We have just released Garry Kinnane’s Fare Thee Well, Hoddle Grid.
Garry, you’ve just had published the second volume of your memoir series – the first being Shadowed Days – what prompted you to write a memoir in the first place?
The prompt behind writing my memoir was to leave a record for my family and friends of what my life was like from my own perspective. I particularly had future generations in mind – I have four small grandchildren, and I can conceive a time when they might want to know “who was my grandfather (that long dead, barely remembered presence in my childhood) ? What did he do? What was his life like back then from the 1940s to …whenever?” Well, Shadowed Days will give them, and my three children and their partners, because they don’t know the full story either, some semblance of an answer to these questions. Friends might be interested too, I thought, and even the odd stranger, which is what has happened.
You are on record as saying that you believe memoir is not merely to entertain, but has a duty to tell the truth. What does that mean?
It is because I am conscious of creating a record for others to read that I am insistent that I tell the truth as far as I possibly can know it. I don’t want to mislead them, or lie to them, merely in the cause of making an entertaining story. I’m afraid that with memoir, I believe that one shouldn’t let a good story stand in the way of truth. This doesn’t mean, of course, that it has to be dull. I think that the truth about people’s lives is often more entertaining than fiction.
Isn’t it a bit pompous to write your memoir, a kind of presumption that if you’re not famous you damn-well ought to be? And isn’t it a cliché of the retiree?
Pomposity is not in the choice to write a memoir , but in how you write it and what you say.
It’s true, memoir is the typical writing mode of the retiree. But why shouldn’t a person reflect on his or her life and times, and what better time to do it than when most of the living is done? “An unexamined life is not worth living”, said Socrates, and the most important examinations come at the end of the course. There is, ultimately, a serious and personal reason behind the writing of a memoir. It has nothing to do with the assumption of importance, or the posture of fame, or that one feels that one’s life is too fascinating or instructive or whatever to remain untold. It is that the act of writing in itself helps one to come to terms with, to understand, many aspects of one’s own behaviour, feelings, the times and places that one passed through, and also the people one had some connection to throughout one’s life, in a way that only writing about it can do. At least, for me it can do.
It helped, for instance, to write about the pain of living with a tubercular father when I was a boy, and about losing him when I was only ten. It also helped in coming to terms with my childhood anguish and confusion over a religious upbringing that felt to be a distortion of the real world around me. Now, in the spirit of Socrates, it seems to me that you will only achieve an understanding of yourself and your past if you try to be truthful about it, however painful or embarrassing that might be. Also, these are the kinds of things that affect us all, so that in relating my own personal experiences , I hope and trust it just might connect with similar things in a reader’s life. In fact, many readers of Shadowed Days said precisely this.
In what ways was writing of Fare Thee Well, Hoddle Grid different from the writing of Shadowed Days – was anything harder, or easier?
The second volume was definitely harder to write, though I’m not exactly sure why. Shadowed Days came surprisingly easy and quickly, I think because much of the material had been going round in my head ever since I retired in 2004. In my later 60s then, I seemed to be reaching an age when childhood memories come flooding back with increasing frequency and vividness, as many retirees have testified. I had been working on a different book – fiction – when my childhood days simply took over my mind, and I soon realized there was a book there trying to get out; it took only five months to write. With this second volume, the material is more complex, being about teenage years, sexual development, the struggle with a variety of jobs, growing away from family. Also I think the success of Shadowed Days raised the bar for me in this one, and I felt the pressure to do at least as well was sometimes inhibiting. On the other hand, I found the writing of Fare Thee Well, Hoddle Grid immensely enjoyable, and I gave myself many laughs going back over some of the more bizarre events that I encountered in the 1950s and 60s.
Your life became culturally quite rich – a bohemian life, the folk music scene – but you go overseas. Was Melbourne not enough? What would have happened if you had settled down and lived in Fairfield?
I shudder to think. It’s like the film Sliding Doors; if you’d taken this path rather than that one, would you have become a completely different person; on the other hand is there something in your character (old-fashioned word!) that will always strive for what makes it happy, and you get what you deserve, whichever path you take? We’ll never know, because we only ever choose one. I can say that for many of my generation of Melbournians, this town was definitely not enough. We became expatriates in droves in the mid-60s, and not just for a couple of weeks holiday in Bali or England, but for years. Unless you were wealthy, you went abroad by ship in those days, which took four weeks to get to Europe. Annual leave was usually only two weeks then, so it wasn’t feasible to just take a short European holiday; you left your job, burned your bridges, and went off for the long haul – in my case, I stayed abroad for ten years. The experiences I had, the opportunities that this brought me, could never have happened if I’d just stayed in Melbourne, which in those days, was a cultural backwater. I hope that if I can do a third volume, I will be able to share with readers some of the excitement of those years overseas.
What are you working on right now?
A novel, set partly in the First World War, and partly in the present. It’s based on an extraordinary story within my family, and while it is giving me some headaches trying to get it right, it promises to be the most important and successful thing I have written.