Working with Words: Jasmine Seymour

Teacher and award-winning children's book author Jasmine Seymour talks to us about truth-telling, fruit-picking and connecting deeply to Country and story.

Photo of Jasmine Seymour

What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry?

A very hard question! I think one of the most formative books from my childhood was Tracks by Robyn Davidson. I was gifted it by a family friend. I do not know how young I was when I read it, but its quiet and brave beauty has always stayed with me. That incredible young woman, those camels, the dog, and the desert. Extraordinary! Independence and freedom are very important to me. I think that this book has guided my own attitude towards life.

The book that currently makes me howl is Leah Purcell’s rewrite of The Drover's Wife. The more truth-telling like this the better. This truth will make us strong.

Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?

My dad always gifted me notebooks to draw and write in. They were never diary-like; sometimes they were miserable complaints over failed friendships and relationships. Other times, they were song ideas or musings about landscape. I am a visual person and I've always loved describing nature. I have always had a little book about me, into which I have poured my feelings.

What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?

I have been a musician, a cleaner, a fruit-picker, a waitress, a bartender, a retail assistant, an office worker and now I am a primary school teacher. Being a blueberry-picker in Coffs Harbour was probably one of the most interesting jobs I have had. It had nothing to do with the job – it was all to do with the people. It was only for a season, yet I was exposed through this job to many different people from lots of different nationalities. I loved hearing their stories. I loved hearing about their experiences of travelling. I learnt so much from these people in the short time that I knew them.

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I would be making art. All types of art. I have always been a creative person so I would be making something or learning something.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

The best advice for me, I think, is that you should just write about what you know, trust what you know. I am an instinctive writer; I like the way words feel. I would love to be a science fiction or fantasy writer, but I do not actually think I have that language. Any time I have ever tried to write a made-up story, it always feels forced and not honest.

Have you ever kept a diary? Do you keep one now? 

I have tried many times to keep a diary. They always end up with only one page entered. I am the type of disorganised writer that will write on any piece of paper laying around. Having a diary and knowing where it is, let alone being organised enough to write in it every day, is much too much for me. My everyday life is not so interesting that I feel compelled to write about it. My notebook entries have always been of a more melancholic type of entry, so hopefully that means that I have mostly been content.

'I once attempted Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It still taunts me whenever I look under my bed, where I flung it after I could no longer go on.'

Which classic book do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?

I sometimes go through stages where I read lots of recommended books. I once attempted Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It still taunts me whenever I look under my bed, where I flung it after I could no longer go on. Harsh, but not for me.

Do you have any strange writing habits, customs or superstitions?

Cover image of the book 'Baby Business' by Jasmine Seymour

No. My only habit is that I quite like to write to pictures. I prefer it actually.

Have you written or published anything in the past that you now wish you could go back and change?

I think there is always scope for change. I think that you could almost endlessly edit your work in a never-ending cycle of perfection finding. In music and art, the mistakes are sometimes the most interesting things about a song or artwork. This is the same, I think, about writing.

Which artist, author or fictional character would you most like to have dinner with? 

I just long to talk to my Nana. Now that I am an adult, I just wish I could talk to her about her experiences. She was an incredible, generous woman who always loved and believed in me.

The nana in Baby Business is based on my experience of walking through the bush with my Nana. She was a Darug woman who grew up on the lands of her people right on the Hawkesbury. Her history and now my history is part of a story that is thousands of years old. There was a time when I did not ever want to be home. Being on Country and learning its stories is an incredible privilege; there is nothing more interesting to me now. 

Portrait of Jasmine Seymour

Jasmine Seymour is a Darug woman and descendant of Maria Lock, who was the daughter of Yarramundi, the Boorooberongal elder who had met Governor Phillip on the banks of the Hawkesbury River in 1791. Maria was the first Aboriginal woman to be educated by the Blacktown Native Institute. She was married to carpenter and convict, Robert Lock and their union resulted in thousands of descendants who can all trace their Darug heritage back past Yarramundi. Jasmine is a member of the Darug Custodian Aboriginal Corporation.

It is Jasmine’s wish that through her books, everyone will know that the Darug mob are still here, still strong. Jasmine is a primary school teacher in the Hawkesbury area of NSW, and the author of Baby Business and co-author of Cooee Mittigar – both published by Magabala Books.

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