OUR AUSTRALIAN GIRL – LETTY

MEET LETTY’S CREATOR, ALISON LLOYD

Alison Lloyd is an immigrant Australian girl too. She came on a plane from the USA with her family and enjoyed making mud pies, playing dress-ups and reading. Writing the four Our Australian Girl Letty books felt a lot like pretending to live in the olden days and travelling by imagination back into the past, and those games she used to play.

Alison is visiting Kids’ Book Capers today to share her writing journey and Letty’s story with us.

What did you enjoy most/find hardest about the research process?

I was moved by the first-hand stories of early emigrants. I read diaries and letters from the 1830s-1850s, and some of them are truly sad. One father tell us what the sailing weather is like each day, then describes how his two children are fading daily from malnutrition. I knew a bit about the First Fleet and convicts, but I hadn’t realised emigration was so common and so gruelling – early settlers took their lives in their hands to sail here.

On a happier note, I really enjoyed researching Victorian fashion: lots of gorgeous pictures of laces and flounces and intricate hairstyles.

What did it feel like to walk in Letty’s shoes?

Life was tough in colonial Australia. Letty isn’t as destitute as Sofie Laguna’s Grace, but she’s vulnerable. She has to earn a living at a young age, away from her family.

Sometimes authors (myself included!) put their child characters through extraordinary things to up the tension, but in Letty’s case I didn’t have to stretch probability at all. Every difficulty she faces was common for Victorian children.

What was the most inspiring thing you discovered about your character?

In spite of feeling insecure, fearful and inadequate, Letty takes risks. She courageously attempts to help others when she knows she might fail.  (And of course, eventually she triumphs!)

How do you think you would have survived living in Letty’s era?

I don’t think I would have lived to adulthood. I’m pretty short-sighted, and without modern glasses I would have been bowled over by a carriage, or fallen into a cesspit, before long.

What significant historical events are covered in your books?

In 1841 Australia was changing – it wasn’t just a penal colony anymore. 170,000 emigrants sailed to Australia from the UK in the two decades before the Gold Rush. Letty is one of them. Single women were particularly encouraged to come, because men outnumbered women by 5:2 in NSW.  Letty’s sister Lavinia comes out under a paid government scheme. But as Letty and Lavinia discover, these young women often had nowhere safe to turn when they stepped off the ship. Caroline Chisholm (remember the $5 note?) was so horrified by the abuse and prostitution on Sydney’s streets, that in 1841 she set up the Female Emigrants Home and Australia’s first employment office. So that’s where Letty too finds shelter for a while.

A REVIEW OF LETTY’S STORIES

Letty is the creation of popular Australian Children’s author, Alison Lloyd and her story takes place in 1841.

In MEET LETTY, Letty accidentally stows away on a boat that is taking her sister, Lavinia to Australia. Letty’s life is changed forever.

How is she going to manage when Lavinia doesn’t even want her there and what will it be like on the other side of the world?

Things change on board ship when Letty saves her sister’s life, but once they reach land it soon becomes apparent that their problems are far from over.

Lavinia’s promised job doesn’t eventuate and they find themselves in a strange new country without work, family or anywhere to live.

At least they still have a friend, Abner, a young sailor from the ship, but will this be enough to keep them safe?

Even though Letty has not come to Australia as a convict, her life is clearly not going to be easy in New South Wales.

In Letty’s second adventure, LETTY AND THE STRANGER’S LACE, she and her sister find her way to Mrs Chisolm’s house (Caroline Chisolm is famous in history for how she helped women who were new to the colony by providing lodgings for them in an old army barracks that she transformed into the Female Immigrants Home).

But they can’t stay there. Lavinia finds work, but her employer doesn’t want Letty.

But Letty is resourceful and manages to find her own work with the baker, George and his unusual sister, Mary.

Letty is scared of Mary who seems to carry a darkness with her. Letty, whose own mother died is filled with scorn when she discovers that Mary has a husband and son she apparently abandoned.

But things aren’t what they seem and Letty soon discovers that Mary’s melancholy has been caused by the loss of a daughter in childbirth.

She doesn’t realise that Mary is pregnant with another child until she goes into labour and it’s up to Letty to try and save Mary and the baby.

Finally, Letty’s life seems settled but then Mary decides to take the new baby and return to her husband and son whom she left to come to the city to be near a doctor.

Mary wants Letty to go with her, but can Letty leave behind her sister and a life where she has come to feel happy and safe at last?

Letty is another strong character who can be impulsive but is able to think of others, even when her own life is hard. Letty’s caring and courage will endear her to young readers.

Alison Lloyd’s detailed research and vivid descriptions make it easy to picture yourself in Letty’s world and to understand what she is going through.

Letty’s stories are another page turning set of books in the Our Australian Girl series.

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