CLOSE TO HOME

'Barker has a flair for dramatic structure and a lightness of touch. These 10 stories of family dilemmas and dramas have the ring of authenticity. From the tale of the two mothers to the story of the neglected baby and everything in between, Barker's empathetic, intimate knowledge and understanding shine through as she explores and unravels her characters' dilemmas.'

Kerryn Goldsworthy, The Sydney Morning Herald.

*
'Robin Barker's debut collection of short stories benefits from some of the no-nonsense open-mindedness she uses to such great effect in her non-fiction.
The collection is chronologically ordered and the earliest stories are pithy vignettes from an idea of Australia that has vanished into history. Barker evokes this with great atmosphere and without nostalgia; the warts and wrong thinking remain on view.
The highlight of these is perhaps Blackcat, the story of a young housewife married to a policeman who makes friends via a pet with her Aboriginal neighbour in inner-Sydney Chippendale. It beautifully captures her isolation and the intense friendship between the neighbours that is nonetheless dependent on proximity for its survival.
First Love is a beautifully threaded story of a surrogate pregnancy.
Barker's style bears some resemblance to Alice Munro in that it doesn't appear as style at all; the best of these stories seem to fall out as fragments or as wholes.'

Ed Wright, The Australian.
*
http://www.jessicawhite.com.au/ladyredjess/2016/12/31/review-of-close-to-home
*
Close to Home is fiction - or mostly fiction. The first and last stories are non-fiction memoir.

I am aware that the line between fiction and non-fiction is blurry. The importance of readers knowing when the line is crossed between a 'true' story and a work of imagination seems to be, for writers and publishers at least, becoming increasingly irrelevant.

There are always elements of non-fiction in fiction (fiction has to come from somewhere) and fiction in non-fiction (a degree of manipulation and embellishment is essential to make non-fiction compelling) nevertheless I believe many people like to know when the story they are reading is about actual events lived by actual people told with a minimum of manipulation and embellishment.

My father's war story 'The Memento' would, I think, come across as somewhat contrived if the reader doesn't know that the story they are reading is exactly how the events unfolded.

Apart from a few stories published here and there over the years, Close to Home is my first published work outside the self-help baby/toddler genre.

One of the reasons I wrote the baby books was because I like writing.

As a child, especially as an adolescent, books, the beach and the Saturday matinee were my main forms of escape. Reading was, and still is, a major preoccupation for me. As far as I'm concerned a life spent reading is a good life.
A love of reading made me want to write and even though I know real writers write regardless of their circumstances, it seemed that after the baby books were done and dusted I was in a position for the first time in my life to move on from self-help writing to have a go at imaginative, inventive writing. Getting published would be a bonus.

Self-help writing is relatively easy as the writer is setting down what he or she knows and has experienced (or researched) in as clear and concise a way as possible. Even if the writing is crappy, kind and skilled editors are there to turn it into something readable.

There is a tendency for popular self-help authors to become draped in mantles of all-knowing perfection; shining examples of their often clichéd, platitudinous buzzwords of wisdom. Sometimes this is an unavoidable result of the popularity of the books, sometimes it's actively sought by the authors and sometimes a bit of both.

As far as 'parenting' authors go their readers rarely know if their gurus practice what they preach, if they were actually the parent who got up at night and did the hard yards, how their children - if they had any - turned out, or if their children still speak to them.

Writing a book that aims to tell parents what to do with their children inevitably involves a degree of self-deception and hypocrisy.
To be fair this is for the most part unintended but there are always going to be sections in parent-advice books that fall into the 'do as the author says, not as the author did/does' category and the 'things the author (in hindsight) wished he'd/she'd had done/hadn't done category'.

Before becoming parents we all secretly think we could do a better job than our parents did. 'Parenting' gurus are no different and sometimes extreme ideas foisted onto parents by gurus relate to the author's wish to make up for his/her own problematic childhood with weird, abusive or neglectful parents.

If a parenting writer can point to his or her own exemplary children - as some are inclined to - their good fortune is probably more down to genes, luck, their socio-economic status, the level of the parent's education and the neighbourhood the family live in rather than the particular child-raising philosophy the author is claiming for his or her own child-rearing success.

While I don't fall into either category above, I have my own shopping list of motherhood sins which I have always been fully aware of and uncomfortable about when the guru mantle has fallen onto my shoulders.
Branching into fiction gets me out from under the guru mantle and the unavoidable narrowness and hypocrisy of self-help writing.

Because of the success of the baby books I thought I would be able to produce something imaginative and inventive quite quickly but as Annie Dillard tells would-be authors in The Writing Life (Harper Perennial, USA, 2013) it takes between two and ten years to write a creative book.
Less is so rare, she says, as to be statistically insignificant. According to Dillard, out of a human population on the earth of seven billion, perhaps twenty people can write a serious book in a year.

Close to Home took a few years and quite a few drafts. The stories are arranged in decades from 1912 to 2010.
Aside from the parts of the family memoir that took place before I was born, they  are set during the years I lived and worked in and it's fascinating to see how much has changed in how we live our lives now compared to much of last century.

THE STORIES
The Other Grandmother
1912: Family memoir: A story about the disgrace of an 'unwed' mother
and the later difficulties she faces as a widowed mother of three in 1922            
when there was no social security or assistance of any kind.

Leaving

1956: A teenage story in a time when sexist, racist language and attitudes
was the norm but no one dreamed of saying fuck.


The Greek Father
1960: A young nurse faces night duty alone in a ward of sick children
during the era when restricted hospital visiting meant parents saw
their children only at weekends.

 
Blackcat
1967: The disappearance of her neighbour’s cat leaves an isolated young housewife
wondering who is to blame.


Josephine's Face
1976: An unworldly army wife learns about racism, her own included,
on a U.S. army base.

First Love
1979: A hit and miss altruistic surrogacy changes the lives of four people.

Baby Royal
1995: A well-meaning but mad couple nearly kill their baby.

Mothers Day
2002: Two mothers fight for custody of their baby

Sharp Teeth
2010: Another teenage story. And haven't things changed since 1956.
        Racist language is out, fuck is in.

The Memento
1942-2009: Family memoir: Violence and redemption in WW2


Share by: