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


 Finding Emma       By Valerie Volk       Wakefield Press, 2024

 Reviewer:   Julie Wright




 The most puzzling part of this novel was working out why I was so captivated by the protagonist who was unlikable from the first page and whose candid recognition of her flaws didn’t win me over in the slightest. Perhaps, in this post-truth world, someone who is willing to be honest and unwilling to perceive themselves as a victim is just so refreshing, we are drawn to her as a drowning person is drawn to the life-giving air at the sea’s surface.

 However, Emma Werner has little to recommend her. She doesn’t like children, not even her own grandchildren. She accused a teacher of kissing her to cover her own embarrassingly awkward professions of love. Though there is some insinuation that the teacher was not entirely innocent in his interactions with her, he is dismissed on the strength of her self-serving lie. After losing her fiancé to typhoid, she is determined to honour his memory and never love again. At first, she is cool to any possible suitor and gives no encouragement to Kurt, despite his devotion to her and sensitivity towards her feelings for her lost love. Nevertheless, her ego is pleased by his attentions. In fact, she revels in his adoration, even though she knows her sister loves Kurt and she is merely toying with his deep affection.

 After accepting his proposal of marriage, she spends her life making caustic comments to her husband and continues to pay weekly visits to the grave of her former fiancé, indifferent to the pain and humiliation she is causing Kurt. Not only does she fail to return her husband’s adoration and love, she is also unfaithful to him, when the brother of her former fiancé comes to visit and her practical and unaffectionate character is deluded into believing she can conjure the passion of her lost love. Moreover, to add insult to injury, Emma spends her time reading old journals of her past life and love, conveying a strong message to her husband that she would rather live in the past with a ghost than enjoy their life together.

 Though Emma realizes her foolishness and discovers a new appreciation for her husband, it is too late to mitigate the opinion I formed of her from the outset which only set like an irradicable beetroot stain on a cream bodice; it wouldn’t fade, and couldn’t be ignored or washed clean.  It is true that she grew to admire his knowledge and the respect he was given by the community. Unlike Emma, they valued his curiosity and creative energy that was instrumental in changing all their lives through his technological innovation and expertise. But even her admiration was motivated by self-interest, since it conferred on her a status she enjoyed, helping her to bear the jealousy and judgement of the other women.

It was a remarkable feat for Volk to create a desire to keep reading about her thoroughly self-absorbed and hard-hearted protagonist. Every other character is only presented through her eyes and their only role is to reveal the inner life of the protagonist. Emma dominates the reader’s thoughts as she dominates the other characters in her community, despite keeping her distance from everyone. Whether it is her childhood, her first love, her dutiful motherhood, her dry and distant relationship with her husband, her naïve delusions of love for her dead fiancé’s brother, or her satisfaction in finding a useful role in the running of her husband’s business, Emma’s thoughts and feelings dominate every situation and overflow like a dark, ugly stain onto all those around her. Her voice is constantly in our ear and, despite its snarky and icy tone, we keep wanting to find out how things will end. Are we waiting for her to learn her lesson? Are we hoping that she will get her comeuppance in the end?

The clever way of moving between her journals and her present life enabled us to reflect on her character, as Emma did with the benefit of hindsight and the insight of experience. It would have been easy to have created a female victim of repression in a patriarchal society, but it was refreshing to see Volk present a woman who, whilst expected to follow the conventions of her day, refused to play the victim − a role that is greatly relished in our contemporary world despite that fact that women in Australia are free to be whoever they wish to be from prime minister to preacher to publican to plumber. Perhaps the title implies the idea of being overshadowed by everyone around her and having to discover her true self, but I felt this was a strong woman who spent a lifetime justifying her character, rather than finding herself. In many ways, this is what we all do.

 I found the book so valuable in reminding us how egocentric we are. It reminds us of the impact we have on others, especially our spouse and our children, but even our local communities and our nation. It is a timely reminder of the way technology impacts society and of the terrible social and psychological costs of war. It reminds us of the challenges of migration and of building a nation, especially a multicultural one like ours. These are all valuable things to reflect on and Volk manages to challenge us with them all, in the process of finding Emma. Though I thoroughly disliked her protagonist, I couldn’t put the book down. That is a testament to Volk’s tremendous ability to engage us in the lives of her characters, taking us into a totally believable world that has much to teach us about out own times . . . if we take the trouble to reflect on the differences between the first half of the twentieth century and the first half of the twenty-first. If you choose to take this journey into the past with Emma, you will be rewarded with a great deal to reflect upon.




FINDING EMMA by Valerie Volk

Reviewer:  Jennifer Hand   Chatline 2:30  May, 2024 p.15


For an avid reader like me, it’s a real treat to turn the last page and close the covers of a book and be able to say “I really enjoyed that book”. That was my feeling after reading “Finding Emma”. Then I ask myself ‘Why did I like it?’ Was it because, while not a sequel as such, it had characters remembered from Valerie’s previous novel, “In Search of Anna”? I like to know how characters from a book that I have enjoyed, like that one, moved on in life, what happened next, and there is an element of that in Emma’s story.

Perhaps it was the way the story is set in actual historical times, where the lives of people are affected through what actually did happen to Australian communities who lived through depression, failures in agriculture, unemployment and World Wars. Valerie documents, through Emma’s experiences, how our German ancestors were affected by hostility in the time of World War 1, because of their ancestry, a fact probably not well known in our present community.    Or perhaps it is the actual setting in a German immigrant community which is familiar to me because that is my heritage also. Valerie’s meticulous research of the period brings to life the times of these people who are not dissimilar to the ones with which I am familiar from my family history. I ask myself ‘when was it decided that “Tin-kettling” (read the book if that term is strange to you).  was no longer considered to be a good idea?’

            My interest in ‘Emma’ was first piqued when I read the question posed by the young child, “Why was Grandma not smiling in her wedding photo?” I knew that I would have an affinity with this story because in all of the family history books that I have on my shelf there are lots of wedding photos in which the brides are dressed in black, and are standing alongside their seated husbands, and none of them are smiling! Perhaps smiling for these new “photos” was not usual practice, or perhaps some of these brides, like Emma, had secrets to keep.

My enjoyment of this book may be simply because it was about a woman looking back at her life, through the journals that she had kept from her youth, how even though she had seemingly had a good life, as she read through her journals she still had doubts about how she had lived that life. This is a reading of the life journey of a strong-willed woman, one who has few friends but who has a big impact, not always a good one, on the lives of her husband, her children and her sister. Perhaps there is an element of my dissatisfaction with myself for not keeping up the writing of the journals of my own life experiences. Had I not given up that practice many years ago, perhaps I also might be looking back at my life in a similar fashion.

The last pages were most satisfying to read. Emma comes to terms with herself, as she was, as she wished that she had been. I particularly liked the fact that she left her journals to her grand-daughter, for her to read when she was older, so that her experiences might be of help to her on her life journey.  The last words she writes, about when her husband will come to her to see if she has finished writing her journal, are “I know I can smile at him as I should have smiled on that wedding day.” A most satisfactory ending to what my reading friend Katharine and I would call “a good read”


TOGETHER June, 2024    p.8        About the writer ….  Valerie Volk

 Ever wondered, as you pick up a new book, what made the author write this? It’s a question I’m often asked, and now, with twelve books published, I’m still not certain how to answer.

 I guess a childhood love of reading inspired me. However, with intervening years of a full rich professional and personal life, there was little time to indulge this secret passion for writing. But I kept thinking about the series I wrote decades earlier for the old Luther League Monitor, with the feeling that one day I’d like to develop those stories.

 At Tabor Adelaide College, in that Christian context I was able to pursue a Master’s degree in Creative Writing, and eventually to write the first of the Bystanders series, books about the ‘other’ lives of minor or peripheral characters on the sidelines of major Biblical events. It’s been a delight to me that this book and its later companion, Witnesses, have appealed to many church groups, who have used the Study Guides as the basis for Bible study discussion groups.

 Another major source of my material has been the mining of family background; again some small incidents in family history have become the basis, considerably changed, of two big historical fiction novels, In Search of Anna, published in 2019, and the recently released Finding Emma. Both of these had as their inspiration old family tales, and both are set mainly in a small German Lutheran community in southern New South Wales.

 In my latest book, Finding Emma, a difficult ageing woman contemplates her own life and what has influenced it by re-reading the journals she has kept since childhood. While this is not always comfortable for her she learns lessons that we all could profit from.


LUTHERAN WOMEN     Another new book     p.23  Reviewer: Grace Bock

 It is always a joy to hear about a new book from renowned author and fellow Lutheran, Valerie Volk.  This prolific writer continues to inspire and entertain with her sympathetic, yet shrewd observations of human nature.

 Valerie’s latest book, Finding Emma, does not disappoint.

 One cannot help but be drawn into the story of Emma Werner. Her hardened attitude to life and loved ones hides a deep hurt and conceals how she really feels. Years of “being strong” and bending to tradition and parochial attitudes in her restricted environment have left their mark. Others, even family members, see Emma as domineering and difficult.

 Valerie has chosen a rural setting in southern New South Wales, the area chosen by the German immigrants beginning in the early years of the colony, as the background for this compelling story. It is easy to identify with the stoic, hard-working German Lutherans with their strong beliefs and morals.

 What lies beyond Emma’s frequent visits to place flowers on the grave of someone long departed? And what does her mask of cold indifference hide? What really happened to the bright, young Magdalena Johanna Emma Scholz for her to become an elderly rigid Emma Werner?

 An interesting twist and Emma’s journals finally bring about change in the climax to this absorbing tale.

 Among her many works, Valerie has written two excellent books, Bystanders and Witnesses, short stories based on minor characters of Bible events. She is currently working on a third. Finding Emma and Valerie’s other titles would make an excellent choice for church and local book clubs.

 Copies of Valerie’s books are available from selected bookstores or from her website:



TALKING POINTS      West Torrens Council   June, p.5


'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?'

'Finding Emma' is the latest book by Novar Gardens author Valerie Volk.

A writer all her life, Valerie launched her 12th book at the Thebarton Community Centre in March with Mayor Michael Coxon and Mr Matthew Williams, Honorary Consul of Germany, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Valerie is no stranger to the City of West Torrens Library Service, having launched various books at the Hamra Centre Library and, more recently, the Thebarton Community Centre.

"I started writing in childhood, writing embarrassingly bad fairy tales which I'd foist onto anyone who would read them," she says.

"That habit of seeking readers has been one I've never been able to break and it possibly explains why I'm still writing and publishing."

For decades Valerie had a busy professional life as a teacher and lecturer, as well as being wife to a former principal of Immanuel College and mother of 4. Following the death of her husband in 2008 Valerie published her first book 'In Due Season - poems of love and loss' and the book has remained a constant seller ever since.

Valerie has gone on to write and publish 11 more books which are a mixture of historical fiction, poetry, travel, verse novels, biblical fiction and short prose. She has won a number of awards for both poetry and prose.

"For many years writing was a secret indulgence for when I had a few spare moments," Valerie says. "I was so busy that it just got pushed to the background. But my advice to anyone wanting to write is don't put it off   -  push everything else aside to do it. I wish I had started writing much earlier in life but I'm incredibly fortunate to have been able to write and publish so many books in spite of such a late start."

‘Finding Emma’ is about a young woman growing up in a German township in rural New South Wales. The story encompasses two centuries and three wars and gives an honest, raw and riveting account of the mark she leaves on the lives of others. Emma turns to her sixty years of journals to try to discover what has made her the difficult old woman she has become. Re-reading them becomes a psychological journey as well as a tale of lost love.

"I've really valued the Council and also my publisher, Wakefield Press, for the support that's been given to me," Valerie adds.

"And I'd like to publicly thank Mayor Coxon and Mr Williams for being at the launch of my latest novel."

More about Valerie and her various books can be found at

Valerie's books are available for loan through the West Torrens Library Service and can be bought at Dymocks Bookshops or through her website.  




THE BORDER MAIL    April 18.2024   p. 3   Jodie O'Sullivan


'Where I felt happiest: Author returns to beloved Jindera


As a child, Valerie Volk used to say she lived in Jindera and went to school in Melbourne.

     "That was such an untruth because we did, in fact, live in Melbourne," the author confesses. "But Jindera was so dear to my heart and so much a part of my childhood, it was where I felt happiest."

         Indeed both Volk's parents came from Jindera and did so many of their forebears.  She recalls, with great fondness, all the school holidays spent "dividing our time fairly" between both sets of grandparents - and the two Lutheran churches in Jindera.

The acclaimed author will return to Jindera on Thursday for the launch of her second novel set in the township.

         Finding Emma is the story of a now old woman, Emma Werner, who is domineering, cold and difficult to love.

         But she has not always been so. What happened to Magdalena Johanna Emma, 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.

         Volk describes the novel as a work of "faction" - a genre that that contains elements of fact but is fictional. "It is based on true stories from old family tales – with a lot of embroidery," explains Volk who has always been a passionate and meticulous researcher. "It is a fictional story based on skeletons of fact."

         Fittingly, Volk will launch 'Finding Emma' at the Jindera Pioneer Museum at 7pm on April 18, a place dedicated to preserving the rich heritage of the district and which stands as a monument to the early German settlers. A second talk will take place at the Albury Library Museum on Saturday from 11am to 12:30 pm.

         The now Adelaide-based Volk describes her arrival to the region this week as a return to "wonderfully familiar territory". "As I'm coming over the Jindera Gap, I recall my father teaching me to drive as a teenager and that I had my first accident on the Gap," she recalls. "I skidded off the road and my dad, a wonderfully patient man, said to me,'Well you won't do that again'.”

         But it's the many happy holidays spent with her grandparents that will forever cement Jindera's place in Volk's heart. She recalls her paternal grandfather, the blacksmith Welzel, and evenings spent playing cards with her maternal grandfather (at Quartz Hill). "I have vivid memories of him saying to me, 'Don't shuffle the spots off the cards girl!'"

         The author says while Lutherans are not typically demonstrative, their feelings go deep. "There's not a lot of florid emotion but they are very loving," she says.

         Volk, who has published 13 books, hundreds of prize-winning poems and short stories, reflects that perhaps her love for Jindera truly runs in the blood. In fact it was a sepia-toned print on the walls of her stairwell, "in the company of assorted parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts", that would prove the inspiration for her first novel set in the small Riverina town.

'In Search of Anna' was "loosely" based on the story of Anna Werner (one of Volk's forebears) and her perilous journey in 1889 from a small village in Germany to the colonies in search of her missing son.

     'Finding Emma' is a "companion piece" to that first novel, Volk explains.

         What this author and intrepid world traveller admires most about her ancestors - and the characters she has created in her books - is their strength of will. "They kept resolutely going on with their lives no matter what happened to them," she says.