The Secrets We Keep
I met Shirley Patton in 2009 when she attended workshops I ran in Hobart and Launceston for the Tasmanian Writers Centre. I clearly remember her from those two weekend sessions—her abundant energy, her determination to learn. After that, we kept in touch, mostly via social media, and our paths crossed occasionally at writers festivals. I couldn’t have been more delighted when I heard the news that her debut novel was coming out this year.
Shirley lives in Tasmania but has strong connections to Western Australia, and these have found their way into her writing—as have aspects of her professional experience. Authenticity and sense of place have been highlighted as two of the novel’s strengths in this review by Theresa Smith Writes.
Here’s some more about Shirley’s background:
Dr Shirley Patton grew up in outback Western Australia and now lives with her partner and a miniature schnauzer in wine-growing country overlooking the beautiful Tamar River in Northern Tasmania.
A decade ago, she left an academic career as a published researcher of family violence and as a lecturer at the University of Tasmania to write fiction full time. Since then, she has obtained a Masters of Creative Writing and has published several short stories in a variety of literary publications. Prior to practising social work, Shirley worked in the media as a television newsreader and chat show host.
Like one of the characters in The Secrets We Keep, Shirley’s Irish great-grandmother, Jane, used to read tea leaves.
And here’s the novel’s blurb:
A mother’s secret, a father’s betrayal, a town on the edge…
When social worker Aimee arrives in the mining town of Kalgoorlie, she is ready for a fresh start. Her colleagues Lori and Paddy seem friendly, and she is also drawn to one of her cases: the Steele family, whose future looks particularly bleak. But Aimee has a dark secret and as the past reaches out towards her once more, she realises that somehow her secret is connected to this unfamiliar but harshly beautiful town and its inhabitants.
As she strengthens her ties with the local community—especially with the vibrant Lori, stoical Kerry and wise Agnes—she finds herself questioning earlier decisions. Can Aimee reveal her secret, even if it is not hers alone to share?
A compelling novel of the transcendental love of children and the truth’s unwillingness to stay hidden.
Over to Shirley to tell us more…
2 things that inspired my book
1 Growing up in Kalgoorlie and the older women I met
Growing up in Kalgoorlie as a migrant child, I absorbed this new place and culture like a sponge; it feels imprinted on my skin. I knew every street, every building, the landscape. When I decided I wanted to write a novel, I knew I wanted to bear witness to a time and place. Perhaps it was nostalgia; it had been almost two decades since I’d left to live in Tasmania. Maybe it was the reflective period I was in; I had just buried my father in the dusty old Kalgoorlie cemetery alongside my much earlier departed mother. Part of that inner journeying reminded me of the Kalgoorlie women I had met who had influenced my thinking on the numinous—everyday women with vibrant spiritual lives who encouraged the seeker in me. Agnes, the tea-leaf reader, leapt straight onto the page from the first sentence I wrote of The Secrets We Keep, even though she didn’t remain the main character and it didn’t remain the first sentence!
2 Working in a Kalgoorlie welfare office and the social workers I met
Beginning work as a clerk in a welfare office, shortly after my mother died, I met my first social workers and my first feminists. They changed my life with their commitment, their passion, their intellectual discourse and their feistiness. Much later, I became a social worker in Tasmania. Hearing women’s stories of survival in my research and aware, as a practitioner and a teacher, of the ethical dilemmas people experience, I wanted to explore the notion of choice and how people make meaning of their decisions and live with them, at a political and a personal level. For, as Agnes says in The Secrets We Keep: ‘What is history but personal choices writ large.’
2 places connected with my book
1 Kalgoorlie, Western Australia
The harsh beauty, the dryness, the 360 degree horizons, the excitement when it rains, the mesa-like slime dumps, the pipeline, the grand old buildings—the town and its surrounds are, I think, a character in the novel too. A goldmining town, Kalgoorlie celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. This photo taken of the Goldfields region is so evocative of the outskirts of town. Kalgoorlie is red dust, dryness and blue, blue skies, yet in the rainbow and sparks of lightning there is hope. And hope plays a part in the lives of my characters in The Secrets We Keep. Indeed, hope is an important theme in my own life.
2 Rosevears, Tasmania
I’ve gained a sense of peace from my environment, overlooking the Tamar River, and it supports my writing. I love this photo that I took of a rainbow at ‘the bottom of the garden’. In the winter the mountains in the distance are tipped with snow and the colours of the river change every day. I’d meditate every morning before I wrote, and when I’d mull over a scene I’d often walk along the river with my dog and talk aloud to myself to clarify my thinking. It is an environment conducive to reflection and to my musings on the notions, entertained in The Secrets We Keep, of choice and destiny.
2 favourite quotes
The life of every (wo)man is a diary in which (s)he meant to write one story but wrote another.—adapted from J.M. Barrie.
This quote, from the author of Peter Pan, is at the start of my novel. At one point in the novel, the main character, Aimee, finds herself in unexpected circumstances and laments that ‘these were chapters she could never have imagined herself writing, chapters from other women’s lives, other women’s scripts, surely not hers.’ I find Barrie’s quote both poignant and inspiring because it reminds me of how much life can be affected by external factors beyond our control, whilst I remain in awe of our capacity to endure and survive.
Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, new friend, a new love, a new country.—Anais Nin
This quote, and the accompanying painting, lifts my spirits. I love the writings of Anais Nin; she invokes in me a sense of daring. In leaving an academic career a decade ago to write fiction full time, I certainly threw ‘my dreams into space’. As I say on my author webpage: It’s never too late to follow your creative dreams.
The Secrets We Keep is being launched in Launceston (12 April), Perth (18 April), Kalgoorlie (20 April) and Busselton (26 April). Details here.