Wordstorm – Final day
According to my mother, I was the first artificial insemination baby in Australia.’
– Richard Glover
Richard Glover’s Mother’s Day brunch was hilarious. Richard mines his own life for comic material. His latest book FLESH WOUNDS is all about his mother and so it was most appropriate that it was Mother’s Day but Richard’s story transcended greeting card epitaphs proclaiming the wonders of mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, grandmothers and grandchildren.
Mother’s Day is a tribute to the first love in every child’s life but as we all know it has its complications. Richard was a ‘turkey baster’ baby. He might have been the first artificial insemination baby as in the twelve years that his parents were married their marriage was never consummated. His mother was technically pregnant and a virgin.
Richard’s parents were indifferent to him. His mother never held him as a baby in Papua New Guinea. Instead, she said, the natives held him. Richard had a Papua New Guinean nanny who he remembers fondly. When he was fourteen Richard’s mother ran away with his English teacher after a parent-teacher interview.
Richard never really left home as it turned out his parents left him.
His mother sounds awful. She had sisters but Richard never knew anything about them. His mother was a snob even though her family was working class and she decided to disown her family and make up stories about her faux upper class background.
We find love where we can get it. FLESH WOUNDS is about resilience. We have a language about mothers and their love that is inbuilt into our very DNA but what happens if a child does not experience a mother’s love? Who, Richard asked, got the love from their parents that they wish to give a child of their own?
When Richard had children of his own he wanted to introduce his children to his mother. She did not want to be called grandmother. She felt that term aged her too much. So, instead, she preferred to sign off birthday cards with ‘from your father’s mother.’ A woman, in the audience, asked him why would his mother want to have a child if she was so indifferent? His response was glib. ‘She wanted an accessory.’
As I listened to Richard I wondered how his mother and father would respond to his wild story. Richard’s mother received an OAM for her services to theatre. and Richard’s father was a journalist. The thing about memoir is that the best ones need to be no holds barred and this is that. Naturally, his parents are both dead now. If there was a lesson in Richard’s tale it is we all have crazy families yet despite all this we survive and carry on.
Priscilla Collins from North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (Naaja) launched Kieran Finnane’s Priscilla emphatically pointed out that Kieran’s stories deal with the crimes of violence almost all of them being homicides and in all of them alcohol played a major role. The book gives us a picture of Alice Springs: the courts, the lawns across the road, the mob that hang out on the lawn.
Kieran Finnane is a respected writer based in Central Australia, and a founding journalist at the Alice Springs News. Her forthcoming book TROUBLE: ON TRIAL IN CENTRAL AUSTRALIA lays out in detail the violent, underbelly in the town’s recent history. This is a collection of six pieces that could stand alone with an introduction to orient the reader and a conclusion. The longest chapter is on the death of Kwementyaye Ryder at the hands of white youth. Another case was the trial of Liam Jurrah. I attended that court case too and wrote about it (read more).
Kieran is a brave writer. Her approach is discursive as she goes in and out of the courtroom to tackle the response of the wider community.
The topic of teenagers is one of the most pressing topics for families at the moment. I spoke to a parent who attended the festival and was disturbed by what she had to tell me. ‘The fact is,’ she said, ‘our teenagers are constantly under the greatest pressure. Police now spend time taking off photos on the net of our children that are inappropriate. How is our Young Adult fiction dealing with this?’ With this in mind, I attended a panel featuring Barry Jonsberg, Clare Atkins, Joanne van Os and Derek Pugh, Young Adult authors who discussed the depiction of family in one of publishing’s biggest markets.
WORDSTORM is to be commended for having a children’s section and focusing on this important genre. Saying that, however, Barry Jonsberg said he was a little suspicious of marketing categories for novels. Related to the YA genre, Barry talked about a thirteen year old girl lurking in his head so one book about her was not enough so he wrote two. Overall, Barry has written around seventeen books.
According to Derek Pugh, there were not enough books written for aboriginal children so he wrote one. This raised several questions for me: Where are the books about migrant families, about what experiences migrants bring with them to this country and still carry with them as Australians? This Australian migrant experience is mostly ignored in YA literature. Yet, I believe strongly, the youth category isn’t some anthropological experiment. We need to focus on good, inclusive, stories and to make the parents and youth part of the story.
The panelists inevitably brought up the looming presence of JK Rowling which made me think of Mark Thomas’s review of my book in the weekends Sydney Morning Herald. Read more.
To finish off this literary festival was the book launch: DESERT WRITING: Stories from Country. This publication features work by Marie Munkara, Ktima Heathcote, Rosemary Plummer, Maureen O’Keefe and David Curtis and then there was a panel on Adaptation: Moving between branches of literature’s family tree and a Great Comedy Debate. It has been a wonderful festival and the theme ‘Fabric of family’ was a pertinent one. I feel like I have come away with a better understanding and appreciation for family.
Thanks must go to the Mills family for welcoming us all to Larrakia country, the NT Writers’ Centre, Sally Bothroyd, Fiona Dorrell, Cora Diviny, Paz Tassone, Robbie Hoad, Kristy Schubert, the sponsors, the writers, and the readers.
– Christopher Raja
Christopher Raja is the Wordstorm 2016 festival blogger. Having migrated to Melbourne from Kolkata in 1986, he now lives and works in Alice Springs. His co-authored play, The First Garden was published by Currency Press in 2012 and shortlisted for the Chief Minister’s Book of the Year in 2014. His debut novel, The Burning Elephant was published by Giramondo in 2015.