Mercy Street was launched on Wednesday at the Eltham library under the auspices of the Eltham Bookshop. There were close to a hundred guests who enjoyed food and wine, and hopefully, the launch. There was certainly a very festive atmosphere. I loved every minute. The book is available now at some bookshops, but others may not have it until January as it’s technically a January 2016 release. Here is part of my launch speech for those who are interested. It was interspersed with readings so may read oddly in parts. Earlier this year, I went to a Harper Collins writer’s seminar. It was a great day, but at one point we were asked to come up with a phrase to answer the question I dread most. What sort of books do you write? That question always makes me wish that I wrote science fiction or murder mysteries. The answer had to be in a short phrase and one woman who writes Young Adult fiction said that she wrote Enid Blyton on steroids. Brilliant. But it was a good exercise because I now believe that when people ask me What sort of books do you write? I can answer that question. My books are about unlikely heroes. Hero is a term used rather too freely nowadays. It often applied to sports men and women and is always tied to success, or even celebrity. Putting your body on the line is brave, but the motivation is usually personal achievement. There’s nothing wrong with that, but then there are exceptionally brave people, whose heroism comes from helping others despite grave, personal danger. For instance those who went to the aid of Ebola victims. Or the CFA firefighters who keep us safe each summer. But we are surrounded by heroes of another sort – and rarely notice them. Ordinary people living ordinary lives who manage to overcome habit, inbuilt prejudice and fear to make difficult moral choices. So within the popular concept of hero, my main character, George is not very promising material, but he becomes a hero, nevertheless. He doesn’t charge into his new life, flags flying, but bumbles and fumbles his way, even, at one point, breaking the law. There’s also something of the hero in many of the other characters who are again ordinary people who are able to make courageous choices. Where did this book come from? There is no one eureka moment. Events accumulate, sometimes over quite a long period, and then one day, they come together and you have the beginnings of a story. I must confess that I’ve always been a bit of an eavesdropper. Probably most writers are. There is gold in overheard conversations. Travelling on trains is nowhere near as interesting as it used to be because people are either engrossed in their iPad or texting on their phones. But you can be lucky. I was on the train a couple of years ago, when two women got on and began to complain loudly about their children. The complaints were about normal kids, doing normal, annoying kid things, but each mother was trying to outdo the other in how annoying her child was. When they left the train, I caught the eye of an old man sitting opposite. He looked after them and said ‘They don’t know how lucky they are.’ With that old man and his sad comment, the character George was born. George is old, grumpy and isolated, living in a past when he was married to his adored Pen. They had no children and when she dies he is left alone living ‘worn out, washed out days.’ Read p.1 So that’s George – until Angie comes into his life. When Terry and I were younger, we were part of a program of respite foster care. During the training we were told not to judge the homes these children came from, that the agency deemed them ‘good enough.’ I have always wondered where the line is between good enough and not good enough in the raising of children. Is there a line? When and how is it crossed so that it becomes not good enough? That is one of the issues I explore in the book. Angie is an immature single mother of a grubby, not very likeable child. But when George is coming home with his milk, he’s attacked by two youths. Angie comes to the rescue which embarrasses George. He doesn’t fancy being saved by a female. But he does thank her and mentions that he live around the corner in Mercy Street. Angie files this away for future reference and sometime later, turns up at George’s house to ask him to look after her child while she goes to the Job Centre and again when she goes for a job interview. Read p. 41
So George does his best with the new problems that confront him, but is it always good enough? Is it ever good enough? I hope you enjoy George’s journey from curmudgeon to unassuming hero as much as I enjoyed writing it. A question to ponder – at what point in the story is he at his most heroic?