All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Author Guest Post: Clare Atkins

on October 9, 2014

Today I am happy to welcome Australian author Clare Atkins to my blog. Clare has been a scriptwriter for several very successful television shows and has released her first novel, Nona & Me this month with Black In Books.

Clare Atkins author photo

The mother who writes, and the writer who mothers.

 

Many authors say that writing a book is like giving birth. In the case of Nona & Me this was more literally the case than usual. The idea for the novel was conceived just months before I conceived my third child, and most of the writing was done while I was pregnant. My due date provided an unmovable deadline for the first draft. I was racing the bump and I won by an extremely slim margin: I finished the draft on a Thursday, printed it out to give to community members for feedback on Friday, and went into labour on Saturday.

I had a girl and we called her Nina, after Nina Simone. Funnily enough we didn’t even think of the similarity to ‘Nona’ until weeks later, when I started getting feedback on my first draft. The story is set in the remote Aboriginal community of Yirrkala, where I was living at the time. I felt it was important to get feedback from people who had lived and grown up there. I also worked with a fantastic Yolngu woman and teacher, Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr Stubbs, to ensure the material was culturally correct. I took my newborn baby Nina with me to these feedback meetings, balancing her on my lap or laying her down to sleep on a mattress while we talked. Nina’s days growing inside me may have been filled with the tap of fingers on keyboard, but her early days in the world were very much about human connection.

Those first-draft conversations centred on how to make the friendship between Nona and Rosie, and their two families, stronger. The bones of it were there, but it needed more detail and love to flesh it out. I had talked to many people for research during the writing process, but now I was looking for something specific: I wanted to talk to mothers with children who had grown up in Yirrkala, to learn what that friendship felt like from the inside. I was lucky: friends put me in touch with a Ngapaki lady who raised her children in Yirrkala in the nineties. She was no longer living there, but I spoke with her for hours on the phone. She was generous with her time and open about her experiences: her family’s life had been very much intertwined with that of a Yolngu family. The Yolngu mother had become one of her best friends. They had fished, cooked, laughed and cried together. Their children grew up as siblings, with the community their extended family. It was Rosie and Nona’s mothers’ story in real life. Hearing about this manifestation of the ideal of it ‘taking a village to raise a child’ brought tears to my eyes.

The second draft was a lot stronger. I rewrote while Nina slept: a few hours in the morning, a few in the afternoon. I submitted it to my publisher, Black Inc, and luckily they loved it. The editing process was gentle and supportive, like a mother cooing to her child, wanting only the best for its life. And now, two years after Nona & Me was first conceived, the book is making its way out into the world. And I feel anxious and excited because, even if it isn’t perfect, it is my baby. I can only hope readers love and cherish it as much as I have.

Nona & Me (online)

Thank you so much Clare for your beautiful post! I’ll be back tomorrow with a review of Nona & Me but in the meantime, here’s a little more about it courtesy of Goodreads/the publisher:

Rosie and Nona are sisters. Yapas.

They are also best friends. It doesn’t matter that Rosie is white and Nona is Aboriginal: their family connections tie them together for life.

Born just five days apart in a remote corner of the Northern Territory, the girls are inseperable, until Nona moves away at the age of nine. By the time she returns, they’re in Year 10 and things have changed. Rosie has lost interest in the community, preferring to hang out in the nearby mining town, where she goes to school with the glamorous Selena, and Selena’s gorgeous older brother Nick.

When a political announcement highlights divisions between the Aboriginal community and the mining town, Rosie is put in a difficult position: will she be forced to choose between her first love and her oldest friend?

AWWW2014

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