Susan Braghieri

Writer, traveller and book lover

Category: Recent Posts

The Books that Shape our Childhood

During a recent tidy up of my book shelves, I came across some favourites from my childhood. There are titles you will recognise, others will be more obscure, but I’ll come back to those in a moment.

My earliest memory of reading a book on my own was The Land of Nod. Even though I no longer have it, I still remember the cover: a vibrant electric blue with an illustration of a child sitting on a golden crescent moon. It was read, and re-read, many times over along with another favourite, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty.

‘What greater gift is there than sharing our love of reading
with the next generation?’

Books were a luxury in our farming family, particularly during years of drought, and were reserved for birthday or Christmas presents. We did have an impressive encyclopaedia set on display in the lounge room; weighty tomes lined up in a row that were our ‘go to’ for school projects.

There was one book in this set, however, that I read for pleasure: the last volume containing a collection of Aesop’s Fables and other folktales. I’d read different fables before going to sleep entranced by the stories and morals contained within. ‘Androcles and the Lion’ was my favourite. There was many a night where I could stay awake no longer, my fingers relaxing from the edges of the book until it slid off my quilt. The heavy thud startling my mother, who’d rush in to check if I’d fallen out of bed, only to find me sound asleep and the book askew on the floor.

In my primary school years, the school library became my main source of new reading material. I recall reading titles such as Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven and The Famous Five series, Agatha Christie’s mystery novels, Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Joy Adamson’s non-fiction trilogy: Born Free, Living Free and Forever Free to name a few.

Other books made their way into my childhood bookcase as gifts, or school prize books, and have remained with me into my adult life. The pages are yellowed, and the spines are coming away from the pages, but I cannot part with them. At the time, they took me into fantasy worlds and places beyond my own experience and imagination. In Year Four, it was S Coolidge’s What Katy did Next, followed by Hilda Boswell’s Treasury of Children Stories in Year Five — an anthology of excerpts from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; David Copperfield; Heidi; Stuart Little and other stories. Tales of the Wild by French children’s writer René Guillot was the next to find a home on the book shelf in Year Six.

In Year Seven, I received Bushranger Ballads: illustrated by Pro Hart. For many years, I thought this book was lost during one of our family moves. It was like meeting an old friend again when my brother returned it to me two years ago, decades after it disappeared. He could only surmise he’d referred to it for a school assignment and somehow, when our lives diverged as adults, the book had stayed with him. In one of those inexplicable coincidences in life, my husband has a title from his school years from the same series — The Poetry of Henry Lawson: illustrated by Pro Hart. The two now side by side on my book shelf.

‘A treasured bridge between his childhood and mine’

Life also gives us the opportunity to pass our enjoyment of a book from one generation to the next. When I chanced upon a beautifully illustrated A Treasury of Aesop’s Fables illustrated by Don Daily in a book shop in Perth, I couldn’t resist buying it for my youngest son before he started school, with the secret hope that he, too, would enjoy the fables as much as I had. It quickly became the one book he wanted me to read to him at bedtime. He is a young man now, but this book remains a treasured bridge between his childhood and mine. One day, maybe, he too will read it to his children.

Children’s titles have come and gone from the mix on our family’s book shelves, far too many to name in one blog post. Some dispensed with, if only for the reason they were so loved they literally fell apart, such as Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Sandra Boynton’s whimsical board books. Others departed in the flurry of my annual clean-outs to free up more shelf space as my sons outgrew them. They found new homes with the children of relatives or friends, or were donated to our local school or charities.

I often have book donator’s regret for some of the bookish treasures I’ve let go. But my husband is a practical man and reassures me: ‘You can’t keep everything’, and besides, as he says, ‘You’ve given other children the opportunity to love those books, too.’ I know he’s right. What greater gift is there than sharing our love of reading with the next generation? Still, I sometimes mutter to myself: What were you thinking?

I’d love to hear about the books that were your childhood favourites, or your children’s, and if they too remain on your book shelves.

Sue

This Writing Life and Writing Friendships

I was recently invited to talk about literary friendships, alongside my writing friend Hannah van Didden, for our friend Rashida Murphy’s writing blog Rashidawritenow. But I’ll come back to that in a minute or two, and you’ll find the link at the end of this post.

Writing friendships are, I think, an essential part of the writing life, and I can attest that it took me some time to find mine. Too much time you could probably argue. When I think back to graduating from my Graduate Diploma course in Professional Writing, I took work opportunities that engaged with the professional writing side of my degree. A local government authority offered me a contract to research and write information panels for a community history museum. I love history and research so it was a win-win for me. Then I moved on to a not-for-profit organisation in the disability sector, writing content for their website, media releases, article content, and researching and applying for grants. I was using all the professional writing skills I’d learnt during my degree, but there came a time when I wanted to explore the creative side.

A friend gave me the opportunity to create a musical theatre script for an annual, children’s performing arts concert with a cast of nearly 200 performers. Lisa placed so much faith and trust in me that I would deliver, even though it was something I’d never done before. The script had to have a space theme, and be a cohesive story that would weave through the acting, dance and singing performances. But there was more. It had to be suitable for children from toddlers through to 16 to 17 year old’s. No inappropriate words or themes, no selection of songs with swearing or risqué lyrics.  Fortunately, the final responsibility for song choices fell to the dance and singing teachers, but I made suggestions on songs that would fit with the flow of the script.

At times, I doubted the script would ever be finished, let alone performed. But with so much riding on it as a fundraising event, failure or giving up was not an option. I had a deadline to write to, and nothing drives you more than the days on a calendar disappearing. The resultant script is called Plenoch’s Puzzle, with the sub-title: Solve the puzzle to save the universe. The story is set in a futuristic world where the qualities that make us human have long been forgotten: courage, hope, compassion, loyalty, faith and love. Qualities dormant in the six teenage Keepers of the Memories (KOTM), who are called upon to be the saviours of the universe after they find a mysterious pentagem.

The script has an eclectic cast of characters: Aleana, a dying sun; Tergon, a dark presence who is extinguishing all light and hope; and an all-knowing Time Seer, who guides the KOTM but can’t influence the outcome. There are Miming Mumblers, Jimmity Jammers, Wandering Wuffles, Zototrons, and a cast of other weird and wondrous characters either helping, or thwarting, the Keepers of the Memories in their quest to unlock the secret of the gem and defeat Tergon. I think I just about drove Lisa, the Performing Arts School Director, and Olivia, the Concert Director, to nervous breakdowns getting sets and costumes done in time for the performance. And apparently, one costume supplier commented that it sounded like I was the next JK Rowling – in my dreams! It was a real buzz to see my script performed, and rather emotional to witness the children bringing it to life in costumes that encapsulated the characters I’d created.

I must have done an okay job because Lisa and Olivia remain friends today, and I was invited back to write another script two years’ later for the annual concert. This time, creating a contemporary musical theatre script Allie’s Amazing Adventures, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. I still remember one of the mother’s stopping me on the way into the concert to congratulate me on the quality of the script. It was a small gesture on her part, but it meant so much to me. I felt encouraged that maybe I had something to say after all.

Then everything came to a halt. A few health issues arose and the writing life was shunted to the side for a while. I continued reading books assigned by my book club, and faithfully attended the Perth Writers’ Festival every year, taking copious notes on every word that came out of the writers’ mouths – something I continue to do! But, I was doing a fraction of the three things all established and successful writers recommend if you want to be a writer. You must read, read, read widely and read some more. Join a writers’ centre, and go to writers’ festivals and workshops to learn from experienced writers. And most importantly, write, write and write some more.

I finally took the step to join my local writers’ centre in the hope of meeting some like-minded writers. I embraced volunteering for two years as the centre’s Publicist and Grant Writer, and as the Convenor of a monthly Women’s Writing Group. I’m an organiser and a people person, and I thrived on that side of the writing life. I went to numerous writing workshops to learn and develop as a writer. And in all that busyness, I was back in my comfort zone doing professional writing tasks, meeting lots of other writers, but not much creative writing was happening. Something had to change.

The turning point came when I summoned the courage to apply for a year-long writing course at our writers’ centre. And this is where I bring you back to the opening lines of this blog post. That course was the start of some wonderful writing friendships that continue to sustain and nourish my creative writing life today. I would be lost without them. They are my compass and cheer squad as I go down the rabbit hole in writing the first draft of my novel, and send my shorter pieces out into the world.

You’ll find my thoughts on the importance of writing friendships, alongside Hannah’s, at Rashida Murphy’s writing blog Rashidawritenow. My thanks to Rashida for the invitation. https://rashidawritenow.wordpress.com/2017/05/03/literary-friendships-2/

I’d love to hear your thoughts on writing friendships and what they mean to you.

Sue

 

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