Last night Before You Forget was launched at The Literature Centre by Laurie Apps, President of the Fremantle Tennis Club and all round fabulous human being. The following are the notes for my speech, from which I deviated from time to time. It followed the first screening of the emotional and beautifully shot Before You Forget video, directed by Kori Reay-Mackey, to be posted in the near future. Thanks to all who came: we had 150 people sitting, standing, celebrating. It was quite a night!
Thank you to Lesley, Mailee and the Literature Centre team for hosting this event, and for being such supporters of those of us who create literature for young people. This place is our home and our refuge.
(Ad libbed thanks to Laurie Apps, director Kori Reay-Mackey, video donors, and Penguin Random House)
- Alan Genoni was a brilliant English teacher at Kelmscott High School, encouraging me early in my creative writing endeavours, and I am honoured that he is here tonight – as well as delighted that he also won Western Australian High School Principal of the year last year.
- Judith Ridge, guru of literature for young people, is here from Sydney, and I’m thrilled that this is also her first time to Perth: we’ll make sure it’s not your last.
- The energetic force of nature that is Susanne Gervay is also here from our SCBWI family in Sydney, and it is gorgeous to have her here.
- Katrina Lievense, art teacher extraordinaire from John Curtin, was kind enough to read through the manuscript and make sure I had the arty bits right: she and Anne McCaughey were my first readers, and I so appreciate their feedback: and I think they related to one of the themes of this novel – art as saviour.
- Thank you to my colleagues from writing, health, teaching, parliament and law.
- Graham Smith, John’s oldest friend, and his family are here tonight – until fairly recently, John could recite every move in the year seven chess final that Graham beat him in.
- Gemma Maxwell, whose name I used with permission in the novel, and about whom you heard Annie talking about in the video, whose mum also had early onset, and to whom the novel is also dedicated – thank you, and Tessa and Farrel for being here tonight.
- Thank you to all of you who have provided us with the nibblies – and especially Brioni Dunstan. I want to just say, Bri should have been in events management – as well as organising the food tonight, she threw a surprise party for me and Nigel a couple of years back, with the theme All You Need Is Love, a subject to which I will return, which remains one of the most lovely things anyone’s ever done for me.
- And speaking of Nigel, I want to thank him for his daily love and kindness, which sustains me.
So now, to Before You Forget, and why it is here, and why it matters so much to me – and will, I hope, to others.
The last five or six years have been trying, to put it politely.
If I were to describe it accurately, I would have to use all my Kelmscott words.
I have learned so much about human nature, good and bad – as someone wisely said, the best thing about the worst time of your life is that you see the true colours of everybody.
Sometimes, this resulted in a fondness for fermented grape juice, periods of insomnia, and acting out in extreme and self-destructive ways, such as deciding to do a law degree.
But these years were the impetus for writing the novel – indeed, made the writing of the novel essential to our psychic survival.
The last five years have also made me appreciate more than I ever have the value of human connection.
All of you here, and more who are not, have sustained me and Annie, in large ways and in small, practically, emotionally, spiritually, virtually or in person, and I truly cannot thank you enough.
I would like to make special mention of Morgan Yasbincek, Paul Webster and Shaun Salmon, who have supported John constantly through his illness, and keep doing so even though he no longer knows them.
But the star of this show is Annie.
I wrote this novel after seeing not only the torment that her father’s condition caused her, but also seeing how her loss, for the most part, was not acknowledged or understood by others.
There was no place for her in all the dealings with care providers, doctors, the State Administrative Tribunal, in all the horrible and unnecessary contests we went through over John’s care.
Her voice, her perspective, her relationship with her father were not heard, seen, or valued.
The system for dealing with people with early onset – in a framework of aged care – is woefully ill-equipped for younger people in general, and especially for younger people who still have children and teenagers at home.
This has to change.
Annie has become a strong, self-reliant, clear sighted and determined young woman because of what has happened to her – and I am so proud of her – and I know John would be too.
But I wish things had been better for her.
And I hope it will be better for the thousands of young people living with watching their parent’s deterioration, for those who lose parents when they are still alive, the living loss of early onset Alzheimer’s disease and its many variations and permutations.
So, this is what I hope Before You Forget will provide – an inside view on a little-understood disease and its effects on those living with it.
I also hope it’s a cracking good read.
I remember pitching Before You Forget to Jane Godwin, former publisher at Penguin, at our SCBWI retreat at Rottnest, saying ‘it’s about a girl whose dad has early onset and her best friend gets anorexia and her mother starts drinking and she’s obsessed with 9/11 – it’s a comedy, obviously.’
There is comic relief in the shape of a small and crazy Jack Russell named Hecta.
He is closely modelled on a small and crazy Jack Russell named Hecta who, despite regularly escaping out of doors onto busy roads, eating unidentifiable items from the yard or bins at Brightwater, humping poor patient Labradors until he does himself an injury, or stealing and eating glad-wrapped sandwiches from people’s handbags, manages to be the kind of dog that people look at and say, ‘Ah, isn’t he sweet.’
This novel reveals the truth.
Thank you all for being here, for sharing this ‘journey’ with us, and I hope this novel finds a treasured place in your hearts.