By Stephanie Dale, Byron Bay
As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual
It was the middle of a New England springtime, mid-November 2015; Liz Chappell cast her eyes around the visitors in her garden—570 of them, over two days.
They were there for the garden—and they were there for her.
This was the moment Liz had chosen to launch her book, Celebrate the Seasons: Garden memoirs from New England.
“It was overwhelming,” said Liz. “Wonderful. To be honest I still don’t think it’s actually sunk in that I’ve done it. I’ve written and published my book.”
A year ago, Liz was a riot of confusion and reticence about the project.
She had 20 years of gardening diaries up her sleeve, garden notes she’d kept since moving back to Glen Innes from Sydney to live in her parents’ home—to the house and garden originally built by her great grandparents.
“It was very daunting. I wasn’t really a gardener—then again, they say the gardening gene kicks in around 40. I was 39.”
As well as the diaries, Liz knew from experience tried and true there was a significant gap in the market for advice about gardening in the New England district.
“Our climatic region runs from Tamworth to Stanthorpe. It’s very cold and we’re on the edge of a monsoon pattern.
“To be honest, I learned more from other gardeners and English gardening books than I did from Australian gardening media, largely because our media focuses on the coastal areas, where most people live.”
Liz, who for four years wrote a regular gardening column in the local newspaper, thought she would pool her articles for the book—only to find she didn’t have enough material. She needed more. And she needed photos. Good photos. Photos of greater quality and expertise than she was capable of producing.
“These were my stumbling blocks. When it all felt too much I’d shelve the project, again and again, then I’d dig it out and work on it in fits and starts.
“This went on for three or four years—but the idea just wouldn’t leave me alone!”
Then The Write Road came through town, with writing workshops dedicated to new and unpublished writers.
“When I saw the workshops advertised I knew this would be my starting point. They were absolutely wonderful, extremely helpful.
“The first workshop crystalised my ideas and the second gave me practical guidance on how to approach the project.
“Through the workshops I understood that even though I was writing a gardening book, it was also my story—that it was important to tell my story—and I gained the confidence I needed to commit to the project.”
For a solid year, Liz dedicated herself to the book, full steam ahead. In 12 months she wrote, produced and published her book. And she found a skilled photographer willing to work with her in return for a share in profits.
“I rang a former colleague who lived in Brisbane, Kim Woods Rabbidge. I said, ‘If I go ahead with this crazy idea would you be willing to work with me, and if we get rich and famous we can share it.’
“Kim was wonderful to work with—I’d ring her at short notice and say, ‘The rose is blooming!’ or, ‘The frost is coming!’ and she’d jump in the car and drive down. I was very privileged to be able to work with her.”
By far the most significant aspect of Liz’s journey has been the rollercoaster ride of validity and credibility.
“I’m a self-taught gardener, I don’t have degrees and qualifications. The past few years have been a rollercoaster ride of overcoming voices in my head saying, ‘Who do you think you are to write this?’ and then this other voice says, ‘You must do it!’
“I was 65 and I knew if I didn’t do it now, I’d never do it.”
Once she knuckled down, Liz said she loved every minute of the writing process.
“I had a strict daily routine. I’d garden until lunch, then write until the 7 pm news or my husband started cooking dinner, whichever came first.
“I loved pouring words onto the page; finishing was a bit of an anticlimax really.
“And then I got the design concept back—and I cried; it was really going to happen. Up until that moment there was still every chance it would go back into the too hard basket.”
In six weeks Liz sold more than half the 2000 copies of the book sitting in her hallway.
“It was like having a litter of puppies— delightful at first, then you have to find homes for them all!”
She said the journey has been life-changing.
“Some moments have been terrifying—such as when I had to ask people I greatly admire and respect for endorsements. And some moments have been absolutely incredible— such as when I received the endorsements.
“The book has given me courage and confidence to play with the big kids in the garden media world.
“I could have gone my whole life thinking I can do that but never actually doing it. The book has proved to me that I can do it.