Holly Ringland’s ‘The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart' is Something We All Need to Read

Writing has always been the answer to all the world’s questions for one of the newest Australian authors. Something colossal and almost dream-like has occurred in literature this March because of her. Something powerful, inspiring and undoubtedly important. That is, Holly Ringland and her debut novel The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart. 

Eccentric Ringland was born in the tropics of Australia's East Coast. She spent her time barefoot amidst Mother Earth in the exploration of stories. A spark was truly ignited when nine-year-old Ringland and her family travelled to North America. Here, they adventured an array of national parks, living in a humble camper van. The story of Alice Hart also begins when she is nine years old. This already begins to hint at Ringland’s delicate writing process. 

It is one of those stories you’ll hold close to your heart forever, one of those stories that will also change you a little. As a messy-brained, twenty-year-old Australian female who has been following Ringland’s publishing journey through social media and her blog posts, I have highly anticipated this novel. It's dedicated to all women who doubt the worth and power of their story. It is a response to her own experiences with male-perpetrated violence, a conversation that has recently sparked controversy following the death of young Eurydice Dixon in Melbourne. One in three Australian women have experienced physical violence, and it is more of a threat to women aged 18–44 than any other eminent risk factor such as tobacco or cholesterol. Ringland’s story is the kind that Australia has needed. In desperate times this is the kind of story that can support the healing process. 

What this woman has daringly given the world through her words, with their strength and utter eloquence, is important. It's important in reflecting life through art, in an often ignorant world that is moving faster than we can even acknowledge at times. Our society's prejudices are hard to break, and Ringland acknowledges thisshe's lived through it. As she writes, she defies it. This is something that I experienced through her debut novel, as she writes about her experiences with domestic violence through Alice. Ringland has expressively used fiction to tell the truth truer, which is an idea that American writer Tom Spanbauer discussed and used very expressively throughout his work. Actually, it can be assumed that most of the time writers do this to counteract their anxieties of responding to traumatic experiences. When I attended Ringland’s book launch at Avid Reader in Brisbane you could truly see how, although Ringland’s experiences with domestic violence still conjure some emotions, they no longer consume her. Ringland explained, "I had to learn how to reflect rather than relive, so that I wasn't spiraling into reliving memories that are in the past."

Her lust for adventure and her compassion for nature have stayed with her throughout her adult life. While working for four years in a remote indigenous community in the central Australian desert of Uluru, Ringland discovered storytelling to be a tool in reshaping Australian identity, as well as her own. This experience conjured for her how storytelling can truly help to understand cultural diversity, both on the scale of Australia’s identity as a nation and as that of an individual human. Ringland received her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester in 2009 followed by a PhD through which she truly began to engage with the interconnection between creative writing and trauma. 

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a fictional story. It is a piece of art. However, it is metamorphic and reflects traumatic experiences that have occurred in Ringland’s life. It is a story that encapsulates truth and healing. As American novelist and young-adult and children's writer Alice Hoffmann concurs,

Stories define who we are and who we wish to be. They warn, they remind, they cut so deeply they can leave a scar. If left untold, they can linger and grow heavier, for every tale is made for two: the teller and the listener. The writer and the reader. 

It's a sentiment similar to that of the bright golden-yellow and heavily sweet, fragrant flower, Cootamundra Wattle, which means, ‘I wound to heal.' Essentially, this story of Ringland’s has written a language for flowers, perpetuating their importance and translating the idea that within our Earth there are beautiful things we can work with to share our emotions in a far less frightening way. Through this, Alice's story has illustrated the Australian landscape in a new and profound way. She has exceptionally demonstrated Australia’s diverse roots, acknowledging the indigenous heritage and displaying what it truly is. In the process, Ringland purposefully neglects the Eurocentric origins of Australia that she was taught in school with her utterly magical descriptions of the forests, flowers, birds, plants, flowers, and people. She writes of diverse people rather than the typical Anglo-Saxon, Australian country folk often portrayed in Australian historical literature and art. Instead, Ringland opts for women with blue hair, dark skin, and birds tattooed across their necks. Women with scars and stories to tell. When reading, you see this diversity vividly in the flowers, the landscapes, and in the characters—"the flowers who take refuge at Thornfield" in a "place where flowers and women could bloom." Ringland exclaimed:

This book has just had so much generosity of spirit from Australian writers ... There were women writers who told me, 'you must, you must' and I don't know if I could have done it otherwise, because it was scary and some chapters felt like pulling teeth to write and others were so wonderful.

These aspects all contribute to more forward, integrated, and powerful storytelling for contemporary and progressive literature. 

In this modern and virtual world, we often feel this undying duty to hide the darkest parts of our lives, not just online but everywhere and from everyone. Often, it is even hard to vocalise the things that are not pretty. What Ringland proves is that doing so is powerful. As a young Australian woman I can relate and resonate with a lot of the things Ringland has to say. Sitting at her book launch as she spoke struck a chord with me. The appreciative atmosphere proved how truly important this book is. Through flowers Ringland has essentially brought a whole new language to life. A lot of words have even needed to be invented for the flowers in other countries. Ringland’s smile was contagious, and her words inspired women and men to talk about all the things we need to talk about. 

Ultimately, this is a writer who has beautifully given the world not only a physically appealing book and important story, but encouragement to discover our own stories. To delve deep into them and then come up even more ourselves than before. To live bravely and fiercely, for women to write down their stories, too—to tell them, sing them, and paint them. 

I really embodied the book to write it. Like, I lived it to write it." – Holly Ringland

By Sofija Piletic

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