Back in 2007, when Helena first told me of her idea to write a book about a youth worker and his welding shed, I thought she’d gone mad. Welding? What on earth was she thinking? As it turned out the book isn’t really about welding at all, unless it’s about welding together broken relationships.
Wild Boys ostensibly centres on Bernie Shakeshaft, maverick youth worker and boy-whisperer, and his Backtrack programme that has rescued, and continues to help, young people doing it tough – in Armidale and beyond.
Backtrack moved beyond welding to a dog training programme, Paws Up, a rural skills course, and an alternative school. Check out the happy faces on the kids working with the dogs in a youtube clip here Paws Up.
But the real story is Helena’s, and how Bernie helped her repair her relationship with her eldest son.
Helena writes with great courage and honesty about the underbelly of motherhood, about what happens when things go wrong and our perfect babies turn out to be complex, demanding and, oh so much like the parts of us we’d rather not remember. In writing about her troubled relationship with her then-teenage son, Joey, Helena has broken one of the final taboos. Mothers aren’t supposed to write about their children except in the most glowing of terms, even though for many of us our relationships with our children are fraught with despair and conflict. She has done so unflinchingly, sparing neither Joey or herself from her intense scrutiny as she examines the course of their relationship from the time Joey left home at fifteen, until his twenty-first birthday party. The book has become a love song to her son and an explanation of why she was unable to be the perfect mother we all aspire to be, but very few realistically achieve.
I have read many versions of this story as Helena has lived and written it over the past eight years, and I am incredibly proud of what she has achieved – a deeply moving portrait of a mother and son relationship.
I am excited to announce that as part the Brisbane Writers Festival, Helena and I will be discussing Wild Boys and how it came to be, on the sixth of September in the River Terrace at the State Library of Queensland. Click here for more information and to book. Please come along and join us in celebrating this wonderful, heart-opening book.
If you have any questions you’d like me to ask Helena, please drop me a line in the comments, or come along and ask her yourself. I’d love to see your smiling faces in the audience.