Last week we launched Tracy Crisp’s new book Surrogate to a very full house at Imprints Booksellers. After an excellent speech by ABC Adelaide’s Deb Tribe, here is what Tracy had to say.
Thank you, Deb. For being so open to the invitation and so generous with your time to prepare for tonight and to be here this evening. And thank you for giving Surrogate such a great send-off into the world. It’s extremely nerve wracking, and I really appreciate what you’ve done to wish it bon voyage.
Thank you to Imprints, and especially Jason who has been very patient with all my Hi Jason, just double-checking emails. I remember the first time I walked into Imprints … it was down the road, and I’d just moved to Adelaide to go to uni. I was entirely overwhelmed that year, feeling completely out of place, but when I walked inside, I knew that I wanted to be part of this world. I bought the Complete Shakespeare Sonnets – because that’s how clever I was – and every year since I’ve made a new year’s resolution to learn them all by heart. 2018 will be my year.
Thank you to everyone at Wakefield Press and especially to Michael who has twice now taken a punt on my work. Wakefield is truly South Australian, making sure that local stories have a place to be told.
In coming back to Adelaide, I have experienced for the first time since I moved out of my home in Port Pirie the true joy of knowing what it means to feel grounded, to belong, to be at home. Being published by Wakefield has given my return home an extra potency.
Julia was a very caring editor. Liz designed the perfect cover. Ayesha and Maddy have answered endless emails – Hi, just double-checking – and Jonny is making sure my books can fly out of the nest and find a new home.
I don’t want to talk too much about the tortuous process of writing this, but at a time when I was completely overwhelmed with doubt Virginia Lloyd and Jacqui Lofthouse each did a brilliant job in very different ways of helping me see the way through to the end. When I did get to the end, Penelope Goodes in Melbourne and Melissa King who lives in Adelaide and I’m really pleased was able to come tonight, picked it up and did a wonderful job of saving me from embarrassing errors.
Thank you to Adrian. Those of you who know him, know that he is a good man in all of the many senses that we understand that. He not only loves me, and he not only respects my work as a writer, but he values it. He values it not only because it is good for me, but also its place in our relationship. This is not to be taken for granted in a partner. Although I’m not sure he values the production of tea towels taking over the house and the subsequent spread of inky cat prints across all our floors. As I was finishing off the printing for last week’s market, I said to him, ‘Do you think I’m ridiculous?’ And he didn’t say, ‘Yes.’ Though thinking about it now, I also realise he didn’t say, ‘No.’
Thank you to Leo and Felix. My beautiful grandfather used to like saying, ‘Leo and Felix. You had two cats.’ But they’re heaps better than cats. Their inky paw marks are bigger, but so is their love and it is more consistent too.
Before I thank you for coming, I want to give a shout out to Adrian’s parents who can’t be here. Adrian’s mum has done such a wonderful job of negotiating the complexities of the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship and I am very grateful to have her as one of my greatest friends. Thank you to the many members of my family who came tonight, aunties, uncles, cousins, brother, my sisters-in-law. And thank you to mum and dad’s friends.
It is of course the deepest of sadness that Mum and Dad aren’t here. Mum never knew that I was going to publish anything. Which is a pity because she was the first and the best storyteller I will ever know and she really had a way with words.
From the nuns at Henley Beach who, she insisted, were constantly trying to steal her dog, to the day we drove into Port Pirie and she pointed at the stack and said to us, ‘Do you see that? Do you know what that is? That’s the largest lead smelter in the world, and do you know what that means, that means if there’s ever a war, we’ll be the first to be bombed’; to the time that in her capacity as the Mayor’s wife she stood next to Port Pirie’s archbishop as the debs were presented and said to him, ‘You know you’re the only man in the town can get away with wearing hot pink, don’t you?’
I didn’t ever let Dad read the final draft of my first novel. I was nervous about what he would think, afraid that I wouldn’t live up to his expectations. Not because he was especially demanding, but because he had such faith, such confidence in what I would do, and I hated the thought that I had let him down. By the time I felt like I could show it to him, he was far too tired and although I had signed the contract before he died, he never did get to see the finished product. This mistake has haunted me for a long time. But from it I hope that I have learnt to be more open and more trusting, not only in the people around me but in myself.
And finally, I want to say thank you to you.
The biggest challenge that I face when I’m writing is staring down my demons. There’s the obvious, angsty ones. I’m not good enough, what have I got to say that hasn’t already been said, I’m fifty years old I’ve got six thousand dollars in super I should probably get a real job, oh, I’ve got a great idea, I’ll screen print tea towels … and then I will give them away, because I’m too embarrassed to ask for money … but there are also far deeper and much darker demons than those.
It’s a cliché of writing classes to be told, ‘write what you know.’ Okay. So, clichés ahoy, my first novel is set in a town nestled in the shadow of a lead smelte – although spoiler alert, war is never declared – but writing, creating anything, is a way of making sense of the world, of making sense of what it means to be human. So, writing what you know means that wherever you start, you always end up processing the most difficult of emotions. The losses, the pain, the anger, the mistakes. I remember when Leo was quite young and he was asking about the events of my work so far and when we got to the end, he said, ‘Have you ever thought about, instead of all the death, you have a brush with death?
But of course, we only know what it is to feel loss and pain because we know celebration and joy. Because we know friendship and we know love. So, when I say thank you for coming, thank you for helping me to celebrate, I mean it most sincerely.
Thank you for coming to the launch of my new novel, Surrogate. Thank you for reading it, and thank you in advance for sending me nice notes to tell me how much you loved it. Thank you for telling me a little white fib if you never get around to reading it, and thank you for flat out lying if you do read it but you don’t really like it.
Shavers down: it’s Movember. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian men, with 3000 dying of it each year – more than the number of women who die of breast cancer. Turn the focus on men’s health with this excerpt from Peter Endersbee’s memoir, Taking a Punt.
Anna accompanied me to the urologist for the biopsy results. I was still clinging to the possibility it might be benign in spite of the terrible PSA readings. When he came into the waiting room he was wearing a stiff white coat that belied his humble open-faced demeanour. He was tall and dark and handsome and younger than I’d imagined. Early forties. Certainly not the battle-scarred senior partner I’d associated with his field of specialisation. He seemed far too young to be playing God to a waiting room of old and middle-aged men. We were shown chairs, and sat down.
I could hardly bear to look at him. He smiled and praised me for having taken myself off to Casualty after I’d experienced the very flu symptoms he’d mentioned as an unlikely side effect of the biopsy. He said I’d done the right thing. His introductory gambit had my hopes up. It would be downhill all the way and I’d soon be walking out scot-free.
But after referring to more papers he looked me squarely in the eye and said they’d found carcinogenic cells from the biopsy. The PSA result had been bad enough, but hearing that I had prostate cancer was like being mentally winded, a feeling of vertigo. I glanced out the window, the plane trees and clear blue sky suddenly in a different world. I only half heard that my Gleason score was a seven on a scale of one to ten. I was told the Gleason was an indicator of how aggressive the cancer might be based on an aggregate number from the biopsy samples, where anything less than seven indicated a reasonable chance of a good prognosis; anything more than seven did not. The surgeon tried to reassure me that a seven was not so bad, at least it wasn’t an eight or a nine, which he had half expected, given my very high PSA. When I asked him what my chances were without the operation he replied, ‘Five to ten years, taking into account your readings and your age.’
As the first shock waves began to subside, I became aware of Anna taking notes.
On the way home we didn’t say much. Even over cups of tea at the kitchen table it hadn’t sunk in.
‘You’re taking it remarkably well,’ she said.
‘What else can I do?’ I was looking at the picture she’d painted on the teacup from which I was taking controlled sips, wishing I’d never answered the telephone that day. I clutched the soothing ceramic vessel.
‘I will support you in whatever you choose to do,’ she said. ‘We’re in this together.’
Find out more about Taking a Punt here.