A Romantic Self-Discovery, Written with Dignity and None Of The Clichés

Excited reviewer, Peta Carolan
Review by Peta Carolan @unfoldededges

“I adore the characters and relationships in Returning to Adelaide! I’m a huge fan of character in writing and Freeman has absolutely exceeded my expectations. From every movement, to dialogue, to character choices, they were spirited and generous. She writes with such colour and personality.”

The burning question

“But does she take him back?” is the ultimate question I asked myself as I experienced Adelaide’s journey. Whilst I marinated in Adelaide’s perplexed feelings, persistent pockets of air that contained liveliness hit me in the face with a surprise. What I mean is, the protagonist is torn between thinking with her heart and thinking with her head, and I was roped all the way in.

I will admit, it was nice to escape to the Greek Islands for a little while after spending the past few days stuck indoors, recovering from COVID. I will also admit that my heart shattered towards the end of the book and I couldn’t help myself but message Anne Freeman personally asking her ‘WHYYY?? Why did you do this!”. I was on a complete rollercoaster ride with the protagonist Adelaide and I felt as though I just kept screaming at the conductor, “Don’t stop! Let’s go again!” because I did not want to get off.

Adelaide, a mother who has lost her identity after being married to an unfaithful man, finally surrenders and heads to the Greek Islands to partake in a refreshing journey to self-discovery (without all the clichés). As her journey unfolds, we learn who Adelaide really is as she reacquaints herself with the woman she used to be – the most authentic Adelaide who existed. If there were a category for a ‘Coming of age’ story for mid thirty-year-old woman… this would fit. Now I don’t know many mothers who would have the courage to leave their children and head overseas for a quick trip, and I’m sure this will be the first thing reviewers will pick up on and I’m not a mother, but please pay attention to the subplot. It is written with dignity.

I enjoy nothing more than chatting to an author about their motivations and purpose of or reasoning behind a moment and the novel, so I felt absolutely honoured to be able to have a chat to Anne about her book ‘Returning to Adelaide’.

Author Q & A:

I hear that you have a kaleidoscope of experiences to pull research and material from. What is your history? When did you start writing and who/what inspired you?

It’s true! I’m a former award-winning milliner, promotional model, wanderluster, television extra, accessories designer, vintage market organiser, sales and marketing maven and creator of human life.

In terms of writing, I kept a journal for years. It was a safe space in which I could play with words without the terror of having anyone read them! After the birth of my second child, I was so lost in the all-consuming experience of motherhood, that I began writing for the mental and creative stimulation. The only time I ever sat down was while breastfeeding my daughter, so, most of Returning to Adelaide was written in the Google Docs App on my iPhone. Desperate times call for desperate measures! Needless to say, there was a lot of polishing required!

Society presents these idealised versions and social standards that we need to have in order to feel successful or even accepted. Adelaide is at a pivotal point in her life. At a later stage in her life, she is driven only by the hope that maybe one day, her answers will present themselves. I feel as though you’ve really humanised her and made her realistic for others to relate to. It allows them to understand that just because you have responsibilities as a parent or boss etc, doesn’t mean you need to know the answers. But what I noticed is, you’ve managed to tackle this issue without presenting the evolving societal pressures that we usually experience today. How did you manage to do this and is this why this topic is important to you?

There are so many societal pressures placed upon women in general. This story focuses on mothers in particular. I’ve tried to highlight and advocate for the idea that mothers should not see their own self-actualisation, and life outside of motherhood, as selfish or even a luxury. The notion that all women should be made complete by motherhood is a myth that is still perpetuated. It’s as ridiculous as claiming that every single person could find their calling as, say, a baker or a mechanic.

For Adelaide, and myself and my peers, it is essential that we have interests, pursuits and passions outside of motherhood. The wonderful thing about giving yourself permission to pursue your own passions is that the fulfilment it brings – the happiness, energy and contentment – are then poured back into family life. A family unit benefits from each member being happy. Sadly, there is still guilt associated with mothers wanting something “for themselves”. With Adelaide, I wanted to show readers that a mother is more than just a mother, she is a complex and fascinating person with a rich interior existence, if you’d care to see it.

Can you recall any experiences where you learned that language had power?

I’ve always delighted in words. I recall, as a child, using big words and the surprise that usually followed from grownups. I was kind of a precocious child.

The other thing that comes to mind is when my husband and I travelled around Europe for 12 months in our early thirties. Although the inhabitants of the countries we visited usually had English as a second language – a remarkable fact to this slightly ashamed only-English speaker! – I found that conversations became a more utilitarian exchange. The poetry of language was missing – the subtle jokes, the nuances, puns and double meanings. I realised that a large part of my personality, of my enjoyment of life, resided in those subtleties. When we arrived in England, after 10 months on the continent, I came alive in the embrace of my native tongue. It gave me great empathy for the many Australians conducting their lives in their second language of English!

“Froth clouds rolled in over the pastel-coloured sky, bathing everything in an otherworldly tint. The first fat raindrops fell with a distinct splat creating a minuscule secondary spray to fly up on impact. They turned their faces and palms skyward as the heavens opened and saturated them in a type of baptism.”

Returning to Adelaide

This was an expert from a favourite moment of mine, one I don’t want to ruin but it was so special to hear more laughter from our broken protagonist as she enjoys having an ice-cream fight with friends on a rooftop.

I already know the answer to this, but I think it is one worth sharing. This moment actually happened yeah? Why did you include it in the book?

I have natural tendency towards auto-fiction. My work is usually a patchwork of memories, fantasies, desires and fascinations which are all very personal to me. The real fiction lies in the thread used to stitch all these together. The scene you’re referring to is based upon an experience I had when I was 14 and visited my mother’s homeland of Greece. As Adelaide does in the book, I befriended a sister and brother who lived in the apartment above my Yiayia (grandmother). Eating ice-cream on the rooftop of the apartment block, after a trip to the beach, turned into an ice-cream fight. Then, we were washed clean by an unexpected deluge of summer rain. Even in that moment, I knew that it was special. The light had a cinematic quality. I suppose I collect those moments like gemstones, waiting for a use for them.

A thought occurs to me when reading books – I get this feeling that authors seem to believe that all characters are likeable. But we as humans are not all ‘likable’. Some people are bad, and some people are good, most of us are complex and each of us respond and react differently to other personalities. What I think we can be instead is ‘forgivable’ rather than ‘likable’. Even with our faults, we strive to be a partner and a lover who brings out the best in one another. Even when mending flaws in a relationship, it’s the subtleties that create great character development and relationships in writing. Also, I really commend you for not portraying Adelaide’s husband negatively and I feel that you’ve really humanised him.

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?

Writing secondary male characters isn’t so difficult. All my characters’ traits come from observations of real life and the male ones are no different. Recently I tried my hand at a couple of male protagonists which, after some initial trepidation, were really fun to write. I think the key for me is in the detail, in the humanity of a person, rather than in gender. All you have to do is wiggle into their head and see how the world looks from in there.

And just for fun, what is your spirit animal and why?

Maybe a meerkat! I’m always looking out for what’s coming, am a bit on the cheeky side, and will bite you in the face if you try to attack someone I love! Wait, do meerkat’s drink wine? If they do, then it’s perfect.

A little bird told me that you are working on your second novel… Any spoilers?

I do! My second novel, ‘Me, That You See, was recently shortlisted in the Hawkeye Manuscript Development Prize! It follows a barista turned cam-model as she reluctantly stumbles towards a life of transparency. It delves into the world of online sex-work and explores themes of feminism in sex work, living your truth, women supporting women, toxic masculinity and our desire to connect. Like Returning to Adelaide, it’s always engaging and sometimes funny with reluctant adventures, sexy escapades and friendships that uplift.

Is there anything you are hoping people can take from reading your novel?

One of the most rewarding aspects of my experience so far is how each reader draws something different from this story. Some enjoy the escapism, others see themselves in the depictions of early motherhood, some get pulled into the emotion, others still are uplifted by women supporting women. All I hope is each reader finds what they need in the pages. Writing a book is only half of the process, it is the reader who brings the story to life in their mind.

Thank you so much for your time today.

Returning to Adelaide is available through the Hawkeye Bookstore.

Learn more about Anne Freeman via her Instagram page here.

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