Archive for the ‘events’ Category

Novels for summer reading

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Let’s be honest – I don’t blog anymore (and anyway my students tell me blogging is ‘passe’), but this year I’ll be putting up notes about interesting books or articles I’ve read.

Right now, I’m reading in preparation for chairing some sessions at the Perth Writers Festival in February – and loving it!

I expected to enjoy Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and I did. It is so well written; I found it enthralling. Jo Baker’s Longbourn is another a terrific historical novel, based around the servants in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Again, wonderfully written with stunning prose and a great story.

Next off the pile – some non-fiction.

Happy new year!

Not quite the Oscars

Monday, August 5th, 2013

So, I heard today that Peter Fitzpatrick’s book The Two Frank Thrings won the National Biography Award. Of course, I’d figured out I wasn’t winning it as the Award presentation was in Sydney this morning, and last week there was no suggestion that I fly over there from Perth. (In any case, my book was always a real long shot to win it.) I’d kind of hoped that Robert Drewe would win so that I could casually drop into conversations here in WA the phrase “Robert Drewe and I…” – he being a bit of a WA literary hero. I haven’t read Fitzpatrick’s book but it sounds terrific and fun, too. When you think how much research goes into a biography like this, I reckon he deserves the Award.

It’s really great to be shortlisted for an Award of this nature. Something like getting a great review from a critic you admire combined with a big hug! And I like the way the press release announcing the winner also had the Judges’ comments on all the shortlisted books. Here’s what they said about my book:

“Rachel Robertson’s gracefully written memoir about life as the mother of a child with
autism is a deeply moving, compelling narrative from a perceptive writer. Robertson’s
son, ‘Ben’, is one of an estimated 230 000 Australians with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

She writes of Ben’s life but her relationship with her son is bound up with her own past
and so this memoir is, in many ways, a relational biography: the lives of ‘Ben’ and
Rachel. Reaching One Thousand combines several elements: analysis of the latest
pedagogy about autism; discussion of daily life; descriptions of her son’s behaviour and
her own reactions; reminiscences of her own childhood. Robertson addresses the fear
we have of ‘strangeness of others’, by delving into what might be seen as her own
strangeness as a child. In contrast to some seemingly similar stories, this memoir never
positions ‘Ben’, the child with autism, as a problem or an object; the author tries
wherever possible to enter imaginatively into his mental landscape.

This memoir also interrogates narrative and identity. Autistic children are said to have
great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships. Robertson uses the vantage
point of her relationship with her son to critically evaluate the literature on autism at
every point. In this way the book becomes an outward looking conversation about autism
and the possibilities of management and interaction. Crucially, Robertson addresses the
ethics of life writing; specifically whether her use of ‘Ben’s’ life story constitutes a
betrayal, or an invasion of privacy, on her part. The issue of invading people’s privacy is
at the centre of all memoir but it is rarely so directly considered.”

I’m grateful to the Judges for engaging with my book so deeply, to the NSW State Library and to the Award sponsors, Dr Geoffrey Cains and Michael Crouch AO.

Events and talks about biography are happening all this week at the NSW State Library, including the National Biography Lecture on Wednesday, which is being given by John Elder Robinson. Robinson has written several memoirs about living with Asperger’s Syndrome. To me, this really shows the way society has changed over the past ten years in terms of listening to and respecting people with neurological differences like autism. Promoting this change was the main reason I wrote Reaching One Thousand, so I’m happy!

By the way, a colleague at work asked me the other day if there was any news on this Award. I told her I was pretty sure I hadn’t won, but was fine about that. She said, “Yes, that’s right. You can be like Hugh Jackman at the Oscars when he didn’t win best actor!” I’ll go with that, I think.

Western Australian of the Year

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Great news that my colleague at Curtin University, Professor of Writing Kim Scott, has been named inaugural Western Australian of the Year. Kim, of course, is a multi-award winning author. His latest book is That Deadman Dance. But the novel of his that transformed my own thinking about Noongar people was Benang.

Kim is also very active in Indigenous communities, particularly around language recovery. His work on the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories project is fantastic. I had the opportunity to read Mamang, a story about a man and a singing whale – it’s a lovely book.

It’s a real pleasure to have Kim in our School at Curtin; I think he may be the first Indigenous full Professorial appointment at Curtin. Roll on diversity! At work he is modest and friendly – which might be rare for someone who is so successful.

That Denmark Vibe

Monday, May 7th, 2012

I have just come back from a weekend in Denmark (WA) where I gave two author talks and ran a one day workshop. I’ve visited Denmark often and always enjoyed my time there, but this was particularly special.

Around 70 people attended the talks and 20 participated in the workshop, surely a sign that Denmark and environs are extraordinarily bookish places! People listened with such respect and warmth, asked interesting questions and gave wonderfully encouraging feedback.

The writers at the workshop ranged from a mother of toddlers to an 84 year old, all producing fantastic ideas and prose. It was inspiring to be among such enthusiastic and engaged writers and readers.

There were moments of surprise and humour, too, courtesy of an unexpected visitor to Tea House Books. And, of course, there was time to sample delicious local wine and food.

All credit to Denmark Arts, the Shire of Denmark, the Denmark Library and Writing WA for their work making such events not only possible but also so positive.

Celebrating autism

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

As April is Autism Awareness Month, I’ve written a few blogs for other sites.

Autism, Diversity and Difference for the ABC’s Drum website, where I expand on the concept of neurodiversity.

Fantastic. Autistic. My Boy Ben for The Hoopla, where I celebrate some of the great things about being a parent to Ben.

School holiday blues? Not for me! for BubHub website, where I compare my current experiences of the school holidays with those when my son was much younger.

In all of these blogs, I’m writing only about my own experience and views, recognising that every autistic child is different (as are all children). But I have appreciated the feedback and comments from readers and hearing some of their experiences too.

World Autism Awareness Day

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

In honour of World Autism Awareness Day (2 April) and Autism Awareness Month (April), I thought I would list just a few of the things I love about having an autistic son (beyond, of course, the fact that I adore Ben and everything about him).

Like many autistic people, he hates loud noises. I offered him a drum kit for his last birthday and he said he’d prefer not to have one. We have a quiet home.

Autistic people are rarely fashion victims or conformists. Ben never nags me to buy him the latest clothes, toys or computer craze.

He has some funny and weird ideas at times. It keeps life interesting! I think this might be true of lots of other autistic people too.

He has a fantastic memory (again, it often goes with the condition). I never have to remember addresses or family birthdays anymore.

He is honest. Yes, he’ll sometimes say what he thinks people want to hear in order to please them, but he is basically truthful. I have heard many other parents of autistic children say the same thing.

He is affectionate, considerate and forgiving, including when I get things wrong. People don’t think autistic children (or adults) are affectionate and loving, but many are. Ben certainly is. He is also considerate when he has the information about others that allow him to know how to help and support them. When I was stressed the other day, Ben picked this up and said, ‘come on, mum, give me a hug’. And I felt much better!

Happy World Autism Awareness Day!

International Women’s Day

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

In honour of International Women’s Day, here are a few of my favourite memoirs by women, books I come back to read again and again.

Poppy by Drusilla Modjeska – a wonderful ‘fictional memoir’ about her mother, beautifully written and multi-layered.

Voice Lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer by Nancy Mairs – a set of essays exploring writing, feminism and disability, written in the distinctive voice of all Mairs’ work.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard – a wise exploration of the life of a writer by a supremely talented stylist.

Stasiland by Anna Funder – perhaps not really a memoir, but an extraordinary book of creative non-fiction exposing the often untold stories of the East German secret service before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

International Women’s Day and my own first book launch have also made me think about the value of having other women writers as friends and mentors.  Luckily, I can honestly and wholeheartedly recommend the books of two colleagues who have been great mentors to me.

Beneath the Bloodwood Tree by Julienne van Loon – a dark and engrossing story about love, loss and secrets.

Last Chance Café by Liz Byrski – an engaging novel about women, ageing, consumerism and relationships.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Missing Ramona Koval

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Last weekend, I had the privilege of being on a panel at the Perth Writers Festival with Ramona Koval (author and broadcaster) and journalist Imre Salusinszky to talk about the familiar or personal essay.  This is a form I love to read and write and I was delighted as part of my preparation to read Walter Murdoch’s essays (made available in a new volume edited by Imre) and the latest Best Australian Essays 2011, edited by Ramona. 

With Delys Bird as chair, we ended up having a really lively discussion, and the large audience got involved in the debate.  Who are our favourite essayists?  Are blogs the modern-day personal essays? How long or short can an essay be?  All these were contested issues.  What did not seem to be contested was that we all miss The Book Show, which was, until last November, hosted by Ramona Koval every weekday morning.  Many people came up and spoke to Ramona, telling her they loved the show and missed it and her.

I must admit, I have not had time to listen to the replacement radio program, which covers the arts generally as well as writing.  I look forward to podcasting some of it soon. 

Back to the personal essay, my favourite ones in this year’s Best Australian Essays were by Gillian Mears (brilliant piece), Morris Lurie, Maria Tumarkin, Andrew Sant and Shakira Hussein.  All well worth reading.

Good advice for a first book launch

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Two weeks until the official launch of my book; two days until my Perth Writers Festival talks.  A first book release is something pretty special – and exciting.  Its also a tad nerve-wracking.

But don’t worry, I’ve had lots of good advice from my friends:

1. Always prepare a talk in advance, even if you’re told the event will be very casual and you don’t have to – you don’t want to look like an idiot.

2. Never read a prepared talk – just wing it and you’ll look confident. (Yes, I know, hard to work with both of these.)

3. Wear more make-up so you’ll look good in photos.  (This was followed by a lesson – it is a sad but true fact that I am no expert in the make-up stakes. Wonder why not? Photos! I  never thought about that.)

4.  Get a friend to bring their camera to your book launch. (I’m not dopey, I was getting there.)

5. Make sure you have your hair done. (Well, lucky I happened to have a cut scheduled just a week ago. I’m ignoring the concept that having your ‘hair done’ might refer to a wash and blow dry just for that special day.  Its starting to feel slightly more like a wedding than I had planned!)

6. ‘I know how you feel.  Everytime you talk in public, its just another opportunity to make a fool of yourself.’  (Okay, so that’s not really advice, but I took the point – my friend was being empathic.)

7. ‘Don’t be nervous. Just think: you could be a stand-up comedian doing a Friday night session at the local pub.’ (That’s not advice, either, unless you construe it as advice to avoid comedy nights, something I already do.)

8. Read from your book, people like that.  (Now we’re getting somewhere.)

9. Don’t read from your book, people don’t like it.  (Oh well, maybe not.)

10. Be yourself.  (In theory, good advice – I say it to my son quite often.  Mind you, now I’m on the receiving end, I realise its a pretty unimpressive thing to say to someone anxious.)

‘I’m a little nervous about these talks this weekend’, I say to Ben.  ‘Probably like when you gave your presentation at school last year.’ (Which incidentally was on his favourite pastime – writing stories.)

‘You’d better take some visual material and plan a kinaesthetic activity, then,’ he says kindly.

‘Oh dear,’ I reply, ‘I don’t have anything like that!’

‘Don’t be negative, mum.  Put on your postive glasses.’  (That’ll teach me to use cognitive behavioural therapy techniques with him, won’t it.)

‘I’m sure it’ll be fine,’ I say, ‘I’ll just be honest and say what I feel.  You can’t go wrong with honesty.’

He looks at me for a moment as if he’s going to make a rejoinder (what he calls a ‘talk back’) but then wanders off to do something interesting on his iPad.  It must be a bit confusing for him because only an hour ago I praised him for telling a white lie to someone to avoid hurting their feelings and now I’m saying that being honest is always right.

Ho hum, I can’t give decent advice, either.