Tag Archives: Dianne Touchell

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
Find out more at Allen & Unwin

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2, 2 and 2: Dianne Touchell talks about A Small Madness

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Dianne Touchell is fearless when it comes to what she writes and how she writes it, although I’m sure she would tell you that she’s just responding to what inspires and interests her as a writer of young adult fiction. What I particularly admire about her work is the respect she accords her adolescent fictional characters and, by extension, the young people who are her readers. The result: fiction that feels authentic, that is unquestionably compassionate.

I had the pleasure of working with Dianne as editor of her debut novel, Creepy & Maud (Fremantle Press, 2012), which was shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year Award in 2013, in the Older Readers category. It also became embroiled in a censorship incident, re-igniting the ‘gatekeeper’ debate that is frequently raised in relation to YA fiction; you can read a well-balanced account of that here.

Dianne was born and raised in Fremantle, Western Australia, and reportedly has worked as a fry cook, a nightclub singer, a housekeeper, a bookseller and an office manager. She enjoys cold weather—something we have in common—and Mexican food. She lives with animals (I’m not sure how many of them are human).

I’m thrilled to be featuring Dianne’s second novel, A Small Madness (Allen & Unwin, 2015), which I believe sets her career on a stellar trajectory. Here is the book’s blurb:

Rose didn’t tell anyone about it. She wondered if it showed. She looked at herself in the mirror and turned this way and then that way. She stood as close to the mirror as she could, leaning over the bathroom basin, looking into her own eyes until they disappeared behind the fog of her breath. Looking for something. Some evidence that she was different. How could all of these feelings not show? She was a woman now, but it didn’t show and she couldn’t tell anyone.

An intimate, beautiful, important novel that challenged my beliefs and broke my heart.—Vikki Wakefield, author of Friday Brown

Over now to Dianne…

ASM Cover

2 things that inspired my book

1. This story was inspired by actual events that took place while I was living in the US more than ten years ago. A high-achieving teen couple became pregnant and hid that pregnancy. When the baby was born in a motel room, the teen father killed the infant and disposed of it in a dumpster. I was horrified by the story, but also felt there was more than one victim here. There was no compassion extended to the kids who had chosen this path; they were referred to as monsters.

I believe we have created a culture that hobbles young adults with strident expectations predominantly imposed to satisfy external appearances and alleviate parental anxiety, while simultaneously allowing these same young people to suffer in acute isolation with no outlet for their truest selves and fears. I became angry, because this sort of thing doesn’t happen in isolation. There had to be lots of broken things and broken people around them in order for them to feel they had no one to go to for help. Such an extreme choice had to be the product of some extreme familial and environmental malfunction. I wanted to write a story about the bigger picture.

2. I’ve always been very interested in the different ways sexually active girls and sexually active boys are viewed and judged. We are still slut-shaming girls while the boys enjoying these sluts are neither mentioned nor censured. A good girl apparently becomes a bad girl when she has sex, especially if she enjoys sex. So if there is a consequence to having sex, such as pregnancy or disease, a good girl who has been taught by society that her virginity is her crown is far less likely to seek help. Expectation becomes the shame-flame. And a good girl is aware that that shame will infect her entire family. In many ways we haven’t moved that far forward since Lydia Bennett fucked off with Wickham. There are cultures and religions operating right now where a girl can be excommunicated and banished for having sex, and/or blamed for leading a boy into having sex himself. This enrages me. I am inspired by my rage.

2 places connected with the book

1. The parental headspace: anxiety-filled, adamant, structured, time-poor, practicality-driven, peace-craving, obsessed with externals and appearances, a sense of isolation. Busy parents lose their peripheral vision and too often gain their only positive reinforcement from the eyes of other parents gazing enviously on to their apparently happy home. But no one looks into the apparently happy home. That might shatter the mutual delusion between grown-ups using their children for validation.

2. The young adult headspace: anxiety-filled, chaotic, unstructured, time-poor, sensually driven, acceptance-craving, obsessed with externals and appearances, a sense of isolation. The desperate need to be validated, which is so often misinterpreted as being bolshie. Young adults lose their peripheral vision and too often gain their only positive reinforcement by internalising and acting upon the expectations of grown-ups. No good choices can thrive within that kind of disconnection from self.

My geographical place is where these two intersect.

2 favourite things about A Small Madness

1. This description of Michael’s experience of the denied pregnancy:

He wondered if that nascent snow-caver ever sent tendrils of sadness into Rose’s dreams. It lived in his. It pulsed and rolled and nudged like a manatee in his spinal fluid, and it wasn’t even growing in him.

2. The relationship between Liv and her mother:

‘Oh fuck, oh fuck…’

‘Hello?’

‘…oh fuck, oh fuck…Mum?’

‘Livvie? Is that you?’

‘Please come. Please come to Rose’s. Oh fuck, Mum.’

‘Jesus, baby. I’m still in bed. What’s going on?’

‘Please come to Rose’s, Mum. She…she…’

‘Tell me what’s wrong—now!’

‘I just need you.’

‘On my way.’

 

A Small Madness is in bookshops now.
Find out more at:
Allen & Unwin
Dianne’s website

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Reasons to love a novel: discovery

Have you ever finished a novel and realised that you’ve learned something new, or understood something you’d only barely grasped before? I love the capacity of a novel to open my eyes in this way.

There is a qualitative difference, of course, between a writer who imparts information in the service of plot and one who lives inside its world and then makes their experience of that world accessible to readers. You might discover something new from both, but good novelists take you there and make you feel.

Here are three who achieve this.

Sara Foster’s Shallow Breath, a psychological thriller with an animal conservation theme, made me weep more than once. Dolphins, in one way or another, shape the life of Shallow Breath’s main character, Desi—a childhood encounter with a wild dolphin, her work with the performing dolphins at Atlantis Marine Park (long-defunct) in Perth’s northern suburbs, her witnessing of the horror of the Taji dolphin hunt in Japan. I knew nothing of the award-winning documentary film The Cove (2010), which investigates Japan’s dolphin industry (and which is referred to in Shallow Breath), so this was new territory for me.

 imagesAt that point, to Kate’s surprise, another group of people had arrived. ‘The trainers,’ the same girl murmured disgustedly. ‘Hand-selecting the prettiest dolphins for a life of captivity, and turning their backs on the dying cries of the rest. This is where the real money is. This is why they do it. A dolphin to be eaten is worth six hundred dollars. A dolphin to be saved, and petted, and ogled is worth more like a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. They are sent all over the world. A dolphin in a show might well have endured this or something similar to get there. ‘Shame!’ she suddenly turns and screams towards the trainers, and Kate jumps at the rawness in her voice, a mix of pain and anger and devastation. ‘Shame on you all! Shame!

But the group ignores her, and gets to work.

—Sara Foster, Shallow Breath (Bantam, 2012)

The Winter Vault, the stunning second novel of Canadian poet Anne Michaels, is the story of a marriage torn asunder by grief, and also the story of peoples and nations displaced from land and home. It begins with the drowning of land to dam the Nile in the 1960s—a history I was aware of only vaguely, and only in the sense of being aware of a fact, something I might have read in an encyclopaedia. The Winter Vault, as well as teaching me more about this history, gave me cause to imagine what it might feel like to see one’s birthplace literally disappear.

4682252Before the building of the High Dam at Aswan in the 1960s, a small dam was constructed, and its height was raised twice—ten, then twenty years later, the villages of lower Nubia, the fertile islands, and the date forests were drowned. Each time, the villagers moved to higher ground to rebuild. And so began the labour migration of Nubian men to Cairo, Khartoum, London. The women, with their long, loosely woven black gargaras trailing in the sand, erasing their footprints, took over the harvesting and marketing of the crops. They pollinated the date palms, cared for their family’s property, and tended the livestock. Men returned from the city to be married, to attend funerals, to claim their share of the harvest. And some returned in 1964 to join their families when, with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of cement and steel, and millions of rivets, a lake was built in the desert. Nubia in its entirety—one hundred and twenty thousand villagers, their homes, land, and meticulously tended ancient groves, and many hundreds of archaeological sites—vanished. Even a river can drown; vanished too, under the waters of Lake Nasser, was the Nubians’ river, their Nile, which had flowed through every ritual of their daily life, had guided their philosophical thought, and had blessed the birth of every Nubian child for more than five thousand years.

—Anne Michaels, The Winter Vault (Bloomsbury, 2009)

As a writer, I have always been interested in obsession and addiction, and in the course of research I’ve read a lot about various disorders such as bulimia and cutting. However, until I read Dianne Touchell’s young-adult novel Creepy & Maud (recently shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year for older readers), I had never heard of trichotillomania.

E-9781921888953_AMAZONUKKINDLE … it’s Maud’s hair pulling that I love the most. Her fingers are thin and white and her hair quite wiry. I know I’m supposed to say something like: ‘and her hair is spun like gold ablaze in the lamplight with an incendiary burnish.’ But most days it really looks like it could do with a good brush. She winds lengths of her hair around one finger (usually an index or middle finger) and then pulls quite hard, letting the hair slide down and off the finger in a smooth ringlet. I can feel my own scalp tingling, just thinking about it. Sometimes she pulls really hard, and thick strands come away in her fingers and she flaps her hands wildly as if they are covered in cobweb. I find myself breathing through my mouth, watching her.

It’s called trichotillomania. I didn’t know that at first. It wasn’t until I noticed her pulling all her hair that I did some research. And I do mean all. At first I got really excited when she slipped a hand inside her knickers. I’ve never seen a girl do that before. But it didn’t take me long to realise there wasn’t a lot of pleasure involved, just concentration. And that same hand flapping. Well, I guess she’ll never have to wax. Once I watched her sitting in front of her mirror, tears streaming down her face, as she pulled out her eyelashes.

—Dianne Touchell, Creepy & Maud (Fremantle Press, 2012)

The novel as encyclopaedia? Of course not. And I’m certainly not making claims for fiction as superior to history. But in reading a novel, in becoming immersed in its world and the lives of its characters, we can also discover something new by default, and for me it’s another reason to love it.

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