I am thrilled that Whisper My Secret continues to sell well and attract excellent reviews. Of course, not all of the book’s reviews are positive. It’s perfectly natural that some readers, for a variety of reasons, will not like it. As with positive reviews, I appreciate that the readers have taken the time to post a review after they read the book. However, once or twice a reader has cut me to the quick by claiming in their public comments that Whisper My Secret is fiction. To negate the suffering my mother went through when she was forced to give up her first three children by insinuating the story has been made up is an insult. The irony is that false claims were at the core of what happened to her. And now, her story is fiction?
Perhaps I could have categorised the book as ‘a novel based on a true story’ but that would have put it into a fiction category and I felt that would diminish the truth of what happened. I just couldn’t do that to my mother. It is not fiction and it is not a biography. It is, as it states on the cover, a memoir. By that I mean ‘a historical account written from personal knowledge (or memory)’. The terms memoir and biography are often used interchangeably but a memoir is not usually a full biography. In general, a memoir is about a specific aspect of a person’s life while a biography is a chronological documentation of an entire life.
Ian Jack, writing in The Guardian in February 2003 states:
‘The memoir's ambition is to be interesting in itself, as a novel might be, about intimate, personal experience.’ He goes on to explain that a memoir borrows ‘...the tricks of the novel, of fiction - because it wants to do more than record the past; it wants to re-create it.’
That is what I have attempted to do. The details of some events are imagined and some conversations are also imagined (although based on personal knowledge of the people concerned). This sort of ‘gap filling’ is also done by some writers of biographies.
The book was originally categorised as a non-fiction novel. Unfortunately, Amazon does not have such a category. I understand the disappointment of readers of Whisper My Secret who expect the book to be a biography and do not get what they expect. I feel their pain! On one occasion recently a book I was looking forward to reading ‘betrayed me’. I was expecting a factual documentation about a historical figure I admired. The publishers had not made it clear that it was an imagined story of the person’s life and nowhere in the book’s information pages was that stated. I didn’t finish reading the book and I probably won’t pick up another by the same author. So, yes, I can relate to those who expected something different from Whisper My Secret.
Luckily, reviewers who perceive my mother’s story as fiction are rare. Almost all readers understand I have put the story together by gathering as many facts as possible through years of research and developing those facts into a story.
Whisper My Secret is now available in audio! Ebook and print editions are available on Amazon.
When I was a skinny little kid living in the Australian bush I boldly announced to my mother: One day I’m going to write a bestselling book. To which she replied: One day I might give you something to write about. But I was not interested in a boring adult story. I treated her suggestion with the disdain children are so capable of and I probably gave her a dismissive look. This might have hurt her because the story she referred to, the secret I only discovered after she died, is a heartbreaking one, the burden of which could have been lightened had she been able to talk about it.
And now Mum’s story (Whisper My Secret) is a bestselling book. To add even more excitement to the mix, this month Whisper My Secret hit the #1 spot in the Adoption category on the Australian Amazon charts. Since its digital publication the book has been warmly embraced by American readers and has been a #1 best seller in Adoption and other categories many times on Amazon.com but over on Amazon.com.au sales have lagged behind. Until now!
As well as America and Australia, Whisper My Secret has also been read in other countries such as United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, India and Germany. My mother, were she still alive, would be embarrassed by such attention being paid to her life story. However, on another level, I think she would be pleased.
The book has gone from strength to strength. As an avid listener of audio books, I was over the moon when the audio version was released in 2017. The audio CD and download is available at Tantor Media and through audible.com at Amazon.
Lots of supporters have contributed to the book’s success including friends, family, readers and fellow authors. In the initial stages of publication, Whisper My Secret was helped along by Bookbub who kindly featured the book in a promotion free of charge, and book bloggers such as One-ElevenBooks also helped to spread the word. At the moment, Amazon is helping to spread the word by featuring Whisper My Secret in a special February promotion in Australia and the United Kingdom.
Thank you to all my readers and many thanks to those of you who take the time to leave comments in the review section of Amazon and on other sites.
Until next time. JB :)
Whisper My Secret has been a steady Amazon #1 best seller in Adoption over the past couple of years. Now the second book Mother of Ten has joined the ranks. Both books have been consistent best sellers this year.
My mum would be delighted to be 'up in lights' on Amazon. Once, when I was a kid, she was booked for (slightly) exceeding the speed limit in the main street of Orbost. She was tickled pink when she saw her transgression reported on the front page of the local newspaper. Many people would have seen this in a negative light but her enjoyment was evident in the merriment in her eyes and her laughter when she proudly declared: “My name is up in lights!”
I must have inherited my mother’s sense of humour. I am often tickled pink by reviews/comments about Whisper My Secret that could be perceived as negative. The claim that Whisper My Secret is ‘pornography’ comes to mind, as well as the startling observations that the book contains ‘lurid’ or ‘gratuitous’ sex scenes. I find such comments amusing. And I’m not unhappy if these types of remarks are included in an Amazon review because they give the book extra zing. Like they say: sex sells! However, for the record, there are no gratuitous sex scenes in Whisper My Secret. The few sex scenes included in the book are there for a purpose. I believe most readers understand that but for those who need clarification here is a brief explanation.
The first sex scene (actually a ‘not quite sex’ scene) where Myrtle and Lily are spying on Mrs Brussells through a window represents the hypocrisy and ignorance toward sex at that time (1930s and 1940s); the social environment which significantly contributed to Myrtle’s lack of understanding about sex and consequently her unexpected pregnancy at the age of eighteen.
The second sex scene, where Myrtle succumbs to Henry after several seduction preliminaries over the preceding weeks, is there to show Myrtle’s ignorance about sexual intercourse and her need to be loved – accentuated by the recent death of her father.
The third sex scene where Henry roughly claims his ‘marital rights’ is over very quickly. This scene highlights the nature of the relationship between Myrtle and Henry and demonstrates how Myrtle fell pregnant with her third child – important in light of the lies spread about the paternity of that child.
The final sex scene where George and Myrtle make love for the first time demonstrates the vast difference between the way Henry treated Myrtle and the love and respect George felt for her.
Each of these scenes is brief. I have tried to make them realistic without being obscene. I felt I’d achieved that when one radio interviewer commented: “You do sex very well."
All that aside, I am heartened that Whisper My Secret has attracted so very many positive reviews from wonderful readers who understand what I want to convey.
Writing Mother of Ten took me on a journey to a secret sanctuary in my mind where remembrances sheltered. As the pages of my memory album turned, I realised what a stark contrast my early years had been to the childhood experienced by my mother’s first three children, for I had been blessed with a carefree and joyous childhood.
While poverty restrained us in many ways, it also gave us freedom. Because we were poor, we lived in the bush but that in itself was a source of insouciant pleasure. Creeks, rivers, mountains and hectares of eucalyptus forests became our playground and, in some ways, our home. One of the memories featured in Mother of Ten is a visit to my father’s workplace; the woodcutters’ camp.
There were men everywhere, some with axes and some with saws: strong men with the broad shoulders and calloused hands of hard-working bushmen. White Australians with faces tanned to mahogany brown from daily exposure to the sun were barely discernible from Aboriginal Australians. Some men worked with shirt sleeves rolled up, revealing their tanned forearms. Others wore blue or white singlets fully exposing their muscled arms. They all wore long pants and boots and most heads were covered by hats or berets. (Italics indicate quotes from Mother of Ten.)
Bluey, the camp cook, used to make tea for us all at break time.
Bluey was a big man with thick red hair and freckles all over his face. His old hat was held together in places with large safety pins.
One day when we were sitting around the camp fire I learned that Bluey had once been tricked into thinking there was a ghost roaming in the bush. Late one night he had heard someone playing the mouth organ not far from their camp. There were no other camps nearby so the men thought it odd that someone would be walking through the trees in the dark playing the mouth organ. When Bluey and a couple of the men went to investigate, they were unable to locate the musician.
“Whenever I got close to the sound it’d stop. Then it’d start up again in another direction and further way. So off we’d go in the direction of the music and, blow me down, if it didn’t move to another spot again, still playin’ the same tune.”
Apparently, Bluey wanted to pack up camp and head back to town until they eventually worked out that the musician was not a ghost but a lyrebird. These ground dwelling brown birds can mimic any sound they hear. In fact, a lyrebird can mimic the sound of an axe so precisely that even the woodcutters cannot tell the difference.
Happy memories of fun and family should be the gift given to each and every child born on this Earth. Alas, this is not the case. It certainly was not the case for the three children my mother bore before she started her second family with my father. Although Mum’s eldest child, Bertie (Kenny), did eventually grow up in a family environment, it was far from joyous. Bertie’s brother and sister were, like thousands of other children in Australia, robbed of family life and brought up in institutions. Another quest that Mother of Ten took me on was the mental pilgrimage through the lives of these children.
When I interviewed Bertie, Audrey (Valerie() and Noel (Allan), their first-hand accounts were meagre because they could remember very little of their childhood. I discovered that this is not unusual for children who have been brought up in institutions. Sometimes these children prefer not to remember their early lives, sometimes they simply cannot recall much because their minds have blocked it out.
In the end, I used what little my (half) siblings could tell me and tried to create a deeper picture by using first-hand accounts of other people who had been brought up in institutions including the same institutions that had accommodated Myrtle’s children.
An Inquiry conducted by the Australian Senate in 2003 and 2004 received over 600 submissions from people who, as children, had been in institutions in Australia from the 1920s to the 1990s. The 2009 report of this Inquiry, known as Forgotten Australians, states:
‘…the overwhelming response as to treatment in care, even among those that made positive comments, was the lack of love, affection and nurturing that was never provided to young children at critical times during their emotional development.’
The two journeys that evolved for me through the writing of Mother of Ten epitomise the contrast between the childhood I took for granted and was privileged to enjoy, and the childhood forced on each of my half-siblings. But, although Mother of Ten explores their heartbreak, the book also celebrates their resilience, resourcefulness and determination, as well as their triumph.
In my quest to convey what my mother must have suffered, I also extensively researched the lives and emotional turmoil of mothers who had been forced to give up their children. This research was as heartbreaking as it was enlightening. By the time I had finished the research and the writing of Mother of Ten, I had a much greater understanding of and deeper respect for my mother.
What lies behind the title? The title was inspired by a reader of Whisper My Secret who was one of those who generously took the time to email me and share her thoughts after reading the book. When she mentioned she was a mother of ten, I thought, ‘Mother of ten, same as my mum.’ That was when I first considered calling the second book Mother of Ten. I realised it neatly fulfilled my wish to have a title that was somehow inclusive of all of Myrtle’s children.
Until we meet again… JB :) See post re Why I Wrote Whisper My Secret
Whisper My Secret came about as an indirect result of my search for three siblings I did not know I had until my mother (Myrtle Rowley) died in 1995. My sister, Irene, and I were gobsmacked when we went through Myrtle’s things after her death. Papers in an old silver cash tin revealed my mother had had three children through a previous marriage, before meeting my father. None of us kids had ever had any inkling of a previous marriage, let alone three other children. There was little information in the papers we found and, knowing Myrtle to be a committed family person and a dedicated mother, we could not understand how she came to be separated from her first three children. So my search began.
First, I needed to try to locate the two brothers and sister whose names appeared on the birth certificates in the cash tin. It was not difficult to track down Myrtle’s first born, Ken Dopper (I call him Bertie in the book). He was living in Queensland. He told me that he had not thought about his mother in years but that one night recently, an image of a woman appeared before him. He thought it was his mother and when he described her to me it sounded very much like Myrtle. We established that the timing of the appearance of the image was very close to the time of Myrtle’s death. Perhaps it was an imagined image and perhaps it was coincidence but it seemed to give him comfort to think it might have been his mother trying to say one last goodbye.
Kenny was able to give me contact details for my sister who was living in Houston, Texas, USA and other brother who was living in Ballarat, Victoria. None of the siblings could tell me much about why they had not remained with their mother. They had grown up with virtually no information about Myrtle; certainly no accurate information.
I went to Albury, New South Wales (where Myrtle lived at the time of her first marriage) and tracked down Myrtle’s cousin. Lily (that’s what I call her in the book) was able to fill in some of the missing details. I contacted other people who were around at the time of my mother’s marriage. Somewhere during that process I decided to put Myrtle’s story into a book and Whisper My Secret was published in 2007.
What saddened me most was that my mother felt obliged to keep her early life secret from her family and all who knew her in Orbost, Victoria where we lived. That must have been a very difficult thing to keep silent about all those years. At first, I simply did not understand why she was secretive but in the process of writing the book I developed a deeper understanding of the complex issues that might have made it hard for her to speak about it.
In response to readers who wanted to know more about the lives of my three half siblings, I wrote a sequel called Mother of Ten. Writing the sequel has brought me an even deeper understanding of Myrtle’s life, both as a mother separated from her first three children and as a mother of seven children living in virtual isolation in the Australian bush.
Some Amazon Reviews of Whisper My Secret
This story of tragedy, loss, guilt and shame, topped by a mother’s love and devotion is one I highly recommend….5 stars
This is a very well written book. It is hard to put down once you start, you just want to keep reading to the end…5 stars.
It is a well written and very much worth the money to buy it. I’m ready for the second book to follow it…5 stars.
This is the kind of story that hurts your heart. But it’s also a story of love and new beginnings…5 stars.