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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Inventing Childhood!!

Memory is a tricky thing. And remembering childhood one of the most difficult aspects of writing memoir. My childhood began in the Australian bush at a time when words like the bush myth and redneck politics were well in the future.  Our lives, indeed most lives outside towns and cities, were lived simply, frugally, harshly.  Transport was still by horse and cart, a ride on the mail truck, the odd sulky.  Few people had cars.  Houses were wooden shacks, furniture and fittings were rough and ready.  There was no electricity connected although we were not living in an especially remote place.  There was no sewerage, no running water, no soft carpets, no telephones, no local transport, no toothpaste or toothbrushes, no such things as shampoo and conditioner, no refrigeration, no shoes for children to wear, no toys, no books, no soft pillows.  No one in my family talked about education as though it mattered.  No one that I knew thought children might need special attention to their feelings, their emotions, that the needs of children might be highlighted in the daily rubicon of life. Very different to nowadays of course. There were parents and children who lived different lives in the bush of course; wealthier families whose children were sent to boarding schools and who planned different, more adventurous futures for them. There were also children who lived hidden lives and who had less wealth, less care and certainly less concern from governments or community; indigenous children, children with disabilities and children in institutional settings.  It may well be that social reformers, were talking about the rights of the child by 1940 but in working class, country New South Wales such ideas had barely filtered down to touch the world of a child.  
Ah, yes. Childhood. How to write about it now.

The Landscape of my Childhood

Monday, November 14, 2011


Remember how confident you were with words as a child?  Or perhaps not.  But generally children have the confidence to sit down and write a story.  They rarely worry about what others will think about it.  It is only as they move into a higher class and are subjected to adult supervision, some of this probably unduly harsh, that the lack of confidence creeps in.

Well, I think it is time to get some of that confidence back. In the end writing is a task like any other and if you write others will eventually  read it.  What they think about your writing is important but that should not be enough to stop you from creating stories and writing them and putting them out there.

I once thought that the criticism of other people would wound me and I would not be able to write. In fact I have been wounded by what reviewers and others sometimes say about my published work.  But the older I get the less I care.  I suppose that is small comfort to the young, inexperienced writer.  But believe me the greatest joy is to put those words on the page, to write the stories that come from the heart, to create the characters, the times, the events, build the relationships:  all of these are part of the joyful journey of writing.

I read a lot of stories.  And I have been reading a lot lately about how some of the characters I enjoy reading about once were children and how they came to the page. A writer is not born but made.  Writing is about practice, practice, practice. The more you write the better you will become at it.  Each writing journey is unique. No one writer is like another. Each writer finds the writing pathway to suit them. The entry point for each of us will differ.  But they do have one thing in common, eventually they write.


Christine de Pizan presenting her book
1363-c 1430
The City of Ladies

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Writing the lives of women and children

Watching my 7 year old granddaughter this morning.  It is such a joy to see how children see their world. Something as small as a flower can enchant them. Or as simple as playing games with the child next door. Life rolls on. Writing about childhood is one way into family history. I read this morning a piece that Mary Cameron (Dame Mary Gilmore) wrote about her childhood and it resonated with me.  She wrote about how she discovered writing when she was able to get to school - her father was an itinerant worker and the family moved around a lot.  She wrote of her experience during a three month stint when an 8 year old: 'I learned to compose sentences and write.  Instead of going ot to play in the dinner hour I would stay in school writing stories and description of things filling both sides of my slate as fast as i could an absolute fury of composition.' Mary Cameron kept that joy of writing and went on as we know to great and wonderful things.  Many of us will have that joyful experience as a child, writing stories and composing creatively - with wonderful abandon.  But we lose it as we grow up and as other things crowd in to squash the wonderful sense of what writing can do. But it is still there. Writing can and should be a joyful expereince and writing family stories, and our own life stories offers a fantastic entry into the writing life.
Dame Mary Gilmore as a young woman
see her biography online at:

Friday, November 11, 2011

Please contact me for advice and information

Please fee free to ask questions about writing family history, on researching and writing about women, and also on midwives and their hospitals on the mid north coast of New South Wales. You can email me or contact me on this blog.  Take a quick look at my web page as this may help you too.

Latest News

This is my first  blog post so it is short and uninteresting. I have a web page and mostly place updates on it.  See at
I am a professional historian and work also with family historians.  Since the 1990s I have worked almost solely on books, workshops and seminars on writing family history.
My latest book How to Write & Publish Your Family Story in 10 Easy Steps was released in July this year, see at

Last week I travelled to Kiama and presented a short workshop at the Kiama Library.  In the afernoon I gave a talk on my 2007 book A Greater Guilt: Constance Emilie Kent and the Road Murder for the Friends of Kiama Library.  I should thank Michelle Hudson and Patricia McGill for their kind support and for inviting me to Kiama.

Next week I will be visiting Hornsby library to talk to the U3A.