WILD BOYS!

Wild Boys by Helena Pastor

Wild Boys by Helena Pastor

I am thrilled to announce the release of Wild Boys (UQP 2015) by my best writing buddy and dear friend, Helena Pastor.

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.

Bernie and ironman welders

Bernie and ironman welders

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.

Helena Pastor

Helena Pastor

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.

BACKTRACK!

Backtrack lads

Backtrack lads


Recently, I travelled to Armidale on the New England Tablelands of New South Wales to visit the Backtrack school for kids who don’t fit the system.

Backtrack is an organisation that does more than its fair share empowering young people who will otherwise end up on the wrong side of the law. I first learnt of this organisation through my friend Helena Pastor’s work with them as she wrote her forthcoming memoir. She had turned up at their shed every Sunday with a tray of home-baked brownies to help young men complete welding projects as part of the Iron Men Welders scheme.

Since these small beginnings, Backtrack has gone on to host a number of other projects including Paws Up, an award-winning dog jumping squad, Imagine This incorporating the Backtrack school, and Aglads, a farming based initiative. Backtrack’s main mover and shaker, the unstoppable Bernie Shakeshaft, is now at the head of a large group of youth workers, artists in residence (including Helena who is writer in residence) and others, providing employment for a number of ex-clients who have learned to shine under his tutelage.

It was an honour to be invited to their classroom and meet the teachers, Simmo and Helena, and their students. Trey, otherwise known as Ducky, jumped up and shook my hand with a warm smile so I felt welcomed straight away. Freddie, Brady, Hayden, Norm, and Marshall, known as Sheriff for obvious reasons, all introduced themselves and Fred even got up and did some yoga with me. Although he wouldn’t attempt the splits – my ultimate party trick.

We gathered in the office where it was warmer and the couches were comfier and I read “Voices” from Thrill Seekers to them. At first, I was nervous. Only the week before these guys had told their teachers they didn’t like being read to like babies, so I was worried I wouldn’t hold their attention. However, a minute into my reading, I looked up and saw that the phones had been put away, the fidgeting had stopped, and all eyes were on me.

I hadn’t read “Voices” aloud for a long time and was caught off guard by the power of the emotional ending, especially as this story is so closely based on my own experiences. My voice broke and I thought I was going to cry in front of these tough guys. But you know what? They were right there with me. They KNEW how I’d felt. After I’d finished, we all had a chat about ganja and booze and other drugs and freaking out – what to do if someone you know is losing it, or you’re losing it yourself. They’d lived a lot, these young men, and had some great ideas on how to turn things around.

I’d brought along books and signed a copy for each of them. Never was I so glad to give books away, they were so warmly received. I was even happier when some of them sat down straight away and started reading. It was hugely gratifying to see my book being read by the boys who had lived similar stories – who really knew what it was about.

But that wasn’t the highlight of my visit. That came later when we were all helping Sally cook up a delicious lunch of minestrone and chicken fried rice. As we sat in the office chopping veggies, Simmo got out his guitar and we all sang along to Lean on Me by Bill Withers. “Lean on me, when you’re not strong. I’ll be your friend; I’ll help you carry on.”And bugger me but I almost cried again, it was so beautiful. My brother Matty would have been right at home with that bunch of talented young men. Just like I was. Thank you boys! Thank you Backtrack for being there for them.

Edwina and Sheriff

Edwina and Sheriff


Thrill Seekers

Thrill Seekers