BALLARAT THROUGH A LENS

Ada Langton is a Ballarat writer who took up the craft when she was diagnosed with cancer. She began writing an autobiography, wishing for her youngest child “to know who I was” and why “I’d made the decisions that I had made in life.” Ada continued, “I thought, you know, she’s only three, she’ll never remember me if I die.”

She managed to write around 12,000 words, but was still unwell and broke, so she wrote a piece for New Idea, which was published, becoming her first paid gig. This was followed by submitting a piece for a manuscript award. The award required the exact number of words she had already written. After some debate, she paid the $50 entry fee and sent o her manuscript. Her family celebrated each stage of the shortlisting process, until she was named as one of the five winners. As she says, “I kind of won the literary Australian Idol.”

After recovering her health, Ada continued writing. The Art of Preserving Love is her first work of fiction, although it is set in a real place and time. Ada Langton hates research, so she didn’t set out to write a book set in history. Instead, “I wrote a book, and went and found the history when I needed it.” One aspect of this process was finding stories that weren’t generally taught in history classes, such as the Prince of Wales visiting Australia in 1920 and elegantly surviving a train crash. This is even better because it really happened, as Ada explained: “the imagery was so wonderful of him stepping out of this catastrophe with his cocktail shaker and his papers.”

The Art of Preserving Love is set in a fictional Ballarat from 1905 to 1924. Ada sees the romance in the book as the romance of the past, of handwritten letters on thick creamy paper, saying, “I wanted it to be a book about love, not a book about romance, except for romance of the past because it enables us to look at what we might have lost.” The book itself is a love letter to Ballarat. Lake Wendouree was a favourite landmark, as it says in the book, “The town is proud of the lake they created from a mosquito-ridden swamp.” The book crosses genres and styles. It has a number of love stories within its pages, but at its core, this is the story of a woman from the age of nineteen through thirty-seven, her much younger sister, their father, and their housemaid. The family influences the lives of those around them, and as the perspective shifts, we see how these interactions affect others in their town and beyond. The writing style is immediately playful and immersive. Each chapter has a small description after the title, with a teaser of what to expect, as with this wonderful line: “When the weather is the only thing that is fine.”

“The Art of Preserving Love” is published by Harlequin Press and is available now.