Your novel ‘Hello, Goodbye’ was sparked by your aunt’s story of being single, pregnant and Catholic in the 1960s. Though not a retelling of your aunt’s experience, how much did the need to honour your aunt, and other women who had been through a similar experience, weigh on you as you wrote the novel?
My aunt’s experience, as well as the experiences of the other women I spoke to for the novel, weighed heavily on me as I wrote, as did the many forced adoption testimonials I read. These mothers were, in most cases, young, vulnerable and completely unaware of their rights.
During their pregnancies, labour and in the days after birth, they were coerced, tricked and forced into giving their babies away. They were emotionally and sometimes physically bullied by the people who were supposed to care for them. Many are still traumatised. For these reasons, I felt an incredible sense of responsibility to get the facts and the story right.
What tools helped you envisage and recreate rural and metropolitan Australia of 1960s?
I’m a big one for looking at newspapers, photographs and archival film footage. I spent hours trawling the internet for articles and images from the 1960s. It was easy to lose sight of the clock when watching anti-Vietnam war protest clips set in Melbourne or looking at photographs of early Lygon Street coffee shops. The footage often featured streets and buildings that I know and love today, which was fascinating.
The people I interviewed for the book also gave me a sense of the social values of the time as well as a sense of place. My other go-to was my parents and family, many of whom were in their teens and twenties during the era. My Mum grew up on a dairy farm in a town like Nurrigul. Later, both she and my Dad lived in inner-city Melbourne. Their reflections on the politics and society at the time, as well as the people and places they knew, definitely informed the book.
How did you traverse the boundary between fact and fiction? Did your previous career in journalism help or even hinder you at times?
I actually didn’t find this part of writing the book too difficult. I interview a lot as part of my writing process, which probably comes from my journalism training. These interviews help me develop characters that are, hopefully, authentic. The historic markers in the book, in terms of music, politics, social values and world affairs had to be factual for the story to be believable. I have written fictional characters and a fictional story based heavily in fact and personal experiences.
The song ‘Hello, Goodbye’ was released by the Beatles in 1967. The late sixties saw a huge shift in popular music. How did this song, in particular, influence the novel?
Originally, my book had another title. The title ‘Hello, Goodbye’ came about during the editing process because it worked well with the era of the book but also worked well with it thematically.
What’s your favourite line from the book, and why?
‘I watch as she [May’s mother] rolls on my socks and ties my laces. It occurs to me that she’s loved me all along – every load of washing and plate of breakfast toast was a small declaration.’
This line reminds me of the things my Mum has done for me, and of all the mundane tasks mothers in general undertake for their children out of selflessness and love.
Your second novel is due for release with Allen & Unwin in July 2018 and you are currently working on your third. Can you give us any sneak peaks about these projects?
I tend to write around social justice themes. My second novel, coming out next year, centers on an unlikely friendship between two women formed during a time of grief. I’m interested in exploring the private struggles women face but might not discuss openly for fear of judgment, like infertility and living with a child who has intellectual disability.
The novel I am currently working on examines the links between youth homelessness and mental illness, and is told from the perspective of a teenage girl living on the streets of Melbourne. Interviews are a big part of my writing process. I have a range of interesting and knowledgeable people lined up to chat with for this book, and am very much looking forward to hearing and learning from their experiences.
Being a debut author, what has helped you the most in finishing this manuscript and finding a publisher for it?
Sheer determination, discipline and an ability to survive on a distinct lack of sleep were some of the main contributing factors to me finishing ‘Hello, Goodbye’ and my other manuscripts. Other factors included a fabulous writers group that supported me through the highs and lows, sage advice from other writers and my teachers at RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing course, and finding a great literary agent in Gaby Naher of The Naher Agency. Of course, the biggest factor was to keep writing, even when I desperately wanted to give up.
Emily Brewin is a freelance writer and secondary school teacher. Hello, Goodbye is her first novel. She has been awarded an Australian Society of Authors Emerging Writers’ and Illustrators’ mentorship for her fiction writing, and has been shortlisted for two manuscript development programs. She lives in Melbourne’s inner north with her two children, and is currently working on her second novel.