Inga Simpson - author of Where the Trees Were

Author Q&As

Tell us about your book – what inspired you to write it?

The idea for Where the Trees Were came out of some research I was doing on ironbarks. I stumbled across Wiradjuri arborglyphs – carved burial trees – which I had never heard of, even though I grew up in Wiradjuri country. One of the reasons for that is that most of them have been removed or destroyed since ‘settlement’. I was trying to begin an art crime book at the time, with some sort of Australian twist, but it just wasn’t happening. Meanwhile, the arborglyphs kept popping up, but I wasn’t getting the message. Then I heard uncle Bruce Pascoe speak about Australians being more interested in European art, history and archaeology than our own much longer history, and I realised I had my story. Writing the book allowed me to explore my own complicated feelings about the family property where I grew up. But I hoped, too, to raise awareness of the arborglyphs, and by focusing on the theft and destruction of these beautiful trees, to contribute to a conversation about the ongoing impacts of colonisation, our relationships to place, and the retention of Aboriginal artefacts in our public institutions.


Do you use your own experiences when writing?

Of course. I use little details from my life, childhood, and particularly the places I have lived. And I draw on the emotions behind some of my more significant experiences.  But for me there is a kind of middle ground – the everyday, the people in my life now – that I don’t tend to use at all.


Which author/s living or dead would you like to have dinner with?

Jeanette Winterson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Gillian Mears.


How and where do you write?

I begin in pencil in a notebook, until the ideas are coming too fast to keep up with. Then I start ‘properly’ on my laptop, at a big old desk in a timber and stone studio a few hundred metres from my house. It is surrounded by trees, which I gaze at through variously shaped windows. I work for few hours each morning over a year until I have a draft. Then I work full time at it for a few weeks or a month, bashing it into a shape fit for others to see. I’m happiest during that time, but not much fun to be around.


What was your favourite book as a child?

Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings


We know you are a talented writer, do you have any hidden talents?

I’m capable with a chainsaw, but photography is probably the second string to my bow.

Can you tell us what you are working on now?

I’ve made a big shift, to nonfiction. Understory: a life with trees is a nature writing-memoir. I’ve been describing it as a journey of staying in once place, told through trees. It’s about the little block of land where I have lived for the last ten years, and the ways it has shaped my life. I began writing it a year after moving, wanting to capture all the details of living there through the seasons, but it has evolved into much more than that.