four years on and I can still recite that opening line word for word. It is forever scorched into my consciousness, and has to be the best opening line in a book that I have ever read. The power of those words, the deeply felt heartache for Alice Hart, the depth of what was to come, all conveyed so eloquently in those thirty-two words.
Alice Hart has gone on to be published in 30 countries/territories and is soon to be released as a seven-part series for global streaming on Amazon Prime.
But now the wait is over. The highly anticipated release of Holly's second book, The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding, is finally here. And I have fallen in love with Holly's prose, and divine characters, all over again. https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9781460759370/the-seven-skins-of-esther-wilding/
Holly's writing is transcendent. Her ability to interweave a contemporary storyline within the delicate tendrils of myths & legends is testament not only to her skills as a master storyteller, but also a refection of Holly's ethereal nature. Esther & Aura are such beautifully written characters, the settings are sublime and there is a truly haunting quality to this book. It is a study of loss and grief, but also a tale of the bond between sisters and the sanctity of family.
From captivating Tasmanian landscapes to the beauty of Denmark, Esther sets off to decipher cryptic messages found in her missing sister's journal, messages that were also tattooed on Aura's body, in an attempt to process her loss and find answers to the many questions that disappeared with Aura that day.
One review I saw said that she read the last section more slowly as she didn't want it to end. I couldn't agree more.
You MUST read this book. It is a novel that will find a cherished home on the bookshelf in my writing room. A reminder of the beauty and magic of words.
Holly shares so much of herself with her adoring readers on her social media pages, both the joys and the sorrows, that we all feel that we know her, we all look upon her as a friend, even though we may have never met in real life. It is her refreshing honesty, a willingness to share her vulnerabilities & struggles that makes her so real and relatable.
Just recently Holly posted a video on her Facebook page, of the moment her book arrived at her family home. The pure joy, the laughter as Holly runs up the driveway, calling for her mum, is the essence of Holly. She is incandescent and childlike all in the space of one moment. This video makes me smile. And miss my own mum too. Holly touches people's souls in a very special way. https://www.facebook.com/reel/537490398136590/?s=single_unit
I am counting down the days (five sleeps to go) until I get to meet Holly in person, at her Stanton Library author event this coming Thursday.
But enough of my fan-girling. I will hand you over to the enchanting Holly.xx
Q1: What was your inspiration for this story and how long did it take you to write the first draft?
A: In some ways, I think I’ve been carrying Esther Wilding with me all my life (I wonder if this is true of all novels we write). One of the inspiring forces behind her story comes from my ancestry: I descend from Celtic and Scandinavian people. My Danish ancestors were farmers who left Denmark in the late 1800s and sailed for three months to Australia. They never returned to Denmark. The journeys of the women in my ancestral line are stories I grew up hearing my family tell around Granny’s kitchen table.
In 2017, after I’d sent my publisher the structural edit of my first novel, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, those stories of my ancestral grandmothers came calling me. I turned to the folklore and fairytales of their northern lands, as I so often do when I’m curious about the connection between people and place, and one afternoon, I sat with a pen and my notebook and scribbled an idea down… then followed it to another.
Family mythology and Scandinavian fairy tales led me to the work of a nineteenth century writer named Helena Nyblom, which led me to the roles women had in the seafaring history of tattooing in the western world, and the ancient relationship between women and seals in Lutruwita, Tasmania. My body tells me when ideas that come are alive, I get goosebumps and prickles down my spine. That happened on this day, when ideas of the sea, fairytales, women, tattoos and storytelling swirled around me. A young woman named Esther Wilding marched up to my desk and asked me to follow her. That was in 2017.
Three and a half years later, I started writing the first draft in August 2020, which I proceeded to write in frantic chunks around the disruption and distress we all lived with from 2020 onwards. I finished my first draft of The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding in March 2022.
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: I’d go beyond mortality and set my table for my ancestral Danish grandmother, my granny, a teenage love, and my first dog. We’d drink pots of Bushells tea, with nips of whiskey here and there, then probably talk so much we’d forget to eat Granny’s secret-recipe scones slathered with salty butter and honey. Except for Gemma, my beloved dog. She’d snarfle them down with glee.
'Holly's Family Pawtrait! Minus Fluffball number 5 who hates the camera.' (Photo Credit: @hollygoeslightly)
Q3: What is your favourite book of all time and why?
A: Shell, I’m the person at the supermarket who stands in the fresh produce aisle for twenty minutes torn between broccoli or broccolini because I love them both – I am going to fail dismally at answering this question. But I can say that there are three books I often return to.
One is Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman https://alicehoffman.com/books/blackbird-house/
Another is Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Wuthering-Heights/Emily-Bronte/Enriched-Classics/9780743487641
Another is Ruby Moonlight by Ali Cobby Eckermann https://www.magabala.com/products/ruby-moonlight
They each teach me how to be brave, inspire me to feel less alone, and remind me of the power of tenderness, connection and daring writing.
Holly's phenomenal The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart comes to our screens as Amazon Prime series later this year -
starring Sigourney Weaver, Asher Keddie & Leah Purcell.
During 2021, Holly added television presenter to her repertoire, joining Aaron Pederson on Back to Nature - 'A journey through the Australian landscape and the unique stories of the land, deepening our connection with nature.'
(Available to stream on ABC iview.)
Q4: If you could travel anywhere in the world to write for a year, where would we find you?
A: Mexico. In a little shack on the sea, with fruit trees, and in proximity to the forest and monarch butterfly migration path. I have no idea if such a place exists. Aren’t daydreams wonderful?
Q5: Describe your go-to reading spot at home and what book/s would I currently find there?
A: In the shade under the wattle tree in my mum’s garden (my partner Sam and I have a home in the UK but have been living with my folks since we came home for Christmas 2019, then the pandemic happened). The books you’d find with me would be whatever’s feeding the ideas at the party in my mind (see next answer). While I was writing Esther, I had a bundle of books I toted around with me everywhere (I will never be a light traveller): Lola Greeno Cultural Jewels https://store.mca.com.au/products/living-treasures-masters-of-australian-craft-lola-greeno-cultural-jewels , Swedish Folk Tales, a guidebook to the Faroe Islands, and my notebook and pen.
Q6: Tell us a bit about a typical writing day…
A: It depends on what stage of writing I’m at, whether it’s an essay, or novel, or answering a Q&A :-)
The physical act of typing on my keyboard is often the very last part of my process. While writing Esther Wilding I was reminded that so much of novel-writing, for me, is thinking and gathering scraps and fragments of story, then researching them and falling down all the rabbit holes that going through the research door opens.
At the very beginning, when ideas are starting to split open and shimmer, my typical writing day is a lot of staring into space, and handwriting. This is my connect-the-dot stage when lots of ideas can sometimes come flooding into the room of my mind. I try to treat it a bit like being at a party of guests who don’t know each other. I mingle, find the ideas that seem interesting, get to know them a bit, then stand back and observe as the ideas bump into each other, seemingly not knowing each other, until, zing! Connection between ideas happens. This process involves constant self-discipline to stay the course and trust the process, so I don’t disregard any ideas out of self-doubt or fear.
Once I feel the shape of my piece of writing (an essay, a novel etc) is known to me, as much as it possibly can be, then I go to my desk and my writing day is like a typical work shift. This is when the marathon, the graft, the hard work, the day-in-and-day-out writing happens.
Meet #FrenchieTheCaravan, Holly's divine vintage red caravan & writing haven, which nestles gently on her parents property in QLD
Q7: As a lover of words, is there a special quote you would like to share with us?
A: 'When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed, but when we are silent we are still afraid, so it is better to speak.'
- Audre Lorde
Q8: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
A: If not at my desk writing, my favourite places to be are outside in the natural world. Swimming in the sea, or going for a run alongside it, beachcombing, hiking in the rainforest, or bush. Lying under a gum tree. Under any tree. Otherwise, I’m happiest anywhere I find myself lucky enough to be with the people or dogs that I love.
I adore this breathtaking photo of Holly in the ocean, wearing a beautiful Kanalaritja (shell necklace) made by Vicki-Laine Green https://www.blackspacecreative.com.au/creatives/vicki-laine-green
Photo taken on Bidjigal and Gadigal land by the talented Daniel Boud https://danielboud.com/
Q9: Any advice for aspiring authors?
A: The adage is: write what you know. If I might offer an additional way of thinking about facing the blank page: write what you love. What makes your heart ache. What you dream of, imagine, yearn for, wish was different, rage against, can’t live without…
Before I’d finished my first novel, before I had an agent or was published, I was confused, thinking that becoming a novelist meant I should be focused on the outer writing world as much as the interior - agents, publishers, networking, social media, writing tips. Focusing on those elements of being an author very much have their place, but none of those things got my first novel written. The only thing that did was protecting the magic of my interior world, which we all have – our imaginations – and self-discipline. I realised I had to choose to use my will, over and again, to show up and to write every day, for however long I could.
And writing was not always clacking away at my keyboard. It was staring at café walls and out of bus windows and into my garden and thinking about Alice Hart’s story. Thinking about moving it along. Every time I returned to my manuscript to write another line, I developed a habit of focusing on one question.
Do I love this story?
It felt to me that writing a novel alone, lonely, without any security or guarantee of being published was hard enough. So, while I was writing, whenever fear made me falter or stumble (which was every day) that question became my touchstone.
Do I love this story?
If my answer was ambivalent, I knew I needed more staring into space time to think, daydream, recentre myself in the story until I felt reconnected. Until I felt that love firing in my belly again. I came back to this question again throughout the process of writing The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding.
Do I love this story?
(Ohhh...how I LOVE this advice Holly. Shelley.xx)
Q10: In a few lines, which debut/emerging Aussie author should we look out for?
A: Michelle Johnston’s Tiny Uncertain Miracles https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9781460715284/tiny-uncertain-miracles/ blew my heart’s socks off. Enchanting, refreshing, compelling, mystical, real, and just brimming with tenderness, with so much humanness. It’s a little bit Eleanor Oliphant, a little bit Anthony Doerr… I just felt so grateful and replete and moved when I’d finished reading it. Which was over a month ago now and I’m still thinking about it. It’s out in November.
From international bestselling author of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, Holly Ringland, comes a haunting and magical novel about joy, grief, courage, and transformation.
'On the afternoon that Esther Wilding drove homeward along the coast, a year after her sister had walked into the sea and disappeared, the light was painfully golden.'
The last time Esther Wilding's beloved older sister Aura was seen, she was walking along the shore towards the sea. In the wake of Aura's disappearance, Esther's family struggles to live with their loss. To seek the truth about her sister's death, Esther reluctantly travels from lutruwita, Tasmania to Copenhagen, and then to the Faroe Islands, following the trail of the stories Aura left behind: seven fairy tales about selkies, swans and women, alongside cryptic verses Aura wrote and had secretly tattooed on her body.
The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding is a sweeping, deeply beautiful and profoundly moving novel about the far-reaches of sisterly love, the power of wearing your heart on your skin, and the ways life can transform when we find the courage to feel the fullness of both grief and joy.
'Myths and legends are the touchstone to truth in this epic journey through love, loss, courage and kinship. But The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding is also an elegant and mesmerising tribute to the places that hold our stories, heart and memories. Holly Ringland writes with such tenderness, wit and imagination about all these things that it's impossible to come away from this magical story unchanged' - Sally Piper, author of Bone Memories
'Vivid and soaring ... The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding is a haunting story of trauma and redemption that is nonetheless compelling and accessible. It's a great recommendation for fans of Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers or Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things, as well as Ringland's debut The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart' - Books+Publishing
'Another spell is cast by Holly Ringland. I was swept away by this triumphant and luminous story' - Myfanwy Jones, Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlisted author for Leap.
Thank you Holly for being my October 1st Author Stalker guest. xx
The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding is available through all leading bookstores and online.
If you would like to find out more about Holly, you can find her here: