Author Kate Llewellyn, now in her seventies, embraces a new phase in her life in a new book – A Fig At The Gate - asking the question, -How does one live well?'
Following the joyful crafting of her gardens in the Blue Mountains (The Waterlily) and north of Wollongong (Playing with Water), Kate creates a new garden near the sea in Adelaide, planting olives, plums, limes and blood oranges, learning how to keep poultry, setting a duck on eggs.
Delight and enrichment come with the learning of new skills, being close to family and old friends, long companionable beach walks, rediscovering old recipes, food and wine.
Accepting what she cannot change while relishing what she has, Kate shares the beauties and frailties of the human condition and shows us what the gifts of ageing can bring.
Kate Llewellyn has published memoir, essays, journalism and poetry since 1987. Much loved and much read, she has created an Australian nature writing genre that is all her own. A Fig At The Gate is in this tradition.
A Fig At The Gate
Allen & Unwin
Author: Kate Llewellyn
Question: What inspired you to write the memoir, A Fig At The Gate?
Kate Llewellyn: I wanted to chart an ageing woman's year while she made a garden and lived again in her home town after several decades away. I wanted to watch how friends and family aged and to discover how to live well and wisely alone. Building a garden from tabula rasa, trying to feed myself and to combat drought are some of the themes of the book. Then, urged by my niece, I got poultry and began to give eggs to my neighbours and to add fresh and free eggs to my meals. The poultry became important – an integral part of my day – because it's healthy to have something else to care for if you have no pets. The book charts three years of my life while I read ancient and new writers on the subject of ageing, whom I quote from time to time in the book.
Question: What did you learn about yourself whilst writing A Fig At The Gate?
Kate Llewellyn: I discovered that even though I thought I wasn't ageing much at all, the truth is I was. Irritated when people advised me to slow down, I pushed on, humiliatingly finding that some strength was abating, however much I protested. I learned the importance of exercise and hearing tests, finding many of my friends and I were slowly losing hearing. Neglected hearing loss has now been found to lead to dementia. Although there is great distaste in some people and prejudice about hearing aids, if they need them, they would be very unwise not to use them. Exercise has been found also to help prevent dementia and because I can't drive, I ride my bike daily.
Question: What do you hope readers take from A Fig At The Gate?
Kate Llewellyn: This book is, to quote Emily Dickinson, 'my letter to the world that never wrote to me". I am a profoundly autobiographical writer and when I write, I talk to the reader as to a friend and I try to have as little as possible of a veil between the reader and myself. The famous Sydney feminist, Sandra Yates, who co-founded Sassy magazine with Anne Summers, once said to me, 'Kate, I get the feeling that your readers are rusted on." I sense that this way of intimate writing, as if in a letter (although it is a journal), helps to give the reader a feeling of trust. This, and the subjects I write on (a woman's thoughts and daily life), can help to make the reader feel they are understood and that much of their life is shared with the author.
Question: If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
Kate Llewellyn: Behave better.
Interview by Brooke Hunter