Launching Remhurst Manor…
Last night, at the Melbourne Writers Festival, I was given the great pleasure to launch the first novel of Tamasine Loves. Tammy is one of my writing students at Swinburne University. She is a very gifted writer and I just know her first novel, Remhurst Manor, will be the first of many. I thought I would share with my readers the speech I wrote for Tammy…
Firstly, I want to thank Tammy for inviting me to speak at her book launch today – and, by doing so, crossing one more thing off my bucket list. To launch a novel of a writing student of mine has been a long held dream.
Yes – it is a soft launch, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have reason – a very real reason – to celebrate. At the start of this year, Tammy planned to self-publish her young adult novel. Now? Now Tammy’s first novel has a publisher who is keen to nurture her talent, and ensure her first experience as a published author will be a fantastic and exciting one.
Tammy encouraged me to talk to everyone about writing. If I did that, we would be likely to be here for a very long, long time. So – what I want to talk about is why I believe it is important we live our lives with passion – and to live not being frightened of seizing and living our true lives. Tammy is an example of that. I really applaud how proactive she has been in achieving this amazing milestone in the life of a writer. She is truly an inspiration.
I can’t help comparing where she stands at twenty-three, and where I stood at the same age, over thirty years ago. Then – for the class and times I was born into – twenty-three was not regarded as it should have been. It was not seen as young. Thank God, that has changed, because twenty-three is very, very young. When I was twenty-three, I felt older than I feel today. I felt so old I felt I was dying inside.
At that time, I had just started turning my life around by entering La Trobe university through the back door as an early leaver. I had married at 18, and had my first son at nineteen. By twenty-three, I had two small boys and was pregnant with my third child.
I was eight when I decided to be a writer. I directed so much of my childhood and teenage writing and reading to achieving that goal. I even spent the summer holidays as twelve-year-old reading the complete works of Shakespeare. I don’t think I understood that much, but I prodded my way through all his plays and poems until I reached the very end. That reading experience became part of my writerly compost – one I tapped into when I was writing my first novel in the voice of a long dead Tudor poet.
In year eleven I had an English teacher who I adored. At the end of year 11, my final High school year, I asked her if she thought I would ever be an author. She said no. It was a no without any explanation, or elaboration. It was a no that turned my world utterly dark, and hopeless.
Her opinion meant a lot to me. It meant too much to me. But I just had my seventeenth birthday – and I was far too young to know how to rebut that no. That no stopped me writing a fantasy novel I had started at sixteen. It stopped me writing stories, and poems.
It took another sixteen years before I became brave enough to complete the first draft of Dear Heart, How Like You This?, my first Tudor novel.
And I really do mean brave enough. There were no other writers in my family during my formative years. To first claim my writer’s mantle, I had a lot to prove to my family – a family which had rarely seen its members complete their high school educations, let alone author a book. I felt I had to prove to them I could complete a novel, and then I had to prove I could find a publisher for it. Silly me, I believed I couldn’t start on another major work until I had a publisher for my first. That took ten years, ten years of editing it again during my summer breaks as a teacher and committing to the craft of writing through writing short stories and poems.
Tammy, I know, would have worked out a far better plan than the plan I put in action twenty years ago, a plan that saw me sending my manuscript to publishers only twice a year.
Tillie Olsen wrote her book Silences over thirty-two ago and it is a work that still powerfully speaks to us today. Olsen writes, “The world never asked you to write. My long ago and still instinctive response: What’s wrong with the world then, that it doesn’t ask – and make it possible – for people to raise and contribute the best that is in them” (Olsen 1978).
Reading that left me with questions. I asked of myself, “Is it not time for us to confront society and ask why it makes it so difficult for those who are called to write? Is it simply because writing transforms lives and, consequently, the society in which we live?”
Is this to be afraid of? It is our creators who will lead the way out of our dark times to a better world. I believe with all my heart that is true. Now soon to be author Tammy has joined those who are the lantern bearers – those who hold a light for us to follow after.
Twenty-three marked one of my important life milestones. Twenty-three marks an important one for Tammy. What I hope for her is that she discovers what I have done in my life. When you set your feet on the right life path, the world stops being narrow or dark. Rather, the path widens and lightens with every step you take forward. Sometimes, it widens unbelievably so when life pushes you back, and you have fight your way back onto the road. Failure is never easy, but it teaches us powerful lessons.
Tammy is at the exciting beginning of her life story – and I still have many chapters left to write in mine. What a wonderful adventure my life has turned into because I returned to the road of my heart desire. Because I said of myself, “I am a writer.” I hope the same will go for you, Tammy.
Olsen, T. (1978). Silences. New York, Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence.