Sunday, December 19, 2021

"Bowl the Maidens Over" - the perfect gift for cricket fans!


I asked author Louise Zedda-Sampson to tell me about her book - the story of research and publication is fascinating! Thanks, Louise.

What inspired you to write this book? You mention finding a story while researching – tell us about that.

When I was completing my Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing in 2015 at Melbourne Polytechnic, the course coordinator asked me if I’d be interested in doing some pro bono work for a local cricket club, researching and writing about the club history. Any experience in a new field is good experience, so even though I had no real interest in cricket, I jumped at the chance. My first published piece in 2013 was a case study and research article on spelling called: ‘Is U a word or do you spell it with a Z: English spelling in Australian schools--are we getting it write?’, published by the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association.  I’ve always loved research.

In researching the club’s history – it was the Youlden Parkville Cricket Club, and it has quite a history of its own – I found all these other fragments of stories, and when I tried to find out more about them (for my own interest) there was little available because the full stories had not been written. One was about a person called David Scott who helped foster junior cricket in Melbourne, and who was also instrumental in bringing the English cricketers to Australia in the late 1800s. I wrote about this missing history in a piece called ‘The Cup, the Cricket and the Custodians’ and it was published by Melbourne Cricket Club Library in their publication called The Yorker. Another story was of the first women’s games of cricket. The fact these important stories were missing from the history books was my impetus to write them. Such enormous achievements had to be celebrated – even if it was a hundred plus years later.

I have a few more such stories up my sleeve but they aren’t on paper yet so I won’t talk about them!

Whose idea was it for two women’s teams to play that day? Was it difficult to organize? What obstacles did they face?

Oh this is a very big question! For context, the game was held at the Sandhurst (now Bendigo) Easter Fair as a fundraiser for the Bendigo Hospital and Asylum. There’s a bit of contention around whose idea it was! In the book I’ve said that it was John Rae’s idea. He was a headmaster and husband of Emily Rae, and father to Nellie and Barbara Rae. A newspaper account states John Rae had approached the clergy to play in a ‘muff match’ for the Easter Fair, but they declined, and then he asked the ladies. The family records held by one of the descendants of Nellie Rae – Chris Cordner – state that it was Emily Rae’s idea to have the women play. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

It did not seem difficult to organise. Advertisements were run in the local Bendigo Advertiser newspaper for a few weeks and teams were established. Permission was granted for the women to train and use the facilities of the Bendigo United Cricket Club (BUCC) where they were coached and mentored by some of Australia’s finest cricket players of the time. There was a lot of local support and enthusiasm for the event. A few reports suggested that watching the ladies train may have been more of a novelty entertainment rather than it being for any sporting prowess, but not a lot was written so it’s very hard to gauge how well they were publicly supported before the game. However, as the day of the game neared, the ‘Ladies’ cricket match’ became more prominent a feature in the Fair advertisements, and on the day of the parade they all wore their uniforms and rode in ornate carriages as part of the procession. The only obstacles they seemed to face in the build up to the game was about the type of costumes they would wear, and if they were really going to consider the ‘dreadful’ bloomer costume over something neck-to ankle!

The real obstacles started once the game had been played, when all of a sudden attention turned on the women rather than the game.

You’ve gathered a lot of newspaper reportage, much of it quite rude, about the first cricket match. Were you horrified to read some of it? (I was!)

A lot of it was terrible. Scathing in fact! It was one of the things that really pushed me on to write this story. When I read the articles that demeaned the women so badly, and I realised how they had continued in spite of all of it, I felt a real sense of pride in these ladies – playing in those conditions, that took guts. And it made me want to pay tribute to their story.

The Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser had very strong views about a woman’s place and had no qualms about voicing them. A woman’s place was in the home – clearly! – and to be playing a ‘manly’ sport in front of a male audience was likened to a burlesque performance. Slurs were made about the character of the women players. This view was also supported by other Melbourne papers such as The Herald, while the local papers in Bendigo help firm in supporting the women cricketers instead.

A short extract from an article in The Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser dated 13 April 1874:

TWO-AND-TWENTY females in white calico skirts, blue and red Garibaldi jackets, and sailor hats, played a cricket match in the Camp Reserve, Sandhurst, on Easter Monday in the presence of a considerable concourse of spectators, who paid an entrance fee to witness this unbecoming spectacle.

Fifty years ago, such an exhibition could not have taken place without subjecting all the actresses in it to general scorn and reprobation. But women are falling so rapidly into contempt, and are becoming so unsexed, that such an event as the one referred to excited no more reprehension than does the appearance on the stage of females in a condition nearly bordering on nudity as they can go to without exciting absolute loathing and disgust.

This unfeminine trial of masculine skill at Sandhurst, in which frisky matrons took part with forward spinsters, was engaged as—we are told in the cause of “heaven-born charity.” Nothing else could extort money from the pockets of the male public, but this unwomanly exhibition on a public holiday.

Doesn’t it make you cross? What was worse was one of the local agitators in Bendigo anonymously slipped it into the letterbox of Barbara Rae. Barbara was a captain of one team and the secretary for the match. I think it was reading this article that really made me see red. I had to go to the State Library to get a copy of this particular article because the newspaper records had not been digitised for The Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser. Prior to seeing the article, I had suspected it was vicious by the other commentary I’d seen printed, but I had no idea how nasty until I read it. So, yes, I was just like you, Sherryl – horrified!

You decided to self-publish the book, and it’s a beautiful little hardback in its first edition. Why self-publish, why hardback, and what was the process like?

Thanks, Sherryl! There are lots of factors in here. I’ll start with the decision to self-publish. I started the process by entering the draft in a few writing competitions because I wasn’t sure what format it should take or how I’d manage all the information, and even though it was undiscovered Australian history, no one was interested. Maybe my applications were terrible, or the assessors didn’t find the subject interesting, whoever knows. Not being deterred, I contacted the Melbourne Cricket Club Library to see if they would another story and they said yes, so I found a way to make it work. It was published it in The Yorker in 2019, the summer before the 2020 women’s T20 at the MCG, and copies of the magazine were reprinted for the monumental game.  But after this the story didn’t seem to go anywhere, and as time passed, I felt there was more to do on it.

At the beginning of 2021 – after the terrible year of 2020 with Melbourne lockdowns, a broken ankle (not recommended) and my mother dying – I decided this year had to include something significant and positive, so I embarked on the process of self-publishing the book so the story could reach a wider audience. I didn’t even try to pitch to publishers because I wanted to get it published hopefully in time for the 2021 Bendigo Easter Fair (which was also cancelled due to covid anyway!). Was this a good idea or not? I’m not sure. My advice has always been to try publishers first before self-publishing, and I go and do the opposite!

Re the format. My typesetter and cover designer, Lorna Hendry, suggested I consider hardback. When I got a sample of each – a paperback and a hardback – the hardback just suited the book. It felt and looked right, like something that fitted the period of the story. One of the issues with that, of course, is that it’s more expensive to produce and therefore it costs more to sell. One thing that’s a real issue is that I can’t get distribution on the book and get it into bookstores because the distribution discount would have me sell the book at a loss. This is something to look at as a factor in self-publishing when you print a hardback.

The process itself was eye-opening! I’ve edited plenty of books, but somehow having your own work go through the publication process is different. For instance, references have never been a strong point and I had to check my own many, many times. I found the whole self-publishing through Ingram a bit intimidating, to be honest, and had to ask a lot of questions in Facebook groups about how to set things up and what to select. In hindsight, I recommend doing a self-publishing course before you start a self-publishing project. I did find the set-up aspect very stressful.

I have managed all of that now, but I haven’t ventured into the e-book side as yet. That’s further down the track. One thing I think it’s important to mention here is to make sure you engage professionals to help you if you are self-publishing. I had no idea what could be done until I was shown, and I’ve learnt so much.

Now that the book has been launched, what have been the best and most challenging things about the whole project?

The launch happened five months after the book was released, delay due to covid. It’s so funny, really. The thing that got me moving also held me up. It was hard to promote things online, with many other authors yelling for space on the airwaves, understandably too, and I didn’t want to be another voice yelling into a saturated crowd. Getting into bookstores has been incredibly hard with shop closures and market uncertainty, and no distributor. I’m basically on sale through a few stockists, my shop and online. So, the most challenging thing for me was how to sell the book in the circumstances. I’m still working that out.  

I’ll say another challenge was the media – to start. I hadn’t done an interview before, and I am sure the first few I did were just awful! Luckily, they weren’t live. And by the time I did do a live one, I’d done a few already. I’m not sure anything prepares you for that.

The best things are a mix of administrative things and feel-good things. Being in control of the whole printing process is pretty satisfying. Even though it’s cost me to pay for editing, typesetting and cover art, it’s been worth it to have a professionally finished product. I also like having a shop because it adds another level of variety to my writerly experience.

Another positive about the whole project was linking with people who really got what I was writing. Dennis Johansen of the Bendigo Historic Society facilitated the meeting with the City of Greater Bendigo who hosted my book launch because he had a passion for the story too.

The ultimate highlight thus far has been the actual launch, and for a variety of reasons. It was held in the historic Bendigo Town Hall – a building built in the 1880s not long after the first cricket match, and only a short stroll from where the first game was played. The City of Greater Bendigo Mayor Andrea Metcalf opened the launch and Councillor Margaret O’Rourke was the MC, and many councillors were in attendance. There was a great sense of pride in the celebration of the first women’s games and it was a real honour to be a part of bringing that history home.

Also, sharing this story with the descendants of the Rae women was great. After Gideon Haigh wrote a review in The Australian, I was able to make contact with some of the descendants directly. Having the Cordners from the line of Nellie Rae and the Potters from the line of Barbara Rae in attendance at the launch was also a massive source of joy for me. Stephen Cordner even got up and said a few words as well. The launch also attracted some cricketing celebrities – Janice Parker and Ann Gordon, women cricketers who had represented Australia. Catherine Mcleod, President of the Pioneers Association – a group dedicated to preserving women’s cricket history – was there too. There were also many others with an interest in the game and the history. Plus, so many of my family and friends.

One gentleman told me – after reading my book – that even though he was familiar with many of the articles I’d referenced, he'd not viewed the games from how the women might have perceived them before. This is also a major highlight for me. Writing about these stories brings awareness and awareness brings change.

Books can be purchased directly online through my shop

or if you prefer to buy instore or elsewhere, please check the Stockist link on my website

Louise Zedda-Sampson is a Melbourne-based writer, researcher and award-nominated editor. She writes nonfiction and speculative and literary short fiction. Her writing has appeared in peer-reviewed journals, online, and in magazines and anthologies, and under her own imprint LZS Press. Find Louise at  and on Twitter at @I_say_meow


Saturday, December 04, 2021

"Izzy" by Moira McAlister - historical fiction and "taking liberties"!


I've worked with a few writers in the past two years who have written novels based on real people in their family tree. So how many "liberties" can you take - or do you have to leap off into fiction in order to make the story zing? Moira has written a novel that is even more fascinating when you know it's based on a real woman.

What inspired you to write this book? How did you go about doing all of your research?

There are two distinct parts to the writing of this book.  Izzy is historical fiction based on facts that I discovered while researching the life and deeds of my great, great grandfather, which I published as a website in 2015 Dr Barry Cotter: the first doctor in Melbourne ( His was an interesting life, full of action and adventure and very well documented through the Historical Records of Victoria, numerous newspaper articles, shipping and appointment lists, official correspondence, references in histories of the time and private records of various types, including an obscure, pantomime style production called ‘A Satirical Manuscript’, held in the State Library of Victoria.

 I spent five years collecting and sifting through these pieces of evidence and finally felt I was able to write his story.   I chose to present it as a website for a number of reasons.  Firstly, and most importantly, because a website is easily edited and I have been able to change or add information as it comes to light.  Secondly, it would be freely available to family members and others who are interested. Thirdly, one advantage of the website is that I was able to link ‘research pages’ to each chapter of the story, so that all my sources and references are easily accessible, but not cluttering the main body of the work. And lastly, I was able to add links to interesting people, places and events if the reader cared to follow up on anything in particular. The end result, to me, is a vibrant, full account of Dr Cotter’s life, almost like a living thing, because it keeps growing and changing over the six years since I first published it. 

But back to Izzy.  Like most women of the 19th century, Dr Barry Cotter’s wife, Inez, left very little evidence of her life. She appears as an ‘add on’ in various accounts, is mentioned on shipping lists with him, in their marriage certificate of course, in the birth records of their four children, in a few newspaper reports and PROV holds two letters that she wrote. These entries are all fairly routine and dull, but there were also several very tantalizing facts that I found which pointed to a woman whom I could not ignore and I knew that if I was going to write about her, it would have to be fiction.  The facts were like lampposts on a dark road, illuminating just a small space around them.  I could see the next lamppost in the distance but needed to employ plausible and well researched, but fictitious, characters and actions, to get there. This is the image that sustained me throughout the writing. 

Any funny or weird stories?

In the course of my research, I became familiar with the original plan of the Melbourne grid; that iconic plan of straight streets and square blocks, that so defines Melbourne.  It was used as the basis for the first land sales in Melbourne on June 1st, 1837.  I knew that Dr Barry Cotter had purchased Block 11 Section 12, the south west corner of Bourke and Swanston Street (Oh! If only he had kept it!). His name was printed on the original document along with others who bought the 100 blocks on offer that day.  On first seeing this document, you can imagine my surprise, to find, on the same piece of paper, the name Lachlan Macalister, a kinsman of my husband’s family, a man whose life I had also researched.  That the two of them were present at the same place, at the same time made me think that they probably met.  I guess they would never have thought that their two families would be joined in later years.   

I enjoyed writing that scene in Izzy, not only because of the improbability of it, but also because both men were typical of the purchasers on the day.  Cotter was keen to make Melbourne his home and grew rich on land deals in the growing town.  Macalister was a sheep farmer ready to expand into this new region, a hard businessman, known for his lack of tolerance for the Indigenous people. His blocks in Flinders Street were for warehouses to store wool for export. 

How difficult was it to write about someone who was a family member? At what point did you decide to write a novel rather than a biography? Why?

The most freeing action I took in writing this novel was to change her name from Inez to Izzy.  Perhaps it was because of the amount of research I had done, and my determination to tell Dr Barry Cotter’s story as fact, that I felt bound by her Inez-ness. Once I began to think of her as Izzy, suddenly all sorts of possibilities opened up for me to explore and the work took on a different life, a life of its own, just touching base with the facts at certain points in the story.  By writing as a narrative non-fiction, I felt that I had covered all the biographical details of both Barry and Inez that were available.  I wanted though, to tell her story.  Although so much of the work is fiction, I feel that it is plausible fiction.  

The research I did for Izzy was not so much about her, as I had already gathered as much as possible beforehand.  The research for the novel was about the world she lived in – broad aspects like the places, times, events, people, the role of women, class differences, social mores etc and the specifics such as child care practices, particular inventions, medicinal treatments, common foods, ship board life, fashion and dozens of other details that I felt had to be ‘right’ to maintain the authenticity of the story.

What do you think you have learned along the way that you would pass on to others treading the same path?

Family history is always a matter of conjecture and often of heated discussion. My experience showed me that you can do it in two ways – either as a documented, well-researched biography or narrative non-fiction, which will stand the scrutiny of anyone who cares to inspect it.  Or, declare that it is fiction and use the facts to anchor it, but not bog it down.  Change people’s names to free yourself from being enslaved to the facts of time, place, action and events.

You decided to self-publish the book, but did you consider sending it to commercial publishers or agents first? If so, what happened? What has the process been like?

Yes, I did approach traditional publishers and the answer is – nothing happened. I came close to a contract four or five times, but in the end, after a roller-coaster of hopes dashed, it all came to naught. Once I made the decision to self-publish, the whole process changed.  It became a joy!  I went with a small self-publishing company, IndieMosh, which is situated in the Blue Mountains. The communication skills, professionalism, expertise and experience of this company made the process a dream come true.   

I was in charge at every step, from the cover to the internal layout, to the font, from the page colour to the headings.  Every detail was discussed.  And when the final proof was ready, after many delays on my part and much patience on their part, they did all the technical aspects such as uploading to Ingram, helped with author pages on Amazon, Smashwords and the IndieMosh website, organized royalties and dozens of other technical and specific tasks that I had no idea about. 

What have been the most challenging things – and the most enjoyable?

Challenging?  Probably the editing.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I have always been a confident writer, sure in my understanding of grammar, certain in spelling, at ease with punctuation. I was educated at a time when these skills were important and have taught them myself in primary school for many years.  So, I was shocked to see the number of mistakes which the final professional proof read found.  I cannot stress enough the importance of having other eyes read your work – lots of other eyes -manuscript readers and professional editors will assess your work in terms of readability, structure, flow, plot points, character development, language etc.  They will also see the typos, misspellings and missing words which you glaze over but which are so glaringly obvious to the reader.  

Enjoyable? The satisfaction of having done what I set out to do.  Telling this story as fiction gave me the freedom to explore the motivation behind the actions which are recorded as fact.  Shipping lists, marriage certificates and census records only tell so much.  For example, our 21st century mentality tells us that a marriage certificate meant a couple were in love. However, in early Melbourne (1835- 1837) men outnumbered women by 20 to 1, so there were many reasons for people to marry – security and respectability for women, housekeeping and companionship for men. Love was not always the prompt to marriage.  The motivation for the action is the ‘human’ part, the ‘universal’, those hundreds of feelings and emotions that prompt action and defy race, culture, distance and time. These universals are a powerful way for a writer to connect with a reader. People are always people and the way they relate to each other is the basis of all literature.

I'm sure Moira would love any Canberrans to hop along to the launch - RSVP as below.