Yvonne Weldon can now add ‘fiction author’ to her list of incredible feats, with her debut novel “Sixty-Seven Days” released in bookstores across the country this month.
But the novel, which won the Queensland Literary Awards David Unaipon Unpublished Manuscript in 2016, didn’t start off as a novel.
“I wasn’t writing a novel, it just ended up that way,” Weldon told Women’s Agenda. “I wanted to honour so many of my Elders and Ancestors that were inspiring change-makers. They mattered then and they matter now.”
The proud Wiradjuri woman explained that if she wrote about the trailblazers in her life – her Elders, the story would have been non-fiction.
“It would have been more about the Aboriginal movement or rather Aboriginal movers & shakers in Redfern in the late 60s and early 70s, and not about a love story,” she said.
In Sixty-Seven Days, a 19-year old Wiradjuri woman named Evie meets and falls in love with James, a fellow dreamer who shares Evie’s dreams of travelling across country to learn about her past.
Set in the 1990s in Redfern, the story follows the young lovers as they navigate the adversities of living as First Nations people during politically volitile times.
Gleebooks, who hosted Weldon and Yawuru woman, Inala Cooper, last week for a NAIDOC-week event, described the novel as one “…suffused with Wiradjuri Dreaming, a tale of a future dreamt and a future taken, by an important new voice in Australian fiction.”
A love story at its heart, the novel was initially written in third person, but Weldon decided to change it to a first-person narrative.
“I think both characters are formed out of what I have known or would have liked to receive,” Weldon explained. “I wanted to tell a love story because I think love is an important part of life and we need more of it.”
Taking inspiration from her favourite writers, including Larissa Behrendt, Kirli Saunders, Ruth Park and James Paterson, Weldon said finding the requisite time and brain space to write the novel was the most challenging aspect of getting this book into the hands of readers.
“Also managing cultural aspects, lived experience and people in a culturally sensitive way,” she added. “My Elders have given me permission and guidance, I have honoured everything they have told me.”
In her long and rich career, Weldon has worked in government and Aboriginal organisations. She’s served as Deputy Chair of the Metropolitical Local Aboriginal Land Council, Deputy Chair of the NSW Australia Day Council, as well as on several boards.
Last year, she became the first Aboriginal person to run as a candidate for Lord Mayor of Sydney.
So the process of writing a novel has been a fairly different experience to her past achievements.
“To write was very new to me,” she said. “I haven’t written anything previously, this is not something that I have studied at all.”
“I used to be an avid reader where I would stay up way too late, if I started something I liked – I haven’t read for leisure in a long time.
“Writing and the responses from readers and editors has taught me so much about the written word and how people have varying opinions on what they interpret. Fictional writing can take a reader in so many different directions.”
Weldon, a long-time activist for Aboriginal and First Nations rights, believes in the importance of reading stories from people who have previously been excluded from Australia’s publishing industry.
“We’re all the richer for it,” she said. “A greater appreciation for the value of diverse voices and stories needs to be embedded in the industry as a whole.”
Yvonne Weldon will be speaking about her novel at the Marrickville Pavilion on Thursday, July 21 at 6:30pm.