HARD AS by Bryan Hartas

Hard As by Bryan Hartas

I’m absolutely thrilled to announce the arrival of Hard As- My Life as an Orphan Boy, by my friend Bryan Hartas. For many years now I’ve been working at Lotus Place running creative writing classes for Forgotten Australians – those who suffered abuse in institutions and out of home care when they were children. From the start I knew Bryan had to tell his story. He was always talking about it, and had been disappointed by an earlier attempt by someone else who had changed things when writing his story down. It wasn’t his voice, it wasn’t the way he told it. I offered to help.

That was about five years ago, which is why I’m so very happy to now have this proper book, in Bryan’s own words, to share with the world. Like most Forgotten Australians, Bryan received very little education in the institutions he was sent to after his father killed his mother. In those days, children sent to orphanages were maltreated in the most appalling ways, and only prepared for a life of hard labour. They were put to work as soon as they could hold a scrubbing brush, and most of their work, either in the institution or on the farms where they were sent, was, and still remains, unpaid.

Thin soup and skinny boys.

Bryan and I sat together every week, over many years, and as he told me his stories, I frantically scribed for him – recording as much as possible, his own unique voice. He’s quite a story teller. I encouraged him to search for moments of joy within all the pain, to find some light in the darkness, so we have moments of happiness, like when he caught enough fish to take back and feed everyone for dinner, alongside the trauma of his daily beatings and loneliness.

The Forgotten Australians I work with are the survivors, many of those they were with in the orphanages have already died, or ended their lives in prisons or other institutions. I am privileged to know those who have not just survived but chosen to seek out support and healing through creativity. They are the best people I know, with the biggest most beautiful hearts.

My wonderful Lotus Place Creative Writers, celebrating Gloria’s 80th birthday!

Bryan’s story is one of resilience despite all odds. I am so happy that I’ve been able to make his lifelong dream of having his story seen and heard, as a proper book (after having spent so many years with the shame of illiteracy), in his own voice, in his own words. This would not have been possible without the support of Lotus Place, Micah Projects, the Alliance for Forgotten Australians and AndAlso Books.

Our terrible selfie 🙂

We are planning a launch at Avid Reader Bookstore for late January, after Bryan’s birthday. I’ll keep you posted. A few pre-release copies are available at select Brisbane bookstores, or contact me for your copy. Only $20 a book! Plus postage.

I also have copies of Thrill Seekers, Bjelke Blues and A Guide Through Grief, ready to go for Christmas presents. Contact me or see BUY BOOKS HERE.

I’m so very proud of Bryan for telling his story with courage and his trademark sense of humour and open heart. My favourite bit, apart from when he punches his dad, is when he envisions an alternative childhood for himself. The very best part of the publication process was that as we searched for images a photo of Bryan’s mother came to light. He had never had a picture of her before.

With special thanks to Katie and all the lovely people at Lotus Place who made this dream come true.

With lots of love,

Edwina xx

RESURRECTING THE DEAD – Opening the Bottom Drawer

I don’t know about you, but I have a bottom drawer full of old manuscripts. Actually, I have a whole chest full. The first novel I ever wrote, “A Lesson in Darkness” will never see the light of day, it was my real training ground. It’s never even had a second draft. But I have three other projects that were precious book babies at some point but then, because of rejections real or imagined, became too hard to look at and were relegated to the bottom drawer.

What I’ve learnt over my twenty years of writing practice is never ever to give up on a piece of writing. Short pieces that were rejected for years, even decades, suddenly find the prefect home in better places than I’d ever dreamed of. “Mrs Sunshine” had done the rounds of many literary journals and competitions and then finally found a place in Best Australian Stories 2014. Other stories too, battle worn and bruised have risen to be published and paid for.

Even Thrill Seekers was resurrected from the dead after Barbara Mobbs, my then agent, told me to forget about it, put it in the bottom drawer and move on, after it was rejected by only one publisher. I wasn’t going to give up on it that easily. I submitted it to a worldwide call out and scored a contract with Ransom Publishing UK. It then went on to be shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Awards. It wouldn’t have, if I’d taken Barbara’s advice and let it perish unseen.

It takes courage to resurrect old writing, especially when it’s done the rounds a few times and faced a lot of rejection. “Remember,” I have to tell myself, “rejection doesn’t mean the work is bad, only that it hasn’t found the right home, or the right shape yet.”

I am not short on courage. I feel the fear and do things anyway. You have to be a risk taker to be a writer. But reviving “Dear Madman” and starting to work on it again after a break of some years has taken all my strength. When a book has been rejected, it’s not just the book that’s bruised, but the writer (actually, the book probably feels okay!). Sometimes you’ll have a loving spouse to drag the manuscript out of the rubbish bin, as Stephen King’s wife famously did for Carrie, his first breakthrough hit. But sometimes you have to be your own loving friend and do the same.

I have been working on “Dear Madman” on and off for over ten years. Yes, that long. This project is dear to, and deep inside, my heart. It began life as a memoir about the murder of my maternal grandmother’s sister as a child in the Lockyer Valley in 1912 but then evolved into a novel. The characters demanded it. I couldn’t shut them up. Besides, I felt the story was best portrayed as I saw it playing out in my mind – in scenes. I thought it worked well, but publishers didn’t agree. My agent at that time, Zeitgeist Media Group, were tireless in their efforts but couldn’t get it over the line. The rejection of this manuscript broke my heart. I started to believe it was cursed. That I was. And that’s never a good idea.

Recently, I attended Kris Olsson’s Memoir Bootcamp at the QLD Writers Centre with more recent memoir projects on my mind. However, once I started doing some of the preliminary exercises, I knew that the ghost of “Dear Madman” had called me there. Kris inspired me to take another look, to redo it as the memoir I’d originally intended, keeping the novelistic scenes if I wanted. That was weeks ago.

It took those weeks for me to gird my loins in order to tackle what seemed like a monumental task, the most difficult puzzle of my writing career. How to do it? The question loomed in my mind larger than the book itself. “Just do it!” I told myself like a sportswear commercial. “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

I dug up the old files, the original memoir strand of 24 000 words, journal extracts from the time of my researching and writing, and the novel it all morphed into. Then I started fresh. I opened a new document and called it, “Dear Madman 2022” (I know, I know, we’re not there yet, but I’ll still be working on it then I know). Most importantly I added ROUGH DRAFT in very big letters. “Just muck around with it and play,” I intoned like a mantra.

So I played. I’m still playing. Anything goes. I’m shoving bits in, weaving things together. Writing new bits, writing about the process. Talking to the reader as if they know how tricky it is to braid these disparate strands. And guess what? It’s fun! I’m enjoying myself. After the first few days of timidity and self-criticism, noticing where I’d overwritten and made things worse, I’ve reached a stage where I’ve regained my creative confidence and my belief in the project. YAY! It’s all a huge schmozzle right now, but I have faith that it is becoming more like it is intended to be. It’s finding it’s shape at last and I’m enjoying the challenge.

And, quite literally, I’m resurrecting the dead as I write, or at least giving them another life on the page. Through writing, I’ve given that little murdered girl the chance to laugh and play with her sisters one more time.

If you have stories or novels or memoirs clogging up that bottom drawer, especially those that hurt to look at, especially them, dig them out and expose them to the air. Gird your loins, put on your grown-up pants, and tell yourself you’re just going to play and see what happens. Start a new document and dive right on in. Anything and everything goes. You can do no wrong.

Repeat after me, “I am confident and capable in my creative work.” You can do it! Who knows? You may even have fun. 

What projects have you buried that deserve a second chance at life? What projects have you resurrected? Any success stories out there? I’d love to hear them!

Come and get it!

Lots of love,

Edwina xx