I have brought together the memoirs written by Jennifer’s four guests (see below) and I’ve added a few classic memoirs you may like to read, too. Here is Jennifer’s introduction:
JENNIFER BYRNE: Hello, and a warm welcome. Our special subject tonight is memoirs – books that are truer than novels, chattier than biographies, that can be funny or inspiring or sometimes like the drunken guest at a wedding, revealing far too much for comfort, but one of the most popular forms of writing… and reading.
So let’s keep the introductions tight, starting with Peter FitzSimons, the journalist and former Wallaby who’s written prodigiously on the life and times of others while his memoir A Simpler Time told the story of his own, growing up on the family farm.
Actor and showbiz all-rounder Jane Clifton had what she describes as the classic ‘army brat’ upbringing, moving constantly. And her return visits to the 30 houses in which she lived form the spine for her recently released memoir, The Address Book.
Kate Holden’s memoir In My Skin, is about a different kind of journey, a very dramatic one from middle-class Honours university student to drug-addicted prostitute working the streets of St Kilda – a literary hit Kate followed up last year with The Romantic.
Finally, Benjamin Law – humourist, journalist and prolific tweeter, our youngest memoirist – whose technicolour essays about growing up Asian and gay in Brisbane were published as The Family Law. Watch the episode in full here
by Kate Holden
This is the spellbinding follow-up to Kate Holden’s memoir In My Skin, but it has a different story to tell. The Romantic describes Kate’s journey from Melbourne to Rome and Naples, from romance and sex to love, from loss to understanding—and back again.
This is a book about everything from sex with strangers to the heartbreaking realities of being in love. It’s about the pride of fierce independence and the crushing weight of loneliness. It’s about losing yourself in love and then finding yourself through your lover.
But most of all, The Romantic is the story of one woman’s pilgrimage to discover who she really is. And to learn to like what she finds.
by Benjamin Law
My family aren’t the outdoors type. Despite being raised on the coast, Mum detested visits to the beach (all the sand it brought into the house), while Dad disapproved of wearing thongs (‘It splits the toes’). We never camped. All those things involved in camping—pitching a tent; cooking on open fires; the insects; shitting in the woods; sleeping on rocks; getting murdered and raped in the middle of nowhere—they never appealed to us.
‘We were never camping people,’ Mum says now. ‘Your dad never wanted to camp, and insects eat me alive. See, Asians—we’re scared of dying. White people: they like to ‘live life to the full’, and ‘die happy.”
She pauses. ‘Asians are the opposite.’
We preferred theme parks.
Hilarious and moving, The Family Law is a linked series of tales from a born humorist – and a literary star in the making. Benjamin Law invites readers into the world of his endearing yet profoundly eccentric family. He constructs brilliantly turned essays in the style of David Sedaris, assembling a portrait that is both universal and utterly particular.
Why won’t his Chinese dad wear made-in-China underpants? Why was most of his extended family deported in the 1980s? Will Benjamin’s childhood dreams of Home and Away stardom come to nothing? What are his chances of finding love? Read one of these stories and you will inevitably want to read more.
by Peter FitzSimons
A memoir of love, laughter, loss and billycarts
It still amazes me what they allowed us to do without their supervision or help while remaining deeply loving parents. Climb trees from the age of four or five? No problem. Drive the tractor from the age of eight or nine onwards? Good luck to you. Haul on the hoist to pull the half-ton bins filled with oranges off the trailer? Yes. Take your bike out on the Pacific Highway and ride to school? Just be careful, but okay …
Their rough reckoning was that if we thought we could do something, we probably could – and if we thought we couldn’t do something, we probably still could, if we applied ourselves.
Peter FitzSimons’s account of growing up on the rural outskirts of Sydney in the 1960s is first and foremost a tribute to family. But it is also a salute to times and generations past, when praise was understated but love unstinting; work was hard and values clear; when people stood by each other in adversity.
Above all, in the FitzSimons home, days were for doing. In this rollicking and often hilarious memoir, Peter describes a childhood of mischief, camaraderie, eccentric characters, drama – and constant love and generosity. The childhood of a simpler time.
by Jane Clifton
Where do you call home?
Performer Jane Clifton had a classic army brat upbringing, constantly on the move as the family followed the postings of her English officer father from Gibraltar to England, Germany to Malaysia and eventually to Australia. Always the new kid in town, Jane became adept at fitting in anywhere.
As an adult, living in the fast-moving worlds of anti-war demos, women’s lib, experimental theatre, rock ‘n’ roll, and TV, she kept up the family tradition of changing addresses without so much as a backward glance. But her stiff-upper-lipped father and glamorous, restless mother both died tragically young, and Jane was left with many unanswered questions.
Where exactly is home? Is it your family? Your memories? Or simply bricks and mortar? One day, Jane decided to go back and visit every house she’d lived in – all 32 of them – to see if she could piece together the jigsaw of her life.
A funny, moving and unexpected story about one woman’s search for home, and the universal desire to find the place you truly belong.
by Giacomo Casanova
Seducer, gambler, necromancer, swindler, Good Samaritan, spy, swashbuckler, self-made gentleman, entrepreneur, wit, poet, translator, philosopher, and general bon vivant, Giacomo Casanova was not only the most notorious lover the Western world has know, but also a storyteller of the first order.
Since he lived a life richer and stranger than most fictions, the tale of his own adventures is his most compelling story, but his memoir remained – at twelve volumes – unfinished at the time of his death in 1798.
In these selections, made from authoritative French texts, are all the highlights of Casanova’s life; carousing and dabbling in the occult; imprisonment and thrilling escapes; travels and encounters with major literary figures and world leaders; and of course, many amorous conquests, ranging from noblewomen to nuns to cobblers’ daughters, all of them willing partners in the adventures of his life.
by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Widely regarded as the first modern autobiography, The Confessions is an astonishing work of acute psychological insight. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) argued passionately against the inequality he believed to be intrinsic to civilized society.
In his Confessions he relives the first fifty-three years of his radical life with vivid immediacy – from his earliest years, where we can see the source of his belief in the innocence of childhood, through the development of his philosophical and political ideas, his struggle against the French authorities and exile from France following the publication of Emile.
Depicting a life of adventure, persecution, paranoia, and brilliant achievement, The Confessions is a landmark work by one of the greatest thinkers of the Enlightenment, which was a direct influence upon the work of Proust, Goethe and Tolstoy among others.
by Gertrude Stein
For Gertrude Stein and her companion Alice B. Toklas, life in Paris was based upon the rue de Fleurus and the Saturday evenings and ‘it was like a kaleidoscope slowly turning’. Picasso was there with ‘his high whinnying spanish giggle’, as were Cezanne and Matisse, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. As Toklas put it – ‘The geniuses came and talked to Gertrude Stein and the wives sat with me’.
A light-hearted entertainment, this is in fact Gertrude Stein’s own autobiography and a roll-call of all the extraordinary painters and writers she met between 1903 and 1932. Audacious, sardonic and characteristically self-confident, this is a definitive account by the American in Paris.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.