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We’re thrilled to be able to ask Jane Smith more questions about her fun and fascinating series, Carly Mills, Pioneer Girl, its personal meaning, the representation and development of the real and fictional characters, and even tips on utilising the books as resources for its audience. Thanks for your insights, Jane! 🙂
Jane, you’ve poured your heart and soul, and plenty of hours of research into your series, Carly Mills, Pioneer Girl. Why is this series meaningful to you, and what do you hope readers will gain from engaging in these books?
The series matters to me because I love the idea of sharing the amazing stories of these remarkable women with children in a way that’s engaging and non-didactic. First and foremost, they’re adventure stories. The series brings together many of the things that I think are important: literacy and enjoyment of literature, social justice and history. It may sound preachy to say that we can learn from history, but it’s true. I think that a knowledge of history is a vital element in achieving social change and wisdom.
One of my aims in writing the ‘Carly Mills’ series – and the ‘Tommy Bell’ series – was to tell stories that are timeless. The books clearly show the contrasts between living conditions in the present and the past: things like attitudes to women, social restrictions, career limitations, and other more tangible differences like clothing, housing, transport and chores. But I hope the stories also show that some things don’t change. People in colonial times had hopes and aspirations just as we do today. They had responsibilities and problems with relationships and money and bullies. I hope that by including these universal issues, the books will be more relevant and therefore engaging to children – and that, as a result of this engagement, they will learn something about our fascinating past.
I’m a librarian with many years of experience in school libraries, and my primary aim is to instil my love of reading in children. I just can’t imagine how much duller life would be without experiencing that joy of immersing yourself in a good book. I want children to read the Carly Mills books and be inspired by the deeds of these great women, but I also want them just to sink into the stories and enjoy them!
Your two main protagonists, Carly and Dora, are strong young girls, much like the historical figures in your books. How did you develop their characters, and how much are you like either of them?
They’re modern Australian girls with modern expectations. When they travel to the past, they’re confronted with attitudes that are completely foreign to them. For instance, when they meet Florence Nightingale in a later book, Carly will be stunned to learn that in the nineteenth century, nursing was not considered a respectable occupation for a woman. Carly’s mother’s a nurse, after all. Carly and Dora might seem brazen to the people of the past, but in contemporary society they’re just strong, no-fuss girls with a sense of justice. Carly’s a country girl who feels a little out of depth in the city but she’s brave enough to give it a go. She’s capable and honest. Dora is a feisty little thing, and Carly admires her for her individuality. She dresses a little eccentrically and she’s quirky and kind.
How much am I like them? That’s a hard question! I’d like to be like either one of them. I’ve always believed that we should all have the same rights and privileges, regardless of gender, age, race, religion or sexuality. I’ve never considered my gender to be a barrier to achievement, and I guess I have women like the historical figures in the Carly Mills books to thank for that. I suppose that’s something I have in common with both Carly and Dora.
The Carly Mills series beautifully lends itself to fun and interactive teaching and learning opportunities about Australian history for students in the middle to upper primary years. What advice or resources would you suggest to educators and parents wanting to further their students’ knowledge on the subject?
The Carly Mills books have wonderful teaching notes, written by a teacher-librarian, that are freely available for download from my author website (www.janesmithauthor.com) and from my website devoted to Carly Mills (www.carlymillspioneergirl.weebly.com). The Carly Mills website also has loads of other resources for kids and teachers. There are colouring pages and a quiz, and there is information on some of the historical women featured in the books. There are also links to other child-friendly and teacher-friendly sites with information about historical women, women’s organisations, writing tips and more. I urge teachers and parents to have a look!
What are your favourite historical fiction books to read, particularly for this same age group? Did you draw any inspiration from them when writing the Carly Mills, or Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy series?
Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, both in children’s and adults’ books. Of course I love Jackie French’s ‘Matilda’ series and ‘Secret History’ series. I also think the ‘My Story’ and ‘My Australian Story’ series are great reads for upper primary school age kids. I think that I’ve been influenced by my love of Enid Blyton books as a child. Though they weren’t historical fiction and the attitudes in them are very dated now, the action and adventure in them is something that I absolutely adored, and want to reproduce in my writing.
What tips can you share with aspiring authors wanting to write in the same genre?
When writing historical fiction, you have to start by knowing the history. This might seem obvious, but it’s worth emphasising because it’s essential. You need to research deeply and widely and know your subject well. It’s only by knowing little details – what people wore, what they believed in, how they spoke – that you can bring a story to life. You might not use all those details in your story, but you have to know them. And you have to love the research, or else spending months learning about a subject only to write 10,000 words or so on it can seem like too much effort. But if you do love it, it’s immensely enriching.
Your fans will no doubt be anticipating future releases from you soon. Please tell us about the forthcoming titles in your Carly Mills series, and any other upcoming projects.
I can’t wait for the release of the second title in the Carly Mills series, Emergency!, which features Queensland’s first female doctor, Lilian Cooper. Her character was so bold and brilliant, and her life so eventful, that she just lends herself to a rollicking Carly Mills adventure! In book three, Carly will meet opera singer Dame Nellie Melba while on a school choir trip to Melbourne. Then in book four she’ll spend time with Florence Nightingale in London and in the Crimea. Book five features pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart, so there’s plenty of hair-raising action in that one! In book six she’ll discover radium with Marie Curie, and in book seven she’ll share the trials and triumphs of author Miles Franklin. During all of these adventures, Carly gets to know Dora better, makes a new friend (and sometimes adversary) called Simone, and acquires a lovable corgi.
They all sound absolutely brilliant! Thanks so much for your time and insights, Jane! It’s been a pleasure! 😊
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