Finding Emma by VALERIE VOLK


But there I stand, with one hand resting on his shoulder, and I wonder what I was feeling in that moment. Why did I place my hand there? Was it for comfort, for reassurance, or to show that he was mine? 

Emma Werner, now an old woman, is domineering, cold and difficult to love. But she has not always been so. What happened to Magdalena Johanna Emma Scholz, the bright young woman she once was? And why does she still take flowers to the grave of her first love?


Emma turns to the journals she has kept for sixty years to rediscover her old self, and to reclaim her future. They reveal the story of a survivor: a woman who suffered but never wavered, whose strength of will and self-belief helped her endure and make a life for herself and her family in a small town in the Riverina.



Back cover comments:


Emma Werner reads her early journals to discover who she really is; why some dislike her, even fear her, and why one man in particular adores her. This is a heart-wrenching tale of tragic love that consumes a life and the gracious love that heals. Which would you choose? 

Finding Emma is a finely and cleverly crafted migration saga set in rural NSW, encompassing two centuries and three wars. Valerie Volk’s succinct prose portrays an honest, raw and riveting account of one woman’s life and the mark she leaves on the lives of others

-Rosanne Hawke (author of Marrying Ameera, The Messenger Bird, Zena Dare)

Valerie Volk once again proves a superb story-teller and creator of character. Her Emma comes alive on the page in this compelling story of sexual awakening, irresolvable grief and inner resilience. Emma’s formative years in a nineteenth-century Lutheran farming community in Jindera New South Wales are vividly recorded in childhood journals, while her quest for self-understanding in later life sustains the novel’s plot and holds the reader gripped by its twists and turns. In this exploration of how the past shapes the present, Volk envisages wisdom brought by experience and by the enduring consolation of faith.

-Jennifer Gribble (author of Dickens and the Bible, The Lady of Shalott)

‘In this well-crafted novel that shifts seamlessly between present and past, Volk introduces us to Emma, a seemingly dour old woman from a small Australian farming community who is making one last entry in the diaries she has kept since her youth. But we soon discover there is nothing rustic or simple about the life of Emma. Volk leads us with dextrous skill through the complex layers of pain, passion, tragedy and hope that lie behind the once attractive young woman who chose not to smile for her wedding photograph.’

-Dr Mark Worthing (historian and author of Iscariot, The Winter Fae)

Front Cover:

‘Valerie Volk once again proves a superb story-teller and creator of an intriguingly honest character.’

– Jennifer Gribble


The Advertiser:  SA Weekend  30 March 2024  p.23   Interview with the author


What made you fall in love with books?

     One of my very early memories is of my father seated on my bed when I had measles and reading to me. There were always books in our house, and school offered me more; a box of books at the front of the classroom and a chance for ‘free reading’ if you finished your set work early. Definitely an incentive. Books were my chance to live many different lives, not just the one I was in. It wasn’t escape – mine was a very happy childhood - but I’ve always had an insatiable wish for more than one life. Reading made this possible.

 Which writers inspire you?

            That’s a different question from asking me which writers I enjoy  - there are so many of those. I’m currently having a love affair with Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series.

But ‘inspire’ is a bit different. I’d choose writers who are as absorbed as I am by the infinite variety and complexity of people. From schooldays I’ve valued insights from the classic writers: Chaucer, Shakespeare, the doorstop novels of the Victorian writers, dramatic monologues from Browning’s array of intriguing characters to Alan Bennett’s brilliant Talking Heads series. Inspiration comes from seeing how these writers have brought their amazing arrays of characters to vivid pulsating life.

Where do your ideas come from?

Everywhere  -  the world around me, newspapers, family stories, past events – I enjoy mining the past – my own and my forebears. Fairy tales, legends, the Bible  - I love giving a new twist to people and events we think we know. Shifting perspectives is perhaps my central aim. We think we know someone or something, but do we? I start from a central question: What if …?

Can creative writing be learned or is it more instinctive?

My writing comes from a deeper inner wish to create; I suppose you’d call this instinctive. But the crafting of the written word – that can be honed and developed in courses or by working with mentors. I’ve been lucky to have had some good ones through creative writing workshops and courses. There’s nothing like an honest group of ruthless peers to lick you into shape! That and a good editor; I’ve learned more from them than I could say.

On your website you describe writing as a 'secret indulgence'. What do you mean by that?

For so many years in a busy professional life as a teacher/lecturer/ international program director/ mother/headmaster’s wife writing was pushed to the background – hence that description. No writing time except odd moments scavenged from other things I should have been doing. Definitely  guiltily  - so a ‘secret indulgence’.

What advice do you give young writers?

Don’t put it off. If you want to write badly enough, you’ll push everything else aside and just do it. I wish I had – much earlier in my life. It’s a ‘carpe diem’ world, and you need to seize it early. And watch people - that’s how you’ll learn and gain a rich mine of material. Above all, listen to Aristotle: Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.

Tell us about your latest book

That’s really what my new book, Finding Emma, is all about: knowing yourself. She is a woman who in old age tries to find what has made her the not entirely likeable character she has become. The book is an exploration that takes her back through the journals she has kept for more than 60 years. The reader accompanies her on this psychological journey against a background of decades of Australian history, encompassing world wars and massive agricultural and social change. Her immediate canvas is small, a Riverina country village, a German enclave, but the backdrop shows us a period of tumultuous change and development.

 It's about learning to know and accept yourself, but also about learning to let go of the past. Emma doesn’t. She still takes flowers each week to the grave of the man who died fifty years earlier, just before their wedding day. What impact does this have? Don’t we all cling on to the past?

What will your next book be about?

I’m writing the third in a series that began with Bystanders and Witnesses based on minor or unknown Biblical characters. This new book, Onlookers, also identifies more of these peripheral people and lets them reveal their own lives. It not only brings them to life and changes our perspective on old and well-known stories, but does it in a way that challenges us all to see that today’s world is basically the same as that of thousands of years ago. People are the same; the issues they faced then are issues we face today. As a very wise man once said, There is nothing new under the sun.

Finding Emma by Valerie Volk  Wakefield Press, 2024    RRP $32.95   from the publisher, selected bookshops, or the writer

Book launch: Wednesday March 20 at Thebarton Community Centre. Booking through Eventbrite