Behind the Story with Rick Morton

The stories you read in memoirs and biographies are often the most brave and compelling.

We asked the six authors shortlisted for the 2019 National Biography Award to share the most surprising thing they learnt about themselves or their subjects.


Rick Morton and his book One Hundred Years of Dirt

Rick Morton

One Hundred Years of Dirt (Melbourne University Press)

Before I started writing One Hundred Years of Dirt, I hoped the sense of acceptance I had come to throughout my life were more than theoretical. By that I mean, the ability to look at those who had done us harm - intentionally or otherwise - and examine them with kindness and understanding.

I think the act of committing the story to the page, knowing it will be in a sense the final testament, was going to make the theory practical. This was the story I wanted to tell, this was the way I wanted to tell it and without sacrificing honesty and truth I was able to do it without turning people into caricature villains.

More than that, I choose to commit to this sort of grace because I genuinely believe the alternative is grief and loss and aggravation. No good can come from this, but the test was always going to be the book and the words I chose to live on beyond the telling.

It was a nice surprise during the writing process to discover that this argument - easier said than done - was not just a story I had told myself. It was within my capacity to show it. Though not easily practiced, there is a huge value in nuance. To seek to understand something or someone is not to excuse it or them. It must never be that.

But the soft power of human inquiry is a mighty thing. So many people on this planet are hurt and walking around in pain, we should try to see them. In that way, my own book has been a gift to me because it is proof, I hope, that this is the way forward.

Read the judges' comments and view the shortlist here