Palmerston Senior College Visit – March 2014
It was an absolute honour to visit a Year 10 English class at Palmerston Senior College. They were the first school to choose Nona & Me as a class text; their fantastic teacher Ms Hempel jumped straight in and ordered a set for the school after coming to the ALEA conference last July and reading the uncorrected proof.
I learned that some of the students had read the book multiple times and were keen to star in a film version! Many were interested to learn about my time working as a TV writer. The best feedback comes from the students themselves – here’s what they had to say:
“It was entertaining, it was inspiring…she told us the truth on how she thought and felt.”
“I remember Clare having an activity for us and we had to read the palm cards that explained the process of scriptwriting. I remember her sharing her experience about living in Yirrkala and contributing in Aboriginal culture.”
“…going through the process of being a scriptwriter…was a pretty interactive activity…”
“I liked how you told us some stories and I really like it how you told us how you came to write the book.”
“She spoke very comfortably – I felt like I could say or ask things.”
“I remember her talking about the Yolngu community because I actually listened.”
“I remember how she talked about the characters and how she acted like they were her.”
We also had an interesting discussion about the roles of parents in the book. Apparently, there had been a heated debate in class about whether Jen, Rosie’s mum, tried to push her own views onto Rosie, and hadn’t really listened to how Rosie felt. I talked about Jen’s character motivations and why she might act this way. In the feedback after the talk a lot of students wrote about how they could understand why Jen might have acted like she did, and why she would be nervous for her daughter, even if she perhaps didn’t go about showing this the best way possible.
Thanks again to Ms Hempel and her students for having me in to talk to the class – it was a lot of fun and so great to meet students and hear their thoughts on the book.
I’m very excited to announce that I will be a guest author at two fantastic conferences in 2015.
The first is the Somerset Celebration of Literature on the Gold Coast from the 18th to the 20th of March.
The second is Reading Matters in Melbourne from the 29th to the 30th of May.
I can’t wait to meet the attendees and other authors appearing at these events. If you’re local to one of them please register to attend or come along to the open sessions.
Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. So close.
You won’t see the beautiful cover of Nona & Me on The 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards list. But you might have, if it had been the Premier’s 22…or 25…or something like that.
The judges said they were ‘very taken’ with the book, their official comment being: ‘Clare Atkins’s first novel is a fresh exploration of communication and complication between indigenous and non-indigenous young people. The judges would have loved to include it on a larger shortlist.’
I have to admit it is bitter sweet to get an email like this. One one hand, I feel incredibly proud. Judges, people with a real, in-depth knowledge of literature and YA, read Nona & Me and they liked it. A lot. On the other hand, it is also disappointing. A case of so close and yet so far.
This is my first taste of being entered for an award and it has stirred up a lot of strange feelings and questions about how we compare (often very different) books and rate them. It feels a bit like being back in high school and getting an essay back with a big red number scrawled at the top. A mark out of twenty that is also, essentially, a rank in the class.
And this is where I have to come clean about high school. I was one of those students who kept a list of all her marks in the back of her diary. I then calculated my grade percentage for each subject as I progressed through the the year. Yes, really. I know. Uh huh. I am serious. A bit over the top? A lot? In my defence, I went to a very academic school. I wasn’t the only girl doing this. And at least I didn’t insist on finding out everyone else’s marks too. I only cared how I did. I wanted to do my best.
Which I suppose brings us back to writing awards. And what I need to remember as Nona & Me is entered in more awards: it doesn’t matter how good everyone else’s books are, what matters is that I did my best, wrote from the heart, told a story I thought was worth telling. And I did.
Sydney Morning Herald review – December 2014
I grew up watching my mother read The Sydney Morning Herald and, when I got older, I took on the habit. It’s proved hard to quit; when we moved to Yirrkala, where we could only buy The Australian a week late, I went half a year without it…then suffered withdrawal and signed up so I could read it on our iPad. So it was a particular honour when I e-stumbled across a review of Nona & Me in the SMH on Sunday. Here it is.
Books & Arts Daily interview
This interview with Georgia Moodie from Radio National’s Books & Arts Daily was prerecorded while I was in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago, and was aired last week.
I’m always interested to see what aspects of the book people choose to ask about, and I liked that some of Georgia’s questions were challenging to answer. In particular, I wonder how other non-Indigenous authors feel about the ‘Would you feel comfortable writing from an Indigenous perspective?’ question…
The mother who writes, and the writer who mothers
I wrote this guest blog post for Bree at 1girl2manybooks but then I really liked it and wanted to publish it here too. It’s about being a mother who writes, which can often be a contradictory dual identity, but in the case of Nona & Me mothering had some quite sweet parallels to the story I was writing.
As a brief aside, for any creative mother who has grappled with the fact that creative endeavours such as art and writing draw from the same well as mothering, I highly recommend The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood by Rachel Power and a documentary called Lost In Living by Mary Trunk – you can watch the trailer here.
Anyway, more on that another time. For now, here’s the blog post:
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 (non-Aboriginal) 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 (Aboriginal from east Arnhem Land) 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.
Reviews of Nona & Me
It has been so exciting to see reviews starting to appear in some fantastic blogs, including:
Alpha Reader / Kill Your Darlings: ‘Race, Growing Up and Nona and Me‘ by Danielle Binks
1girl2manybooks: ‘Review: Nona & Me‘ by Bree T
Notebook Sisters: ‘Giveaway of Awesome + Review‘ by Cait Grace
Multimodal Me (an English teaching blog): ‘Clare Atkins’ positive perspective on friendship‘ by Kerri-Jane Burke
Thanks so much to these reviewers for taking the time to read the novel and write such thoughtful and in-depth responses. I am absolutely thrilled with the response to date.
Where are you from? (An interview with Waleed Aly)
I’m back in steamy Darwin, after a few days of cold-snap weather and borrowed coats, in Melbourne promoting Nona & Me. Publishing is a whole new world to me, and I have to say that it’s a lot of fun! I met publishing representatives, booksellers, other authors, and did some media interviews, including this one for Radio National’s The Drawing Room.
I really enjoyed talking about culture with Waleed Aly and David Nyuol Vincent, whose show The Team of Life is on at the moment in Melbourne. Watching this clip of David’s show made me think “What have I been doing wasting my time glued to a laptop?! I should’ve been jumping around doing energetic, joy-filled stuff like this!”
Other highlights from the trip include talking with the eloquent and inspiring Alice Pung, whose upcoming YA novel Laurinda is also published by Black Inc, in an event at The Little Bookroom, and meeting Brooke Davis, Nic Low and Paul Dalla Rossa at the ‘Next Big Thing‘ event at The Wheeler Centre. Big thanks to Black Inc’s Jeanne Ryckmans and my agent Elizabeth Troyeur for making the trek down from Sydney to join us at The Wheeler Centre too!
Interview with Julia Christensen for ABC Radio, Darwin
Last week I had the pleasure of chatting to Julia Christensen on ABC Local Radio about all things Nona & Me. I really enjoyed the interview, and we ended up covering quite a bit of ground!
For those who didn’t catch it live, here it is, with thanks to ABC Radio 105.7
Buy Nona now (and donate to the ILF)
If you are looking to buy a copy of Nona & Me this week please do so through Bookworld – they are donating $2 from every copy sold to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, a fantastic organisation which supplies books and literacy programs to remote Aboriginal communities.
Plus, Bookworld has it for a great price and even provides free delivery!
This promotion runs until the 8th of October.