Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sacha Jones: One Woman's World

Sacha Jones: The Grass was Always Browner (2016)

A long time ago, in a galaxy not too far away from this one, I had a student in my Creative Writing paper at Albany called Sacha Jones. It takes most students in this course quite some time to get into the frame of mind where they can critique and analyse each other's work without fear of possible social repercussions. Developing that group rapport is an important part of teaching the paper.

Sacha, however, had strong opinions, and was not afraid to express them. Her ideas about form and structure seemed impressively astute and advanced, too, so I wasn't entirely surprised to find out from her midway through the course that she was in fact completing a PhD in Political Studies at Auckland Uni at the same time as attending this beginners' writing class. Let's just say that she stood out from the first.

She must have enjoyed it, though, because she went on to enrol for our stage two course in Life Writing (broadly speaking: Biography, Autobiography, Memoir, Genealogy and all variants on same). I usually only give a couple of guest lectures in this paper, but this year I was teaching the whole thing as one of my colleagues was away on leave.

It was, I have to say, a very stimulating experience. I recall some fascinating debates on the longterm legacy of the Women's Movement on writing and (indeed) society in general, where I tried to stress the immense value of that "the personal is political" mantra, and all the other ideas so hard fought-for then and so taken for granted (often, alas, in their absence) now.

This was very much Sacha's territory: part of the subject of her PhD (now completed) in fact - and she had a lot of light to shed on it.

After the end of the course, I didn't see so much of Sacha: a couple of meetings at the Society of Authors, and - of course - the stimulation of following the postings on her blog One Woman's World. This blog very much exemplifies the idea of exploring all the ramifications of - yes - one woman's life in the early twenty-first century, complete with "Poetry, prose, politics and parenting; photography, pirouetting, pruning and prattling on: a few of [her] pleasures, predilections and predicaments."

And now Sacha's memoir, The Grass was Always Browner, is being published by Finch Publishing (Sydney, Australia)! It's due out in New Zealand a little later this year: in May, if I'm not mistaken.

Now I always think it's extremely uncool - not to mention completely inaccurate - to claim any credit in the successes of one's former students. People's achievements are their own, and any help you may have given along the way is likely to loom larger in your imagination than theirs. That doesn't mean, however, that I'm not extremely proud of her and very chuffed to hear about this happy event.

Nevertheless, the fact that she was already well advanced in her Doctoral studies when we first met means that I'm unlikely to have exerted too much influence on her development as a writer. Never mind: I'm pleased to celebrate my colleague's book here and to recommend it to you strongly.

The book has many resonances for me, as my mother grew up in Sydney (though at a somewhat earlier date), so I grew up on tales of bull-ants and the blueness of the Blue Mountains. We made several trips over there during my grandparents' lifetime, so I retain quite a vivid memory of the family house in Chatswood (immense it seems to me in memory: with great wooden verandahs where I lost my favourite Matchbox toy, a little police car, and had to be comforted with the gift of a little koala bear).

If you'd like to sample some more of Sacha's writing, you could look at her fascinating piece Hunger, included in our online anthology of students' writing from the Life Writing course. It gives you some idea of the territory she covers: ballet, bulimia, body issues, but - of course - many of life's brighter aspects as well.

The best of luck with the book, Sacha!

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