Australia’s own Secret Garden … Janet Hawley, author of Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden answers Six Sharp Questions

by |October 12, 2015

The Booktopia Book Guru asksWendy Whiteley

Janet Hawley

author of Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden

Six Sharp Questions


1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?

Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden is about Wendy spending over 20 years turning a vast rubbish dump on unused railway land at Lavender Bay on northern Sydney Harbour, into a glorious public garden.

Wendy began the garden in 1992, grief-stricken when her artist husband Brett Whiteley died, followed by the death of their daughter Arkie. The garden, now almost a hectare, has grown into a joyous haven that Wendy has designed like a living painting.

I’ve watched Wendy transform a wasteland into a beautiful sanctuary, and along the way the garden transformed her into a woman with a newfound happiness and a wish to share. She’s paid for the entire garden, and works daily beside her gardeners – truly inspiring.

2. Times pass. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you have experienced in the past year or so?

The sheer pleasure in getting off the grid, finding calm breathing space to be immersed in nature, and re-set your brain. Too long inside the grid is disastrous.

3. Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us? It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.

“Use your eyes. So many people look, but don’t see.” Wendy says this constantly, so did our late artist friend Jeffrey Smart.


4. Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.

Writers spend so much time thinking deeply and widely, trying to get inside other people’s heads, understand people and events from every angle. We can get upset with others when we don’t have enough time to think, see issues in black and white, and cannot see the subtle greys.

I work best in daytime and find it useless struggling over the words at night. Better to sleep on it, and hope you wake up in the small hours, with your thoughts unscrambled. I write those flashes down the moment they arrive. Never go back to sleep and think you’ll remember the words in the morning, you never quite recapture it.

5. Some writers claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!).

I’ve always thought that if you are genuinely curious about the subject – whether you’re exploring the life and world of an artist, or of a honey bee – you will take the reader along with you. I’m always thinking about trying to understand the topic/people, and giving a strong sense of person and place, so the reader feels they’re walking and seeing beside me. Hopefully, some readers will like this approach.


6. Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?

A basic book on nutrition, which clearly explains food – calories, vitamins, minerals – what bodies need and don’t need. We are what we eat.

A beautifully illustrated book of great art works – to inspire creative thoughts in young minds.

A song book, maybe Beatles lyrics, or old fashioned hymns, to bond the twenty kids singing together and make them happy.

A dictionary – actually makes fascinating reading.

A blank page diary each – so they can draw and write their own thoughts.

Janet, thank you for playing.


Grab your copy of Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden here

About the Author

Janet Hawley enjoyed a wide readership in her thirty-year career as a senior feature writer on Good Weekend Magazine, published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

She’s renowned for her intimate profiles of artists and creative people, and trusted by her interview subjects to explore their private worlds and mysteries of the creative process. She’s published two books on artists, Artists In Conversations and Encounters With Australian Artists. Her book, A Place on the Coast, co-authored … Read more.

Grab your copy of Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden here

Grab your copy of Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden here

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About the Contributor

Anastasia Hadjidemetri is the former editor of The Booktopian and star of Booktopia's weekly YouTube show, Booked with Anastasia. A big reader and lover of books, Anastasia relishes the opportunity to bring you all the latest news from the world of books.


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