Australia's highest selling female author + illustrator
Sally Rippin is a best-selling Australian author and illustrator living in Melbourne with her 3 children.
Sally is Australia’s highest-selling female author and has written over 100 books for babies, children, young adults and adults. Her widely popular books are beloved across the globe, and have sold more than ten million copies in eighteen countries.
Sally was born in Darwin and grew up in South-East Asia. As a young adult she studied traditional Chinese painting for three years in Shanghai and Hangzhou, which inspired her first novel Chenxi and the Foreigner. which she started writing when she was 19.
Sally loves to write stories with heart and includes characters that resonate with children, parents and teachers alike.
Sally has written and illustrated books for babies, children, young adults and now adults. Sally's books for children include the popular Billie B Brown and Hey Jack! series and the highly acclaimed children's novel Angel Creek.
Sally's first book for adults has just been released, called Wild Things, it is about how we learn to read and what can happen if we don’t. Sally set out to write the book that she needed when her son first started school; a mix of personal experience, research and interviews with specialists, advocates and neurodivergent adults.
When Sally discovered her child was struggling to read, she assumed it would sort itself out over time. She couldn’t have been more wrong. Her son’s dyslexia and ADHD went unsupported for years, leaving him further and further behind his peers, and labelled as ‘difficult’ by an education system that couldn’t easily cater to neurodivergent kids. By the time Sally learned how to advocate for her child, it was – almost – too late.
Sally's hope is that this book will help readers understand and better support neurodivergent kids to thrive in a world where they may not easily fit.
In September Sally released a picture book, co-written with musician, author and disability advocate Eliza Hull, called Come Over To My House. Inside, readers are welcomed into the homes of seven families who identify as Deaf or disabled. The first of its kind, this picture book is not only important for disabled people to see themselves represented authentically, but also to start useful conversations in the classroom and home.
Find Sally website
Music used with permission from Alemjo my new age and ambient music trio.
When chatting to my guests I greatly appreciate their openness and honestly in sharing their stories. If at any stage their information is found to be incorrect, the podcast bears no responsibility for guests' inaccuracies.
Podcast transcript at the bottom of the page
Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode of The Art of Being A Mum Podcast. I'm beyond honoured that you're here and would be grateful if you could take 2 minutes to leave me a 5-star review in iTunes or wherever you are listening. It really helps! This way together we can inspire, connect and bring in to the light even more stories from creative mums. Want to connect? Take a screenshot of this episode and share it on Instagram tagging me in with @art_of_being_a_mum_podcast
I can't wait to connect. And remember if you or somebody you know would like to be a guest on the podcast, get in touch! I love meeting and chatting to mammas from all creative backgrounds, from all around the world!
Alison acknowledges this Land of the Berrin (Mount Gambier) Region as the Traditional Lands of the Bungandidj People and acknowledge these First Nations people as the custodians of the Region.
Welcome to the Art of Being a mum, the podcast that's a platform for mothers who are artists and creatives to share the joys and issues they've encountered, while continuing to make art. Regular themes we explore include the day to day juggle, how mother's work is influenced by the children, mum guilt, how mums give themselves time to create within the role of mothering, and the value that mothers and others place on their artistic selves. My name's Alison Newman. I'm a singer, songwriter, and a mom of two boys from regional South Australia. You can find links to my guests and topics we discussed in the show notes. Together with music played, how to get in touch, and a link to join our lively and supportive community on Instagram. The art of being a mum acknowledges the Bondic people as the traditional owners of the land, which is podcast is recorded on welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in. My guest this week is Sally rippin. Sally is a best selling Australian author and illustrator living in Melbourne with her three children. Sally was born in Darwin and grew up in Southeast Asia. As a young adult. She studied traditional Chinese painting for three years in Shanghai. And this inspired her first novel Chen Zhi and the foreigner, which she started writing when she was just 19. Sally is Australia's highest selling female author, and has written over 100 books for babies, children, young adults, and now adults. Her wildly popular books are beloved across the globe, and have sold more than 10 million copies in 18 countries. Sally loves to write stories with heart, and characters that resonate with children, parents and teachers alike. Sally's books for children include the popular Billy B Brown, and hijack series and the highly acclaimed children's novel Angel Creek. Sally's first book for adults has just been released called wild things. It's about how we learn to read and what can happen if we don't. Sally set out to write the book that she needed when her son first started school, a mix of personal experience, research and interviews with specialists, advocates and neurodivergent adults. When Sally discovered her child was struggling to read, she assumed it would sort itself out over time, but she couldn't have been more wrong. Her son's dyslexia and ADHD went unsupported for years, leaving him further and further behind his peers and labeled as difficult by an education system that couldn't easily cater to neurodivergent kids. By the time Sally learned how to advocate for her child, it was almost too late. Sally's hope is that this book will help readers understand and better support neurodivergent kids to thrive in a world where they may not easily fit. In September, Sally released a picture book co written with musician, author and disability advocate Eliza Hall called come over to my house. Inside readers are welcomed into the homes of seven families who identify as deaf or disabled. The first of its kind. This picture book is not only important for disabled people to see themselves represented authentically, but also to start useful conversations in the classroom and our home. The music you'll hear on today's podcast is from my ambient music, New Age trio called LM joy and that comprise comprised of myself, my sister, Emma Anderson, and her husband, John. Thank you again for listening. And I hope you enjoyed today's chat with Sally. Welcome to the podcast. Sally. It's an absolute pleasure to welcome you and to meet you today.
It's really exciting to be here. Thanks, Alison.
You're a best selling author. That's pretty exciting. And you've been writing for 25 years you've written 100 books. That's quite prolific, isn't it? Like? I mean, my max four books a year give or take?
Yeah, well, look, there have been some really busy periods. But also, I guess what I probably want to say and I think a lot of artists out there would relate to this is that I've been published for 25 years, but I've been writing since I was little Yeah, I was a kid that was always in a corner reading books drawing, making my own books. So yeah, so I think I think I'm sure you imagine that that's something that a lot of us would say and I suppose it's the same for you too, is that it still feels a little bit surreal for me, and I don't think of myself as a six successful author or a best selling author because really, all I'm doing is exactly what I did when I was a little kid and I get paid for it and I can do it all day every day. So it doesn't Feel like a job. It just kind of feels like this incredible dream come true.
Yeah, that is awesome, isn't it to be able to just literally live out your dream every day? And yeah, cuz that's something I do talk to my guests about, like, how did it start? Where did it come from? Were you influenced as a child growing up? Did you have people around you that were really heavily into pork?
Yeah, definitely. So we moved around a lot as kids, because of my dad's job we moved about every two years. And we mainly grew up in Southeast Asia a little bit of time in England as well. But the most important aspect of that is that we would spend a lot of time in hotel rooms on airplanes in airports. And this was long before the internet, or iPads or anything like that. So my mom would have to give us books to read. And when we had run out of books, because they're heavy to carry around, she would just give us pencils and paper, and we'd make our own books. And I really credit that along with a couple of fantastic English teachers and art teachers as being the support that gave me the confidence to think that it was something more than just something I would do at my craft table. But something that I could protect, potentially do that other people would want to look at as well. So I think I was really, really lucky that I had adults around me that believed in me supported in me, teachers that would read my stories out in class or at teachers that would really push me to go further. So yeah, I think that was a huge part of of me just having the confidence to go ahead. Having said that, my dad wasn't so supportive of me turning out to be an artist. For him. That was a little bit like saying, I was dropping out. Because I was good at school. And so and he he went to a very, not a very wealthy school in Adelaide, you're in South Australia, I just saw and he was the only kid in his year level to go on to university was quite a rough school he went to, and he went on to be a civil engineer. So he worked really hard to put his daughters to a private school. And when I told him I was going to be an artist, he was like, he just couldn't believe it. It was like you're going to waste that private school education unbecoming. Inadequate him that was like saying I was just dropping out. But he's so proud of me now, you know, and I think, partly, it was encouraging courage meant of my mum that supported me. But I also think there was part of the grist to the mill. That was important coming from my dad, too, because I think I wanted to prove something to him to myself that, no, it wasn't just this kind of alternative way of saying that I didn't want to go and get a job. It was actually odd is that people that work hard, you know, they're dedicated to what they do. And, you know, and potentially they can make a living from it. So in some ways, maybe if I'd only had support, and no one kind of with some nobody to push up against. Maybe I wouldn't have driven myself so hard. Yeah, it's
interesting. Isn't it like that balance between the two? It's almost like the devil's advocate sort of spear you on saying, oh, you can't do this. And you're like, hang on a sec. Yeah, I can. Yeah,
I'm so stubborn, too. So if you tell me, this makes me want to do more?
That's funny. minute talking about your art teachers and your school teachers, I've been reading your book, wild things, thank you for sending me the copy too, because I have really resonated and I will talk a bit more about that in the future, but in the future of his podcasts in a moment. But yeah, when you say you teach it, it was like she was with a capital A, it was like a proper subject, not something just to sort of bridge between, you know, science or maths or, you know, the serious subjects and putting them in air quotes. And that's massive, isn't it to have that support of someone? We can take it seriously, like you said, you can make a career out of it. It does take hard work like anything, but you know, to have that option, you know, presented to you in in your sort of formative years when you're so influenced by things.
Absolutely. And I was very influenced by her too. When I look back on it. I think she was probably only quite young at the time. Well, there are when you're a teenager, anyone who's old. I think it was her first teaching year. And she was very alternative. She was quite tall and thin, and she was always dressed all in black. She was you know, quite goth looking. And she was a bit smelly and unapproachable. And so any of the students that did kind of just turn up to art class and treat it like it was just such a slack off period. She really treated them with a lot of disdain, but because she could see I was really into it. She really took me under her wing and she would take me to exhibitions of contemporary artists on weekends. Use me to Hockney. She took me in a hot me exhibition. Some other weird Melbourne artists with weird kind of colourful stuff with dead my stuck on the fact that she was so excited and so inspired by that, and also that she saw something in me as well, you know, she could see that, that that mattered to me. And so even though I was in this very conservative mainstream girl school, I think she just liked the fact that there was that little ounce of rebel that was just the, the grain of all good artists.
Just pushing up against things just Yeah. When you were talking about your teacher there reminded me of I had two teachers, their husband and wife, and they were just the most laid back hippie people you'd ever made. And some of the most interesting music I ever listened to. Was in Mr. Vans class used to put on like, America, I think they were called like that. The Horse With No brain or whatever that we'd saw. And my son actually is just on his Spotify playlist, it popped up and I'm just like, oh, the memories. Back from the song. It was just, it was bizarre. But yeah, I love
the horses no name. That's what it is. Yeah, yeah. It's funny. Yeah.
You knew what I meant, though. So that was good lace.
Kind of uniform better, actually. Me All right. Yeah. Yeah. And I also think, because there's part of going through adolescence that you want to separate from your parents. And so if you're lucky enough that you do have other adults around you, that are doing interesting things. They can be extraordinary role models, and they can really set you on to quite alternative paths to the ones that your parents had laid out for you. And so they're really vital having good role models around you at that age.
That's a really good point. Yeah, yeah, I love that. Your first book was a book that was actually written for young readers a
bit of a mishmash in the way I built my career. Because I guess, because I hadn't grown up around artists, that wasn't something that I had considered was going to be the direction I'd go down. And so I read a lot, I drew a lot, I had great teachers, but I didn't actually know any grown up artists. And so I've just always written and drawn for myself, but really, I guess I'd always kind of thought that that was just something that was my own passion, my own drive, but I went to live in China for a few years. So my dad got a job there. And I went to study over there while he was living there, studying traditional Chinese painting. And at the same time, I was writing lots of letters home to friends to really try and explain what this extraordinary city of Shanghai was, like, at a time that had just come out of the Tiananmen Square riots, it was transitioning from very conservative, communist values to more progressive values. And I was in the art school. So all the arts students were part of all those, those demonstrations, and they were the ones that were really out there, you know, pleading for change, and wanting to open up the country much more to the west. And so I was writing all these letters home, and eventually, you know, there, I started to find to make them into short stories. So I'd always written stories, but I found that this was a way that I could take all the things that were happening, but also kind of almost elaborate on them and, and potentially put in some history and some characters. And so this is what just in a really weird way, eventually became my first young adult novel. And I was 19 when I started writing it, so I didn't really know what it was going to be either. But once again, I would say throughout my life, I've been blessed to come across incredible mentors. And so I, first of all, how did I get into that? That's right. I thought it was going to be a novel for adults. And I went to see I thought I'll penguin publishing I've heard of them. I know what I looked them up and where they were. And I managed I don't know how I managed to do it. This was a long time ago, to get an appointment with a publisher there who's a wonderful woman who's now become a close friend called Erica Wagner. And she had a look at what I was writing. She said, I think this is young adult Did you know I don't think this is adult and first, I was bit insulted at all what you're telling me, I'm a teenager, I was like I was 22 or something. But then she gave me three books. She gave me a book called Sleeping Dogs by Sonya Hart that she gave me looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta. And she gave me peeling the onion by Wendy Orr. And I took those books, and I devoured them. And I thought, Oh, my goodness, this is young adult literature. I mean, I'm interested. And I realized how much it was pushing up against boundaries, and how much it really was exploring that really tumultuous time of adolescence. And it wasn't the teenage literature that I grown up reading, which was all about periods and boyfriends and pimples, that was really, really pushing the boundaries. So I was working on that. At the same time, I was still drawing and painting. And the first book I actually did manage to get published was a picture book. But in the background, I was working on that young adult novel. So even though that wasn't the first thing I had published, I was certainly that was the first thing I was writing. So everything kind of arrived in, in succession after that. Yeah. Yeah, that's,
that's an awesome story. And I'm sorry, I'm, I haven't read that book. I'm not actually, I'm not a massive reader. I just I don't know, I have, I find it difficult to sit for long periods of time and read. And I know, that's really bad to say, but I do make an effort when I, you know, really want to read something. That yeah, it's like, you've got the two aspects going together, like the children are becoming, you know, young adults, they're growing up, and then you've got that change of China at that time. So that's a really sort of awesome combination. Really, did you sort of realize that at the time, you're really onto something with that,
I think I had a gut feeling that I was because my I had a couple of best friends at the time. One of them was a Chinese student, a man called Gen Z. And he was very politically minded. And he also took me into parts of China that I may not have been able to access on my own as a white Westerner. And then the other person who was a big influence on me, ended up becoming my boyfriend, and then eventually the father to my two older kids. And he was also very kind of rebellious and curious and seeking adventures. So I had those two really great role models to really push me outside of my comfort zone. But also, I was really able to see what it was like to be young Chinese person, particularly young adults growing up in China, as well as seeing the difference to how we were treated as expatriates, and the privileges and doors that were open to us. So I don't think I could have written that book, had I not had some really close Chinese friends and being part of the student body, had I only just mixed in the expatriate circles, I think it would have been very superficial. And so I was actually able to feel what the changes were happening in China from the perspective of other young people. And the danger that a lot of them were under even sometimes by just being friends with Westerners at the time was dangerous for them. So So those things I was aware of, and those things I tried to put into the novel, probably in a fairly naive way. But extraordinarily, several years later, I met another incredible mentor, the publisher text, Penny Houston, and she had read that book, and it had gone out of print. And she said, look, I think this was fantastic novel. And it's such a shame, it's gone out of print, why don't we give it another go. And so with her support, I did write another version of that book and went a little bit deeper. Now I was a bit older, a little bit more politically savvy, I was able to really understand what the situation had been like, with some perspective in the way that might have been. So I had the combination of both being submerged in it, but then being able to write it with a bit of perspective to later on. So yeah, I'm still really proud of that. You know, it's, it was you know, when I consider that I started writing it at 90. I look at that nothing. Yeah, well, you did that. Amazing. I did a residency in China, at a very prestigious International School. And the Australian librarian there just surreptitiously made sure that book was available on shelves for young students can change lives.
Yeah. Yeah. And that's the thing in a country like that, where things are so heavily controlled, and, and, yeah, to be able to sneak something like that under the radar view. Awesome. Amazing. Do you keep up with what's going on in China now? Like having been, you know, immersed in it? Do you sort of keep an eye on how things are tracking over there? Do you still have friends over there?
Yeah, less. So. For a couple of reasons. One, my dad lived there up until recently, so I was Background, visiting him quite a lot. And because all of the people he worked with were local Chinese, it was very easy to get an internal perspective of what was going on in the world. But since he's moved back to Australia, plus he is married to this fabulous Italian lady who speaks fluent Chinese. And so she was very much part of the cultural. The cultural hub of Shanghai. In fact, she had a newsletter that was called Maria's choice, and it would tell you which exhibitions you should go to which films you should go to. And she'd actually worked down now on film sets with Chinese film crews, as well. So for example, resolutie film The Last Emperor, she worked on that one. So both of those were people, my dad and my stepmother were a great source of information. I mean, obviously, it's not the same as being a Chinese person growing up in China, but everybody they worked with was Chinese. So it felt like it was pretty authentic. But they've moved back, Reg. More recently, I'm still in touch with Gen Z, but he lives in Australia now. And most of my Chinese friends, it's very hard to communicate with because I can speak Mandarin, but I can't read and write it. So unless we're phone calls, you know, having phone calls, which we don't really do more. It's really hard to keep track of where they all are, and where they're at what they're up to. But a couple of them I've kept in touch with. Yeah,
that's interesting. It's like it's the country that's always fascinated me. And I had a friend that she was a school teacher here, and she went over for 12 months, doing like teaching in a what do you call them? An international school? Yeah. And she, she loved it. But it's the sort of place I think I'd get quite daunted by it. Like, I don't know, it feels a bit. Like, if you did the wrong thing, you'd feel like you're gonna get in big trouble or something, you know, like it feels. Maybe that's just for me, because I've never been, yeah,
well, that that's the thing with the often those great experiences that you can have, like your friend did is that when you are employed there, and you're an expatriate, you do get to live and integrate within the country to an extent, but you're also very protected by your expatriate passport. And I don't think Chinese or I'm happy to be quoted, said, I'm wrong on this, but I don't think Chinese people will have anybody who was born outside the country ever recognized as a Chinese citizen, I think, potentially, maybe you're from Taiwan or Hong Kong, then that, obviously. But everybody else kind of has this very privileged surface existence. And we even knew that it students that, you know, when we're going out to nightclubs, or places like that, often, our Chinese friends wouldn't be allowed in these would be local nightclubs. And we were and so it's a kind of an fact, to my dad's credit. That's why he ended up moving us out of Asia, because we were I was doing High School in Hong Kong. And he didn't want us to live our whole lives, kind of having this sense of entitlement. I think just knowing that just because of the color of our skin that we've had become a bit untouchable. And then the rules didn't apply to us that they did for the local people that we, you know, we grow up often with mates. And he didn't want us to think that that was the world's normality. So he wanted us to have a much simpler lifestyle, you know, mind you, he still put us into a private school in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. But he didn't want us to think that, that we had this assumption that everybody lived this way. And then suddenly, as expatriates, most people do live a very wealthy protected bubble like life. Yeah, you know, and, and often, the darker sides of China are even withheld from locals as well, you know, often it's really hard even for locals to unless they make really good local friends. You know, a lot of that is hidden from them. And so a lot of their people with disabilities aren't allowed on the streets or a lot of crime is shut down very quickly to have very tough measures on crime. So if anything, you're safer there than you are in Australia, because they don't you know, Chinese are very proud and they want the country to appear a certain way to outsiders eyes. Yeah, that's
interesting. Yeah. Thanks for sharing that. I sort of didn't think we only want to ask you lots of other things, but I'm not going to become very politically, the Chinese if you get quite political so we'll just say thank you for sharing your thoughts. Sorry, your book wild things, which is awesome, by the way. And again, thank you for sending it to me. It's called Wild Things, how we learn to read and what can happen if we don't. And like I said earlier, I really resonated with this because my son, he's got some learning issues he hasn't been diagnosed with for ADHD, but the way they described him and it was interesting in your book, you've got to pick like a little thing about this describing the different types of ADHD. He's got the inattentive, distractibility type. So as I was reading this, so many times, I just went, Oh, my God, that's, that's how I felt, or that's what I should have done, or, you know, all this sort of stuff. So, rather than me keep blabbing on, can you share, in your own words, the inspiration behind your book?
Yeah, thank you. It's lovely to hear how you've resonated with it. And that is partly why I wrote this book. So this is a scary thing for me to do. I've written for children for many, many years. Who am I to think I can write a book for grownups. But I, my son was struggling. And somehow, I let myself believe it would all kind of work itself out over time. So it was quite clear from regret about grade two, that he was struggling to acquire the reading skills that his two older brothers had easily been able to do. He did have a wonderful teacher in prep, who alerted me to the fact she thought he might have some reading issues. But I completely dismissed her I just thought, oh, you know, he's in prep, you know, they should just be playing with sand and water, what's the what's the issue here. And so I let it go for too long. And I kept thinking, Well, maybe he just won't be a reader. And so I'll write books that he wants to read. And so I wrote the Billy v. Brown series and tested them out on him. And then I wrote the hit page X series. And I figured, you know, they'll always be something that will engage him, I don't need to worry too much about reading, you know, my two older boys love reading, I love reading, maybe he just won't be a reader. What I hadn't taken to an account is how much reading affects everything. So if you can't read, there's very little in school that you can engage with, and you lose the capacity to express yourself to articulate your thoughts. And, of course, your self esteem becomes completely crushed. So within primary school, he managed to get by because he had lovely teachers who could see the good parts of him and make him feel okay about himself. But of course, once he got to high school, the wheels fell off. And it was really, really hard to get him the support he needed we'd up partly because somehow the school didn't want to believe that, that this was going to be an issue for him, that he'd got all the way to the end of year seven before I realized he wasn't even having working. So now we're in year eight, and his self esteem is worse. And so now, of course, his behavior is impacted. And so he's becoming a kid that has to get attention somehow. So He does it by by playing up or by doing dumb things to bond with peers. And so now he's becoming a kid, that's a problem in the class. So we're now getting up to year nine, and he has now completely disengaged from school, and also feeling like teachers and on his side. So by now I'm in an absolute panic, because I spend my life, you know, traveling around the world, talking to kids, and making them feel good about themselves and talking to parents about how we acquire reading, and how to get your reluctant reader reading. And I thought, I've obviously missed something here. You know, there's, there's a reason why my son has got this far. And he's going downhill fast. So I thought, I've got to research this. And so I just started asking people tell me how you teach your child to read, tell me what's going on for your child, I started tapping into support groups. And all of a sudden, I found this whole lot of information out there. And I couldn't understand how I hadn't been able to access it before. It's all out there. But it's really hard to find. And I was talking to lots of parents like yourself, who was who was saying, you know, my child struggling in school, or my child hasn't been able to pick up reading skills or, or whatever, and I. So once I tapped into these support groups, one of them suggested that I also had them assessed for ADHD, which is a very common thing among their children. And I really just took him to the doctor just to you know, write that one off, I thought, oh, no, he's not ADHD because somehow people have got in their mind that it's just those noisy ratty little kids that
paid well wasn't like that. He was a daydreamer. Who was swayed he was, you know, wanting to please. And so sure enough, he was diagnosed with ADHD and so I just thought, how is this All coming to me now. And now he's 15, he's disengaged, he feels terrible about himself. And he's talking about dropping out of school. So then I went around to all my friends. And I said, Did you know this? So you've got to know this or, and I met more and more people like you that were saying, you know, wanting to share their stories, too. So I thought, I've got to put all this into one place. Not let everybody else I know, go through all the struggles that my son and I had to. And so I thought I'd go to my publisher, and I'll talk to her about this idea. I really didn't think that she'd take it on. And she said, Yep, we'll do it. But it took me two years to find the contract. Because I wasn't convinced I could do it. And the biggest part of it was just getting over that self doubt that I think a lot of us, do you know that? You know, who am I to think I can do this? You know, I'm not an expert in the field. So I did a huge amount of research, read some really dense books on neuroscience and a lot of books on how we acquire reading skills, or what happens in our brains. Talk to a whole lot of experts. The amazing thing about writing a nonfiction book is you can call up anyone, I'm writing a book, can I interview, you get my diarrhea. I spoke to the most amazing people, I spoke to this extraordinary woman over in the US who had actually changed, who had actually changed the schooling system that her child was a part of by just getting a whole lot of other parents on board. So when you tap into these support groups, they're extraordinarily powerful, and they're emotionally charged. So there were so many people wanting to support me in writing this book, that the days when I thought I can't do this, I've got to drop it. Let's just go back to writing for kids. I thought about those people. And I thought I can't let him down. All these people have already shared their stories, or these people have already given me their time and their expertise. I just have to keep pushing through. I did. And even when I handed the first draft to my publisher, I was sure she'd say are no actually look, you know, I'm not so sure about this. But she loved it. And the thing that she responded to the most strongly was the memoir elements of it. And she said, you know, all the scientific stuff is important. But the stuff that I really, that really sticks with me is all the personal stuff. So of course, that's where you feel the most vulnerable. And so I just kept expanding on those bits. And then in the very later drafts, running all of them passed my son to check that he was comfortable with all of them as well. And so interesting stuff came out of that as well. Because when I'd read something out that had happened five years ago, he was now older, unable to say actually, that wasn't my experience of it. So he was able to then share what had been like for him. So it became almost this beautiful combinate this beautiful moment where I was able to actually understand my son more by doing the research into this book. And this was all done during lockdown as well. So we spent a lot of time together. Had I not done the research for that book? I don't know where my son and I would be at now because we've become very disconnected. I had become really just full blown anxiety stressed out, not knowing what was going on what was normal, what wasn't. And now I've got this beautiful young man in my life who has this extraordinary unique brain. kooky? Yeah, is really beautiful, empathetic, and feeling good about himself, you know, after feeling so crushed by the system, I think, all that time working on the book and running lots of it past him. He feels good about himself. He knows that. Yeah, he's different. That's cool.
Yeah. Does he does he kind of also think Can he see that by sharing like you sharing his, in your experience that it will help others? Is that something that he sort of takes in as well?
Yeah, look, I think he's probably still a little bit young to really get the implications of that. He's only 19 and a half. So I have said to him again, and again, look, by us being vulnerable, and sharing our stories, potentially, we can, you know, empower people to be able to support their kids better. So they don't have to go through the same things as that. So he understands the intent, whether he really understands it in the way that I think, potentially only a really panicky struggling parent could really understand it. Who knows. You know, I think when you're a teenager, you're the center of your universe, you don't really know or under Oct nor should you know how your behavior is impacting the people around you. You know, I one of the things I recognized is how much I projected onto him, you know, how much I saw him as responsible for my anxieties rather than me responsible for my anxiety. And that was a huge sub. Most of the growth has come from me, letting go of who I thought my son was actually really working out who he is?
Towards the end of the book, you've got a chapter called things I wish I'd done differently. But one of the points is, except your kid is different. So that's a pretty powerful thing. Like you said, you've got that shift, did you also find then accept yourself to in that you can only, like, he can't blame yourself, you can't beat yourself up. You can only do what you can do and accept that this is, it is what it is kind of thing without giving up, you know what I mean, but accepting that you can't go back and change things or that kind of thing. Was that something for you? as well?
Yeah, I think that's a really nice way to put it. I, I know that I'm quite hard on myself about it. And particularly because it feels like and I might be wrong, that everybody else seems to know how to do this advocacy, parenting stuff. And in all these support groups, you know, they're really, it looks like they all know what they're doing. They're starting much younger than I did, people seem to be so much more aware and onto these things. And I felt like, somehow I just didn't, didn't get that memo. And so, I do feel like I could have done better. And I do feel like my son's trajectory would have been very different. Had I done differently. Having said that, I don't think I was very supported in the education system. You know, there were times when I felt like, the things that, you know, I was getting assessments done, and I would take them to the school, and they'd be filed away, and nothing would be done about it. Or I would say, you know, I'm, I have a concern here, and I kind of just be dismissed, you know, teachers and and, and it'll be fine. It'll sort itself out. And first of all, what I want to say is, that's absolutely not the fault of teachers is that one of the things that teachers who I've also interviewed for the book have told me is that, you know, they can't be expected to recognize and identify what kid needs, what you know, what issues they may have, whether it's they haven't had breakfast, or whether their parents are splitting up, they have a mental health condition or they neurodivergent you know, they're not counselors, and they're already under so much pressure. But I guess I had thought that that was something that the school will be able to handle and I recognize now that is, you know, as hard as it is, it really does fall back at least on the parent to be the advocate for the child and to educate themselves. So I definitely could have done a better job of that. But I also want to say that it's never too late and this is the thing I'm really proud of you know that there were times when my son was sneaking out at night and getting up to all kinds of stuff when and I was single parenting and making a lot of these decisions on my own. And there were a lot of times where I thought I can't do this I actually am not up for it I don't have the skills but there's no choice you no one else no one else is gonna do it for you. I just had to step up and I had to recognize that yeah, I stuffed up in the early days I hadn't done enough but today is the day we start work you know roll your sleeves up. Yeah, let's see. Skilled I read a lot I got a lot of support but I also did a couple of years of counseling costs as well and I learned to become a better listener so I learned to actually listen more talk less so I could get to know really what my son needed Yeah and he's so proud to put this young man in the world
Yeah well that's that's so lovely yeah this with Alex he I feel the same in lots of different ways of your story that Alex he was always the kid that was like distracts others can't stay on task, you know, every single year level. Whenever we get his report or we talk to the teachers, it was the same thing and I kept saying to my husband, but what do we do? Like we've tried all these strategies about you know, different some teachers were really good at giving him more focus and they'd have put a special desk near them and, and sort of every now and then they you know, he'd be staring off into space and they bring him back and If others would just completely disown him, because they'd be like, well, that kid doesn't want to learn, I'm not gonna have anything to do with it, you know, and I can understand, you know, my backgrounds in early childhood education. I've been a kindy tech, not kindy teacher, but kindy worker and a childcare worker for nearly 10 years. So I get, I get what it's like to be in an educational setting, perhaps not exactly what schools like, but I, you know, I have a bit of an understanding, and I don't like same thing, I don't blame teachers, they've got enough on their plate as it is. And so I'm saying to my husband, we keep getting the same things, the same things like, what do we do about it? And everyone was like, oh, no, he'll grow out of it. Bla bla bla. And looking back. Now I know, there were signs they were all looking us in the face. But no one ever said, Have you ever thought about this? Have you ever thought about having intested ever yet, you know, and it was like you were just left to flounder because you don't know what you don't know. Being our first child, first child going into the world, you think people are going to tell you things, you know, people who know stuff should help us. But if they don't, then you have no idea what you're doing. And it wasn't till he got to high school. Same thing with your son, that literally the wheels fell off. And that's when we got the help we needed and we think started looking out for him. Because we actually have the tools and the people around us that could suggest things. So it's like, everyone just thought he just grow out of it. Like the little boy just playing around, he'll be fine. And he did to a degree, but also think he liked to hide it as well. I think he got really clever like your son, I think people that have have challenges get very, very, they're very intelligent people who are able to mask things and do things in other ways and teach themselves in other ways and learn other ways.
Yeah, I think that's such a great way of explaining it. Because, you know, and this is why I think the more we talk about it, the better it is. And what we have in this generation that our parents didn't have, and certainly not before them, is social media. So now we have the capacity to hear marginalized voices tell their own story. So I don't know if you saw the Press Club talk that Mr. shiana gave me and that being a late diagnosed ADHD, I follow a lot of neurodivergent activists on social media, I tap into disability support groups. So we have that now we have the capacity to educate ourselves, and look at behavior as just being in information. Whereas before all these kids, like my dad also had a terrible time at school, he now suspects he's potentially neurodivergent himself, my younger sister as well, is really convinced she's dyslexic, they gave her glasses, you know, people didn't really know. So these people grow up feeling terrible about themselves, and some of them will go on and be resilient adults. Some of them don't, some of them end up in, you know, justice systems, because they can engage in school, they hang out with other people who have issues engaging with schools for a myriad of reasons. And they go down a really dark pathway, and often don't come out the other side of it, like our kids are lucky enough to do. And that's why if I have anything come out of having published this book, I hope that it starts conversations like already, you and I are starting to talk about the experiences that children have gone to through, I'm getting several messages a week from people I've never met, saying, This is my story, you know, or this is what's going on for my kid. And I think this is how we make change, we shine a light on all these things. So that then the burden is not placed on individuals, not just on the teacher or the parent. But everybody knows, ah, that kid, you know, maybe has this particular learning style. So let's find a support network for them in this way, or one of the most brilliant educators who was knighted for his ideas. So Ken Robinson has an extraordinary TED Talk where he talks about this young girl in the classroom. And this would have been back in the 70s, I imagine who couldn't sit still and everybody thought there was something wrong with her. And the psychologist left the room turns the music on and she got up and danced. And he said to the parents, there's nothing wrong with her. She's a dancer. And I think the next book I want to explore is also the idea of the artist as well, because the artist is most likely a person that hasn't connected with the mainstream that has found mainstream education, really difficult to engage them in certain ways. And so a whether it's unconventional people who are drawn to art, or whether we stay on conventional because we're able to express ourselves in a way that you can't do if you're a real estate agent. I'm interested to explore that further because I don't think that's a coincidence that that add us neurodivergent people, people who have strong feelings, you know, may struggle with their mental health. There's a lot of overlap with all of that there but unfortunately, schools are set up For one kind of learner, yeah.
And that has to change. Oh, yeah. But this is a conversation, I could have 100 times over. It's just the frustration that you get, like just the simple thing. Like last night, my son, my little boy who's seven, he was looking through last year's school magazine. And he noticed some of the kids that were on a special page, and they were the ones that had won the academic awards for their year level. And he asked me what it meant, and I knew where it was going. And I said, these are the children that were judged in a certain way to be clever. And he said, Does that mean I'm not smart? And I knew where it was going. I could read it like a book. And I said, No, I said, it means that for the certain tests that they did, to work out who was clever in this certain way, these kids were the best at that. And I said, and there's other tests in the world. And it wasn't like a test it was more are other ways in the world, that you are determined to be, you know, clever in other ways. And he but he kept on with it. He said, Does that mean I won't win an award and I said, darling, you're reminding these already won some awards for being kind and you know, for, for perseverance and that kind of thing. And it just straightaway, just flashed in my head, like, this moment, I remember in kindergarten, when my my eldest son, who's, you know, Alex, who's got the issues, went to kindergarten for the first time. And this was before I was working in the Childcare and Education area. And I took him to kindy. And they all had to sit down. And they all had to sit with their legs exactly the same crossed in the front. And they all had to sit up and look at the front. And I just thought, it's like, I don't know what the rule is, I could, like I could see the light go out in him, if, you know, he couldn't even sit the way he wanted to, he couldn't express his himself in the way he wanted to just by being present. And I just, I walked away from them with tears in my eyes, because I thought you just squashing these little people right from the beginning. And now when I'm, like I'm working to kindy now, and there's some children that, you know, you can tell that they're feeling unsettled for the way they're being told to sit or whatever, and I'll, I'll bring him over. And I'll say, Just stretch your legs out a bit, you know, give them a bit of a shake, you know, and, you know, hiding sort of way, I hope none of my kindy cohorts are listening to this, you know, you should be able to sit however you want to see. So, you know, just breaks my heart. And that's the start of it, the very start of the conformity is expected for the next, you know, 1314 years of their lives. Yeah, just breaks my
heart. And it's crashing, you know, your story breaks my heart too, because, you know, that's all of these brilliant minds, that are just kind of being pushed through this one system that was created 100 years ago to make factory workers, docile, factory factory workers. And so, you know, what I was stressed again, is there are extraordinary teachers working within the six, this repressive system. And if you're lucky enough, your kid will find a teacher that can just see something in you, you know, keep your self esteem intact. But you know, like, asking my book is this really the best we can do for our kids, you know, to spend 12, or 13 years of your most formative years of your life, in a system that makes you feel broken or wrong or a failure, you know, some kids will thrive, some kids will come through and feel great about themselves. But others will, you know, just be left completely broken. And so many adults, I interviewed about the book, there's a young, a beautiful man who I call Tony in the book that told me about his school experience. And it's so common, you know, just to feel completely, and some people never recover from that, just to feel completely crushed by that. So that's also where I feel like when we start to understand what my friend Eliza hull has taught me about the social model of disability, when we start to understand that it is actually a person's right, to be able to express themselves authentically, and to be able to set up their environments and they can thrive, then schools will be more accommodating towards kids that can't sit with their legs crossed, you know, and there are a lot of autistic activists, self advocating activists that are now really loudly and proudly saying, Do not shut us down, you know, we need to move we need to stim. This is how we emotionally regulate it, stop trying to make us not like us, we want to live full, authentic lives. And this is what we need to do all the kids coming through schools. And look, it's I don't know what that will look like. Because, of course, it's great to bombard ideas into the, you know, into the ether and not know how to put that into practice. Because, you know, like we were saying before, as a teacher working one teacher with 25 kids, each of them have their own specific needs. But a lot of the feedback teachers gave me is that even just lowering the student teacher ratio, just aides in the classroom, your more external things to be able to self regulate. So one credible school that I talked to has a massive what they call the shed. And it's a big workshop space and kids with difficulty in staying within the classroom neurodivergent kids or kids with learning difficulties have factored in spaces during the week where they can go and do stuff in the shed where volunteers come in, they did some cooking would work in a basket weaving whatever. And there's no stigma attached to spending time in the shed, because it's a cool place to be, you can go to the shed as well. So it's so tricky, because yes, sometimes it does require taking these kids out of the classroom and finding something they're good at. And all I remember myself, the kids that got taken out of the class, you know that there's something different about them. And there's stigma attached to that my son hated that, if that meant that he was stupid. So there's, there's got to be more creative ways of doing it. So that we can offer different ways of making our kids feel good about themselves. And that's where parents are really important to, to just to see like you're doing to see that it's a big picture. And all the successful adults I interviewed who neurodivergent said the one thing that got them through was finding something they were good at. And maybe that's art, maybe that sport for one guy was sailing, you know, Torian champion sailing, yeah, doesn't matter what it is, you've got to you got to have something that's yours that you
didn't want. Alex is playing the bagpipes. He's like, Oh, my God, like the kid that like both my husband and I are musical and, you know, always had music in the house and sang and played. And for years, I'd be like, taught me to teach you this. Do you want me to teach that night night and I was I think it was, you know, out of, you know, rebellion against Moto and mom to teach me something, you know. And then all of a sudden, remember the that squid game that TV show that was big about a 12 months ago, the same song of that like the do do this kind of little tune on a recorder. So all of a sudden Alex decides he wants to play the recorder. And I'm like, Okay, that's great. So I didn't really take him seriously. So I ended up buying him recorder because the kids had a recorder when they were little. And I pulled it to pieces and hid the pieces around the house because I hate it. It's like there's a there's a keyboard here. There's a guitar there. Could you play something else anyway, so he loved it learnt heaps of songs on it. And I thought, I can't have this sound. It's issues with particular sounds, it really triggers me. So I bought him a tin whistle and Irish tin whistle so a nicer sound. It was in a different, like different key. So it challenged him but he loved it learn all these songs. And then one day he just says, I just want to play the bagpipes. And I've just gone up Jesus. Could you not pick something a bit louder? Like, anyway, so in 12 months this kid is, is he's joined the local band. They've been on blowies boat horn, but I will he's, he's they say he's got the most potential of any kid they've seen, you know, in a long time. He's picked it up so quick. And I'm like, I'm just so damn proud of him because he loves it. You know, he's always been a bit left of centre he like always like listening to Scottish music or something a bit different. And I've always embraced it. Because I'm a bit like that as well. So you know, and I just think good for you mate. Like he's found the thing he loves and he's the sort of kid that won't necessarily try hard unless he really likes something. So yeah, we live in the dream now.
Because I see DC they have a bag.
Yeah, the other day we're watching the I feel GranFondo and they had you know the the bagpipers coming out for your voice and it's like they go mate. And I've always I've also had someone online because we share a little video on on our Facebook, say, Oh, I'm getting married soon, I'm gonna need someone to play the bagpipes. Like, they go mate, you know, and people love it. Like, it's a sort of, if you hear it sort of off in the distance of bagpipe. It's, you know, you get the hair sort of, you know, you get it get goosebumps, whatever. It's amazing instrument. It's just not so amazing when it's literally just out the door. Well, I'm trying to do things in here. But anyway, long story short, He's found his thing and he's, he's thriving
and good on you for being open to that as well. Because I think, you know, that that is really important thing that I think parents need to understand is it may not be the thing that you thought it would be, it might be something completely different. But yeah, if you can give them the space and the support to find that thing. And, you know, also be part of it. You know, I do that as well. I say this thing like oh, you know, I don't want to blow my own horn or, you know, I don't want to show off or anything but the kids that have had no successes, and then to be extraordinary at something it's of course we should celebrate that You know, so you know, I think good on it and yeah.
You're listening to the art of being a mom with my mom, Alison Newman. We spoke earlier about how people connect with you people you've never met, you get the feedback that others are going through it. In your book, you mentioned about an experience where you were booked to speak in front of a whole lot of was it buyers?
Buyers? book sellers, new sellers.
Yeah. And you had, you know, your, your script, I guess that what you were going to say? And then you started to get these little nudges in your mind that you really wanted to share your son's story. And you did, and it went amazing. And, you know, the feedback you got from people afterwards talking to you for you know, so many hours. Like, it's,
wonderful that there are people like you that can share, because I know there's a lot of people that can't but I just want to say how awesome it is that you are doing this, like it's it's just really great.
Thank you. And look, I think I, I you know, you and I, we do have a platform. And as scary as it is to be vulnerable. I think that's also such a gift. Every time I've heard someone who has a platform, for whatever reason when they speak openly about something vulnerable. So you know, when I was a teenager, I might have been someone I'm famous coming out, or more recently, it's mental health, or even more recently now with somebody like em Oceana, spotlighting on ADHD, how powerful that is, and how connecting, and then how it does make people feel like that, that they can, you know, look at that person up there that looks like they've got it together so successful. They also have all this stuff going on, too. So I my case. You know, occasionally people say to be about my book horror, it's very vulnerable. For a lot of yourself out there and a panic, a lie awake at night going over bits. And I think, what are people gonna think of that fit? But I think what's the point of creating art, if you don't make something that matters, you know, there's so much froth out there anyway. You know, this is something that I hope would speak to you as a practicing artist and about your podcast being about practicing art, particularly as a parent, you have so little time to waste. Why why do frost why not do something real? vulnerable? Deep, authentic connecting, that's what art can do.
Yeah, that's awesome. That is such a great way of looking at it. And I certainly feel that way. It's like, if you're going to do it go big.
Before you get into clubs, I've had no pushback. That's the amazing thing. I thought that by now. I mean, it's only been a few weeks, but I thought there would be someone that would take me to task. But all I've got is people thanking me. And so I think it was worth it. It was worth doing that very thing. Because it was see that you're you're trying your best even if I don't get everything right. I'm just I'm trying my best. Right now in my stage of life.
Yeah, absolutely. Now that's awesome. It's really interesting, your book. Now you've named it wild things as a reference to that amazing children's book where the wild things are. And throughout your book, you've sort of waved in these characters from other books, and then analyze them for one of a better word, brought them into the 21st century and saying, How would these children be the word
that's a good way to be perceived in if they were here. Now. What would we say they had a better website. That's really interesting. What How did you come up with that idea? Because it's fascinating. And it's, it's really, it's really interesting, actually.
I'm glad you say that. I think it's partly because partly it came from my own anxieties when I first started out writing the book that people would see my name on the book as a children's author and think why is she writing a book for grownups? So I thought, how can I connect what I do and have done for 25 years, this world, I'm passionate about children's literature with what I want to bring to an adult audience. And I taught writing for children for a long time at RMIT in Melbourne. And I always ask my grown up students to bring in a book from their childhood, every time someone holds up a book that meant something to them as a child, the reaction that they have to that, or the memories that are locked into that book, and visceral, you know, we have such a deep connection to our childhoods. We forget that sometimes. And sometimes just bringing an object or a book, or something from your childhood can trigger all these incredible feelings and memories. So I thought, all these books that we grew up reading, you know, we celebrate these characters, and we love them, they become part of our lives, they become part of our culture. So many of them are Naughty. Naughty, because one of the keys to writing good literature is you need conflict. You know, a story doesn't, you know, there's no such thing as a story where just everything happened, nothing happens. You know, the story is created by conflict. It's created by adversity, it's created by all these things, and your main character, you've got to give them some agency. And usually that happens by bucking the system, challenging authority, making changes. And that can usually only happen if you're a little bit of a rebel. So most of our most beloved characters are pretty rebellious. So we celebrate these characters in books. But when our children show the same traits, we really struggle with that like, oh, Ron, you're supposed to sit down and do what you're told, don't stand up and say, the books we're giving them are all about people challenging authority. And so I just wanted adults to, to want to think about that, to think about what it is that we expect from our children that's maybe unnatural, or maybe not even particularly healthy, but also to tap into our own childhood selves, because everything we experienced as a child work we're experiencing for the first time. So we see the world with eyes open and full of awe. And that's what you have to do as a daily practice. As an artist, you have to see the world as it for the first time every day. And that's why people when they travel, they often become creative, because they want to take photographs or write blog posts or lead us home. Because everything is new and exciting. That's what childhood is like. So we can tap back into that childhood aspect of ourselves. It's not infantilizing, it's actually portal into this extraordinary wealth of creativity, and hopefully, connection and compassion for our own children. Like we're looking at what they're doing. And I'm thinking, actually, you know what, I remember doing that myself as a kid, maybe I shouldn't be so hard on them. Like that was a massive tantrum I had as a kid, bend me into the Catholic to get me in. And yet, you know, when my child has a tantrum, you know, that's, that's intense, that's full on. And I had to try to remember how I felt to be able to have compassion for him and kids. To do that with
me, it's a good reminder, isn't it? Because sometimes I think we expect so much of our little people, like we just think because I'm an adult, I expect my child to be in this world and engage in the same level. And we forget, you know, their brains are literally wired different to ours, you know, the, the certain parts of their brains haven't, you know, finished developing to, I don't know, till you're 21 or something, you know, like, it's massive. But yet, we just expect, like, perfect reminder for me, is like, I want my children to sit at the table and make their tea for do you think they will? Well, no one ever while the other one's not too bad. But it's like fiddle with every single thing that's on the table, try and hop off the chair 20 times. And so in the end, I just gave up but it's like, I don't, I don't want to experience this. This aggravation or this conflict at tea time. So now, the two of us sit together and have our tea watching the telly usually, and the other to sit up there and have a chat. And it's like, it works for us. And I hear these people say, Oh, we always sit around the table and have dinner together. I'm thinking, geez, you mustn't glue your children to the chair, or your children are not like my children, you know, and just except that, because when I was a kid, jeez, if we didn't sit at the table, you know, you know, we sat at that table, then I just accept, like, like he said, before any point, just acceptance, you know, and things don't always have to be perfect. And the way that, you know, we think they have to be.
Yeah. And I think also it's a really good point is that sometimes we just have to recognize how much is unacceptable and how much have we just conditioned to think is unacceptable. And so the fact that you've gone with your gut instinct, and chewed into your child rather than thinking, Oh, this is how I should do it, because I got caught up in a lot of shirts because I had lots of friends with what seemed like perfect kids and doing everything in a different way. So I had to stop thinking that maybe there was something wrong with my kiddos just see these different and stop comparing myself to other parents or comparing to how I was, or even just the social conditioning rehab on what how kids should be.
Yeah, that's a big one. That's something I've had to work hard on, I think. And also social media hasn't really helped that because you get to see, well, it's not really people's lives, it's the idea of the part of people's lives, they want you to see that, you know, it's like, oh, you should be doing this. And you should be doing that. And as a mother, you know, that's just like a minefield, find
amazing people to follow, you just got to find the right people. Like, you've got to follow disability advocates like the two Ps, those two mums that talk about parenting and kids with disabilities for such no gravitas and humor at the same time. And so you just got to find your tribe, comparing yourself to other people that aren't like you. And that was exactly for me, as soon as I tapped into other communities. These are my people this is,
yeah, that's really good. Before I move off of wild things in until the other book I want to talk about, I want to try and link this in, in my podcasts, I like to talk to my moms about the concept of mom guilt. And I put that in air quotes, because often I'll get a mom who just tells me, they don't even know what it is. And I had to google it. And I think that's wonderful. You know, like, it's, you know, everyone experiences things different and guilty or not guilty is one of those things. And I noticed in your book a lot, and you did talk before how you can be really hard on yourself. Is has that been a challenge for you? To not hold on to things? And yeah, you know,
usually so and look, I think, I think the very first drafts that I wrote on my book, I just used as a blur as a cathartic experience to get out all the angst and all the guilt. And then I tried to pull it back more and more because it can become self indulgent, you know, and I felt like, Okay, now I've got it all out. This feels like my diary here. But now what's useful for other people? Is it still beating myself up? Is it saying what a bad person I am, you know, potentially what we can do for each other as my mother's is let each other off the hook, you know, you know, being open and saying, Yeah, this is where I messed up. You know what, that's just because I'm human. And so I think part of writing this book was also letting myself off the hook coming through that guilt. That I think so many mothers hold, potentially father's too, I haven't spoken to them to the same extent about that. But I, but I think we need to do ourselves a favor and just let each other off the hook and stop showing each other up and, you know, openly laughing about the things we get wrong and supporting each other when it's hard. I think that's building the tribe and the community and recognizing that, you know, we're really just doing the best we can.
Yeah, absolutely. Because I actually think that women and mothers are really bad at doing that to each other, like we do it to each other a lot. And then we don't want it done to us. So I think if we could just stop doing it, it would be wonderful.
But you can do that even in a conversation. Like I remember, in conversations I because I feel like I'm trying to be aware, I think self awareness is the biggest step. And you know, I would find myself in a group of other mothers maybe criticizing somebody or something. But we can be the person that just says, You know what, I do that too, or actually, you know, maybe she's having a bad day or whatever. And, you know, we can arrest that even if it does feel like a bonding thing at the time. It's not a really healthy thing to bond over. We can find other things to bond over. Yes,
that's true. That's well said yes. The other book that you've recently released is with Eliza Holt, and you've mentioned Eliza and I'm having the lion's share on the podcast in a few weeks too, so I'm really excited about that. It's called come over to my house and can you share with us rather than me tell people you share again, in your own words, what was behind this book and how you came to be involved in the book as well?
So I met Eliza through another one of your interviewees, Rachel power, who was A wonderful friend. And she interviewed me for the first edition of her book. The I think I don't know what the most recent one is. But it used to be called the divided heart. I think it's now the art of motherhood or something like that. Anyway, exactly what you're doing just finding other artists, mothers, how are you possibly doing this thing and actually having an artistic practice at the same time? Incredible book, and I give it to everybody who's a practicing artist, mother. It's a
brilliant book. It is. It's a wonderful book, if you haven't read it, read it.
In fact, to be shouted at it every episode because she's queen. And so she and I were on a panel with another couple of artist mothers. and Eliza Hall was in the audience. So it was years and years ago, before she even became a mother, I think she was thinking of becoming a mother. And she contacted me out of the blue, and we just started corresponding. And we became friends. She's an extraordinary musician, I downloaded one of her albums, and I had it on rotation in my car all day, every day for years, I think. And so, by absolute coincidence, after a few years, we both ended up in this mate, same small country town. So I was still living in Melbourne, but I had a bush block, just outside of Castlemaine in central Victoria. And she had not long ago moved to Castlemaine herself. So we just kept reconnecting because I really liked her she really liked me. And she had brought actually contributed a piece for the book, edited by Calif in late growing up disabled in Australia. And she also edited a book on parenting parents with disabilities and the challenges and the triumphs that many of these parents are happy to share. And she said that she had been thinking about writing a book for children, but it's wasn't an area that she was very familiar with, when I come on board with her. And being such a big fan of hers, I said, Yeah, of course, you know, I'd love to. And she is the person I credit to helping me understand how disability doesn't have to be a dirty word. So disability, if somebody owns that word with pride, just like indigenous and African American people are earning the word black with pride, or potentially pride with pride, with pride, then then, it becomes something that takes away the stigma around that word. So a lot of active self advocating people within the disability community will use that word, as a way of saying, there's nothing wrong with me, this is who I am, this is my community. But unless you create an accessible world, I'm not going to be able to be my reach my full potential. And she proposed that potentially, my son was also disabled by his environment, because if he was able to learn in a particular way, but the school wasn't able to support the way that he learned that he was also disabled. So that just blew my mind. He claimed that social disability. So we workshop, the idea of doing a picture book together, we're what the aim of it is to normalize disability, we just happened to be invited into I think, I can't remember now seven children's homes, the child might have a disability or the parent might have a disability, some things are done a little bit differently. Some things we do the same. But really, it's about just taking away the stigma around that word, opening us up into the world of these extraordinarily creative people who live with disability, and inviting into their homes. So there was a book I grew up reading in the 70s, by Dr. Seuss, called come over to my house. And it was, I remember, I loved it as a child, I read it again and again. And we were invited into all these homes of people who lived in different countries around the world than, you know, Japan, or India or whatever. Everybody had a slightly different house ate slightly different food, but they all like to play the same kind of games. So we've aimed to do the same thing with this book, we're inviting into these times. There'll be some similarities, some differences. But you know, there's nothing scary about it. Talk about talk about the similarities and the differences and normalize and D stigmatize
those words, that fear is the thing I think it's people don't know what to say they don't know. I think what you've written in the beginning of your book about how people with disabilities like to be referred to whether I've got a disability, I'm a person with a disability. Now, I think we're scared of offending people or saying the wrong thing. And it's like, if we talk to people, if we talk to each other, and we say, How do you like to be referred to you? What would you like me to call
you and lots and lots of listening? And that's where we do have access to extraordinary stories and people via social media, people who weren't able to access platforms to be heard before. And so you can politely ask if you can follow an activist on social media you know, Callie villa is a very outspoken activist that speaks very, very confidently in the area of disability and so there's lots to Learn from the stuff. That's just undoing all the conditioning that we've had growing up and understanding how, you know what, what the world is like for people that don't live with the same kind of privilege we do. And the best way we can understand that is just lots lots of listening. And there's a lot of amazing people to follow online that you can learn heaps from. We can all educate ourselves, it's you know, and, you know, that's where there is a delicate balance. Because, you know, there will be people that will say, well, it's not for us to carry the weight of having to educate everybody, you know, we don't want every single person coming up to us and asking, you know, how to lose your leg or whatever. So we're hoping this picture book for children is that it starts communication starts conversation, sorry, around different forms of disabilities. And also, the kinds of questions we can ask because children are genuinely interested, curious and naive. And so we can have these conversations and we can say our Do you know, do you think that men will feel comfortable with you just staring at him all the time? You know, how would you feel if you were invited to a party and you couldn't get in because your wheelchair couldn't get over the step in the playground or, you know, actually creating empathy, compassion, and the more we can hear the stories from people themselves, rather than people like me talking on their behalf. More important that is, and that's why of course, it's fantastic. You've got Eliza on your program, because I'm looking forward to that God. And she's a wonderful person.
Yeah. And I Yeah, music like, I don't know how I didn't know. She also was a singer and a songwriter. And like, wow, she's amazing. Yeah. So if you're listening alive, so looking forward to chatting with you? So I want to go back to you, as a mum, do you feel like you want your children to see you, as Sally that does all these things, and you're not just their mom, and I'm putting that in air quotes, because you're never just a mom. But you know that your children see that you've got all these other elements to then the caring role, the mothering role?
Yeah, I think that's really important. And in the years where I did carry a lot more guilt than I allow myself to now, I used to worry a lot about working a lot, because I worked really, really, really hard. And so often I might be away on tour, or I might have to, after dinner, go back into the studio to work or, and would sometimes mean that I'd missed some school things or, you know, and then I would feel bad about that. But I think all my working mothers can relate to that. But I guess what I hoped is that what I'm role modeling is that if they have a female partner in the future, there won't be an assumption that it just falls on one person to do the domestic labor or the childcare, that I can model what it's like to be an independent person in the world. I've always been financially independent, I've always, you know, worked really hard to forge a career for myself. And so even though I have sons, not daughters, I think it's as important to role model that for them, as it would be if I had daughters, and they're really proud of me now, you know, my oldest son's 29 Oh, my, oh, actually, not all my sons, my two oldest sons. In the creative arts, so the oldest one is interested in writing and filmmaking. The middle one is a visual artist, along with a million other things. My youngest son's into math, so I'm not quite sure how to connect. i That's pretty creative, too. But, you know, what they've seen is that you can be loving, you can be nurturing, you can be dedicated to your children, and you can also have space for yourself. And that's actually what it is to be a whole healthy human in the world. You know, nobody should have to completely sacrifice themselves for anybody else. That's not healthy. You know, we can be full people in the world and also be amazing parents as well. And so I just feel like I had to role model that to my kids, and get over that angst that I would carry about not being there at every assembly. Being really terrible at baking cakes. I'm just and that's okay. Yeah, exactly. And I was always good on
You mentioned briefly earlier how that your son Sam inspired you to write a couple of the series is that your that you've written? Can you tell us a little bit more about that.
So before Sam, it became clear that Sam was struggling to read, I wrote the kind of books I like to read as a child, so sophisticated, you know, plots, dense texts, you know, elaborate vocabulary, all of those things, because I was a very good reader. And I found reading easy and accessible. So they're the kind of books I set out to write, partly from my own ego as well, because I wanted to show off what a good rider so those weren't ever going to be books that Sam was going to be able to access. So and I call him Sam, he's not really called Sam. But for the purposes of the book and all the publicity, he said, yep. And to give him some privacy. And so the only books that he was able to read, we're the school readers, and they serve a very important purpose. They are there to teach kids to read, but they often don't have storylines or character development. And they're often a bit boring. I thought, the challenge for me would be to create books that would use that kind of language and vocabulary and sentence structure, but actually have proper character development and plots and so forth. And I tested them all out on them. So I would watch him. And if I lost his attention, I would short nerd or I would speed up the story or whatever. So they're all road tested with past him. And then because those books reach so many kids, what that message very strongly sent to me was, there are a lot of kids out there, like Sam, who may not be dyslexic, but just may find reading really hard. So everything I've written from then on has been for those kinds of kids, because not many other people are doing, I think there's a lot of humor around for kids. There's a lot of kind of cartoon comic books for kids, and they are really, really important too. But to explore something that goes into an emotional terrain, or perhaps, perhaps stories of friendships, it's hard to find those in a lot of the really, really fast paced accessible books for kids. So I try to do that and everything I write, to make sure that it works on lots of levels. So the poly investor series, for example, can be read on the surface as a story about rich and the monster playground story. But the further you go into it, and the more you want to explore it with a child, the more you can see that it's actually a story about apartheid. You know, it's potentially a story about the Trump era story about racism, you know, depending on how deep you want to go with your child. But I trust that children want complex stories, they may not be able to access them with their reading skills, but they have extraordinary minds. I mean, I remember, the Think of that I was as a child, that's the one skill that I've been able to hone throughout writing for children is that I can transport myself back to a six year old really easily. And I remember how I thought how I felt. And it's not less than we do now. It's not as sophisticated. But if anything, I think I felt things even more keenly as a child than I do now. And so I don't want to write down to them, but I do want them to have something they can access for themselves.
Hmm, yeah, that's really thoughtful. That's really cool. That's very clever to to be able to write like that. And also, because your first will not actually your first book, but the book when about being China, about that was written for like, you know, the young adults, and then you can write for little people, two sets, and you've written for adults as well, like, that's very versatile. It's,
well, you can play instruments, and I can't do that. Oh, I tell you what, I hold musicians as the top talent, as far as I'm concerned, as far as out of scope, because it's like musicians can hold a world in their heads. It's not just words, but it's all these different sounds that come together to create one sound. And for me, that is just like the epitome of creativity. It's
I'd never thought of it that way. It's probably what I get so distracted. Oh, that's funny. I've always found this fascinating. And I have had many conversations with teachers over the years about how, how do we actually learn to read write. And I didn't actually really know there were these two clear different sort of forces of opinion working against each other. About, I always wondered whether you actually, like, picked up each letter and sanded down each letter. And that was how you got it, or whether you just recognize almost like, Hey, you recognize logos or symbols that you just remembered. That's how that word looks. And it was fascinating. When you write in the book that even now when we read, as adults, like fluent readers, we're still doing that, almost like the phonics way. In a while we're reading and I thought, gee, that's interesting. So rather than again, maybe try and explain, could you share some intelligent thoughts.
So, so one of the amazing things that came up in some of my early research, and this sounds like such a simple thing, but it is actually mind blowing, is that while we are our brains, while we are born with brains that have the capacity for oral language, that is, while we're inside the womb, we are actually learning the tone. And we're learning we're developing the skills to be able to speak just from listening to our mother's mother speaking. So we have a French speaking mother will be attuned to Frenchmen were born, bilingual parents, children, attune to two languages, and so on. So we were born with the brains that have the capacity to be able to use our language, because our language is 100,000 years old. Written language, however, is only five and a half 1000 years old. So we actually don't have a space in our brain when we're born, that is set up for reading. So we have to actually rewire a part of our brain to be able to be a skilled to read and fluent reader. So the way that this is done is that part of the brain that is used for visual processing combines with another part that's used with oral and this is a very, very simple way of just describing very dense neuroscience. But essentially, it's recycled. So that we create what this very famous French professor has called the letterbox His name is Stanislas de Haan, you can find his talks online, He's extraordinary. We can now look inside brains because of neuroscience and see what's happening as we acquire reading skills. And so that's how they've been able to actually scientifically prove what happens in the brain when we learn to read. So before we were able to do that, like you say, there was a couple of schools of thought about how it might be that we acquire reading and one of them was the whole word approach that we do. We see a word like an image and we store it, and that then is retained and retrieved when we need that word. But we now know that in fact, what we're doing painstakingly as a child, is breaking words down into a code sounding out all the little pieces of the word. So pH sounds like, you know that oh can sound a few different ways. And so we do that painstakingly as a child, but the more we practice that the more that wiring happens in our brain, so it becomes automatic. But if we're not taught those skills, which the broad umbrella comes under the umbrella of phonics, but it's also thought of as decoding where we actually break the word down together to create meaning, then we can potentially get by for a while, because for a while, there will be certain words that we can recognize up to a certain extent, or we can guess by using the cues in the book by looking at the pictures. But once we get to that grade three, that's when we when you actually see that kids who haven't acquired those reading skills, really plateau and flounder, and that's what happened with my son. So some kids will seem to pick it up naturally or by osmosis by not being taught to decode, but some kids won't. So the the people who argue for teaching phonics from early on, the argument is that while some kids will manage to learn to read, just by doing some guessing and managing to create some kind of reading skills on their own without being specifically taught, there'll be many that aren't. So this is a way that guarantees that all kids will be taught to read. Now if you're dyslexic, you may need extra support and extra practice outside of the classroom, same skills, but you can you may need up to four times the amount of practice than a non dyslexic, but even Dyslexics can be taught to read if they're taught with this very systematic phonics instruction. So somehow it's you know, I didn't have a stake on either side and you know, Think about it or read the brain science. And it really just comes out time and time again, for people who know this stuff. I'm just sharing what I've learned that that is the way that we can guarantee that kids won't fall through the cracks. And somehow there are still arguments about it. But for me, you know, this might be controversial. It feels like listening to flat Earth as argue now, yes, there was a time, we couldn't know if the earth was round. But now we know what happens in the brain as we learn to read. And the best practice of teaching it, we just don't need to get on board. That's it will go through school like my Sam did without learning how to read and everything will fall apart there. So we're in a transition phase, there's a lot of extraordinary mothers that are lobbying to have screening done really early on to be able to pick out kids that are struggling to read, they're out, unfortunately, becomes political. But there are, you know,
there are lots of people now who are advocating to have one form of teaching Trump taught across the board to ensure that all kids are taught to read, having said that, the argument against phonics is that people will say, Oh, it's boring, it's dull. It's like what was done in the 1950s. And it'll turn kids off reading. Yeah, it can seem a little bit boring and dull, like learning, you know, the notes for piano, for example, in the very early days, that can seem pretty boring. But meanwhile, you're playing music to them. So they're thinking, oh, one day, I'll be able to do that. So of course, while kids are learning to decode by using this explicit systematic phonics instruction, you read them beautiful literature, so they know what they're going to be able to access once they develop those skills for themselves. And that's what parents can do at home. So the worst thing that any parent can be told now, I realize is that if you read your to your child enough, they will just pick up reading, because that is awful for a parent that's done everything right to here, and their child still doesn't read. So they need to be taught. And you can support that at home by reading to them from birth, but it's not your responsibility to teach them.
Yeah, that's it. And then it takes out that that horrible sort of the guilt ridden pneus that a lot of us moms feel when it's like, what did we do wrong? I thought we did what everyone said to do, you know, all that sort of stuff. Yeah. And it was interesting in the book to those example, those couple of examples around that phonics was a I can't think of the exact time period. But in America, at one point, they completely changed how they were teaching it my saying this right, and then all of a sudden, the decline, like was measurable of because they changed how they were teaching. Sorry, can you make sense of that?
Yeah, lots of those texts coming out. Lots of those stats are coming out now about, you know, people are looking for all different reasons as to why we have a society that reads less of that kids are getting to the end of primary school and not being able to have basic literacy skills. There are lots of speculation around that. But all the research is showing that a lot of it is just because they haven't been explicitly taught. So I do give examples in the book of some schools that have changed the whole teaching program around and gone from the lowest rung of the NAPLAN results in reading to the top rep. And these are in disadvantaged areas and not ones that are getting tutoring outside school. So it's also a way that we can ensure that it's not just the kids that grow up in educated, privileged, financially secure households, like my son get the support they need. But all kids even in non English speaking background, in apartments, where maybe they're sharing one computer amongst, you know, five kids, or, you know, every child needs to be able to given the same stat in life. That's what our public education system is about. And so the only way to ensure that all kids can access literacy skills that they're going to need is by teaching them in this specific way.
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Good job.
And I'm doing it on behalf of other people, because obviously, I can't know if Sam would have been a fluent reader had he been taught differently. You know, it's not a sliding door situation. I can't go back and do it all again. But from every single expert I've spoken to and all the research has come out and all the books I've read. It points to that.
Yep. There's a quote in there by Astrid Lindgren, who's an extraordinary Swedish writer, she was extraordinarily successful in her time. And she just has this beautiful quote that I put in the back of the book that give your children love, more love, and more love, and the rest will come. And I think, you know, it can be easy to project, our idea of success on our kids or who we think our kids should be. But I think in the end, if they can go through life, knowing that someone just loves them completely for who they are, that's about the best thing you can do for them. And I think that's the most important thing I tried to instill in my son is if he's a good and worthy person, no matter what he chooses to do with his life.
Yeah, that's lovely. That's beautiful. And I'm going to add a quote to that. I can't remember who said it in the book, but it said, trust your kids, they will show themselves to you and be ready to love who you say. I thought that was a really good one. That was you that said, bravo to you. Well done. Well, thank you so much, Sally. It's been such a joy chatting to you. And thank you for sharing your story and your son's story. And yeah, being a part of of the chat today. It's been lovely. It's been really nice chatting with you.
I feel like we could probably go on for hours. We probably have to break out the wine soon. All right, cyanide.
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