Ian Ridgeway has just released the third instalment of his book trilogy titled Red Cedar-Red Gold – All Things Return to the Beginning. A former woodwork teacher turned author, Ian has woven an intriguing tale that brings to life a bygone era of cedar getting. He shares the lessons he’s learned from his characters and his own personal challenges.
>Your final book of the trilogy about red cedar and the early timber industry has just been published – what inspired it?
My interest in Australian history, the story of red cedar, the tales of my old mates who worked in the bush and some of my own experiences working timber – all of these things contributed to an idea to put a book together way back in 2001.
These ideas all combined when I researched the war records of my great-uncle who was killed at Villers-Bretonneux in the final months of WWI. I wanted to honour his sacrifice and that of the other 60,000 Australian soldiers who died in that terrible conflict by creating a ‘life’ for him.
It could have been his story had he returned home safely. By weaving the anecdotes of my old mates – all of whom have now moved on – into the manuscript, I could tell their stories as well. I wanted to outline a portion of the fascinating story of red cedar and the part it played in the early history of Australia.
With the changing technology of the timber industry as a background, I was able to put together a trilogy of action, adventure, romance and skulduggery which covers the 1920s, 30s and 40s – pivotal times in our history. More than that – it is a story of family, struggle and ultimate triumph.
> Did you ever think you would write and have three books published?
If you had asked me that question in 1998, I would have laughed, as my future seemed to be laid out before me and writing was not even on the radar. When all the ideas came together in 2001, I knew then that I would write three books – I had so much that I needed to say.
Red Cedar – Red Gold is the title of the original book – a manuscript I wrote over about a four year period. This was rapidly followed by Burying the Ghosts of the Past.
The words began to flow even faster for this, the final book of the trilogy, All Things Return to the Beginning, which was written in the first three months of 2007. Even at that time, I had not planned to publish – the books were only for a few close friends to read – but the response was so positive that writing professionally became something that I seriously considered.
When I was forced to leave my job as a high school woodwork teacher through illness, writing became the cornerstone of my life, as all of the things I had thought were set in concrete – the things I believed would always be there – just crumbled into dust and blew away in the wind. I tried for a long time to collect the bits and pieces of my old life and put them back together, until I realised that the three books were what I had built from the remnants of all those lost yesterdays.
I sometimes wonder if it was all ‘meant to be’, as I didn’t travel the same path as many writers who spend years researching, planning storylines and plots and developing characters. I simply wrote what came to me, and the final manuscripts were very, very close to what I had punched into the keyboard over a six year period.
Another thing that is quite strange is that I am now meeting people who share the same names as the characters invented for the books. That is rather spooky.
> How have your readers responded?
I have been overwhelmed by the positive response. I think it is because nearly everyone can feel a connection with the characters and the times. So many people have told me about their uncle who had a bullock team or worked in a mill or how their grandparents lived on a farm way up in the bush and how they had red cedar growing on the property.
Added to that, my novels are easy to read and very lively – you don’t want to put the book down because you need to know what happens on the next page. As I have said in previous interviews, my books are more like Daniel Boone than Mills and Boon.
Not only that, I have maintained historical and technical accuracy throughout the trilogy, so the information is real and not fantasy as in many novels of today. I guess that is the school teacher in me still trying to impart a bit of knowledge!
> Tell us about the storyline for this novel?
All Things Return to the Beginning is set in 1946, as men are returning from World War II. It was another pivotal time in the timber industry, as surplus wartime machinery replaced the reliable bullock teams, and petrol motors sent portable steam engines into the yards of scrap metal dealers. The lovable characters of the first two books continue to fight against greed and skulduggery as the final few truckloads of red cedar sawlogs are brought down from the mountains.
As the times changed forever, it is the stubbornness of one man to resist that change that eventually sees the inevitable last battle between good and evil. I was very happy with the final chapters of this book, as all of the open-ended questions and uncertainties of the first two novels came together to reach a satisfying conclusion. Readers will not be disappointed as they complete the last page.
> You recently launched the final book of the trilogy at Timbertown. How did it go?
I chose Timbertown as the location for all three of the launches. Not only is it the perfect place to launch a book about timber, but it is such a great place to visit and I could not have asked for more cooperation from the management, staff and store operators.
This book launch was the biggest yet, with over 300 family, friends and enthusiastic readers attending the Maul and Wedge Hotel. Everyone was eager to read the final book and learn what happens to both the lovable characters and the not-so-lovable ones. This book is the best one of all, and I was very pleased with the outcome.
> How’s writing affected your view of life?
I have been on a real journey over the past 6 or 7 years. We think life is so certain, but it can change in an instant and there seems nothing we can do to stop it.
I know that I am not alone in going through difficult times – we will all experience pain and hardship at some time in our lives – but I guess it is how we, as individuals, cope with those dilemmas that determine the direction of our future.
For me, I learned that family, good health, giving and receiving love and striving for happiness are the most important things to aim for. I also learned that by fiercely defending the values by which we live, we will earn respect, and ultimately triumph – no matter what obstacles are put in our way.
Honesty, loyalty and integrity are the values that I think are the ones to base our lives upon, and we should never give up on them despite the circumstances that are put before us. I am very proud of my achievements.
> What do you plan to do now?
That is a really good question. I have a couple of unfinished novels and short stories sitting on the computer at the moment, but I have just about run out of words.
I guess that after writing and re-writing over 600,000 of them, collating and publishing a trilogy of novels and undertaking quite a few speaking engagements during the past year or so, I probably deserve a decent holiday.
I am really not worried about the future anymore. I think I have done something important in keeping a little piece of our history alive. Perhaps I will walk a completely different pathway and try something new.
> Where can our readers buy your books?
My books are available through a mail order service, at the Timbertown Heritage Park at Wauchope and a couple of local museums – including the Historic Courthouse in Port Macquarie.
I am currently negotiating a distribution deal through a well-known literary agency in Sydney.
All the necessary details and a photo album are easily accessible at my website at
www.ianridgway.com.au or write to PO Box 5571 in Port Macquarie.
> Thank you Ian.