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2, 2 and 2: Donna Ward talks about She I Dare Not Name

Donna Ward
She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations on Life
(Allen & Unwin)
Memoir

The Perth writing and publishing community has always been supportive, vibrant and innovative—you have to be when you’re a long way from anywhere else—and even if you leave, you’re still considered part of it. It’s why we (or at least I) still claim Robyn Mundy and Gail Jones (among many others) as WA writers. And it’s why Donna Ward is thought of with so much respect and affection, even though she’s lived in Melbourne for many years now.

DONNA WARD - SEPTEMBER 2019-3 credit Manda Ford

As founder and publisher of Indigo: journal of Western Australian creative writing (2007–2010), Donna was a poster girl for ‘supportive, vibrant and innovative’, providing a new publication outlet for Western Australian writers of fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction. Many are grateful to Indigo for their first publication credit, made even more special by the fact that Indigo’s policy was to read all submissions ‘blind’. And Donna’s formidable marketing skills ensured that the journal had a strong profile nationally as well as locally. One of my earliest published stories appeared in volume 1, and I was thrilled to be part of it.

After moving to Melbourne, Donna founded publishing company Inkerman & Blunt, which has published Angela Meyers, Nick Earls, Lynnette Lounsbury and several anthologies. As noted on the website, Inkerman & Blunt has taken ‘creative leave’, for now, to allow Donna time and energy for her own writing.

Her publication credits include pieces in national, international and online journals and anthologies, and She I Dare Not Name is her first book.

Here is the back-cover blurb…

She I Dare Not Name is a compelling collection of fiercely intelligent, deeply intimate, lyrical reflections on the life of a woman who stands on the threshold between two millennia. Both manifesto and confession, this moving memoir explores the meaning and purpose Donna Ward discovered in a life lived entirely without a partner and children.

The book describes what it is like to live on the edge of a world built in the shape of couples and families. Rippling through these pages is the way a spinster—or a bachelor, or any of us for that matter—contends with the prejudice and stigma of being different.

With courage and astounding honesty Donna uncovers the challenge of living with more solitude than anticipated and what it is like to walk the road through midlife and beyond alone. And she reveals how she found home and discovered herself within it.

Funny, sharp, wise and wry, She I Dare Not Name shows how reading saved this spinster’s life, and how friends and writing and walking brought a contentment and sense of achievement she never thought possible.

Over now to Donna…

9781760876296

2 moments that inspired the book

Many sparks inspired this book; these are two of them.

In the middle the nineties I was in the middle of my forties and consumed with the feeling that all my friends and family were wrapped in a magnetic flow which carried them away from me. They floated in the energy of love and coupling and family-making while I stood in a stark room at the end of a dark hallway.

One day, when caught in this feeling, I was walking down a winter street in Fitzroy, Melbourne, where I was living at the time. The air was sharp, the light slant. I didn’t see the collie dog on the footpath by the table of sale books. I tripped. The collie dog yelped. My knee stung in a serious way, and a pop-sociology book about a group of single women fell into my lap.

It felt like a curse. I threw the book back on the table, limped home and read another of my many books on forming a relationship. Psychological books that suggested successful relationships are a balance between intimacy and solitude, between honesty and compromise. Books that implied the sine qua non of the fully integrated person is a committed relationship and parenthood, and the lack of such events are the hallmark of a damaged, deviant or perhaps defiant individual—perhaps a feminist. And though I was, and am, profoundly influenced by feminism, I still wanted to meet someone and settle down.

Sitting there in the stark room at the end of the hall, I read in anticipation of my release into the universal energy of love and coupling and children. But, when I could deny the starkness no longer, I returned to the collie dog and sale book table and bought that book.

It was a disappointment. The women were single, but not single like me. They were not-yet-married singles, single parents, divorcees and widows. There were no spinsters in that book. The women were American singles which, I discovered, is different to being an Australian single. And shimmering through the book was the insinuation that all single women are misguidedly in thrall to the notion that marriage and family is their only calling—as if they should be so lucky they aren’t married, as if their desire for a partner is evidence that feminism has passed them by. Feminism did not pass me by. In fact, it gave me the power to decide to partner well, and my commitment to partner well left me in a stark room at the end of a dark hall.

And so that book, as disappointing as it might have been, inspired me to write a similar pop-sociology book from the perspective of an Australian spinster who, like many of her coupled and familied sisters, would have preferred her life to be otherwise.

In the mid-two thousands, when I was in the middle of my fifties, I attended a production of Joan Didion’s memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking. The performance, given by Helen Morse, was in the Albany Town Hall. That night, more than ten years after tripping over the collie dog, and only a few years after re-settling in Perth where I grew up, I was wonderstruck by the way Didion used her tragedy to confront uncomfortable truths. In the middle of the monologue, possibly in a flash of light, the thought arrived that I could write my book not as a mind-numbing pop-sociology tome, but as a memoir.

2 places connected with the book

All the places in my book—Peru, where I was born, Perth, where I grew up, Melbourne, where I live now—their orogeny and their faultlines—are my song. And so my book is geological.

I am a geologist’s daughter and my father introduced me to deep time. Being present to the geology of a place is to be present to eternity; it is to know the unhurried pace of evolution, the tardy drift of transformation. Being present to geology is to feel the shell that a grain of sand once was, to smell the fluid rock that is now red dust, it is to remember that eons before me this oh so solid land beneath my feet was different. Thinking geologically is to remember that we are here for the briefest moment.

And my book is river. Growing up by the Swan River taught me what the Vedic people knew, what Herman Hesse writes about in Siddhartha. It taught me that when we sit by the river, when we listen to the river, we become the river’s creature. Even though I live in inner-city Melbourne, the Swan River is within me, and I am in the river, and the river of my childhood is the river of my life, and the river of my life is the river that wraps me in its flow.

2 quotes pivotal to the book

My stake is always, of course, the
unmentioned girl in the plaid silk dress.

Remember what it was to be me:
that is always the point.

—Joan Didion, On Keeping a Notebook, Slouching
Towards
Bethlehem (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968)

I began my first degree at the University of Western Australia in the summer of ’73. That year, when I read Yeats’ poem ‘The Second Coming’, it felt to me like the slouching beast had been headed off at the pass. It felt like the poem had resumed its metaphorical reading and was now a memory bank of wisdom for some dark and distant future. There had been a revolution and the centre held, after all. The air was clean, the vision clear, the sky as blue as it could be the day I read Didion’s lines, over which I had stumbled when researching for an essay on Yeats’ poem.

Didion’s lines were not relevant to the poem as much as the poem was relevant to Didion’s ambition to remember her life in order to make sense of existence itself. Didion’s words found their home in me before I fully understood them. But settle they did, and over the years they have risen to the surface on occasion to remind me of their mystery.

Remember what it is to be me. Remember what it is to be the unmentioned girl in the plaid silk dress.

My dress was not plaid, but it was often silk, since silk was increasingly accessible in the seventies and eighties, especially to a young woman in boomtown Perth. In those days I was an ordinary young woman with an ordinary ambition, albeit an ambition to be a working woman with a family. As each promise of achieving that ambition disintegrated into dust, Didion’s sentences rose to my surface and reminded me to remember what that was like, even though I didn’t exactly know why I should.

The Personal is Political
—Carol Hanisch, in Notes from the Second Year:
Women’s Liberation,
eds Shulamith Firestone
& Anne Koedt (1970)

These words ricocheted around and through me like a bullet. They are only the title of Carol Hanisch’s paper which was included in Shulamith Firestone and Anne Koedt’s 1970 anthology. Hanisch has no problem with the title, but it was not she who gave her paper its name. Firestone and Koedt came up with the title because it reflects the sentiment of the paper. And that is: what is private concerns the whole of society, what is personal informs how we develop policies that affect people’s daily lives—in this instance, women’s lives.

I read Hanisch’s paper in the early eighties, when studying for my Bachelor of Social Work in the Reid Library at UWA. The title and the paper recalled Didion’s lines, which were written only two years before Firestone and Koedt named Hanisch’s paper. It was a decade before I came across them. But that is how it is, isn’t it? We write our thoughts so they will travel through eternity, so they would say to another unmentioned girl in a silk plaid skirt, or whatever might be the fashion of the time: this is what it was like to be me.

Remembering what it is like to be me is to connect to what it is like to be others. To remember a life, to reflect on the ordinary events of it, to note them down and perhaps spin them into some kind of meaning, some kind of wisdom, then share it. This. This is a political act. A political act I aim to do whenever I write.

She I Dare Not Name is available now
Find out more at Allen & Unwin
See Donna’s website for upcoming events
An excerpt has been published in the Sydney Morning Herald

Photo credit: author photo Manda Ford

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2, 2 and 2: Donna Mazza talks about Fauna

Donna Mazza
Fauna
(Allen & Unwin)
Literary fiction (novel)

author photo with chook 3

I’m so excited to be introducing this novel, this writer, for the first 2, 2 and 2 post of 2020. I have loved Donna Mazza’s work for years—her early short stories, her Hungerford Award–winning novel The Albanian, and, more recently, award-winning short fiction that has evolved into new and edgier areas. Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to her second novel, Fauna, for a long time.

Donna’s author blurb neatly condenses her impressive career:

Donna Mazza is an award-winning author of poetry, short fiction and novels. Her debut novel, The Albanian (2007), won the TAG Hungerford Award and she was the Mick Dark Flagship Fellow for Environmental Writing at Varuna, the National Writers House, for her short fiction. Donna teaches literature and writing at Edith Cowan University and lives in a small country town in the South West with her family, including many chickens.

To that I would add that she is a much loved and respected member of the Western Australian writing community, particularly in the South West. I learned a great deal from her when I had the amazing good fortune to be part of an early writing group with Donna and three other brilliant women writers, and I can only imagine how many students, emerging writers and peers have benefited from her sure and generous guidance.

And so to Fauna. Here is the blurb…

How far would you go to save your daughter?

Set seventeen years into a very recognisable future, Fauna is an astonishing psychological drama with an incredible twist: What if the child you are carrying is not entirely human?

Using DNA technology, scientists have started to reverse the extinction of creatures like the mammoth and the Tasmanian Tiger. The benefits of this radical approach could be far-reaching. But how far will they go?

Longing for another child, Stacey is recruited by LifeBLOOD®, a company that offers massive incentives for her to join an experimental genetics program. As part of the agreement, Stacey and her husband’s embryo will be blended with edited cells. Just how edited, Stacey doesn’t really know. Nor does she have any idea how much her longed-for new daughter will change her life and that of her family. Or how hard she will have to fight to protect her.

Fauna is a transformative, lyrical and moving novel about love and motherhood, home and family—and what it means to be human.

Over to Donna…

Fauna_FCR

2 things that inspired Fauna

The first time I saw Ljuba, the baby mammoth, was in the May 2009 edition of National Geographic. She was the best preserved Ice Age baby found in Siberia and I had the privilege of seeing her in the Australian Museum in Sydney in 2018. Ljuba planted a seed for me, but Fauna is not about the mammoth. In April 2013 National Geographic ran another article, ‘Bringing them back to life’, which considers the ethics of using genetic technology to revive extinct species. Thylacines, passenger pigeons, bucardo and mammoths were all up for consideration, but I took this in a different direction and applied it to humans. Fauna isn’t just about the ‘what if’ question but digs deeply into what this would really be like for a human mother.

There is a narrative in the novel connected to a story my grandfather told. When he was a young man in Southern Italy, he said they were digging the foundation for a house and unearthed a grave. In there, they found a bronze bowl and some human bones. In his story, the bones are very long and they wondered if they were from a real giant. I love the mystery of this, it’s so evocative. In my story I have taken inspiration from it and dreamed up something different for the Italian relics. In Fauna, the bones which Stacey inherits from her stepfather are inspired by this story my grandfather told but they connect to her own story.

2 places connected with the book

I have always really loved the landscape where I grew up around the Leschenault Estuary and for me it is a place where I feel my own roots are planted. The family in Fauna move to the South West and live on a fictional property near the water there. I spent lots of time walking and observing in this landscape, to give the work a really authentic feel of that place and to try and celebrate that beautiful landscape and its wildlife. I watched the birds and walked in the water and on the beach, taking notes. I tried to imagine what the place would look like in the near future, looking at clues in the trees and at the edges of the water.

IMG_1927

Several years ago my family went down to Hamelin Bay for a short holiday and stayed in a chalet at the caravan park there. We were woken by the awful, meaty sound of two drunken men punching each other. It was a windy night and the long branches of the peppermint trees were blowing around. A frayed length of old rope swung about too, giving the whole place a very haunting feel. During the day, this place is quite lovely and doesn’t feel at all gothic, but that night made quite an impression. Naturally, it’s the perfect stop for a rare family holiday in Fauna; they even make a pit-stop at Simmo’s Ice Creamery and visit the emus there, as I have with my own family.

2 favourite secondary characters in Fauna

Stacey is the narrator of Fauna and as I worked on the novel, and her back story developed, she was in need of a mother. I had a lot of fun creating her mother, Sandra, and I feel like we might be friends if she were real. She is a colourful and alternative woman who is very honest and has lived a bit of a crazy life. I don’t really know where she came from but I feel like I know her and sometimes she made me laugh out loud as I was writing her.

One of my favourite characters in Fauna is Tayto, the little dog Stacey gets for the family. My own dog, Louis, slept beside me every day when I was writing the novel and he is Tayto. The part of the novel where Stacey gets the puppy was great fun to write and nothing like the very clean pet shop where we got Louis. The house where Tayto comes from is one of my favourite parts of the novel.

Fauna is released tomorrow, 4 February 2020
Find out more at Allen & Unwin
Follow Donna on Instagram and Facebook

Donna Landscape 2

Photo credits: author photos by Sarah Mills; cormorant at Leschenault Estuary by Donna Mazza

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2, 2 and 2: Jenny Ackland talks about Little Gods

ACKLAND

Jenny Ackland
Little Gods
(Allen & Unwin)
LITERARY FICTION

In the early months of 2016, when I was spending every day in the reading room of the State Library of Western Australia, I would take a lunch break, sit in the library’s cafe with my pot of tea, and read. It might seem like a strange way to counter reading fatigue with, well, reading, but I found it enormously rejuvenating to step away from the archives and into another world. One of the books I read, and loved, during this time was Jenny Ackland’s first novel, The Secret Son, so I was excited to hear that she had a new one coming out.

Jenny, a Melbourne-based writer and teacher, describes The Secret Son (2015) as a ‘Ned Kelly–Gallipoli “mash-up” about truth and history’. It is also a deeply evocative novel of place (Turkey), with a fascinating cast of characters and a plot that weaves past and present together with the intricacy of a fine Turkish rug. She talks about it here, and you can read reviews by Sue at Whispering Gums and Lisa at ANZ LitLovers.

It was my great pleasure to meet Jenny again in Perth last year, when she was hard at work completing Little Gods at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre in Greenmount. And now the novel has made its way into the world and is already gathering stellar press reviews. You can read Nicole Melanson’s review on her WordMothers blog here.

The blurb for Little Gods reads…

The setting is the Mallee, wide, flat scrubland in north-western Victoria, country where men are bred quiet, women stoic and the gothic is never far away. Olive Lovelock has just turned twelve. She is smart, fanciful and brave, and on the cusp of something darker than the small world she has known her entire life. When she learns she had a baby sister who died, Olive becomes convinced it was murder. Her obsession with the mystery, and quest to find out what happened, have seismic repercussions for the rest of the family and their community.

Little Gods is about the mess of family, about secrets, vengeance and innocence lost. It explores resilience and girlhood, and question how families live with all of their complexities and contradictions.

Over, now, to Jenny…

LITTLE GODS COVER

2 things that inspired my book

1 A news article
Years ago, I clipped an article from an Australian newspaper about a Victorian woman who had grown up thinking she was responsible—when she was a child—for the death of her baby sister. As it turned out, her mother had killed the baby and blamed her daughter. This was revealed with a clichéd deathbed confession, but the whole thing struck me as super tragic and super horrible. It sent me down a rabbit hole of research into infanticide, how mothers are depicted in fiction, looking at representation of sad, bad and ‘mad’ mothers. Twisted fairy-tales, Medea. All very dark. I decided upon a similar core for my novel: the historical death of a baby and an unfolding story taking place several years later. First versions of the book were very grim. One early reader said I was ‘saturating the reader in death’, which made me realise I’d taken it too far into a place that wasn’t ultimately fitting for these characters and the type of story I wanted to create. I scaled it back, brought the story back into the light. I located the moments of childhood joy and freedom. I wanted my book to have humour in it as well. I think humour offsets darker stuff; it not only makes it more palatable but in a weird way somehow accentuates the seriousness. Like sugar in a savoury dish when cooking, or salted caramel.

2 Nostalgia
Nothing specific that was nostalgic inspired me, it was more that I wanted to try to enter that psychological space with this book. There is such warmth in nostalgia: it is comforting and for me has an orange tinge, maybe because of old sepia photographs. People are wary of it, though. According to many, it’s not cool to give oneself over to such dirty urges; it’s indulgent and should be in the bin with sentimentalism. I came across some scholarly articles online that focus on nostalgia as part of the migrant experience, suggesting that it can result from populations feeling uprooted and unsure; that the profound sense of loss and longing can be part of that new life experience. Similarly, the stepping across from childhood to adolescence and then into to adulthood can be dislocating and hard. You are in a new country—adolescence and then adulthood—new terrain that can be challenging. And we can’t go back, so we yearn for those times when things were simpler. I read recently too that nostalgia is stronger for people leaving childhood, not adults, which is fascinating.

2 places connected with my book

1 Geographical—the Mallee
I have a strong and inexplicable attraction to the Mallee. I love the wide flatness of Victoria’s Western District. I love the colours of the flora and how the roads sit straight and flat on the landscape. The dry yellowness. When I was rewriting this novel (long story short: the manuscript had been finished many, many times, but I ripped out two thirds and rewrote over a year or more), I came to wonder whether I could introduce some gothic elements; not the dark tropes of the US Southern or English gothic literature, but a ‘Mallee-illuminated’ version, with eucalypts and pines instead of Spanish Moss, and an abandoned silo instead of a castle. There’s a raven, and a ouija board, and villains and ghosts, but all of it is set against a bright sunlit palette.

wheat-fields-western-district-m-a-hobbs-bluethumb-art

Wheatfields, Western District. Photograph M.A. Hobbs

2 Metaphysical—liminality  
I found myself interested in the idea of liminal spaces, especially the crossover line between girlhood and adulthood. This led me to think more about lines; of the spaces and roles people can find themselves in. How we perform as humans, according to the rules. How children view adult-world and how easily adults seem to forget what it was to be young. How distant they make themselves just through age, and how inaccessible emotionally. Girls with strong personalities are squashed in multitudes of ways, so I wanted to depict a girl in that in-between place as she is just at the point of crossing over, just before the realities of the world hit her. A girl who is strong-minded and thinks she knows everything but in fact has little self-awareness.

FEARLESS 2

Fearless Girl, sculpture by Kristen Visbal. Photograph Google images

2 favourite passages

This is Olive Lovelock, leaving the local pool with her friend Peter, in the early pages of the novel:

They were walking to the bike rack. Olive balanced her towel in a sheik roll on top of her head and Peter flicked his fingers in a way that made them crack. He counted under his breath each time he did it: Whone, twhoo, thuree, foah, fahv.

He was always doing things with his body. Jumping on things, climbing things, skipping over or under or trying to walk in funny ways, kicking his legs up high or bent so far over that his palms touched the footpath in front of his feet. Olive thought it was stupid and they’d had an argument. He tried to say she used to like those things, that she had used to laugh, and she told him she never had. Never.

At the entrance, people were pushing out through the gates, families going to their station wagons in the car park, weary but happy as if a good day’s work had been done. For Olive, it was more than that. Being at the pool, she was real. Her body was real in the water, the way it enclosed her with its vivid blueness. Her fingers were real as they opened the plastic wrapper of a smooth-bottomed pie or pulled an icy pole out of its sticky paper sheath. She was real lying on the hot concrete with her stomach and leg tops almost burning, water outlining her body in small warming puddles. The pool was one of the places where she came into her body and she wished she could stay there forever. She always held back in the real as long as she was able, whether at the pool or in Peter’s backyard or astride her bike at the park. She tried to stay as long as she could in all of those other places but eventually she had to leave the real. She had to leave those places and go home.

Grace, the raven that Olive finds and raises:

Sunday morning and the sun rose on the bleached Mallee landscape and lit the distressed greens and greys. The magpies carolled before they left their trees to feed and the farmhouse began to stir. Grace was at the back door knocking on the glass. She had been under Rue’s sprinkler and as she sat on Olive’s lap, her feathers looked like they’d been sewn with dozens of tiny diamonds. Drops of water, sitting in perfectly round jewels.

When Olive held Grace’s tail feathers in her hand, there was a soft sharpness to the edge against her palm, the interleaving feathers cross-hatched as they narrowed from the body to the tail. With her face right down close, looking on an angle, she could see that the feathers were not solid black at all. There were secret colours hidden, all types of purples and greens, and like petrol in a puddle they were iridescent, oily and beautiful.

Little Gods is in bookshops now
and available from online stores such as Readings
Find out more at Allen & Unwin
Follow Jenny via her website

*Author photograph: Julian Dolman

 

 

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2, 2 and 2: Louise Allan talks about The Sisters’ Song

Author ShotsLouise Allan
The Sisters’ Song (Allen & Unwin)
FICTION

I’m delighted to introduce Louise Allan as my first 2, 2 and 2 guest for 2018. Louise’s debut novel, The Sisters’ Song, has only been out for a few weeks but it seems to be appearing everywhere—a wonderful, and well-deserved, start to its life.

Louise is well known in the Perth writing community for her engaging, warm-hearted approach to everything she does, and will be familiar to many readers through her popular blogs. But here’s a brief introduction:

Louise grew up in Tasmania, but now lives in Perth, Western Australia. Her first career was as a doctor, but in 2010 she ceased practising medicine and took up writing.

The manuscript of The Sisters’ Song was shortlisted for the 2014 City of Fremantle–T.A.G. Hungerford Award, and was awarded a Varuna Residential Fellowship. Louise has also had short stories, essays and articles published in literary anthologies and medical journals.

Apart from writing, Louise enjoys music, photography, walking and nature.

And here’s the blurb for The Sisters’ Song:

Set in rural Tasmania from the 1920s to the 1990s, The Sisters’ Song traces the lives of two very different sisters. One for whom giving and loving are her most natural qualities and the other who cannot forgive and forget.

As children, Ida loves looking after her younger sister, Nora, but when their beloved father dies in 1926, everything changes. The two girls move in with their grandmother, who is particularly encouraging of Nora’s musical talent. Nora eventually follows her dream of a brilliant musical career, while Ida takes a job as a nanny and their lives become quite separate.

The two sisters are reunited as Nora’s life takes an unwelcome direction and she finds herself, embittered and resentful, isolated in the Tasmanian bush with a husband and children.

Ida longs passionately for a family and when she marries Len, a reliable and good man, she hopes to soon become a mother. Over time, it becomes clear that this is never likely to happen. In Ida’s eyes, it seems that Nora possesses everything in life that could possibly matter yet she values none of it.

Over a span of seventy years, the strengths and flaws of motherhood are revealed through the mercurial relationship of these two very different sisters. The Sisters’ Song speaks of dreams, children and family, all entwined with a musical thread that binds them together.

Over to Louise…

Unknown

2 things that inspired my book      

1 My grandmother’s history

As a child, I heard about my paternal grandmother’s three stillbirths. After the third one, the doctor told my grandmother that if she ever wanted to birth a live baby, she would need a caesarean.

I’d accepted this story then without thinking too deeply about it. As I grew older, particularly once I became a mother, it struck me how heartbreaking it must have been for my grandmother to nurture a baby in her womb for nine months, only for it to die during delivery. Three times.

One day in 2012, I searched the Launceston cemetery records and found the record of the interment of one of these uncles:

Version 2

On 22 March 1937, the stillborn baby of Mrs L.D. Allan (she wasn’t even given her own initials but those of my grandfather) was buried in Section D558 of Carr Villa cemetery. Seeing it recorded was bittersweet—I’m glad there’s a record that he existed, but it was also strikingly sad.

On a visit to the cemetery in Launceston, I tried to find his grave, but it’s unmarked.

I incorporated my grandmother’s story into Ida’s story in my novel.

2 Old family photos

I also drew inspiration from photos taken by my paternal grandfather’s family. My grandfather was born in 1906, one of eighteen children from a working-class family. Despite the lack of money, and the relative expense of cameras, film and developing photos in those days, they managed to leave a substantial photographic record of their lives.

I wrote quite a few scenes using the photos as prompts. The opening paragraph comes from this photo. I changed a few details to suit my story, but the essence comes from this photo, including the mention of the cloche hat!

f Group photo - I think Grandpop Allan is centre front

The photo below is how I imagined Ida, Nora and the kids would look. It’s a photo of my paternal grandmother (L), with her sister-in-law and her children.

zzz Nan Allan and unknown people - possibly Michael McIntee on Left

2 places connected with my book

1 Ben Craeg

Ben Craeg is the name of the mountain I describe in my book. Tasmania has a few mountains called ‘Ben’: Ben Lomond, the highest peak of the Eastern Tiers, and Ben Nevis, where my grandfather once had a sawmill.

When writing the first ever draft of this story, I made up the name Ben Craeg. That version was mainly about Grace, so it’s an anagram of her name, and I thought it sounded very Scottish!

There are mountains wherever you look in Tasmania—it’s not flat and brown like many parts of Australia. Because mountains are referred to as ‘she’, and because they always seem to be quietly watching over the valleys below, to me they have a maternal quality, so I bestowed these qualities on Ben Craeg, in keeping with the themes in my book.

As an aside, I was tickled to see someone had googled ‘Ben Craeg Tasmania’ and ended up on my website. My apologies to that reader for confusing them!

2 Ida’s house

Ida lives in Launceston, Tasmania, and I put her house in the street in which I grew up, although I’ve given the street a different name. The suburb we lived in was built on reclaimed swamp, and whenever a heavy vehicle like a truck or bus drove down our street, the houses shuddered and the glassware in the cabinet clinked. Just as those who live near airports tune out the noise of planes, we were used to the shaking of the floor beneath us and the rattling of the crockery. It unsettled our visitors, though, and I remember explaining to friends that it wasn’t an earthquake, just a truck passing by.

Ida’s house is modelled on my grandparents’ home. It had a front verandah, and I added iron lace and geraniums in boxes. My grandmother cooked with a wood stove, and I remember the copper in their bathroom.

2 interesting parallels

1 ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I read this short story when my daughter studied it in late high school. I’d already written an early draft of my novel, and this story resonated, as it seemed to reflect the themes I was trying to bring out in my novel.

It’s about a young woman’s descent into madness after the birth of her child, and is based on Gilman’s personal experience of post-natal depression, when her husband, a physician, forbade her from working or writing, believing that devoting herself to domestic duties was the key to happiness. Although it was first published in 1892, unfortunately it still resonates today.

Here’s a link to ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.

2 Dame Nellie Melba

It could be argued that Dame Nellie Melba is still Australia’s most successful expatriate ever. She sang in the opera houses of Europe and America, and was feted the world over.

Melba is mentioned a couple of times in my novel: Ida’s grandmother had been to one of her concerts, and Ida listens to her records on a gramophone when she lives with the Godfrey-Smiths.

I wrote these sections and then researched Melba’s life. I discovered that Melba’s father was against her singing, expecting that she’d marry and have a family. She did marry and have a son, but later divorced, and, at one point, lost custody of her son for ten years.

I saw the parallels between Melba and Nora, the character in my novel: both wanted to dedicate their lives to music rather than family. Imagine if Melba had stayed in Australia and lived a life of domesticity; the world would never have heard her voice. Imagine, too, how many other Melbas have lived and whose voices have never been heard.

I loved this quote about Melba from one of the websites I researched: But hers was not a life dedicated to love; it was a life dedicated to opera.

For more information on Dame Nellie Melba’s life, see here.

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2, 2 and 2: Dianne Touchell talks about Forgetting Foster

Author PhotoDianne Touchell is one of my favourite writers of young adult fiction. Among the many things I admire in her work are its fearlessness, its compassion, its humour, and the respect she so obviously has for her young characters. It comes as no surprise to me to hear that she thinks young adults are far more interesting than grown-ups.

Dianne’s debut, Creepy & Maud (Fremantle Press, 2012), was shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year Award in the Older Readers category. Her second, A Small Madness (Allen & Unwin, 2015), was a Notable book in the CBCA Book of the Year Awards, and you can read her 2, 2 and 2 interview about A Small Madness here.

I am delighted to be featuring her new novel, Forgetting Foster. Here is the book’s blurb…

Foster suddenly recognised the thing that rolled over him and made him feel sick. It was this: Dad was going away somewhere all on his own. And Foster was already missing him.

Foster Sumner is seven years old. He likes toy soldiers, tadpole hunting, going to school and the beach. Best of all he likes listening to his dad’s stories. But then Foster’s dad starts forgetting things. No one is too worried at first. Foster and Dad giggle about it. But the forgetting gets worse. And suddenly no one is laughing anymore.

A heartbreaking story about what it means to forget and to be forgotten.

Over now to Di…

Forgetting Foster Cover

2 things that inspired the book

1 Two people I loved were affected by Alzheimer’s disease and psychotic dementia. Strong, opinionated, charismatic women with large personalities and a lifelong interest in their internal and external worlds. The sort of women you can never imagine would die at all, let alone slowly walk out of their own bodies long before death actually took them. It does something to you, watching them slowly leave you, watching them slowly leave themselves. It did something to me.

There’s the denial that anything is actually wrong, then the anger that you’re now caring for someone who should be looking after you, then the guilt about that anger, then the exhaustion of that caring, and then the fear that as this godawful illness seems to have its teeth in the women of this family I might go the same way. Every time I misplace my keys or walk into a room and forget why I’m there I laugh and then I panic.

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2 I began to wonder what makes a relationship. If a relationship is created and sustained through shared memories, mutual histories and love, what happens when one person in that relationship begins to lose their memory, their history. What happens the first time they look at you with fear instead of love. I struggled with this. I still struggle with this even though both these women are dead now and it doesn’t make a lick of difference.

2 places connected with the book

1 The grown-up mind, which hides in practicalities, logistics, rosters, medical jargon and medication regimes. The mind that takes comfort in turning emotional chaos into an Excel spreadsheet of what time this pill has to be taken and what time this doctor has to be seen. The mind that doesn’t breathe much because too much down-time will create a space for pain. An impractical landscape where I chose to pitch my tent. I spent a lot of time there.

2 The child mind, which hasn’t learned to prevaricate, hasn’t learned to white-knuckle things, hasn’t learned the need to control everything. The mind that acknowledges being frightened and feeling hurt and does both things loudly. The mind that can separate love and fear and can express frustration in words and in play. Their feelings are just as big and confusing but can be relieved by one big long scream. I spent time there too.

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2 favourite things about the book

1 Foster’s father loves stories and has created a love of stories in Foster that enables him to retreat to toy soldiers and dragons and myth as a way of interpreting and coping with confusion and grief. This gives Foster a lovely perspective, an understanding that the world is big and full of bravery. I particularly like this response from Foster when someone takes the time to ask him what he has learned from his dad:

He said stories are the most important thing. He said people don’t tell stories or listen to other people’s stories enough. He said people are mad as March hares but to love them anyway. He said battles are won or lost before the first shot is fired. He said babies need to get the finger of God on them. He said if God is real then so are Dragons. He said the brain is a super-hero and he said Mum is a princess. Oh, and he said an unkind word can clear a room quicker than a fart.

2 Foster has a way of making things that aren’t funny…very funny. He hasn’t learned to be self-deprecating or cynical yet, which means much of the humour comes directly from bald honesty. I like the scene where Dad takes all his clothes off because they are ‘itching’ him. Fossie simply announces that Dad has his Christmas socks on, without mentioning they are the only thing he has on. The grown-up response is shock, embarrassment, defeat. Mum is so appalled that she drops her phone mid-conversation into a bowl of cereal. Throughout the book I could always rely on Fossie taking the sting out of desperate situations by speaking his mind without fear of the consequences, the result of which is often very funny.

Forgetting Foster is available in bookshops now
Visit Di’s website
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