MEET GRACE’S CREATOR, SOFIE LAGUNA
Sophie Laguna was the first Australian Girl born to her parents, a doctor and a nurse who met at a hospital in Sydney after fleeing war torn Europe. Sofie feels lucky to live in a peaceful country like Australia. Here her dreams of writing stories like the four books she has just finished about Our Australian Girl, Grace, has come true.
Sofie is visiting Kids’ Book Capers today to tell us about the journey that she and Grace have taken together.
Can you tell us about the research process?
I thoroughly enjoyed the research process for Grace’s story. With an adult perspective and an adult’s capacity for empathy, I could visit early Australian history more fully, and imagine more vividly what life might have been like in the 19th century for those whose destiny was Australia.
The research gave me the opportunity to really consider the struggle of early Australians and it gave me a greater appreciation for the courage it took to survive. I was awed by how adaptable and resourceful those individuals were in the face of challenge. My research began in London’s crowded, polluted city streets and took me all the way to the open, peaceful Australian bush. I was glad that my character, Grace, eventually found home there, after such a tough and lonely life in England.
What did it feel like to walk in Grace’s shoes?
When I was growing up I lived on a farm and I had my own horse. It was thrilling to revisit a young girl’s passion for horses – their strength, power and grace. The first horse I ever rode was called Peggy.
I loved that Grace eventually had her own horse, and that she named her Peggy. Grace was abused and neglected, like so many children in England at the time. I know she suffered unbearable cruelty and isolation, but I always knew that she would triumph, and it was exciting to be on that journey with her.
What was the most inspiring thing about Grace?
The most inspiring thing about Grace was her ability to hold onto her humanity and her heart when she could so easily have made more destructive and selfish choices. She chose to trust even though life had never shown her that there was much worth trusting. She was kind when she could have been cruel. She saved Sally’s life on the ship, she acted as Dorothea’s eyes in Newgate Prison, and she risked her life to save her mistress’s baby.
She was strong when she could have run away or given up. When she needed help to save Glory, she tracked down Mulgo and used the bush medicine that the aboriginal woman showed her. She was bold and adventurous where she might have been fearful and judgmental.
How do you think you would have survived living in Grace’s era?
If, like Grace, I had lived in 1809 I like to think that I would have been a character a little like Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Progressive in my own way. Political through living my truth. I like to think that I would have pushed the boundaries somehow. Would I have written? In what ways would my life have been creative? I wonder… so much depended on class and money. Could I have found a way to live outside of those constraints?
If I had made it as far as Beth and Tom, living in a hut in the bush in Parramatta, I hope I would have been as resourceful as Beth, and as open and adventurous.
A REVIEW OF GRACE’S STORIES
Grace is the earliest Our Australian Girl and her story starts in 1808 with book one, MEET GRACE.
Grace is a mudlarker, earning her living from finding ‘treasure’ in the smelly polluted waters of the Thames. She is being raised by an uncle who has no real affection for her and spends most of his time being drunk and abusive.
Grace is lonely and miserable but her hardship is not uncommon for a girl her age living in England in the early 1800s.
But it’s Grace’s love for horses that gets her into real trouble. She sees a horse (her Pegasus) being mistreated and threatened with the slaughterhouse. Grace can’t let that happen. Poor Pegasus is hungry and worn out, pretty much like Grace herself.
In her first adventure Grace is arrested for stealing apples and for trying to ride Pegasus away to freedom. Her crimes are considered serious and she is desperately afraid she will be hanged.
In spite of how hard and lacking in affection her life is, Grace is a gentle sensitive girl who will endear herself to readers.
BOOK TWO – A FRIEND FOR GRACE
Grace is not to be hanged. Her punishment is a berth aboard the ship, Indispensable bound for Sydney Cove.
Her trip to Australia is difficult with many of the passengers being struck down my fever, but on board ship, Grace meets Hannah and her mother, Liza.
She becomes like a member of their family, even saving Liza from the awful illness that has afflicted so many people on board the ship.
Grace hopes that when they reach Sydney she will be allowed to continue being part of Hannah and Liza’s life, but typically, nothing goes according to plan.
While Grace’s story is fictional, children as young as 9 were sent from England to Australia for crimes they had committed – most of them very minor.
As well as a great story, there is a fascinating historical component to this book. Fact is melded seamlessly with fiction and at the end is a section for readers, “What life was like in Grace’s time,”
Book Two finishes with Grace’s arrival in Australia and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.
Grace is a brave and endearing character and I’m sure that her plight will touch the hearts of many young readers.
THE OUR AUSTRALIAN GIRL COMPETITION CONTINUES