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I’m thrilled to be able to shine a light on another début author, one with whom I have a few things in common—we’ve both moved states, although Shirley moved from Western Australia to Tasmania and I did it the other way around, and we both came to writing slightly later than most.

‘It replicates what I’ve experienced in life—the way women share stories, the way wisdom is passed on, the old ways of knowing—women’s intuition.’

Dr Shirley Patton grew up in outback Western Australia and now lives with her partner and a miniature schnauzer in wine-growing country overlooking the beautiful Tamar River, Northern Tasmania. She left an academic career as a published researcher of family violence and a lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Social Work at the University of Tasmania to write fiction full time. Since then, she has published several short stories in a variety of literary publications.

Prior to practising social work, Shirley worked in the media as a television newsreader and television chat show host. Last month, Shirley’s first novel, ‘The Secrets We Keep’, which is set in Kalgoorlie, was published with Harper Collins.

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The Sisterhood

And: It’s never too late to follow your dreams

I want to talk briefly about the sisterhood and writing. Not the feminist movement per se, though it is if you subscribe to the idea that feminism includes women supporting one another. It’s more small ‘p’ political and definitely the personal! Writing for me will always be about telling and celebrating women’s stories—exploring, researching, creating and sharing them. Before beginning to write fiction full time a decade ago, my work and research focused primarily on supporting women and, in my research, telling their stories to effect change.

In my recently released début novel, ‘The Secrets We Keep’, the story is told from the point of view of four women living in the gold mining town of Kalgoorlie, in outback Western Australia, in the late 1980s. It highlights the support the women give and receive from one another, and the way small communities can rally. It explores notions of choice and destiny and how, when faced with an ethical dilemma, our decisions are justified and we can live with them. 

Photo: Frank McCubben

‘Throughout my life I have experienced the support of women, personally and professionally. Women who, as the phrase goes, did not “pull the ladder up behind them”.’

I grew up in Kalgoorlie before moving to Tasmania, and throughout my life I have experienced the support of women, personally and professionally. Women who, as the phrase goes, did not ‘pull the ladder up behind them’. Since I began writing, the community of women writers internationally, nationally and locally have contributed significantly to me becoming a published author. My publisher, my editor, my publicist and my agent are all women. My writing mentor and teacher for many years is a woman. Yes, I have had male writing teachers and I have several male colleagues who play a significant role in my writing life, but they are in the minority. I am part of several women-only Facebook groups that include thousands of Australian women from the writing world and the support, encouragement and generosity I have witnessed is sometimes so overwhelming I have been moved to tears. Yes, sometimes there is discord, disagreement, differences in perspectives, but more often there is understanding, shared journeys and the best wisdom an emerging writer like myself could ever access. And, as an ‘older’ emerging writer, I have only ever experienced encouragement from other women writers, younger and older.

It replicates what I’ve experienced in life—the way women share stories, the way wisdom is passed on, the old ways of knowing—women’s intuition—the way, mostly, no-one blinks an eyelid when someone says, ‘I just knew, I had a feeling’ or ‘I knew that would happen’.

I want to honour all this in my fiction writing.

As one of my favourite authors, Stella Prize winner, Heather Rose, said: ‘Encouraging and applauding the success of women might become an elegant and subversive act of cultural freedom.’ The encouragement and validation I have received from other women writers has enabled me to move from the constraining cringe that my writing was not ‘literary’ enough to believing in my own voice and that it would find it’s readership – and it has!

Image: Christian Schloe

I’ve adopted as my mantra: ‘You’re never too old to follow your creative dreams’.  I am also keenly aware of the constraints that exist for many women in the world, never mind the creative arts, and I understand my privilege. That said, I love to encourage women in their creative pursuits. I am grateful and humbled every day to be living my life as a writer, and for this opportunity to share my novel about women and their capacity to endure and prevail.

Like life really. Like Louise Allan does, right here. Thank you, Louise.

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IT’S RATHER QUIET ON THE BLOG AT THE MOMENT …

I know blog posts have been few and far between lately, and I’m sorry. I’m trying to get stuck into my second novel, and I write better and (marginally) faster when I minimise commitments and distractions. As a result of cutting back on blogging and social media, you’ll be pleased to hear my novel is coming along—it’s still slow, but that’s how I write, I think.

I’ve been sharing summaries of my week on my Facebook page, if you’d like to follow the progress of my novel over there.

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'The Sisters' Song' is out now!


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