Relishing the good
with Jackie French
Australian Author, Historian, Ecologist, Honorary Wombat, Writer, Ponderer.
Jackie French may have worked out the secret to a good life. Enjoying the little things, relishing the simplicities, appreciating the world outside and being a part of it through the changing seasons. Jackie’s life hasn’t come without a few bumps in the road, but that’s character, that’s flaws, that’s riding it out, getting a better view from afar, and understanding how best to navigate forth. Jackie has gifted the world with her words, her stories. Within her books live great insights, wanderings through history, through time, through ideas, reflections and relationships- and humour. Jackie does carry humour in her back pocket and pulls it out, sometimes in place of a handkerchief, using laughter instead of tears. Her monthly newsletters invite the reader into her life like a friend. Come in, her writing says, opening the door wide like a friendly neighbour, let’s have a cup of tea and a beautiful amble through the day. How Jackie sees the mundane is gentle and funny and delightful. How she articulates the hard stuff is honest and warm and relatable. Her writing is a joy, her garden exquisite and the wombats who visit are full of charm and cheekiness. As you’ll discover, these things have a big part to do with the good life Jackie has paved out, up in the fresh air, where all of the senses are allowed to hear, see and feel fully and hardships are an aside which require small adjustments. What does an ideal day look like to Jackie French?
“Wake at am. Breakfast on homemade fruit and nut muesli, coffee, conversing with husband and late mooching wombats.
“Write 10,000 compelling words. Change government policy over morning tea. Play with grandsons after lunch. Solve climate change, pollution and increase human IQ by 50 points while making and eating scones with friends. Pick dinner. Eat dinner. Wombats neatly eat grass outside and the wallabies ignore the roses. Read the perfect novel. Sleep.
“The likelihood of this ever happening is minus 4841.”
Still Jackie gives this all a shot, at varying times throughout her week, enjoying the bursts of joy and endeavour.
There have been experiences that have forever shaped Jackie in profound and subtle ways.
“In 1978 we were taken hostage by ETA, the Basque terrorist unit, and then caught up in combat with the Spanish Civil Guard. Many people died, including one small boy. But there have been so many others, from a meeting with a homeless teenager who was so deeply kind, to 'meetings' that don't happen in normal time and place. The ETA one is at least easier to describe.”
Looking back, Jackie remembers herself as combative, scared, profoundly intellectually snobbish, “with no idea how to talk normally, hug people, laugh freely or even shop for new clothes, always waiting for the next threat I had to survive.”
That was her twenties, when she was busy figuring things out, working out who she was and what was important. She is very candid in her hindsight
“Friends and my husband Bryan slowly taught me all those things. But those were also the years when a wombat taught me about the bush, and how to live with animals, and watch, and listen.”
Therein lies one of Jackie’s great loves, great joys. Nature. In its own way, its not straight branches, its unpredictability and its ability to change and grow and re-sprout after death elsewhere in the world.
“The garden is a mess: I have no sense of design, and planted for productivity, not beauty. But productivity is beautiful, and so we have roses clambering up fruit trees and thickets of pears, and wallabies slowly savouring lemons. But it's not a garden in any formal sense. I planted. It grew. And it is still growing even if I haven’t been able to tend it for nearly two years.”
Jackie likes real life. Even if she writes fiction. She said maybe she writes fiction because she likes to write about real life.
“Most lives today are vicarious- others lives, lived via TV, and even those TV lives are pretty dull. How many fictional massacres does it take before they become boring?”
Jackie travels about Australia often when she can, she writes everyday and gives her time generously, to school students, young aspiring writers and charity causes. She is an Australian Laureate and is dyslexic. She takes opportunities. One may wonder how she has kept up the pace for so long.
“I suspect, as a child, it was the need to escape from terror interspersed with boredom. But by the time I was seven the worlds my imagination took me too were so fascinating, and the joy in sharing those worlds so great, that I continue to create them....though I'm still not sure 'create' is the correct word. It is almost as though the worlds I write about are there. The skill and effort comes from the need to write them as clearly and vividly as possibly.”
Some days have been overcast for Jackie but she does not dwell on the bad forecasts in her life, they pass.
“Life has given me so much more than I ever hoped for, or even knew existed. That is the consolation of a hard childhood- continued surprised joy at how good life can be.”
Jackie likes to do ‘her duty’ and do her work for good.
“Proud? No. But 'do my duty'? Yes. Those I admired as a child- like Judith Wright, Kath walker (Oodgeroo of the noonuncle) - made it very clear they expected the young to carry on their work for good. Would love both my grandmothers to have been able to read my books, though, and hoped they would have liked them...though both would have found Miss Lily a little shocking.”
Jackie keeps herself grounded, in her own way, staying true to herself and her instincts.
“I could say 'prayer', but that is not a simple concept, nor do I mean it in the sense that most people understand. It is a consciousness, a gratitude, a pervading love and joy that can be found in the wriggle of a wombat or the rise of an eagle above the valley. I watch; listen; eat; laugh with family and friends and sometimes weep with them; see babies born and friends die and food for animals and humans grow and flowers open. 'Pleasures' possibly isn't the correct word, but, when I was very young, I learned from the writings of Socrates’ pupil Plato to examine life, to live it, not shut parts away. There is unending joy in living in a house I built myself, or watched friends build; in picking the asparagus planted a decade ago, or serving far too much food to friends.”
And what kind of food does she like to share in abundance?
“Just lots. According to the season, the garden, the friends or family I am cooking for, the weather, and if the strawberries are magnificent this year, or the cherries or we have a surplus of passionfruit and eggs. Always, always 'lots'.”
Jackie used to love walking and mooching in the bush but that has fallen by the wayside.
“Infection and other post-surgical problems on my leg has left lifelong damage. But I've found what goats have always know- four legs are more stable than two, and I may yet be able to bushwalk again on crutches, though the pain is still too great to attempt this for more than a few minutes.”
Jackie was named Senior Australian of the year in 2015, part of that has to do with her positive attitude, and positive strides to make a difference over time. She may not get to mooch as much as she used to but she still relishes the view. She can see the forest through the trees and the flowers from her window and the birds singing to her from the branches.
“There's been unhappiness of course, and grief, as in any life. But the other side of love is always loss, and even in the hardest times the sky is bright or the black of space unending. My closest companion is nearly always a deep but quiet joy.”
Jackie continues to sprinkle that on those who cross her path, quiet joy.
Article by Sinead Halliday
To learn more about Jackie and discover more of her work, visit jackiefrench.com
Books by Jackie can be perused below.