Tuesday, December 2, 2008
© The Cairns Post
Jodie Brownlee was a jack of all trades before becoming a master of one.
Speaking to Jodie Brownlee, captivating author and literary genius behind the highly successful Ruby Rosemount children’s series, one can’t help but wonder where fact ends and fiction begins.
The girl from Oak Flats, a working-class suburb along the New South Wales coast, says the heroin of her latest book, which is still very much a work in progress, is a young woman on a journey of self discovery.
Desperate to leave behind the stifling confines of her hometown Bogga Flats, Gemma Green packs her bags and heads for London.
“It’s a romantic comedy for young adults about her personal transformation … from bogan to bohemian,” Jodie explains.
“Initially she goes away feeling insecure and she is not proud of her Australianness but as she gets to know these people she realises that they really like her and that she’s OK the way she is.
”When I begin to draw the comparisons between Jodie and Gemma, from their rural suburban backgrounds to less obvious parallels deduced during the course of our conversation, she confesses.
“It’s semi-autobiographical but I wouldn’t want anyone to confuse her parents with mine,” Jodie laughs.
“Her parents are challenging whereas my dad was very staid and my mum always had a lot of belief in me.” I ask Jodie if it’s that support which helped her to escape the less than perfect world of Oak Flats, marred at the time by rampant drug use, teenage suicide and low education standards, to pursue a life of learning and adventure.
“My mother had dreams and wanted me to fill my potential. Something she said when I was young stayed with me all through my life and has become a sort of mantra for me. She said: ‘You can do anything you set your mind to’,” Jodie says.
“I never knew quite whether to believe this or not so from time to time I would put it to the test. If I can bungee jump, I can do anything. If I can backpack around the world, I can do anything. If I can skydive on my own, I can do anything. So I would bungee jump, backpack, skydive. With each test I began to believe it a little more.”
At age 16, dissatisfied with the appalling standard of education at her school, Jodie left to pursue a career in hairdressing but after two years conceded defeat.
“I was a square peg in a round hole,” she laughs.
“I wasn’t a likely hairdresser. They kept wanting to do things with my hair and I wouldn’t let them.”
A Fine Arts degree and bar work ensued but it was with her decision to travel overseas in her 20s that Jodie’s journey truly began.
She laughs as she recalls fragments of her adventures from buzzing through California in a “rusty VW beetle” and “tootling around Europe in a Fiat Amigo with a dodgy fan belt and no spare tyre” to her “surfari” of the Mexican Baja, picking up two stray Aussies, some Californian banjo players and a crusty old hippie in need of a beard trim.
Her travels, which also included motoring through India on a double-decker bus and riding camels in the desert, became the key to unlocking Jodie’s true identity, helping her to shirk the labels she had identified with and to finally celebrate her Australianness.
During this time, Jodie was a prolific journal writer, amassing a collection of some 20 travel diaries, many of which have provided inspiration for her latest book. She still had no inclination that her future was as a writer.
She did, however, succeed in unearthing a multitude of other talents. In her mid-20s Jodie worked as a gutsy photographer for Greenpeace, capturing covert operations, exciting protests and even the organisation’s famous flagship Rainbow Warrior at sea.
After completing a 10-week course in the then emerging field of multimedia, she also became the mastermind behind the organisation’s first interactive website.
About the same time Jodie took up teaching in multimedia. Working at Greenpeace by day and instructing by night, she was enjoying the exhilaration of inner-city Sydney.
It was a crazy time dictated by social functions and work, a stark contrast to her current life at Kewarra Beach.
“Life was hectic,” she says. “One day in my office I wondered if this was the sort of life I wanted. At my feet was a Persian rug. It looked just like a magic carpet and I wanted it to whisk me away somewhere else.”
Encouraged by her partner to pursue her idea and her gift for writing, Jodie suggested a move to the more tranquil surrounds of the Far North where she could focus on her writing.
The gamble paid off. Since taking the literary plunge, the “unlikely” author, as she describes herself, has published three books in her Ruby Rosemount fantasy series.
Her first, Ruby Rosemount and the Magic Carpet published in 2004, has sold more than 15,000 copies in Australia, more than 4000 in Italy and is into its third print run.
Her second, Ruby Rosemount and the Traveller’s Telescope, has sold more than 14,000 copies while Ruby Rosemount and the Doomsday Curse – the most recent in the trilogy – sold a staggering 3000 copies within the first two months of its release in Australia.
With a wealth of experiences and the success of her children’s series behind her, Jodie has also gone on to make a living out of sharing her stories with young people.
Like her mother she encourages children to believe they can do anything but with one extra piece of advice: “Being able to do ‘anything’ does not mean you are able to do ‘everything’. Some focus is needed.” It’s advice she plans to follow herself.
“After sampling quite a bit of what life had to offer and discovering all the things I could do, I had to decide what it was I wanted to do,” she says.
“I still paint, photograph and design web pages, I even play the ukulele. But writing is, and always will be, my main focus now.”