Climb a Lonely Reading List

I spoke at six different sessions at the Perth Writers’ Festival. Each session challenged me to think about my work and this whole messy business of being a writer. One of the things I value most about attending festivals is that they force you to reassess everything from your wardrobe to your reading habits.

On the last Sunday evening of the festival, when I thought I had finished all my sessions, I was asked to be a last minute ring-in on the ‘adult’ program (not sexy, just grown-up). Ross Rossiter, the author who had been programmed to speak on the panel, had fallen ill. The topic was ‘The Writer as Reader’. Three Australian authors were put on stage to discuss their reading habits: Craig Silvey, Judith Lanigan and me. Gail Jones, a fabulous novelist herself, was the chairperson. It was a great panel but as I’d only had twenty minutes notice before sitting down in front of the microphone, I hadn’t really thought about what books I’d talk about. There were so many that I wish I had mentioned, books that I have loved and continue to treasure but for some reason the titles slipped from the front of my consciousness as I talked about the books from childhood to the present that have formed me as a writer. But when I was asked about Australian fiction, one of the first titles that leapt to mind was Lilith Norman‘s Climb a Lonely Hill.

Then, in one of those weird moments of serendipity, a couple of days later I read Anna Ryan-Punch’s blog post about her ten favourite teen reads and was stunned to see she’d listed it too. You can read Anna’s list on her ‘Reading your Favourites’ blog.Her list was inspired by a call from Viewpoint magazine for readers to nominate ten must-read teen novels. I don’t think I could stop at ten. But when I read Anna’s list, I was struck by the fact that she also listed Climb a Lonely Hill as a significant book from her youth, even though we belong to different generations. One of the sad things about this important book is that unlike the other nine books on Anna’s list, Climb a Lonely Hill was the only title that Anna couldn’t link to Wikipedia.

Climb a Lonely Hill was first published in 1970 and commended by the CBCA in 1971. I paid $3.50 for my hardcover copy with a combination of birthday money and pocket money that I had saved in the course of the year. Considering that I received 20 cents a week in pocket money back then, the book was a major purchase. It was printed in Great Britain because in the 1970s few Australian children’s books were actually published inside Australia. The reviews on the back cover are a testament to its international success:

“A remarkable first novel…” The Sunday Times

“… the children are real children, frail and recognizable, and one cares about their fate.” The Times Literary supplement

Climb a Lonely Hill was a book that actually made me feel oddly uncomfortable when I read it as a child. Yet, for some reason, the story of two unhappy children having to survive in the Australian desert against terrible odds, struck a deep chord, even though my own childhood was deeply suburban. It was about surviving the elements and the complex feelings that Australians have always had about the vastness of our desert landscapes.

Australian fiction, whether written for young or old, faces serious challenges if it is to be enjoyed from one generation to the next. Climb a Lonely Hill was last republished in 1995 so now it can only be bought secondhand. Too many fantastic Australian classics are lost because, with such a small population, it’s difficult for Australians to keep many of our best books in print.

So expect a run of posts from me about lost classics and childhood favourites. If we keep talking about books we’ve loved we help to keep them alive.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Every adult was once a child and the child inside them never disappears.”

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