Rhiza Press Blog

Rhiza Press blog is the place to keep up to date with all the goings-on in the world of Australian books for Adult and Young Adult readers.

Processing Grief: An Interview With CBCA-Notable Author Kate Gordon

Kate Gordon author

Who is ‘Kate Gordon’? 

I am a born-and-raised Tasmanian – born in Wynyard, currently living in the big smoke of Hobart. I’m passionate about my island home, and it permeates almost all of my writing. Come and visit us here (not just for Dark Mofo!) and see how amazing this place really is! I am obsessed with folk-alt-country singer, Josh Ritter. I once travelled to the UK to hear him play! I love crows, enamel pins, notebooks, artisan perfume oils, Harry Potter, Doctor Who and Game of Thrones. I generally read about two hundred books in a calendar year, not counting the literal thousands I read to my daughter. Speaking of which, I have the actual best daughter in the world. My favourite thing is talking books with her.

Can you tell us about ‘Girl Running, Boy Falling’ and how it came to be?

girlrunningboyfallingmed

I have been working on various incarnations of ‘Girl Running, Boy Falling’, for many years. When I was nineteen, one of my friends killed himself. He was a hugely popular kid – funny, incredibly smart, handsome, popular, athletic, completely beloved. Everyone who knew him was in utter shock at his passing, and it rocked our close-knit world. Three years ago, another childhood friend took his own life. He, too, was so loved, and I was completely shaken to the core at his loss. I began ‘Girl Running, Boy Falling’, as a way of dealing with his passing, and of – finally – examining the impact that my other friend’s death had on me, at an early age. I wanted to look at the things we tell other people, and the things we hide; how we can never truly know people – even in this world of social media communication, where we feel like we know everything. I also wanted to look at the ways a community might deal with the death of one of its favourite sons; and how we “should” process grief. Word to the wise: there is no “right” way. ‘Girl Running, Boy Falling’ is a deeply personal book for me, but I am so hopeful that it might be able to help others, too, who are going through a similar tragedy.

Do Tiger and Wally relate to anyone in your life? 

Wally is definitely my friend who died. My friend was the life of the party – a “jock” but also deeply sensitive and cerebral. He used to quote poetry to me, and it was a complete shock, coming out of the mouth of a sporty, popular boy! Tiger is, in part, me as a teenager – she has all the same insecurities; she tends to push people away when she’s hurting, and she doesn’t always deal well with anger – if at all. But she is also the “me” I wish I had been. She is stronger and more willing to take risks and be adventurous. Her friends are also my friends, in real life. When they read this book, they’ll know who they are!

What message is ‘Girl Running, Boy Falling’ trying to send?

JK Rowling said: “Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced...It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it's a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.”

— Rowling's 2000 interview with the Times (UK)

Suicide is the final stage in what is often a terminal illness. It is what happens when all hope is gone. Wally, in this book, has lost all hope, and all belief that there is a next stage to his life; a future; a way forward. He has love and support and friends, and success, academically and on the sports field. We are taught that, if we are loved and successful, we have no reason to feel depressed. But depression is not the same as sadness, and it doesn’t care about external factors. Family support, hobbies, meditation, a strong social life – all of these can help – but depression can only be treated in the same way any disease is treated: through medical intervention. In the book, Wally never gets the chance to get better; to feel better. But I wanted to show that there is hope. When we talk, when we reach out, when we seek help, it can and does get better. I really wanted this to be a hopeful story and show that you can and will be happy again. You will live, again, and it will be a beautiful thing.

Music plays a huge role in how each of the characters relate. Is music important to you?

Music is deeply, deeply important to me – and not just Josh Ritter. It has always been my escape and my comfort. Whenever I feel down, it’s always music that I turn to – a happy song, if I need a release; or a sad song, if I need to just wallow in misery; if I need to just “feel”. Music was so crucial, in my upbringing. My dad is a huge music fan, and he passed that on to me. I remember, vividly, dancing around the house with him, trying to cheer up, after a heartbreak. I remember just as clearly sitting on my bedroom floor, eating chips and listening to “Romeo and Juliet”, by Dire Straits, or “Fall at Your Feet”, by Crowded House, on repeat, and thinking I’d never feel happy again! Most of my childhood memories involve music, and it’s the same for Resey. I honestly think that books and music have the ability to change our emotions, in a way that people search for with drugs and alcohol. I can go from devastated to giddy with happiness in moments, if you play me the right song (usually Josh Ritter).

How do you feel about the ‘taboo’ often put on conversations about teen suicide? 

According to 2017 data, suicide is the leading underlying cause of deaths among persons aged 25–44 (20% of deaths) and persons aged 15–24 (31% of deaths). That’s a national tragedy, and a national crisis. Why aren’t we talking about it more? I think the answer is that people are afraid. The concept of “suicide contagion” leads to fear of further deaths – fear that young people will glamorise the idea of suicide and carry out “copycat” acts. And so, we sweep the issue under the carpet, believing this will help to prevent more deaths. If they can’t see it, they can’t copy it. Clearly, that approach is not working. Mental health disorders should be treated with the same approach we use for all illnesses. Why are we so squeamish about discussing these diseases, just because they affect the brain, and not the stomach, or the liver, or the breast? We discuss the prostate – a gland that surrounds the urethra, in men, and whose health is tested by rectal examination – with less prudishness than we do depression or anxiety. And so, because we are afraid, or queasy, or embarrassed … people die. In this book, I made a deliberate decision to have the characters talk about what happens to Wally. Because I believe that it needs to be talked about. It’s only through talking – and awareness campaigns – that we can begin to resolve this national tragedy.

Girl Running, Boy Falling is on the 2019 CBCA longlist for Older Readers. 

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Finding the Australian Outback

0 Oodnadatta track HawkeBy Rosanne Hawke, Author of Finding Kerra

The seed idea behind Finding Kerra sprang from my childhood, growing up in the semi-outback of central Queensland. My father was a grazier and we lived about ten kilometres from a hot, little town called Banana, where I attended a one-teacher school. I rode to school on a converted cattle truck and it took an hour to pick up all the kids from the neighbouring properties. I was the first one on in the morning, and fortunately, the first one off in the afternoon.

Some of the events in Finding Kerra happened in my childhood: drawing on a windmill platform (I never told my mum, of course), riding horses (didn’t tell Mum that I fell off), a haystack fire in winter, helping with a muster, nearly drowning in a dam. But the setting for Finding Kerra came from my love for the Australian Outback that has increased ever since I rode the Ghan (and a bus) through the desert to Darwin when I was fifteen.0 camel cup2 Hawke

Some years ago, my husband and I took a road trip up past Port Augusta, Beltana, Farina and Marree. We even went to the Camel Cup at Maree to watch camels race and stayed at a station for a few nights. Since then we have travelled up that way again and further north up the Oodnadatta and Strzelecki tracks, Coober Pedy, Uluru and the Alice. More northern treks are planned. Maybe more stories will appear too.

One of my favourite memories of the outback as an author is speaking on School of the Air. I was talking about Mustara and Ernest Giles’ trek to Perth. Students replied interactively that0 Dog Fence Hawkethey had ridden camels and one boy had seen Ernest Giles’ tree where he left a saddle. I was moved that these kids who couldn’t play with each other still had a school community online.

I love the space and atmosphere of the outback. I like to be able to see the horizon and the further away the better. What some call ‘empty spaces’ I think are places full of the magnificence of creation; at Uluru I felt the awe of sitting in a natural cathedral. When I lived in Pakistan, it was this space and huge sky that I missed. Now I live in rural SA. People here still drive utes and lift a finger in greeting as they pass, and the outback is only a day away. Finding Kerra is my attempt at catching a small part of the Australian outback for those who can’t make the trek and for those who will be inspired to go.

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Catriona McKeown on 'Writing Skeletons'

CatrionaMcKeownI have skeletons in my closet. Do you?

They’re not particularly nice ones. Springing to mind are words like 'anxiety', 'addiction', 'anger', 'depression', 'regret', 'lack of forgiveness', 'financial destruction', 'infatuation', 'fear'. I guess no skeleton is nice, no matter how big the closet is; I mean, they are all about death, decay and an acute lack of life, after all.

But before you roll your eyes and move on to the next story, these clichéd skeletons I’m talking about are skeletons within my world. They are worse than any of the other skeletons you’ve heard about before. They come with a story, every one of them. They’re real stories of real devastation, of real experiences, of real people. You know, there’s that one about—oh but hang on, you don’t know.

You don’t know because they’re my skeletons, in my closet. You’ll only know about them if I crack the door open. If I invite you into my closet to sit for a bit, to look around, to see the hurt and feel the pain, then you’ll know. You’ll know some of the story and understand why they’re my skeletons, and why I’ve been hiding them.

They say to write what you know.

So, should I crack the door open to my closet and let people in, just for a moment?

They say writing is therapeutic.

So, should I write the skeleton down and allow the healing to come to us both?

They say writing gives life.

So, if I write it, will it live again in my mind and in yours?

And so, I write.

 

You can follow along on Catriona’s writing journey through her website, on Facebook, Twitter and even on Pinterest. Her debut novel, The Boy in the Hoodie, comes out 1 November, 2017. 

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Chatting with Lora Inak

DSC 4647What do you mean by ‘the cultural tightrope’?

That’s a great question and one that I’ve asked myself. By the term ‘Cultural Tightrope’ I mean: The act of balancing between the culture you’re born into, and the culture of the place or country in which you live.

Like the traditional circus tightrope we all know, the cultural tightrope can be precarious as it swings and bounces over the journey of the walker. For us first, second, and even third-generation Australians, we sometimes find ourselves on an oscillating tightrope, unsure of where we fit. Are we real Australians? We weren’t born here! Or, if we were, we don’t look like the typical Aussie in TV commercials. Inevitably, we look for cues about what is culturally acceptable should we choose to define ourselves as an Australian, and too often change ourselves to blend in, to balance, rejecting the culture of our forefathers. Alternatively, we deep dive into it, immersing ourselves in the safety of where we know we definitely belong.

As I get older, it increasingly dawns on me just how much the culture within us, and the culture without, affects every part of how we exist. And with this awareness, comes the realisation of just how important it is to understand, accept, and be proud of it. Not only is culture a wide and frameless being, it is also complex in its constant evolution and fusion. So, it’s no surprise that balancing that tightrope can be tough.

 Natalie has to balance two lives—her Syrian and Australian identities. Do you think many Australian teenagers walk this cultural tightrope too? Is it tricky to balance?

The ABS tells us that around 30% of Australians are born overseas. This figure covers the entire population and within it, a wide age range so yes, I definitely believe many Australian teenagers find themselves on that precarious cultural tightrope, but so do a great many adults. What I think varies is the type of tightrope we walk.

As a teenager we want so much to fit in, but simultaneously, stand out as an individual – so the balance is more about what we wear, how we speak, our social activities etc. As an adult, the balance changes focus to how we parent, how we behave in our working life, what language we speak at home – do we encourage our kids to assimilate or adopt their cultural heritage. Of course, it’s not the same for everyone and I’ve made some generalisations but for some, that balance can be pretty tricky.

You’re a Turkish-born Australian. Did you have similar experiences to Natalie when you were growing up? I did. My parents were loving, but also strict and overly protective so I missed out on school camps and mixed sex parties. Sleepovers at friends’ houses were a definite no, as was dating boys. I was in constant terror of being caught walking home with male school mates – but in hindsight, some of it was in my head, and as I grew older, I found my parents weren’t as strict and unreasonable as I’d thought. In fact, when I finally introduced them to my now husband, they were really warm and welcoming, despite him being an Aussie 😊.

What was your first impression of Australia when you immigrated?

In my blog – Tip o The Fez I actually recount my first memory in Australia in a post titled 'Immigrant Girl'. I was only four years old when my family immigrated here, so my memories are a little hazy, but what left an imprint on me was a sense of wonder and magic - that this place, Australia, was full of possibilities. Although I was so young, I believe my senses were spot on. That’s exactly how I still feel about Australia.

 What’s it like to be a debut author? Are you excited or nervous?

Absolutely awesome! I’m excited and nervous and still in a state of disbelief but also incredibly happy. I feel very fortunate that the team at Rhiza Press believe in me and my work, and have given me this opportunity to share my story with others.

 

Lora's debut novel, Unspoken Rules, is out on the 17th of September on Australian Citizenship Day.

To find out more about Lora, visit her website and Facebook.

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Danger and Dancing - Chats with Rosanne Hawke

LianasDanceES1. Tell us a little bit about Liana’s Dance. What can readers expect?

Liana’s Dance is a sweeping adventure so if you liked The War Within, you’ll like this novel too. Liana’s Dance also has a touch of mystery due to a family secret. Sixteen-year-old Liana tries to come to terms with living in a dangerous time, especially when her school is attacked by terrorists, but also fights peril from within herself.

2. Like Liana, did you experience danger when you lived in Pakistan?

It’s strange but we never felt we were in constant danger. Sometimes we were in danger due to the environment, like being trapped by snow in the Chitral Valley or getting lost and turning up in a strange village of only men, all carrying guns (we got out of there pretty fast and fortunately weren’t followed). My husband was detained by police twice, once for looking too much like an Afghan freedom fighter and second for letting off firecrackers for the girls’ school where I worked.

During the Gulf War the police said we were in danger since we looked like Americans and had to remain at home. Fortunately the people in Abbottabad, where we lived, knew us and gave us no trouble. The kindness of the people outweighed the dangers. For example, a poor Christian family brought us food while we were house-detained.

3. Liana’s Dance is inspired by your Beyond Borders series. Why did you think it was important to tell Liana’s story now?0 Rosanne

Some readers have been concerned about what happened at the end of The War Within and wanted to know more about Liana. I thought it was good to see what Liana was like when she was Jaime’s age. She has an incredible story of depression and hope; fear and strength; maturity and love. I also believe telling Liana’s story is good for Jaime in helping her navigate her lonely landscape of grief.

4. How do you think Australian teenagers would relate to Liana’s story?

When I wrote the first draft of Liana’s story I thought a terrorist attack on a Western school would never happen, but imagine my shock when some years later, it did. I kept working on the story because some young people do have to walk through frightening situations, even in Western countries. They can emerge fearful or more mature. Also, the situation in which Liana finds herself while travelling with her young music teacher is a dilemma that’s not often spoken about, but can easily become a problem in high school.

5. All right, last question. Liana loves to dance. Are you known to give a little boogie or jig every now and then?

Ha, not likely. I grew up in semi outback QLD and loved country dances and balls. My brother would take me when I was older as the boys at school didn’t know how to dance. Maybe I was a geek.

While in Pakistan some Afghan ladies taught my girls and me some dance steps. Sometimes when I was first writing stories set in Pakistan I dressed in the outfit those ladies made for me, put the Caravans soundtrack on and secretly danced their steps. It helped me think of what to write next.

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