The Weekly Review
October 5, 2015
Author Rosalie Ham, from Brunswick, wrote her first novel, The Dressmaker, while working at an aged-care home and studying writing part-time at RMIT University. That book has now become a film with Kate Winslet playing the leading role.
Kate Winslet gets 200 scripts a year and chooses only two or three to work on. One of those scripts was The Dressmaker. Rosalie wrote the novel over three years, never dreaming her tale of love, jealousy, malice and tragedy in rural Australia would become a big-budget movie. “When I asked my teacher if I should send it to a publisher, she said, ‘You might as well’,” Rosalie says. Sue Maslin, the fim’s producer was drawn to the story’s strong female characters and imagery that were at odds with rural Australia c1951.
Rosalie studied drama and literature and has a bachelor of education but was working as an aged-care nurse and then cook when she wrote
The Dressmaker, which draws on her memories of growing up in Jerilderie in regional NSW – a town of 1000 people – where her mum was the town dressmaker. “My parents divorced when I was 10, quite scandalous in a small community then,” she says. “You always have stereotypes in those places, like the town gossip and the adulterer. I took those elements and made them gothic.”
Rosalie collected a sheaf of rejection letters before her book was finally published 15 years ago. In 2013 Sue Maslin stepped in to translate the story to the silver screen. “Sue and I were on the golf course at Yarra Bend, thrashing around looking for golf balls, when she told me Kate Winslet was interested,” Rosalie says.
Now a literature lecturer at the University of Melbourne, Rosalie is working on her fourth novel. “It’s another rural community and to do with farming and water,” is all she’ll say. Later this month she’ll walk the red carpert at the premiere of
The Dressmaker at Crown. “I might get a new frock, but I’ll be back teaching the next day.”
“I’ve paid off my mortgage. And the film has brought a lot of joy to family and friends. People I grew up with in Jerilderie have heard about it and said, ‘No way, really? Good on ya, Hammy’.”