Stella Kinsella has always been something of a renaissance woman. She makes documentaries, she writes scripts, she paints, she’s an educator, she’s a writer and she’s a performer. In the late 90s Stella was the entertainment editor for The Byron Echo; she was also the dark and discerning half of the comedy duo the Queen Bs. While she was living in Byron, Stella became a wildlife carer and that sparked a deep passion for nature. In Wild Orphans, one of the two works of fiction Stella published this year, she creates a story for young readers to invoke their passion for the natural world.
‘Wild Orphans began life as a TV series that I adapted to a children’s novel a couple of years ago,’ says Stella.
‘It’s an adventure book for young readers about native Australian wildlife, and tells the story of children caring for injured animals in their grandmother’s illegal wildlife sanctuary.
‘The sanctuary is non-compliant with local council by-laws but the old lady does it anyway as she sees the desperate need because of lack of habitat – she is defiant in the face of conservative views.’
Stella believes that her readers, aged 9–14, can manage more complex themes because kids are ‘incredibly discerning and understand darkness and light. They understand the difference and have a pretty good moral compass so it’s easy to write for them and you don’t need to dumb it down. When I wrote for the audience I wrote for them as if they were really smart!’
Stella believes that young people are open to the messages of conservation and devastation of the environment.
‘I wanted to be able to give my readers a grassroots story about the work of an army of people are doing and show that when it comes to conservation that it starts in their own backyard. I wanted them to understand the flora and fauna and show a practical experience of someone trying to help create a sustainable ecosystem.
‘I am worried,’ says Stella, ‘that conservation is becoming a brand or a watch-word and you need to realise it happens at a day-to-day level; it’s about where you shop and what you buy. You can make changes in your own world – even keeping native trees in your own backyard and allowing them to become the territory of native animals. Humans have to come to understand that territory is not just the domain of humans.’
Wild Orphans is especially targeted at the cotton-wool kids of urban Australia. ‘It also taps into the young female journey through puberty and into a sense of loss and inspires kids to be practical and informed and altruistic.’
Stella’s knowledge and passion for the natural world intensified when she took on the highly competed-for role as an animal educator at the Melbourne Zoo.
‘My experience at the zoo helped me do a lot of research and took me from a face-value understanding to a deep and granular understanding of many species; it has been like learning a new language and studying a PhD all at once. Working at the zoo has been an incredible privilege and an amazing engagement; it’s been really humbling because we continue to maintain humans at the head of the food chain and I am well past believing we are the top of the food chain; I think Trump has proven that!’
Last year Stella also published Poison Ivy, a work of adult fiction.
‘Writing Poison Ivy was so much fun,’ says Stella. ‘The book came as a direct result of writing screenplays and the frustration of that genre, which is pretty much like smashing your head on a brick wall every day. The story came about because I had accrued this information about Australia’s involvement in World War II owing to the work I did on Australians at the National War Film Archive. I needed a repository for all this information that I had accrued and at the same time I developed a huge respect for the elder citizens of Australia who were part of that era. I am an amateur history buff, so I put all of that together in a story with a strong female lead to tell that tale and to address issues affecting elder abuse in retirement villages and their stoic nature.’
Poison Ivy is a history/mystery with a contemporary spin: a funny whodunit full of wry social observations and a strong sense of urban geography.
Stella’s books are available at the Mullum Bookshop with the launch at 4pm on Thursday 18 January. You can also order books and find out more at www.stellakinsella.com.