Gretchen Miller - Author Q & A

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5 minutes with Gretchen Miller

Gretchen MillerGretchen Miller is an award-winning radio features producer and presenter at ABC RN. She is passionate about making stories of the landscape and environment, crafting intricate sound design and working collaboratively with listeners, who bring their unique and original writing and ideas to the projects. Learn more about Gretchen Miller.

What was the last good book you read?

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. Not to give it away, but I was completely taken in by the ‘twist’ in this story… and utterly hooked by the time it came around and cast a light, if you like, on the previous story as it was told. There was a deep humanity to this book, and I loved Rosemary’s gentle coming to terms with herself and her possible misdeeds, as a 5 year old child. I also really appreciated the complex exploration of animal rights, and what it means to be human, and where the line is drawn, between us and the broader animal kingdom.

Do you have a favourite Library?

I do, I have two. I regularly use these libraries for myself, and my son – Newtown and Ultimo. One is near my home, the other near my work, and it is a guilty pleasure to wander down the road at lunchtime and carry back a pile of books, not all of which I’ll end up reading – I am always a bit over-ambitious in libraries.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever read about yourself or your work?

I don’t think of myself as an ‘author’. I’m fundamentally a broadcaster, and my role is to be in the background, rather than being the star of the show. So there’s not a lot to read ‘about’ me in the public domain, though I’ve put out a fair bit of work as a radio maker, and a lot of that does involve the craft of writing. There’s plenty to listen to online! But I guess the feedback from our listeners, who have become collaborators in programs such as the Trees Project, The Ariadne project and City Nights has been the most treasured response to my work – there are some very fine writers in the broader community, and to seed an idea that gives birth to beautiful writing, and then to set that to sound and music is my proudest achievement – to hear of our audience’s joy in being included, engaged with and valued, is a real treat.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

As a broadcaster, and radio maker, I’d say ‘show not tell’. When writing scripts ‘show not tell’ is something I return to again and again. This works for fiction as well. So instead of saying ‘Sandra was sad’ which is telling us how she’s feeling, describe her, let her ‘show’ us through what she says and does. She might lock herself in her bedroom for two days for example…

And another pithy little thing I came up with for a young freelancer the other day was ‘café not essay’…. So don’t write me an essay, tell me the story as if we were chatting in a café and you’re trying to engage me in your latest idea. This can still be poetic, and descriptive and beautiful. But you’ll find you use active tense, you’ll be looking me in the eye, trying to seduce me with the power of the story… rather than taking a step back and writing a discursive essay on your subject, which is such a distancing thing to do.

What drew you to the subject matter of your latest book?

The extraordinary ‘being-in-the-world’, that is the essence of tree. Words can’t really express what a tree gives us, and yet In their branches is full of stories by apparently ordinary, and yet absolutely extraordinary Australians, that gives voice to the peace, beauty power, grief we can experience in connection with trees. Trees are the embodiment of the natural world. And there are not too many people who haven’t had a special tree at some point in their life Trees speak to the child in us, they take us away from the sharp edges of the grownup world, to a place more fluid and connected to the earth. Climb a tree and your spirits will lift. If you can’t climb, lean against it.

I did the radio project and then the book because I wanted people to remember their connection to trees. And in thinking of that heart connection to your own special tree, you might just remember the broader, inherent value of trees, and feel moved to step up to protect them – whether a small stand in your local neighbourhood, a nearby tract of forest, or a far away threatened forest, like those of the Amazon, or Indonesia, which contribute so much to the health of our planet.

Want to know more about In Their Branches?

In their branchesA very special collection of over one hundred stories, memories, and reflections on trees that have had a special meaning in the lives of Australians, from ABC RN.

We all have a favourite tree. We scaled their trunks in childhood, planted their saplings in memory of someone we loved, and carried their silhouettes in our hearts across lifetimes and continents. We have watched them grow and watched them burn, skylarked around in their foliage and cried into their trunks. Up in their branches we have let our imaginations soar, found a sanctuary away from our troubles, and felt connected to nature and life and the ages.

When ABC RN asked its audience for stories for their trees Project, the response was astounding - listeners sent in their memories and reflections on trees they've loved and trees they've lost. Gretchen Miller has lovingly gathered over one hundred of these deeply personal stories and poems into this exquisite collection. In Their Branches is the perfect book for the arborist, the dreamer and the tree hugger in all of us.

In Their Branches is published by HarperCollins Australia and available now