‘The Lost Flowers Of Alice Hart’ author explains how she turned trauma into success
“Sometimes in our lives we get a rare moment when we realise that the time is now,” explains author Holly Ringland over a coffee at Chapter One.
For the Manchester-based author, the time is certainly now. The 38-year-old released her debut novel The Lost Flowers Of Alice Hart earlier this year to the hungry delight of international publishers, securing publication deals in over twenty countries. Such success is rare for a debut author.
Ringland’s novel follows the life of nine-year-old Alice Hart along a journey to self-truth. Alice, who suffers a series of traumatic events in her life including loss and domestic violence, learns how to express suffering through the language of flowers – a Victorian tradition where every flower has a meaning.
I wanted to create something out of the trauma that I’ve experienced in my life.
For Ringland, the premise is a story not far from her own. The author left behind an abusive partner when she moved to the UK from Australia to embark on her writing career. The book itself was born out of Ringland’s quest for healing.
“I wrote lost flowers because I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to make something else out of the trauma that I was carrying around like dead life. It was affecting everything that I did in every way. So, I wanted to see what transforming and reforming trauma could look like.”
Any artist will attest to the vulnerability that goes hand-in-hand with the creative process. But for Ringland, whose work is grounded in real-life experiences of domestic violence and who has been thrust into international acclaim, said vulnerability has been amplified.
“It’s terrifying. Flames, thin skin, all my organs exposed on the outside. Fear,” Ringland explains, offering an evocative list when asked about the publicity process.
“But also, underneath all of that, a powerful fire that has burned me towards it [publication]. I couldn’t have written this book at any other time.”
Whilst domestic violence can happen in any family dynamic, the book specifically details the trauma of male perpetrated violence.
“Male perpetrated violence is a specific epidemic,” explains Ringland. “It is in Australia where a woman dies a week at the hands of her abuser. It is in the UK where up to two die a week at the hands of specifically male perpetrators. But at the same time, there are beautiful men in the novel and there are really messy women and beautiful women. So, it was kind of like I bred together two things – male violence but I also wanted to explore the beautiful mess of humans, whether you’re a man or a woman.”
Like many authors today, Ringland has learnt to embrace the limelight of social media and the exposure that comes with publishing a best-seller.
“Social Media always reminds me of the revelation I had when I was a child and sleeping in my house on the Coast. It was pitch black outside and I had the light on. What I realised was that I couldn’t see if anyone was outside, but anyone outside would be able to see me as clear as day. That’s what being online feels like.”
Ringland deals with pressures of living in the public domain through distancing herself. “There’s Holly the author of the Lost Flowers, then there’s Holly the writer, then there’s me.”
Stories in themselves are so powerful because they tell us and show us that we are not alone.
To take ownership of personal trauma and to use it to create something positive no doubt takes courage.
“It’s so hard to admit when we’ve been brave. Because I think we live in a culture of ‘don’t get too big for your boots’, saying anything like – but I couldn’t have done it without gall and bravery. But to say I’ve been brave – immediately still, I have an inner sensor that says ‘yeah but brave compared to what? Have you saved someone from a war-torn country? There’s always a voice to check you.
“But this is a story that I’ve always been too terrified to go near. And I reached a point at 34 where I was still the three-year-old that wanted to write. And I was so sick of being afraid. So, for me it felt physically like there was something lodged in my throat. That anxiety – I can feel it even just talking about it – I just had to release it.”
With thousands of copies sold worldwide, the story of Alice Hart, her trauma and her triumph, will be read by the masses. So, does Ringland ever wonder what the male perpetrators of her own personal trauma might think of, or at least learn from, her book?
“The truthful answer is, I don’t let myself think about that. Because I didn’t write this book for them. “It’s a waste of energy playing out in my head what that experience might be like for them. Of course, you can’t stop those thoughts from coming to you, but I don’t follow them. Because I 100% wrote this book for the three-year-old that wanted to write. I wrote it to see what would happen if I showed up, not if they showed up.”
Ringland moved from Australia to the UK to achieve an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester.
“I moved here in 2009 to start my life again. I’d left a violent man behind who I thought was the love of my life. And coming to England was almost a Shakespearean do-or-die. I thought – I’ll just put myself in the jaws of life and see what happens.
“So, to find myself still here 9 years later is amazing. This place has made me. Manchester – this beautiful, weird, northern city. Weird only to me – I grew up a block from the sea.
“Manchester enabled me to fall in love with my home country again. It enabled me to fall in love with the Australia that I’d left behind, which was so tainted with so many traumatic memories in so many landscapes."
“Writing 'Lost Flowers' in Manchester was sort of an unspoken love letter to this city and a blatant love letter to the homeland that raised me.
And I don’t think I could have done any of it without this gritty, beautiful redbrick city.”