International Writers Inspiring Change featured author: Lee Richie

Tell us about yourself …

I was born and grew up in Liverpool England. After leaving school at just fourteen years of age, a teacher fired this parting shot: ‘You’ll never amount to anything, Lee; you’re a waste of life.’

Despite the cruel prediction, I went on to forge a successful international business career. ‘There were times I wanted to go back and show that teacher what I had achieved, but as time went on, I realised he had good cause. He saw a troublemaker going nowhere fast, and had it not been for the angels in my life, I might well have lived up to his prophecy.’ One of those angels came along soon after leaving school. ‘I met Christine on the doorstep of the butchers where I worked; we were still fifteen. Everything changed after that. I was just eighteen when we married and we soon had a family; three sons to join us on our journey.’

I’ve had the good fortune to live and work in far-flung places; and feel privileged to have had the opportunities. Like so many travellers who hop the planet, I came to think of myself as a global species, a nomad who calls home wherever I happen to hang my hat. ‘I’ve spent more time abroad now than in my native England, calling Canada home for ten years, before settling here in Australia in 1992. I’ve worked for Germans, French Canadians, worked with Italians, Spaniards, Dutch, Americans, and Chinese. I’m lucky to have friends of every colour and faith–real friends–in countries all around the world, eaten and slept in their homes in Japan, China, Italy, Germany, New Zealand, Taiwan, Switzerland and more. These cherished relationships and the experiences shared, provide a treasure trove of material for my writing, though it’s hard to capture a lifetime of adventures.’

I have retired from business, where marketing meetings and spreadsheets once drove the day’s priorities and am now writing full-time from my home in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia. I write regularly for trade magazines and have a monthly blog on my website. I am the author of the historical novel, Black Bones, Red Earth, due for release 24th February 2020. I am also the author of the Young Adult novel, Alexander Bottom & the Dreamweaver’s Daughter, which was well-received by readers worldwide.

‘Life was not always easy. There are plenty of difficult stories to tell, along with the good ones. There were hard lessons learned along with reaching heights I once thought would be impossible. I’ve been lucky; been poor yet felt so rich. I’ve been down but never beaten. I’m grateful for my life and my family, for the people I’ve met and the places I’ve seen along the way. A waste of life? Not mine; not a minute of it.’

What started you on a path of writing?

I didn’t take well to school. Teachers thought I was just too much trouble. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in learning. In fact, it was quite the opposite. But when a teacher would say something interesting, my mind would run off on a tangent. Let’s say for example that the teacher said, “The Romans built great walls.” I would think about how they did that and why, and I’d imagine the huge numbers of slaves working on these walls and what they were wearing and how many soldiers would there be to keep them all in check. By the time I’d come back to the moment, the teacher would have moved on and I’d heard nothing about the aqueducts and Roman baths he’d just described for twenty minutes while I’d been away in my head space. It was like that with every subject. In the end I got so far behind I’d give up. No one seemed to understand the problem. I left school at fourteen but I was never there in the two years prior to leaving. There’d be like 80 absences or more in each year as I played hooky and hung out with the wrong crowd and getting up to mischief. So, when it came to subjects like English language and English literature, I didn’t develop the skills until later in life. 

It was only when I got into business that I found myself forced to learn some basics. I hid my deficiencies and slowly educated myself in math and English, business practices like marketing and finance. In the beginning I winged it, but then I found I was actually good at these subjects and enjoyed learning new things. I took marketing courses at Uni and became a marketing manager. I started writing editorial pieces and copy for our marketing department and that helped me get my head around the rules of grammar. But the inspiration for writing has always been there. My mother was a prolific writer and beautifully descriptive. When we emigrated to Canada, she would write letters, sometimes 15 to 20 pages long. She would just tell of her days in the garden, or walking the countryside and you could visualise every step of her day. I started writing letters back home and tried to give her an idea of our new life and new country. I guess that’s how my creative writing began. 

Is there a message in your books?

I didn’t set out to include any messages in my books, but they are there all the same. My first novel, Alexander Bottom & the Dreamweaver’s Daughter is a Young Adult fiction. There’s a strong message about tolerance and racial prejudice, lessons in empathy. I think fiction writing is all about putting yourself in other’s shoes and you automatically feel for those on the receiving end of injustice. My new novel, Black Bones, Red Earth, is very focused on children and how they suffer at the hands of adults in authority. It’s an ultimately uplifting tale, but addresses subjects like forced child migration and the stolen generations, as well as racial injustice in Australia since colonisation. There are still those who refuse to acknowledge what happened in Australia, and until they do, the country and its indigenous people can never move forward in unity. I hope my story inspires readers to find out more and understand the true Australian history.

What have readers said about your books?

Readers have been overwhelmingly positive and many have been moved to tears. What people are saying:

Powerful and compelling with a satisfying twist at the end. All in all, a great read! –Bob McCrillis, NetGalley review.

“I am still wiping the tears from my eyes. I LOVED this book. It’s the best book I’ve read in a long time and I didn’t want it to end.” –Christine, Goodreads.

“Harrowing, heartfelt and deeply emotional.” –K.C. Finn for Reader’s Favorite. 

“Beautifully wrought.” –Dave Letch, writer and director of theatre and film.

What inspired the book, Black Bones, Red Earth?

Black Bones, Red Earth was first inspired by my mother’s story. Her mother died of TB when she was just four years old. Her father sent her and her two sisters to an orphanage. This was common practice in those days. “Men didn’t raise little girls.” When it came time to leave the orphanage, Mum and her sisters made a pact to keep their childhood a secret. Mum kept her oath by inventing a childhood of boarding schools and happy days with family during school holidays. In the end she convinced herself of the tale. She was eighty years old when the truth was revealed. When I asked her why she had chosen to hide her true story for so many years, she said she was ashamed. That became the seed of an idea. The next bit of inspiration came from my Uncle Chris, who came to Australia as a boy, only to be despatched to a sheep station where he struggled to make a life under the care of a cranky old station owner. His adventures brought real-life experiences to my story and I combined the two to get started. As a panster, not a plotter, I had no idea where the story would go from there. But it wasn’t until I started writing and set my tale in the 1950s that I came to realise the weight of such stories, and how they could be entwined with the true-life experiences of characters from the bush. I found the back-story had far-reaching consequences for my understanding of Australia and its past. As I researched and added Aboriginal characters, I realised just how little I understood about Australia’s roots. I began talking to indigenous elders who told of their own experiences, and very soon the Aboriginal characters came to life on the page. I couldn’t have done it without their help. The book has some harrowing moments, brutal even, but the tale is ultimately uplifting and is a story of unbreakable love.

Mum at the orphanage
Uncle Chris in the Outback

Visit the Author website: www.leerichie.com

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