Why there’s no Nona
13th May 2015
This is my latest blog post as the Inside A Dog author in residence. I thought Nona & Me readers might be curious to know these answers too! Here goes…
As Nona & Me is read by more people, there is one question that keeps appearing. The book is called Nona & Me: why isn’t there anything written from Nona’s perspective?
There are so many answers to this that I find it difficult to pin down one. So here they are, three reasons tangled together, numbered, but no one more important than the other:
1) I didn’t feel comfortable writing from an Indigenous perspective
I have read books written from the cultural perspective of main characters that are not the same culture as the author. I haven’t had an issue with this, and in my next book I’m planning to do this myself – to push myself as an author and take writing in a different voice to a new level. But I still wouldn’t write in first person when writing an Indigenous character. For me, this is about leaving a space for Indigenous authors to tell their own stories. This is important because of the history of white Australia taking from Indigenous people: taking stories, art, children, land…and the list goes on. If a Yolngu (Aboriginal from north-east Arnhem Land) writer one day wants to write a book called ‘Rosie and Me’ I would be ecstatic. But it is not my story to tell.
I was relieved and somewhat reassured when reading a recent blog post by Ambelin Kwaymullina (entitled ‘We need more diverse characters in YA’ – highly recommended reading) to learn that she seems to feel the same way: the first person is a space best reserved for Indigenous authors.
2) I don’t know enough about Aboriginal culture
All books require a certain amount of research. In writing Nona & Me, I worked with a Yolngu advisor – a wonderful woman and teacher called Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr Stubbs. She was among the first to hear the story, and she gave me lots of feedback and information along the way, as well as reading both drafts. I literally could not have written it without her input. But even with her help there was so much I didn’t, and in some cases couldn’t (for cultural reasons), know.
For example, this could be as minute a detail as her telling me a certain relative needed to be at the funeral to receive the wreath from Rosie. Or it could be as huge as me asking her if the idea that Nona would aspire to be a nurse was my own Western construct about people needing a job to be successful. In that case, Merrkiyawuy revealed that she herself had trained to be a nurse at the age of eighteen!
These are just two examples of many, that I hope demonstrate the depth of my lack of knowledge. Even writing what I did required extensive consultation and assistance.
3) I wanted to leave a space for imagination
I wanted Nona to remain a bit of an enigma. We get to know her, but we want to know her more. I hoped this would make readers stop and think, if they happen to meet their own Nona (and by this I mean not just an Indigenous person, but a person of any other culture that seems foreign to them), and take the time to get to know them and learn a bit about their story. Because it’s by learning these stories that we begin to break down stereotypes, to look beyond what someone appears to be, and find out more about the why, how and who?
4) Because…there is Nona…in everything…
For me, Nona was at the back of every thought Rosie had and every decision she made. Nona may not have been physically there all the time, and we didn’t hear from her perspective, but she was so much a part of Rosie’s childhood and the formation of the very essence of her character: she is a big part of the reason why Rosie is how she is today. And symbolically, I tried to reflect Nona in the blue winged kookaburra Rosie spots throughout the book.
What do you think? Would you have written part of the book from Nona’s perspective?