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  • River-Story

Meredith Hooper

As a child

I was born in Australia, in a lovely warm place called Adelaide. Our holidays were by the wide ocean with long sandy beaches with bright pink seaweeds, and more shells than I could pick up. Our house was shaded by deep verandas and apricot and peach and almond trees, and the dark branches of a lemon tree, easy to climb. We collected rain water off the roof in two big tanks because water mattered. The classrooms of my school across the road and just up the hill were almost hidden behind an old garden with tall straight-trunked gum trees, and gnarled olive trees, and bitter aloes where we carved our names in the spiky leaves. At Christmas our school carol concert was in the warm, dusty-smelling dark just before we broke up for the long summer holidays. One year when I was about 9 I lived in bed, not allowed to get out. I'd caught a disease called polio. I could hear the children playing in my school up the road. I was meant to try and do some lessons. But I didn't want to. I just lay in bed, and dreamed, and sometimes read books. When I went back to school I found that I was a bit different from the others. I'd got used to being alone. I'd got used to thinking, not just being. I began writing – mostly for a wonderful radio programme, where what we wrote might be chosen to be read aloud. Our real names weren't used. I was free to write what I wanted.

As an adult

One hot summer night, at the end of four years studying at the University of Adelaide, I went with friends to wait for the newspaper coming off the printing presses, to find out my exam results. You've won a scholarship, someone shouted. To go OVERSEAS. And my life changed. From Australia, to England. From clear blue skies to supposing that it was going to rain every day. From a vast country, to a crowded one. From never being away from home for more than a fortnight, to living away from my country, for ever. From great aunts and cousins and close family to knowing no one. My various ancestors had arrived in Australia from Scotland and Cornwall, Ireland and England, more than 100 years before. Coming to Britain took three and half weeks by sea. I arrived an excited stranger, suddenly a foreigner, to study history, at Oxford.

As an author

Writing books began almost as soon as I left Oxford. In America with my English husband, back in London in between three children, always writing, always researching, always fitting books in, travelling whenever possible, until – with our youngest starting University – I climbed on board another ship, this time heading south, south as far as I could; and I was in Antarctica. I never believed that I would be lucky enough to be able to live and work on that extraordinary continent. But I've been back, over and over again, selected as a writer by the Australian and the American government, and the Royal Navy. Writing inspires my eyes and drives my thinking. Writing is hard, and joyful. When I'm in the middle of a book I write in my dreams. I'm so lucky to have the chance to be a writer.

Things you didn't know about Meredith Hooper

  1. When I was growing up I was so tall, and thin, I was worried people would bump into my hip bones. I didn't choose to be thin. I just was. Being tall lasted. But – being thin didn't.
  2. I like penguins. I like their noise. I especially like their smell. I like the way a penguin looks at you, out of one eye, then moves its head around to look with the other eye.
  3. I like fresh pineapple. It makes my mouth tickle.
  4. I HATE unnecessary loud noises.
  5. I like flying in helicopters. I really like Boeing 747s, especially being in the cockpit, which isn't allowed any more.
  6. I like the way giant petrel chicks sit still in the wind on their stone nests, like balls of finest down, waiting for one of their parents to come back to feed them. Once I was allowed to hold a chick. It was the softest, warmest thing, with its little body deep inside.
  7. I like being told something funny and laughing, especially just before going to sleep.
  8. I like elephant seals. They belch, and burp, and yawn, and fart. But in the ocean – where none of us can see them – they swim and dive like curved shapely arrows.
  9. I like Cornish pasties the way my mum made them.
  10. I like talking to people who like talking to me.

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