The influence of my life and work on my writing…
Being a prison chaplain is an interesting business. I work in a world that is unknown and misunderstood. People say to me, ‘How do you manage to work with those men after all the stuff they’ve done?’ I say, ‘It’s okay. I get to meet the people my mother wouldn’t let me play with when I was a kid.’
Well, I used to say that. Then I gave honesty a try…
See, I remember returning to my home town, and visiting the mother of a primary school friend, Robert.
I knock on her door. She answered, a bit belligerent – just as I remembered. ‘Who are you?’
‘I’m Kim. I used to live next door.’
‘Kim,’ she exploded. ‘You’re the boy who set fire to my yard and nearly burnt the house down.’
Mind you, this instant response is thirty-five years after I’d left that town as a teenager.
So, maybe my work as a prison chaplain means I get to work with the people like me, the ones other mothers wouldn’t let their children play with. 🙂
My recent book, They Told Me I Had To Write This is a young adult novel about a boy named Clem. Clem is at war with the world and with himself. He’s in trouble with the coppers and is now attending a school for toxic teenagers. And in this environment, he starts to deal with the sexual abuse of his childhood.
The abused childhood autobiography is fairly common. But fiction novels about child sexual abuse are not common, especially for teenagers. Perhaps publishers shy away from the area. Perhaps people don’t feel qualified to write about it. Perhaps authors are waiting for the vampire thing to fade and it will be the next fad. Perhaps I will now be inundated from readers who want to fill in my ignorance.
All I can say is that one sleepless night on holidays this book put itself together in my head. I got up the next morning and wrote an outline. Then I started to write. Five days later I had the first draft. Some holiday, don’t you reckon?
Competent people cast their eye over it. Author Hazel Edwards mentored me for some of the way. It got knocked into shape and was accepted for publication. Three years after that sleepless night it was on its way to the printer. I’m a bit blown away by it.
I sometimes wonder where the story came from. The answer is, from my own mind. It was in there already. I know about boys in strife. I’ve worked with them, as teenagers and adults, for many years. I was one myself. My book has been getting some pretty good reviews. I love that.
People ask me if I am writing anything else. Yes, I am. I’m currently writing a follow-up to this book. It’s not a sequel, but it has resonances. There’s a supporting character in They Told Me I Had To Write This named Bundy. I’m telling his story. It’s a darker work and there’s a more menacing undercurrent. Bundy likes burning things down. It’s the story of a firesetter. I wonder where that could be coming from…
Clem is a boy in strife. Blamed for the death of his mother, carrying a terrible secret from Grade 5 and in trouble with the police, he’s now in a school for toxic teenagers. And that rev-head school counselor wants him to write letters.Through his writing Clem goes deep into the trauma that has defined his life. Then he comes face to face with his mother’s death. In a rush of bush bike racing, the death of one student and the consequent arrest of another, an unexpected first girlfriend, and some surprising friendships, Clem’s story is the celebration of a boy who finds an unexpected future.Tackles multiple issues affecting today’s kids: bullying; family dysfunction; grief; mental illness; friendship with a fast-paced plot. Adults who are looking for insight into how to approach instances of deep teenage trauma will also find something here, as well as a good story, well told.