13 January 1955|
Jerilderie, New South Wales
Rosalie Ham (born 1955) is an Australian author, stage and radio play writer. She is best known for her debut novel, The Dressmaker, which has been adapted into film with Kate Winslet in the lead role.
In addition, Ham has also written short stories for various Australian publications, including Meanjin, The Age, and The Bulletin. As of 2015, her novels have sold 75,000 copies worldwide and have been translated into a number of languages including German and French.
Ham was born and raised in Jerilderie, Australia. Talking about her childhood Ham said, "Being a farmer's daughter, I had a fabulous childhood – swimming in creeks and irrigation channels, riding a horse behind a slow moving flock of ewes, rousabouting, cutting wood and setting the fire after school every day in winter, learning to drive aged nine so I could help with Bathurst burr cutting and other slow-moving country driving tasks." She attended Finley High School for two years. Ham's brothers still run the family farms in Jerilderie. Later she attended St Margaret's School, Melbourne, along with Sue Maslin and finished her secondary education in 1972.
Stage and radio plays
After completing her secondary education, Ham travelled overseas and on her return took admission in Deakin University (then Victoria College). She completed a Bachelor of Education majoring in Drama and Literature in 1989. On the request of her friend, she started writing stage and radio plays. She wrote four plays but soon find out that "(she) didn't want to write plays because I didn't like the theatre thing".
RMIT and accidental novelist
Ham has described herself as an "accidental novelist". In 1996, she enrolled in the writing programme of RMIT University but on her arrival she found that it was already full. As she was leaving, novelist Antoni Jach advised her to take a novel course instead. In novel-writing class, she got an assignment of "a 500-word synopsis of her book", which she recalled "I had an idea and started writing it. Then you had to hand in 3,000 words, and then you had to hand in 10,000 words, and I had 30,000 words. It was only three weeks before I realised that this was the best 'accident' that had ever occurred to me." Ham completed this novel in three years. She graduated from RMIT with an Advanced Diploma of Arts in Professional Writing and Editing in 1996, and a Master of Arts in Creative Writing in 2007.
On 1 January 2000, Ham's debut novel The Dressmaker was published by Duffy & Snellgrove. The novel received critical praise, as The Age said about Ham's writing that "Ham does show herself a writer with strong visual gifts and a pleasingly sour sense of humour." While The Australian said that "Ham writes delightfully rich set pieces and descriptive passages…Ham's eye for the absurd, the comical and the poignant are highly tuned. It is a first novel to be proud of, and definitely one to savour and enjoy."
Summer at Mount Hope
Ham released her sophomore novel Summer at Mount Hope in 2005. She also wrote the novel like her debut one while studying her creative writing course at RMIT University. The novel drew strong comparison to Jane Austen's works, but Ham again received praise as The Sydney Morning Herald said in its review that "Ham tries hard to interject some social commentary into the story by including all these elements into her novel but Summer at Mount Hope is more unabashed romance set against a backdrop of grapes, dust and drought than a historical document. This is light summer reading; a period-drama with the requisite sunny, fluffy-cloud ending."
There Should be More Dancing
There Should be More Dancing is the third novel written by Ham, released in 2011. The novel revolves around a woman in her seventies, looking back at her life and reflecting on "what went wrong". The Sydney Morning Herald said that, "Ham's skill in disguising her informed eloquence on a serious subject behind sparkling, entertaining prose. Senior citizens will wave their walkers in relief and delight: help is at hand."
Recurring themes and background setting in her work
All of Ham's novels have been set in small rural communities of Australia. She has admitted that if she wrote an urban novel, her style of writing would be changed with the change in landscape, which she does not want to do.
In all her novels, revenge, gossip, love, betrayal, small communities, isolation, treachery, manipulation and human nature are the common themes.
Rosalie Ham initially sold the rights of The Dressmaker for film in the mid 2000s and even wrote the screenplay for the film but somehow the project never took off. While missing out on the rights to begin with, producer Sue Maslin reconnected with the author whom she hadn't seen for 30 years since they were at boarding school together. After the initial project was shelved, Maslin optioned the rights of the novel in 2009 and brought Jocelyn Moorhouse on board to direct and write the screenplay for the film.
Kate Winslet and Judy Davis were cast in the roles of Myrtle "Tilly" and Molly Dunnage respectively in August 2013. Ham, herself made an appearance as an extra in the film. Filming took place in Melbourne and all over Victoria, Australia, in late 2014. The film was released on 29 October 2015 in Australia.
Ham worked as a nurse for 21 years until October 2005, when the nursing home she worked at closed down. She is also a part-time Literature teacher at Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, and RMIT University TAFE.
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