KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Interviews

Boy, Lost and The Stella Prize: An Interview With Kristina Olsson

by Veronica Sullivan , April 25, 2014Leave a comment

Olsson-Kristina-Writers-LGE 

Kristina Olsson’s Boy, Lost details the story of her half-brother, Peter, who was taken from their mother’s arms in infancy and not reunited with his maternal family for decades. Boy, Lost has been shortlisted for the 2014 Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing. Olsson spoke with KYD‘s Veronica Sullivan about Boy, Lost, writing through trauma, and why The Stella Prize is unique. 

In Boy, Lost you share your family’s story of separation, loss and guilt. You also connect this very personal story with many mothers unjustly separated from their babies last century. How do you feel your story, with its threads of collective experience, connects with history’s wronged mothers?

As I researched the social/political context of the time when Peter was taken, I came to see that during that period — the late 1940s–early1950s — the notions of childhood and maternity were almost euphemistic. The bond between mother and child, the profound impact of separation, was not understood or worse, was ignored. Children were taken from their mothers because they were indigenous, because they were poor, because they were born outside marriage. A punishment, as the theft of Peter was for my mother. The effects of this cascaded down through generations, and in each generation they were long-lasting.

How did you manage your own grief when telling the story of your mother and your lost brother, Peter? Was it a challenge to balance your emotions with the facts of their lives as you knew them?

I think now that, in the early days of the writing and research, I was in an odd kind of denial. I’d decided to write the story as the journalist I was, in the third person, trying to be objective. I didn’t see then that it was my story too. As I learned more about my mother’s life, and Peter’s, and looked honestly and clearly at their suffering and how and why it had occurred, I allowed myself for the first time to confront its traumatic impact on us all. I had to grieve a different mother to the one I’d thought I had known.

Did you follow the Stella Prize last year, in its inaugural year? How do you feel about being shortlisted for it this year?

Yes, of course! What an enormous achievement to get the Stella up and running; I’m sure everyone was watching. From the very outset this prize has felt special, and Carrie Tiffany’s extraordinary gesture in sharing her prize money gave it an indelible stamp: reality, warmth, generosity.

Does the Stella hold a different meaning to other prizes which are not gender-specific? Do you think we need women-only writing prizes?

The board and judges and all those behind the prize have ensured it has an aura of authenticity and prestige and celebration. I love the joyous feel it has; the way it has been embraced all over the country. And yes, I do believe we’re at a point in history where we still need women-only prizes here. There are still vexing questions about gender relations in Australia, as evidenced by the recent and spirited debates around misogyny, and these questions are also relevant to the world of Australian literature.

Which female Australian writers inspire you?

All my fellow shortlistees, to start with. And the elders: Eleanor Dark, Christina Stead, Jessica Anderson, Thea Astley and Charmian Clift, for instance, along with Drusilla Modjeska, Helen Garner, Gail Jones… the list is long.

What are you working on next?

Unusually for me, I have two new projects on the go: a novel, and a piece of long-form non-fiction. The novel looks at the idea of neutrality, both political and personal; the main character is a young Swedish glassmaker who has come to Australia in the mid-1960s to work on the Opera House. The other is a kind of biography of the block of land I grew up on in New Farm in Brisbane, taking it back to the glaciers and the rocks beneath, and then up through the layers of human settlement to the present. I’m interested in how deeply we are influenced by geography, both the real and the imaginary, and how our identities are tied to both.

Join the Kill Your Darlings Stella Prize Shortlist Book Club Monday evenings on Twitter from 8–9pm AEST using the hashtag #stella2014. The winner of The Stella Prize will be announced next Tuesday 29 April.




Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

cluster munition

David Donaldson

How to make treaties and influence people

In an era when Russia can annex Ukrainian territory, when the Refugee Convention is regularly flouted, and when nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop the carnage in Syria, it can be tempting to ask: what can international law actually achieve? Read more »

1560682_10153899026420591_499501666_n

Eli Glasman

Just a number: The literary world’s obsession with age

I used to be obsessed about what age I would be when I had my first novel published. I’d go on the Wikipedia pages of every famous writer I could think of to check how old they were when their first book came out. Read more »

winterson

Carody Culver

Jeanette Winterson’s sacred and secular space

It seems that people either love her or hate Jeanette Winterson, and sometimes that has less to do with her writing and more to do with the occasional controversies she’s regularly sparked since 1985. Read more »

Untitled

Veronica Sullivan

Adventures in reality with Oliver Mol

One of Mol’s recent pieces contains the line: ‘I want to put my bare ass on the cover of my book because not only will it make good promo but it speaks honestly about who I am.’ Read more »

The Tunnel TV review

Julia Tulloh

The Tunnel vs The Bridge: The ethics of TV remakes

A body is found in the Eurotunnel, neatly laid across the border between France and England. When police attempt to move the body, it splits in two with the top half in France and lower half in England. Read more »

1398878478_lea-michele-brunette-ambition-zoom

Julia Tulloh

How to be beautiful, according to Lea Michele

Lea Michele’s new book, Brunette Ambition, is what you might expect from a fairly young television and musical theatre star. Read more »

Mariah Carey

Julia Tulloh

Is she Mariah, the ‘elusive’ chanteuse?

Two weeks ago, Mariah Carey launched her fourteenth studio album, Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse. Yes, that’s the real name, and it’s hilarious not only because the title is so long and happily shameless but because Mariah has long styled herself as one of the least elusive pop stars in the pop music galaxy. Read more »

lead_large

Rochelle Siemienowicz

On Boyhood, parenting and the passing of time

Since its premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival, film critics have been falling over themselves to lavish love upon Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Read more »

wetlands_poster

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Lucky Dip Diving: an approach to film festivals

I wanted to let go of the grasping desire to watch everything and be part of every conversation. But with the Melbourne International Film Festival in full swing, anxieties arise again. Read more »

Happy Christmas

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Joe Swanberg’s Real Women

In Happy Christmas, the female characters are a pleasure to watch, largely because they’re so familiar in life and so rarely depicted on screen. Read more »

owl1

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Speaking with pixels

On the Facebook Newsfeed, it’s now possible to click a tiny smiley face inside almost any textbox to bring up a series of thumbnail images: an alligator bawling into a tissue, say, or a whistling fox dropping a turd, or a green owl vomiting rainbows. Read more »

hbo-silicon-valley

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Silicon Valley will eat itself

At a certain point in the lifespan of any subculture, fiction and reality start to blur. Members of the subculture begin to model their character and appearance on the idealised representations of themselves they read about or see on screen. Read more »

inbox

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Death to the Inbox

The primary source of our ‘email problem’ seems to lie in our belief that email is a vastly richer and more capable medium than it is. Read more »

Untitled

Danielle Binks

How to buy books for young adults

‘Excuse me, where are the boys’ books? I’m looking to buy for a 16-year-old.’ When I overheard this question while browsing in a bookshop recently, I felt insta-rage. Read more »

detail

Danielle Binks

Fan-Girling Over Super Heroines

The testosterone-fuelled BIFF! BANG! KAPOW! of classic comics can seem uninviting, filled with spandex-clad men and swooning damsels who hold limited appeal outside the stereotypical 18-35 year-old male demographic. But things are changing in the world of comics. Read more »

9780143305323

Danielle Binks

Australia Needs Diverse Books

The ‘We Need Diverse Books’ team is made up of authors, editors and publishers from North America, but the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag and campaign has reverberated in youth literature communities worldwide. Read more »

Jabberwocky1

Chad Parkhill

The carnival is over

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Read more »

Robin Thicke

Chad Parkhill

Why has Robin Thicke’s Paula flopped?

What, exactly, has caused Paula to sell so poorly that it has already positioned itself as this year’s most memorable flop? Read more »

splash

Chad Parkhill

Queering the Power: The Soft Pink Truth’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?

The Soft Pink Truth’s new album ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage’ demonstrates that despite their superficial differences, dance music and black metal have a lot in common. Read more »

2014-07-03-theleftovers

Stephanie Van Schilt

TV pilots: The good, the bad and The Leftovers

With the wealth of shows on offer, committing to a new TV series can feel like a big deal. It’s often during a pilot episode that audiences determine whether the program is appealing enough to stick with for the long haul. Read more »

Alg-90210-jpg

Stephanie Van Schilt

Sick-Person TV

The only upside to getting sick was the many afternoons I spent curled up on the couch at home, watching daytime TV. I inhaled the drama of pre-recorded episodes of Beverley Hills 90210 while playing with my Brandon and Dylan sticker collection (interspersed with sporadic vomiting). Read more »

The_Million_Dollar_Drop_logo

Nicholas J Johnson

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Nicholas J Johnson defends Lowbrow TV

I can’t stop looking at Eddie McGuire’s smug, stupid face. It’s not my fault. It’s just I’ve never been this close to the man before, and it’s not until now that I’ve realised how oddly smooth and tanned his skin is. As if someone has stretched the orange bladder from a football over a slab of marble. Read more »