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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.
Do Oysters Get Bored? A Curious Life (UWA Publishing)
Writing is a surprising process. No matter what genre – academic work, creative non-fiction or poetry – I often don’t really know what I think about a topic or how I feel about an event until I write it out. There’s always a moment of dissonance when I read over what I have written, as if to say ‘did I really write that?’ Autobiographical writing, especially, is like a distorting mirror – the person looking back is simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. Sometimes it’s a better self; at other times, it’s someone I’m a little ashamed of. Most often, the words on the page reveal an intensely vulnerable self that I try to hide in daily life.
Writing Do Oysters Get Bored? was both an immensely enjoyable and a difficult process. When I started, I imagined it being humorous. I also hoped to be gentle. I was surprised to discover my depth of anger about some of my experiences in the past, but also that I had the bravery, perhaps the effrontery, to tell them. As well, I uncovered the depth of my affection, let’s just be straight forward and call it love, for both my immediate and my natal family. Writing the story of myself, my autistic son and my parents, writers Dorothy Hewett and Merv Lilley, was partly an exploration of eccentricity, of the habits of mind that bind us all together. But it was also a way of trying to break free from that lineage, and to assert myself as an independent person with my own voice.
I hope that when people read Do Oysters Get Bored? they come to understand something about the impact, liberating and traumatic, of a libertine upbringing. Most importantly, I trust they will grasp the complexity of autistic individuals, the frequently original quality of their thinking and their capacity to reflect the oddities of convention back to us, enlarging the known world, and surprising us all, as they do so.