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Understory : A Life With Trees - Inga Simpson


A Life With Trees


Published: 30th May 2017
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Published: 30th May 2017
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"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 Global Financial Crisis hit, and losing just about everything when it did.

It is also the story of what the author found there: the literature of nature and her own path as a writer. Understory is about connection to place as a white settler descendant, and the search for a language appropriate to describe that experience.

About the Author

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. Inga's memoir about her love of Australian nature and life with trees, Understory, will be published in June 2017.


Wonderful. Truly wonderful


This is a beautifully written book, and the story resonates with who we are but often can't find the words to express. Read it, and savour. I did.



A fascinating read


Understory: A Life with Trees is a memoir by prize-winning Australian author, Inga Simpson. It details over nine years of Simpson's life in a cottage in the sub-tropical forest of the Sunshine Coast hinterland. "We wanted a simple life. A writing life – a life that revolves around writing, rather than squeezing it into the cracks." The tree change came sooner than expected, and Simpson is candid about the financial and other pressures the move causes. She details the pros and cons of intimacy with the local wildlife, the problems associated with commuting from a remote location where public transport can be erratic, as well as dealing with neighbours whose attitude towards the forest is less benign, with power companies and councils whose attitude is downright malignant. With her partner, she decides to buy a neighbouring property to fulfil the long-held dream of opening a writers' retreat, a decision perhaps based more on wishful thinking than sober facts. She is honest about successes and failures, about debt and selfish, thoughtless guests. But also about the inspiration for novels she drew from her surroundings: "Living among trees, amid the green, has allowed further regrowth. I came here to look after them, but the truth is, they look after me." Mentions of arborglyphs, copper sculptures and treehouses will resonate with readers of her novels. Many of the chapters are titled with tree names (common and botanic) and Simpson often notes the indigenous name if it is known. Her extensive research and her love of the forest is apparent in every paragraph. Despite her wonderfully evocative descriptive prose, a section with photographs or watercolours of botanical drawings of the plants and their parts, which would, doubtless have added significantly to the printing cost, would have enhanced the text immeasurably. Faced with many challenges, a relationship breakdown and a business failure, Simpson nonetheless remains positive: "…I remember that night, that feeli



Beautifully Written


This is the first of Inga Simpson's book I have read and have since ordered two previous books. I loved reading her story of living in the wilds of the hinterland and her real connection to the bush around her. She took the reader on her journey of discovering the seasonal changes as they took place. Her style of switching back to her childhood was insightful and interesting. I would recommend this book to any reader who loves the Australian bush and reading about the people who live beneath the trees. Inga has a compelling writing style that makes it very hard to put her book down.

Hamilton Victoria


Wonderful book full of information and relationships


A lovely gentle book full of information on trees, interwoven with the history of one person's journey through the GFC. Well written and absorbing. A delight to read.

South Coast



4.8 4


a controlled and literate work that earns its emotional peaks - The Saturday Paper

a delight - The Australian

Something powerful ... takes hold of the reader and transports [you] to the forest floor in a kind of awe - Sydney Morning Herald

It is a fine addition to the genre of Australian nature writing. - Books + Publishing

Many people dream about making a 'tree change'. When Inga Simpson and her partner fell in love with 10 acres of bush in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, they succumbed to its allure without quite knowing just what they were taking on. They followed their hearts and purchased the adjoining block to set up their own writers' retreat business, threw in their jobs and went to work-only for the GFC (and other factors) to drop them into the hurtful depths of uncaring reality. There are plenty of these stories out there, but what makes this one worth the reader's time is the interweaving of natural science and personal story, description and reflection. Many chapters start with a particular tree found on the block-its growth and habitat, the fauna it supports and its human usage-before flowing into Simpson's life and labours. She learns to look, to see, and finally, to recognise not only the trees on her property, but also her own possibilities and strengths. While each of Simpson's novels has shown a strong connection to land and nature, this book

ISBN: 9780733635960
ISBN-10: 0733635962
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 304
Published: 30th May 2017
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 23.3 x 15.5  x 2.3
Weight (kg): 0.38
Edition Number: 1