of In My Mother's Hands
This page features all of my recent news and updates. You can also find media commentary on my writing and work on the In the media page.
Residency at Booranga
Published in 4w
Winter Tales talk: National Library
Varuna: Maximising your
the art of memoir
Writer-in-residence at Booranga Writers’ Centre at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga for 3 weeks.
My short story, To the West, was published in literary journal, 4W.
I gave a talk last year at the National Library's regular event, Winter Tales. Winter Tales is an event series by the National Library that is presented in partnership with the Australian Women's Archives Project.
My talk was titled 'Activist and Author' and looked at my dual passions in those areas. You can read a transcript here.
I was on the selection panel for Fellowships to Varuna Writers' House from 2013-2015. I recently wrote this piece for the ACT Writer's Centre, on how you can maximise your chances of being selected through your application. You can read the full piece here.
An ACT Writers' Centre course of six sessions over 12 weeks.
I'm thrilled to be hosting this sold-out course for the ACT Writers' Centre. The course brings together my 25-years of experience as a workshop designer and facilitator with my passion for creative writing.
This twelve-week course will involve reading, writing, listening, reflecting, exploring issues through workshop techniques, and developing a critical eye.
The course is designed to give people time to write a great deal of their first draft, which is why it's set over 12 weeks. Participants also have the option of a one-on-one session during the course. I will update this page with future course dates, when they are available.
I have accepted an invitation to a three-week writers' residency at Booranga Writers' Centre, in Wagga, attached to Charles Sturt University in the spring of 2017.
My residency will include a writing workshop, and a reading event, and I will gratefully use the time to work on my next book.
Nigel Featherstone conducted a reflective online interview with me, over the winter of 2015. It was an enjoyable process - thank you Nigel!
You can read the full interview online here.
Griffith Review: Storied Lives
I was Griffith Review 2018 fellowship winner for a Varuna residency, based on first two chapters of my upcoming memoir, The Third Chopstick. Julianne Schultz, then-editor of GR, wrote, ‘I think your book will really make a big impact. I found the extract really compelling.’
Griffith Review: Storied Lives
My novella, In 1974 was named Winner (one of six) of Griffith Review's novella competition, Storied Lives, 2017.
The story is based on a real-life event in which a government school teacher sexually abused all the girls in his fifth and sixth grade class. The story questions the Royal Commission into Institutionalized Child Abuse’s practice of focusing on whether responsible parties took the matter to the police by demonstrating that in 1974, in similar circumstances, no one even thought of the possibility of going to the police. It is an a-historical construct.
In My Mother's Hands has been shortlisted for the Western Australian Premier's Book Award 2016 in the Non-fiction category.
792 books were entered in the nine categories of the award. The winner will be announced on 3 October 2016.
NSW Premier's Literary Award
In My Mother's Hands was short-listed for The NSW Premier's Douglas Stweart Prize for Non-Fiction, 2015. The judges wrote:
Biff Ward’s charismatic father, Russel, was a celebrated, sometimes controversial, historian; her mother, Margaret, suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness for most of her adult life. Like the prim white gloves with which Margaret hid her mutilated hands, the Wards’ conventional exterior concealed fear, silences and the mysterious death of a baby girl.
In My Mother’s Hands offers a clear‐eyed account of a family’s struggle with mental illness at a time when the nature of that illness was not well understood and difference was stigmatised. Balancing compassion and candour, Ward draws nuanced portraits of both her parents. She recounts the unhappy consequences of her mother’s condition: the ineffective and harrowing medical interventions, terrifying episodes when the illness flared, and the emotional alienation and shame her mother’s peculiarity created within the family. Ward is also frank about her father’s personal shortcomings, while sympathising with his deep sense of frustration and dismay at his wife’s disturbing behaviour. Written without a trace of self‐pity, this is an insightful and moving memoir built around the author’s quest to untangle the puzzle of her sister’s death.
In My Mother's Hands was long-listed for The Stella Prize 2015. The judges wrote:
In 1950s Sydney, at the height of the Cold War, Biff Ward was the pre-teenage daughter of unusual parents: her mother was an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and her father a prominent member of the Communist Party. In subsequent years, her historian father Russel Ward would become well known as the author of The Australian Legend, while her mother descended deeper into the mental illness whose first manifestation had been the mysterious death of her first child Alison, who had drowned, as an infant, in the bath.
This memoir is a moving and disquieting account of life in a family where silence ruled and nobody felt safe, but where everyone remained as loyal, and even as loving, as they could. Ward’s story of her family, and especially of her mother, is full of insight and frank intelligence, and shows what terrible stress and struggle sometimes went on behind closed doors in an era that stigmatised mental illness and idealised traditional family life.
In My Mother's Hands won the Canberra Crtitics'Circle Award for non-fiction for 2014.
Out-takes from Reviews of In My Mother's Hands
* In My Mother’s Hands is a coruscating and unsentimental account of an ordinary family beset by extraordinary circumstances, conveyed with love but never self-pity.
- Mandy Sayer, Anne Summers Report
* In My Mother's Hands is an extraordinary memoir … Sympathy, pity, confusion, anger and love radiate from her prose, as fresh and raw as they must have been 60 years ago. [It] is a gripping, disquieting account of a family held hostage to mental illness.
- Kylie Mason, Newtown Review of Books
* I can't think of any book I've read in recent years which I found more absorbing … The whole book is brilliant …
- Frank Bongiorno, ANU historian
* … this is a humbling book. I found it difficult to get it out of my head days after reading it.
- Sheila Fitzpatrick, Australian Review of Books
* In My Mother's Hands is an engaging and compelling book. I literally couldn't put it down. Like all great books, the reward comes not just in the act of reading, but in the feelings and contemplations which follow.
- David Roberts, UNE historian
* The very first sentence - There is in my family a grave that was never visited - enthralled me. What an amazing opening to a family story. An opening that goes to the heart of absence and makes it present. So present.
- Maryla Rose, psychotherapist
I was a guest speaker at the Griffith Review launch of Storied Lives in Canberra.