Inga Simpson: Understory is a love affair of place.

by |May 16, 2017

Inga Simpson began her career as a professional writer for government before gaining a PhD in creative writing. In 2011, she took part in the Queensland Writers Centre Manuscript Development Program and, as a result, Hachette Australia published her first novel, Mr Wigg, in 2013. Nest, Inga’s second novel, was published in 2014, before being longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and the Stella Prize, and shortlisted for the ALS Gold Medal.

Inga’s third novel, the acclaimed Where The Trees Were, was published in 2016. Inga won the final Eric Rolls Prize for her nature writing and recently completed a second PhD, exploring the history of Australian nature writers. Understory, released this month, is Inga’s first work of non-fiction.

Inga now answers the Booktopia Guru’s Ten Terrifying Questions.

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Young, NSW, and grew up on a property near Grenfell, NSW – birthplace of Henry Lawson and Eric Rolls. Apart from four years in Canberra, I went to Grenfell Primary and then the Henry Lawson High School – a literary beginning perhaps.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At 12 – a writer. It seemed like the most worthwhile thing I could do. Or maybe, a detective.

At 18 – a translator. I was studying literature, two languages, and linguistics, so it seemed to add up (and I had stopped believing I could be a writer).

At 30 – Director of Major Investigations in the agency where I worked. It was the natural progression up the ladder from where I found myself at that time. Or, maybe – a writer.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That chardonnay was not worth drinking.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

In my reading life: The Lord of the Rings, The Grass Sister by Gillian Mears, and Walden and Civil Disobedience by H.D. Thoreau.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book?

For me, escaping into a physical book for a few hours is still one of life’s greatest pleasures. And book-length writing is my natural form, I think. Nature writing, too, is best read off-screen, preferably under a tree somewhere.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

Understory: A Life With Trees is my first work of non-fiction. It’s a nature writing-memoir – or ‘eco-memoir’ as someone generously called it. It’s about a decade I spent living in a little scrap of forest in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland – and the ways it shaped my life.

It’s a love affair of place. Each chapter explores a particular species of tree, layering description, anecdote, and natural history with aspects of my own story – how I ended up there, and how I see the world. And how sometimes losing everything can be the best thing that happens to you.

Understory by Inga Simpson

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

For people to care about the natural world a little more. And to take responsibility for the future of this planet – it’s our habitat, too.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

American nature writer, Rick Bass, for his sentences, but also for being able to put environmental advocacy ahead of his own writing and ego.

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To be able to continue writing books – and for them to be read. To be remembered for my body of work.

Discover Inga Simpson’s books

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read, read, read, and WRITE. Focus on your own process. I come across a lot of people who talk about being writers, but far fewer who are writing every day, editing, finishing the work in progress, sending it out, starting another.

Thank you for playing, Inga!

Understoryby Inga Simpson


A Life With Trees

by Inga Simpson

"The understorey is where I live, alongside these plants and creatures. I tend the forest, stand at the foot of trees and look up, gather what has fallen."

Each chapter of this absorbing memoir explores a particular species of tree, layering description, anecdote, and natural history to tell the story of a scrap of forest in the Sunshine Coast hinterland - how the author came to be there and the ways it has shaped her life.

In many ways, it's the story of a tree-change, of escaping suburban Brisbane for a cottage on ten acres in search of a quiet life. Of establishing a writers' retreat shortly before the...

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About the Contributor

Bronwyn Eley is new to the book industry, having previously served in the Royal Australian Air Force & even spent some time as a barista until entering the exciting world of Booktopia. Books are her true passion. Bronwyn writes in her spare time, often has her face buried in a book and enjoys keeping fit (which she undoes by eating loads of chocolate) with Martial Arts and personal training. She can't answer what her favourite book is but she has a soft spot for Peter Pan (J.M Barrie), Outlander (Diana Gabaldon), Stardust (Neil Gaiman), The Illuminae Files (Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufmand) and Six of Crows (Leigh Bardugo). Fantasy, sci-fi and YA make up the majority of her bookshelves.


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