Doris Brett and Kerry Cue are the hosts of The Sunday Story Club, a salon for women who gather once a month in a suburban living room for a deep and structured conversation about the things that really matter.
Doris resides in Melbourne with her husband and daughter. She is a clinical psychologist and an award-winning author and poet. Kerry is a humourist, mathematician and journalist who has written for every major newspaper in Australia. Kerry is also the maths blogger, Mathspig.
Today, they’re on the blog to answer some of our questions about their new book, The Sunday Story Club!
Tell us a little about your book and The Sunday Story Club!
D & K: The Sunday Story Club grew out of our frustration with chit chat. We had just met and, although we are very different people, we discovered a mutual love of stories and conversations that went deeper than the rushed and scattered communications that are so prevalent nowadays. We decided there and then to run a salon where people had the time and space to have those conversations. We created discussion questions that encouraged people to think about their lives and the stories within. We crafted the questions carefully, so that they got people thinking in unexpected ways and provided intriguing routes into internal narratives.
At that first salon, twelve women, who had never met before, sat in Doris’s lounge room looking at one another. We had wondered if strangers would talk. Well, they do, with the right questions. The stories that have come out of the salons are amazing in their variety and richness. They have made us laugh, cry, gasp with surprise and nod with empathy. We have learned so much about ourselves, both from our stories and those of others. At the end of each salon, we emerge, buzzing with energy and a sense of renewal, still thinking about the questions and the stories we’ve heard that have resonated in so many ways. The salon experience has been so uplifting, moving and magical that we wanted to share its structure, along with the discussion questions and stories that have emerged, in a book to encourage people to run their own.
What was the most surprising thing that you learnt while hosting The Sunday Story Club?
D & K: The most surprising thing we learnt while hosting the Sunday Story Club salons was how even people who had been close friends for twenty years could surprise each other with their responses to the discussion questions and the stories that emerge from them. Even more surprising was the fact that we could surprise ourselves, with our own stories and the patterns and connections we suddenly saw through taking that memory out and telling it out loud.
What made you decide to start compiling these stories to make them into a book? Was there any story in particular that really inspired you to start the project?
D&K: Each salon astonished us with its stories. The experience of sharing stories from our lives was so enriching – with its bounty of wisdom, laughter, compassion and an effervescent energy that touched us all – that we wanted to write about our salon technique, with its discussion questions, format and some of the stories from the salon, so that others could run, attend and be nourished by their own salons.
We started the project because we are fascinated by the multitude, complexity and richness of stories that we all carry within us, so there wasn’t any one story that started us on the project. We are often asked what our favourite stories are, or what stories stand out, and there are so many of them that we simply can’t pick even a top 10 or a top 20!
Why do you think it’s important for women to share their stories in this way?
D & K: We think it’s important for everyone to share their stories. We live in an age of division, polarisation, disconnection, fake news and curated images. Personal stories cut through stereotypical thinking and forge true connections and understanding. In today’s world it seems more important than ever to find ways of forging connections and promoting empathy and understanding.
We also live in an era which values ‘smarts’, short-cuts, hacks to speed things up and googling as a way of acquiring knowledge. Wisdom is much less talked about. Wisdom is never fast and rarely simple. There are no short cuts or hacks to the getting of it. Wisdom requires reflection and an ability to listen to and think about the experience of others, as well as our own. Our age is not wisdom-friendly. But our salons are.
Our salons are full of wisdom. It is contained in the countless stories of how lives have been lived and is distilled from experiences both similar to our own and also wildly different. Wisdom also requires truth. Gilding your reality takes you away from wisdom. And again, our era is failing us. Gilding is where it’s at – whether it is the application of beautifying filters to the photos we post or the curating of our words in order to gain ‘likes’. The stories told in our salons are about our real lives – messy, challenging, fascinating and imperfect.
What is the biggest challenge you faced while writing this book?
D & K: Each other! We became living proof that the salon technique worked! To explain: We come from very different writing backgrounds. Doris is a literary writer, while Kerry is a journalist. Once we started writing the stories, Kerry was writing hers like a journalist – straight facts, while Doris was trying to tell Kerry that the salon narratives had to take the framework of a short story – with the emotions and insights framing the story. Kerry felt that Doris was trying to tell her how to write. Doris felt equally frustrated because Kerry was shutting her down and not letting her explain.
The situation persisted for a couple of months until Doris had the idea of framing a salon discussion question on the topic of criticism. There, in the salon structure, where listening is a key part of the format, Doris had the chance to explain that she always appreciated editorial comments – if they added value, that was great and if she disagreed with them, putting her reasons into words was also helpful to her. Kerry explained that she wrote humour and had to deal with over 100 editors across multiple newspapers and, mostly, she hated them. There are some good ones but too often there was no discussion. Too many editors just chopped out the funny bits and made her articles boring!
A few days after the salon, Kerry spontaneously rang Doris and said ‘I think we need to shape them like short stories.’ Doris replied ‘That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.’ The experience of really listening to each other in the salon had allowed Doris to understand why Kerry was reacting in the way that she had been and enabled Kerry to reflect on what Doris had been saying. It was quite a few months later that Doris told a surprised Kerry that she had set that question deliberately in order to allow the two of them to hear each other. It was a wonderful example of the value of the salons.
Who do you admire most in the writing world?
D: There are so many writers that I admire and love. I’m a very eclectic reader – ranging from poetry to crime fiction, memoir to humour, literary fiction to good beach reads and non-fiction to science fiction – so it’s hard to pick out just a handful. But I’ll settle for one writer, the American poet, James Dickey. I idly picked up his book on a sale heap when I was a university student. It was sheer chance that guided my hand – I hadn’t heard of him – and I was blown away by his poetry – it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It showed me the power of poetry to approach the most unlikely, even mundane, subjects and find in them the blazing mystery and beauty at the heart of the universe.
K: I’m a New Yorker addict. I admire Atul Gawande, Malcolm Gladwell and Oliver Sacks. I read their books and articles.
What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever received?
D: The best piece of writing advice I ever received was also the toughest. It was decades back, before I was a published poet. I had sent one of my early poems to an esteemed poet. Previously, the only other people who had seen my poems were my school-teachers and they were so thrilled to see a student writing poetry that I was constantly deluged with praise. I sat back and waited modestly for the poet’s reply. It was bound to tell me that I was due to be the next rising star in the poetry firmament. Instead, the poet ripped my poem to shreds. I was devastated. But once I had picked myself up out of the pool of my tears, I became determined to write a poem that met his exacting and, I had to admit, valid literary standards. The poems that followed were also torn apart, but I persevered until finally, and I could feel it in every cell of my body, I had a writing breakthrough – I was writing good poetry! My poetry went on to win a number of national awards over the years, but I learned everything I know about the ‘craft’ aspect of writing poetry – the cutting and shaping that allows the diamond inside to flare – from that early no-punches-pulled feedback. I am forever grateful that he gave me the respect of absolute, even brutal, honesty instead of fobbing me off with some kindly euphemism.
K: When you write for a living, no-one gives you advice or praise. You have either provided copy they want or you haven’t.
Which books do you have on your TBR pile right now?
D: I always have a pile of books at close-to-toppling height by my bed. Within that pile are:
- Circe by Madelaine Miller. I love mythology, adored her first book The Song of Achilles– a retelling of aspects of Homer’s The Illiad – and can’t wait to read her latest.
- Breakfast With Einstein: The Exotic Physics of Everyday Life by Chad Orzel. I am fascinated by quantum mechanics, although I have no hope of understanding it!
- Tiamat’s Wrath by James A. Corey. It’s book 8 of the sci fi series The Expanse. This is great science fiction and I am trying not to think about the fact that there is only one book left in this remarkable series.
- Tombland by C.J. Sansom. This is book 7 in the Matthew Shardlake series. These books involve a total immersion into life in the in the Middle Ages by a wonderful writer. When you shut the book, you are suddenly jolted back into the 21st century and are deeply grateful for the lucky timing of your birth.
- The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilChrist. McGilchrist explores the way our neurophysiology, in particular its asymmetry, has influenced our modern culture in fascinating ways.
And finally, what is the one thing that you want your readers to take away with them after reading The Sunday Story Club?
An excitement about the power of personal stories and the ways in which we can connect, learn and heal through them. And an urge to run their own salons! Luckily our first readers have come away with exactly that, so we’re thrilled!
The Sunday Story Club
These are the stories that women tell each other when they gather for a deep and structured conversation - once a month in a suburban living room - about the things that really matter. They discover that life can be a heartbeat away from chaos; that bad things happen to good people; that good people do outrageous things; that the desire for transformation is enduringly human.
Profound, layered and clear-sighted, this collection of real-life stories reveals the emotional untidiness that lies below the shiny surface of modern life and reminds us of the power of real conversation to enlighten, heal and transform...
About the Contributor
Olivia Fricot is the Editor of the Booktopian Blog. After finishing a soul-crushing law degree, she decided that life was much better with one's nose in a book and quickly defected to the world of Austen and Woolf. You can usually find her reading (obviously), baking, writing questionable tweets, and completing a Master's degree in English literature. Just don't ask about her thesis. Olivia is on Twitter and Instagram @livfricot - follow at your own risk.
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