Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 14, 2013

Meet an Aussie Author: Sally Van Gent

pistachio biscuitsLast weekend was the last of four Saturdays spent watching Wagner’s Ring Cycle with friends at home.  We couldn’t get tickets for the Melbourne performance, so we decided to frock up and see the New York Metropolitan’s performance instead – we turned La Maison into La Théâtre de L’opéra and watched Byrn Terfel and Deborah Voigt in the starring roles on our big TV, with the speakers belting out The Ride of the Valkyries to great acclaim.

Because the operas are soooo long (the last one is four and a half hours) we had finger food for dinner,  and two short intervals to eat it, one for main course, and one for coffee and sweet things to keep our strength up. Everybody brought delicious nibbles, and last Saturday, I tried the recipe for pistachio, orange and cardamom biscuits from Sally Van Gent’s memoir Clay Gully which I had just read and reviewed.  There they are on the right, fresh out of the oven, and I can’t tell you how scrumptious they are.

Sally Van gentClay Gully So I am very pleased to be able to introduce the author of the recipe and the book! Sally van Gent has somehow found the time in her busy schedule to tell us more about herself with her contribution to Meet an Aussie Author:

Sally grew up in the industrial north of England where she trained as a teacher at Bretton Hall College.  Her adventurous streak took her to the Arabian Gulf and then teaching positions in Mauritius and Singapore, where she met her Australian husband. Now she lives a settled existence on the edge of the forest near Bendigo, dividing her time between drawing, writing and observing the antics of the local wildlife – diversions which led to her debut as an author with the publication of the whimsical Clay Gully in 2013.

Here are Sally’s answers to my impertinent questions:

  1. I was born in Walton, a mining village in West Yorkshire.
  2. When I was a child I wrote stories about hedgehogs and the fairies living inside the foxgloves in my grandfather’s garden.
  3.  The person who encouraged me was my mother. She forced me to write thank you letters and took me to a library every week.
  4.  I like to write outside on the veranda, with a small dog on my lap and a bigger one at my feet.
  5.  I write something every day even if I don’t feel like it… I need the practice.
  6.  Research is a good excuse for not writing.
  7.  I keep my published work in a box under the bed in the spare room.
  8.  On the day my first book was published I felt like a cheat because I hadn’t written anything else since I was at college. And that’s a long time ago.
  9.  At the moment I’m editing a second illustrated memoir and have begun work on a novel.
  10.  When I’m stuck for an idea I stop writing and draw instead. The words and pictures are inextricably linked in my head and one activity helps the other.

Sally is the first author featured in Meet an Aussie Author to include drawing as an integral part of the writing process – do visit this article in the Bendigo Advertiser to see examples of her pictures – I especially like the one of the snake curled around her shopping bag …

If you want to try the recipe for the pistachio biscuits, you need the book.  (There are heaps of other nice recipes as well).  It would also make a nice gift – Sally’s writing is whimsical but her story is inspirational and an example of the great Aussie resilience and humour.  It’s available from

Fishpond Clay Gully: Stories from an Apple Orchard;
direct from Wakefield Press;
and all good bookstores.

PS If you’re struggling to find a Christmas present for the man in your life, Wakefield’s recently published Holden Days might – in the wake of the news of the impending end of ‘Australia’s own car’ – be just the thing.


  1. Hi Lisa
    My mum went to the last of her four last night. She has been loving it so much. She also thought she’d missed out when tickets sold out quickly but then jumped when they ‘released’ some more. She is so glad she did, she says it’s been absolutely extraordinary. Hope you’re well, and have a great summer! (If it ever arrives properly!)


    • Yes, I received an email too about the late release, but by then I wasn’t in a position to take it up. I was actually a bit annoyed about the whole thing, I’m an AO subscriber, have been for years, but all the tickets were sold by the time I got home from work. Obviously they had kept plenty aside for corporates and it was those that didn’t sell that they released.
      I still hope to see a live performance one day, but it probably won’t be an AO performance, it will be overseas.


      • Yes – I think those late releases are just so they can say ‘sold out in 24 hours’ – happens all the time. If a subscriber can’t get a ticket then there’s something wrong. Overseas would be fab though.


        • I rather like the idea of Bayreuth of course…


  2. […] into publishing, Clay Gully, Stories from an Apple Orchard (2013) and the follow-up feature in my Meet an Aussie Author series.  Sally’s life has been a most interesting one, and her latest book, The Navy-blue […]


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