I sat down with Ruth to find out what it was like to dig up the past, and how many languages she actually speaks.
I was a bookworm in my Australian outback childhood. With no television or digital distractions, my siblings and I entertained ourselves. We produced a newspaper, acted the plays we wrote, submitted ‘compositions’ to the ABC Argonauts’ Club and the local show.
Q: The Overused Question: eReader or Paperback?
Paperback. I remember my iPad eBooks when air travel curbs weight. It’s unwise to read eBooks relaxing in the bath after a busy day.
Q: If you could pick the brains of any author, who would it be and why?
Kate Grenville. Why did she opt for novel rather than nonfiction to tell her family story (The Secret River)? Her follow up book didn’t answer my question: Would she be lynched or disowned by family for revealing ancestors’ part in a dark situation?
Q: If you could recommend only one book to me - other than your own - what would it be?
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak for evocative imagery, metaphor, powerful descriptive writing.
Q: What are you currently reading?
The Justification of Johann Gutenberg by Blake Morrison, Everything is Illuminating by Jonathan Safran Foers, God’s Pottery by Anne Hamilton, an Omega Writers writing colleague omegawriters.org, Phew! Argh! Eeew! by Roni Askey-Doran
Playing clarinet. Walking by the beach or in rain forest. In yester yore, watercolour painting and sculpture.
Q: Has music always been a part of your life?
Since age 11.
Q: What genre of music do you generally listen to?
Vocal music; opera, Schubert lieder, folk, jazz and soul.
Q: We share many common pastimes, one of course being the Brisbane Symphony Orchestra. What do you get most out of playing in the orchestra?
The camaraderie of working in a team with like-minded people, the sense of being transported to another place. As we rehearse Tschaikovsky Symphony #4, I’m back walking the streets of St Petersburg. The mind-stretch of processing double sharps and double flats!
Q: Remembering back to when you chose to play the clarinet, can you recall why it was your instrument of choice?
In my book ‘Sounds and Souls: How music teachers change lives’ I described this:
I was reared in the Australian bush on hillbilly music. My first experience was with a jangly piano whose innards had been nibbled by mice. Its tone and tuning had been crippled by the searing heat and dust of the far west. Any concept of intonation was flummoxed for years later. My life was changed by an Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio schools programme. The wind instruments came on in turn: ‘This is the flute.’ Tweet. Nah. The oboe: hmm, very dour. ‘Now hear the clarinet.’ My response was instant. ‘I’ll play that.’ I loved the sound. I didn’t know what the instrument looked like, let alone how to create that rich sound tone. After washing dishes for pocket money, I took my savings to a music shop and asked for a clarinet. The salesman opened a case and out wafted a tantalising aroma of oil and wood. He did not show me how to adjust the reed or produce a first sound. At home, I took the bits out of the case, joined them together and blew — and blew — and blew. Not a single pip came out of that shiny contraption until a month later when a teacher demonstrated reed placement and embouchure.
Q: Can you tell me a little about your public speaking career and what you offer today?As a country kid, I was painfully shy when catapulted into a big city school. I describe this in my coming book ‘Midnight Sun to Southern Cross’:
Seated at my desk I read poetry and play characters with relish. But when I was given a lead part in the school play, I froze. All those eyes fixed on me. I was relegated to the back of the Greek chorus.
Since then, I evolved from that shy bunny from the bush who caught a later bus home or hid in the toilet block rather than face fearsome peers at high school. I became an adult who welcomes any platform to reach out with words. When I now coach people to boost their confident presentation, I can say ‘The person you are now is not what you will be in a decade or two or three or five. If I can conquer such shyness and fears, even welcome public performance, so can you. The outback child would run a mile at the prospect of speaking in public. Now she enjoys and invites such opportunities.
It’s rewarding to challenge students to develop their abilities and see them conquer issues.
Q: Describe your perfect setting for a great writing session.
My deck among trees and birds. By a beach or lake. It’s the Scandinavian in me.
Q: Your latest novels - a two part family history - Burn my Letters and Midnight Sun to Southern Cross, track back to your ancestors that first immigrated to Australia. How important was it to you that you relive your ancestor’s journeys and what was your motivation?
A sense that destiny drew me to this story, starting with a personal letter from my grandfather just before he died. Two years later fate brought me to live in the north of Sweden, directly across the Gulf of Bothnia from his birthplace in Finland. There, relatives appreciated that I learned their language, asked questions, and integrated into the culture. They rewarded and encouraged me with information, parish records, memories and letters.
Q: What can we expect from the stories of your ancestors?
My books look under the surface of dates, events and facts to find the persons beneath, to put flesh on their bones. Some might wonder at my conversations with long dead ancestors, but I enjoy the freedom that magical realism gives me to explore their foibles and motivations. What drove two brothers to flee their native Finland to settle at the far end of the earth? Did they struggle, away from the security of the nest?
Q: In the process of digging up your family history, have you discovered anything extraordinary?
Family in Finland gave me folders of century-old letters and helped me translate the ‘old Swedish’ and dialect. That treasure trove illuminated my research to solve puzzles.
Q: You’ve chosen to crowdfund for the release of your latest novels, however I’ve never used crowdfunding myself. I can imagine it’s quite nerve-racking and a little exciting. Tell me about the process.
I’m a reluctant convert! My son Paul-Antoni Bonetti successfully funded his second album. He edited my video, gave good advice and encouraged. It’s fingernail biting as one must meet the target or lose out. With such wonderful response, I can breathe easily for the final week, and my new goal is to use excess funds to pay the musicians who will perform at the launch–as they deserve.
Pledge to Ruth Bonetti's Crowd Funding campaign
This is my first venture, so I’ve been stretched way out of my comfort zone. But I can recommend it to those prepared to work hard!
Q: Does music influence your writing and if so, was there a particular type of music you listened to while writing your latest novels?
Sibelius! When Brisbane Symphony Orchestra performed his Violin Concerto, rehearsals were illumined with poignant and teasing thoughts: ‘Sibelius wrote this around the time Granddad left Finland.’ Carl Bellman’s dark Swedish songs, with Fred Åkerström’s deep basso.
Q: Your love of music has been passed on to the next generation of Bonettis, however I'm interested to know if music runs in your family further down the line.
My grandmother’s family loved music; her niece Perry Hart was a concert violinist in Europe.
Q: How many languages do you speak, and how did you end up learning so many?
I learned French at school and Swedish and German on the job while living there. All those Finnish umlauts daunt me so that’s basic!
Q: It may be a little too soon to ask, but after the release of Burn my Letters and Midnight Sun to Southern Cross, what lies ahead for Ruth Bonetti?
Maybe something about First Fleet convicts. Or the freedom of a novel that doesn’t need lots of research, just for fun.