In My Mother’s Hands (published by Allen & Unwin) by Biff Ward - is a beautifully written and emotionally perplexing coming-of-age true story about growing up in an unusual family.
It has been:
* Short-listed for the NSW Premier's Douglas Stewart Award for Non-fiction for 2015
* Long-listed for The Stella Prize for 2015
* Winner, Canberra Critics' Circle Award for 2014
In My Mother's Hands
Given the intensely personal and sometimes traumatic nature of the story told in this book, I am often asked if it was 'cathartic' to write it. The answer is Yes and No.
It was a joy to write - one of those stories that demands to be written, that sometimes had a life of it own as my pen touched the page. Any catharsis for me derived from being able to tell the whole story in one place - it's such a big story that I had never been able to do that before in any form. Shaping it into a manageable form, a narrative that might beguile a reader, was one of the high points of my life.
My Writing Life
I read avidly as as a child - the usual story of losing myself in other worlds, of reading for hours and hours, of inexpressible pleasure. My father was tuned in to Australian literature, so in my teens I was lucky enough to read all of Katherine Susannah Pritchard, Eleanor Dark, Kylie Tennant and Ruth Park. I knew that Australian women could be marvellous writers.
I wrote feminist personal-as-political pieces and poetry in my thirties and then, while working at Beryl Women's Refuge was confronted with family-based child sexual abuse. My searching for help in this field led me to libraries and what I found there turned into Father-Daughter Rape (The Women's Press, 1984), one of the first books in the world on that topic. It focuses on the phenomenon of trusted adult males sexually using girl children to whom they have access. My book is a a feminist analysis of the literature on sexual abuse as it existed at that time - an array of psychiatric and criminological theorising about the sexual abuse of girls in the family, from Freud in 1896 to the beginning of the 80s. In essence, what I found was that the only explanation ever given for perpetrators' crimes was 'poor impulse control' and that the vast majority of clinicians actually blamed the mothers (for not providing enough sex, for being unattractive) or the daughters (they were seductive, they wanted it, they didn't complain). No longer in print, Father-Daughter Rape is available from Amazon and other second-hand book websites.
In 1992, the poetry book threes' company, a collection of my work with that of Donna McSkimming and Deborah McCulloch, won the Wakefield Press/Friendly St Publishing Award in Adelaide. The first edition sold out in a few weeks - quite a feat for poetry - so we three negotiated a reprint with Wakefiled. It turned out the rush was over, so I have plenty of copies available thorugh the contact page.
The book I am working on now is a memoir about my relationship to the Vietnam War. From passionate protest organizer to supporter of Vietnam veterans, my journey is about my love affair with a country, a word, that war. The working title is The Third Chopstick.
The days of the elusive muse - stamping about or drifing from planting petunias to cleaning the car – are essential to my process of writing. My laptop companion and I often ride my beautiful blue bicycle cafes, libraries, picnic spots where we spend time together.
Born 1942 in Sydney, I lived in Mosman until I was ten, then Canberra until I was fourteen when we moved to Armidale, NSW. I completed high school and attended university there. In 1962 I married and flew to England where my husband undertook a PhD at Sussex University while I did my third year exams long-distance and went on to have a baby called Genevieve.
On return to Australia, I lived with Ian Macdougall, a leading antiwar activist at that time. We had twins, Ben and Hannah in 1969.
I have had a life of political activism - Ban the Bomb, Vietnam, Women's Liberation, Close Pine Gap, Close Nurrungar and support for Indigenous causes. My working career was as an ducator - high school teaching (English and History), the School Without Walls (SWOW) in Canberra, Literacy teacher at the Institute for Aboriginal Development in Alice Springs, Equal Opportunity Officer at the University of South Australia and then director of SPECTRA Consultants, training in harassment prevention, marginalization awareness, team building, maximising human relations in all its forms in the government and community sectors.
I live in Canberra in the same area where I grew my children and one of my daughters now grows my grandchildren - the closest we can get, it seems to me, to village-living in a modern urban setting. Familiarity, autumn leaves, the Brindabellas, the National Library, multitudinous parrots and all those cycle paths - what's not to like?