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

THE BENEFIT OF HINDSIGHT – Layers of Time in Memoir


Recently I attended Kristina Olsson‘s excellent Memoir Bootcamp at the Queensland Writers Centre. How wonderful it was to be a student again and to learn from one of Queensland’s most celebrated writers. Kris’s book Boy Lost about the loss of her elder brother, has been a model for my own memoir in progress – “Dear Madman” – for many years. Kris has a workshop series coming up at the fabulous Avid Reader bookstore next year – keep an eye on their events.

During the course, I realised I have been trying to avoid an important and necessary element of successful memoir writing, reflection with hindsight.

Kris put us onto Sven Birkerts The Art of Time in Memoir and Vivian Gornick’s Situation and the Story which are packed with useful ideas and examples of memoir writing, including the concept of the Situation and the Story.

There are at least these two layers of time in memoir: the Situation which fleshes out in scenes the events from the past, key events in the section of life we are exploring, and: the Story, the author’s reflection with the benefit of hindsight, seeing patterns and creating meaning from these events.

As Kris told us, “Put your struggle on the page.” The reader needs to see the writer grappling with meaning making, in order for these personal events to resonate with the reader’s own story, their struggles. I now realise I’ve been trying to avoid this, hoping that, as with fiction, the scenes of key events alone would be enough. They’re not.

Much as we like to avoid it, the writer herself is the protagonist in her memoir. A raw and honest portrayal of self is necessary, reflecting on past actions and the meanings we’ve created through a compelling narrative. Helen Garner is a master of self representation in her non-fiction and thinly disguised fiction as well. She shows herself warts and all and we love her for it.

Be brave and put yourself on the page. I worried that my hippy trippy, out-there side may not be palatable to the literary community but Kris and my classmates assured me that they too all had secret inner hippies, and I should not try to hide this part of myself. Perhaps this is what will resonate most with others.

Excerpt from The Art of Time in Memoir by Sven Birkerts

As the above excerpt tells us, it is by sharing the most deeply personal, our own inner journey of meaning-making, that we create the universal. And isn’t that what we all want? To reach for a kind of truth all readers will understand, a special wisdom that is beyond individual experience but applies to us all?

To do this, within a compelling narrative that keeps readers turning pages, is the memoirists’ challenge. Perhaps the most demanding of all genres, memoir requires great courage and honesty, exposing our inner selves in the hope that by sharing our personal battles we can create a work of art, a thing of beauty from all that pain.

Go deep memoirists. Go hard or go home. Uncover those buried secrets and bring them to the light. Show us how it’s done.

Are you writing a memoir? Have you been avoiding putting yourself in, like I have? Any hints and tips you’d like to share? Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Take care, keep smiling and write like a fury!

Lots of love

Edwina xx