Building a fictional world
FROM earning her stripes as a newspaper cadet over a decade ago, to publishing her debut novel, Stone Girl, this year, Eleni Hale has made her mark on the literary world.
Two years of her early career were spent working at North East Media, with stints at the Wangaratta Chronicle and Mansfield Courier during 2007-8 before she moved on to writing on social and consumer affairs for the Herald Sun and numerous other jobs.
She said she still remembers her early days as a writer.
“I remember wanting to be a journalist, and packing up my dog,” she said of making her home in the North East.
She said her time as a regional newspaper cadet “taught me a lot about reporting; writing not just about a community, but for a community.”
But news stories were not the only thing she was penning at the time – Eleni was busy writing what would become the first draft of Stone Girl in whatever spare hours she could find.
Stone Girl tells a harrowing tale of survival and hope with troubled 12 year old ward of the state, Sophie, at its centre.
Eleni said the seeds of the book were first planted when she was at university, when a professor read one of her essays and suggested to her that its concept had the potential to be a book of its own.
She said learning her craft as a journalist also helped inform her writing.
“Journalism helps your writing because you learn to be minimal,” she said.
“Writing a book, there’s so many versions that come into play, but eventually, the voice of the character came through. “I just knew I had it,” Eleni said. Eleni said the novel, while fictional, has roots in her own personal experience in state care, living in a group home in the early 1990s.
“I was one of the lucky ones because I got out, I went back to school and struggled my way out of the margins of society,” Eleni said.
“I became a journalist and tried to research and prove all I knew was broken with the system.
“I overcame it, but it stayed with me.
“But it’s something I didn’t see represented in the media very often.
“I’m not an expert, I’m just someone who was there.”
“They’re kind of the invisible people,” she said of young people living in state care, adding that her brief time in the system affects her to this day.
“I don’t take things for granted, and am constantly feeling grateful for everything good that happens,” she said.
She said that for young people in state care, “having a sense of belonging and self worth” is an important issue.
“No one can give this to another person, but by allowing kids in care to be a part of the community, to have stable accommodation and constancy in their carers, to be accepted and not judged too harshly, and to be given meaningful opportunities to turn their lives around, that could make a huge difference in a young person’s life,” Eleni said.
Eleni still has a soft spot for regional Australia, saying of her time in the area, “it was also a great place to write”.
Eleni said she hopes to return to the North East in the near future to discuss her work with local readers, and said she has already completed the first draft of her second novel, which she is “really excited to share” in the near future.
Stone Girl, published by Penguin Random House Australia, is out now and more information about Eleni’s work can be found at elenihale.com.
NEW LITERARY VOICE: Eleni Hale has come a long way since her days as a print journalism cadet.
DEBUT: Eleni Hale has just published her first novel, Stone Girl.