Meet Goldie Alexander: knitter, author of over 80 books and age-ism fighter
Goldie Alexander is the Australian author of more than eighty books, which include both fiction and non-fiction for all ages. Her first four Young Adult books were ‘Dolly Fiction’ novels published under the pseudonym of Gerri Lapin. The KSP Holiday Hub wriers were fortunate enough to meet Goldie when she visited the KSP Writers’ Centre in the July school holidays. The following is a transcibed extract of the cadets’ interview with Goldie. The full version has been uploaded to KSP’s YouTube channel (see below).
Goldie, I understand that you were a teacher at your first job. What did you teach?
I taught English and History to high school students for a very long time – 25 years. I found that a lot of the books at that time were set in England or America, but not much in Australia, and we were looking for books with an Australian setting.
And what sparked the idea to become an author?
When I stopped teaching I thought, what else am I going to do? My friend said to me, ‘You’ve always wanted to write. Off you go.’
But do you know what? You don’t just sit down and write. There’s a lot to learn about it. You’d never sit down and do a magnificent painting straight off, would you? Writing’s much like that. There’s a craft to it, an art to it. You have to learn all the secrets, and there’s lots and lots of them, and you never stop learning.
Where do you write?
I have a special spot – two special spots – because I live in two places. I live in the city in a high rise flat, and we’ve got a place in the country that we’ve had for many, many years, and I have a spot in both places where I write.
I’m very organised. I get up in the morning, as if I was still going to school, have a shower, get dressed, have breakfast and sit down and write. I find that if I don’t do it that way, I don’t get things done. This is how you do it. You just have to sit there and write. It’s like practising a piano. If you don’t practise the piano, your fingers turn to spaghetti. It’s the same thing with the writing.
What do you do when you get writer’s block?
Walk. Not as much as I used to because I had an accident a few years ago and I’ve got a lame right leg, but I walk. [Sometimes], I go to the fridge and find something to eat. Or I go and do some cooking, or read a book, but mostly I find that it helps if you put it all away and just go off for a walk.
How do keep yourself motivated to do so many books?
Oh, there’s so many ideas out there! One of the good things that happened after I had my accident, and go this silly crook leg, was that I had to start catching a lot of public transport. Gosh, do you have material on public transport. Sometimes people are really friendly and they talk to me because I’m not threatening. Little old lady, you know? Not threatening. Travelers love to talk to you because they’re desperate to talk to anybody. If you’re writing for kids, watching kids on trams and trains – you’re invisible, completely invisible. The way they behave tells you such a lot.
I can’t think of anything else I want to do, really. I mean, what am I going to do? Sit down, twiddle my thumbs, watch TV, just read? Boring.
Let me tell you, when you get to my age, people really dismiss you. People will come to me and say, ‘And how do you spend your time?’ When I say I’m a writer, they blink because they don’t expect me to say it. I really am fighting to say, ‘Hey! Our old people are important, just like they are in China. Just like they are in Japan.’ But [in] Australia we’re very concentrated on being young if you think about it.
Do you like to write the same genres that you like to read?
I just read very widely. I’m interested in using Science Fiction because I think you can play with ideas. With Science Fiction, you can just take one idea, displace it from the normal and see what happens with it. If you’re writing historical fiction, you have to go back and research very carefully, but then you write it as though it’s here and now.
I worry a little bit about writing stuff that is happening now because I think you can get it so wrong with clothes, music, technology, because by the time you get the book published, it’s out of date. Sometimes it can take three, four, five years. I wrote Cybertricks fifteen years ago - took me that much time to find somebody really interested and then I had to bring it up to date, of course.
Sometimes ideas have to sit in your brain before you actually go ahead and start working on them.
I know that you write in a lot of genres, but which is your favourite?
Whichever one I’m working on at the time.
Are you planning any other books in the future?
Oh, I sure am. I’m not actually planning it; it’s sort of sifting in my mind. Set in Berlin in the 1920s. I’ve always been fascinated by Berlin and what they call the Weimer Republic. It was a great time when all sorts of wonderful things happened before the Depression came and Hitler rose to power. I’m planning to do a time warp, when you get a contemporary kid who’s suddenly, magically transformed back to some other time.
The very first novel I did under my name was called Mavis Road Medley and I had contemporary kids - this was written in the early nineties – that went back to 1933 in Melbourne. It was really just at the end of the Depression and things were pretty grim, and these kids were pretty spoilt. I wanted to bring them back to show them what life was like for their grandparents really. So in a way I’m doing that, only I’m going back to great-grandparents.
I believe your parents migrated from Poland. Have you ever been there?
No, but if I ever get to Berlin, I might go to Poland and have a look. I believe there’s not much left of the places I came from, so I’ve kind of been putting it off. It’s not as if I want rush back and look at the streets.
I’ve read that you’re a compulsive knitter – what and why do you knit?
It’s very meditative. When I’ve been working all day at a computer and I just want to blank out, I might sit in front of a film on TV and I knit. I don’t knit complicated patterns; I want something that I will blank out on, like Greek worry beads …
So what you like about it is it’s rhythmic?
Yes! It’s the rhythm. I never thought about it like that but yes, you’re right.
I know you’ve written lots of books from many different genres but what would probably be your favourite and what inspired you to write it?
It’s a book that’s not very well known. It was called Lilbert’s Romance. It was based on some relatives of my husband’s. Amongst them was a lady who had been born disabled, and back when she was young, the disabled were put away, and although this lady could walk around and she was very intelligent, she was always treated like a child. The story went that nothing ever happened to her … there’s nothing like a challenge like nothing ever happened to her, to a writer is there? We’re going to make something happen. So that was the story, and I’ve set her – not her actually, but the idea of somebody disabled - living in 1938.
For more information about Goldie and her books, you can check out her website: http://www.goldiealexander.com/