Tough Times chat show
Whitehorse Leader Newspaper - February 16. 2011
Mitcham author Olwyn Conrau has just released her book The Importance of Being Cool that deals with her experiences of substance abuse and domestic violence. The Mitcham resident chose a fresh start and to write a book about her struggle to break free.
Her story began in St Kilda during the 1980s, when she worked as a go-go dancer.
Conrau said it was a toxic lifestyle, having to keep up with the social scene, being hooked on drugs and surviving violent relationships.
‘‘We all thought we were cool back then,’’ Conrau said.
‘‘But it doesn’t matter what the drug is, it could be anything from alcohol to marijuana and you starting using it at parties and the next thing you know, you need it to get through the day.’’
Conrau said her partner left her battered and bruised after she ended their relationship. She said he turned her into a punching bag.
At one stage, she had blood pouring from her head, a black eye and countless bruises.
‘‘It’s easy for things to just fall apart,’’ she said.
‘‘I came to a point where I didn’t want to do it any more.
‘‘Nearly allmyfriends had died from a heroin overdose,’’ Conrau said.
‘‘I was going to go down that track or I was going to grow up and take responsibility.’’
Conrau said the process was painful and it took her years to carve out a new lifestyle.
She went back to university to study for an arts degree and her flair for writing was uncovered.
She said her book, The ImportanceofBeingCool was a coming-of-age story based on her own experiences.
‘‘I wrote the book hoping it would provide some insight into certain choices people make and to showcase the consequences of bad decisions,’’ she said.
The book won the 2010 national IP Picks award for creative nonfiction. It can be bought online at www.ipoz.biz
The following appeared in James Jeffrey's Strewth column in The Australian 31st January, 2011. Bit of a laugh...
Appeared on 3WBC's Poetry, prose and jazz program on 3rd December, 2010
Focus: Interview for IP's newsletter
Olwyn Conrau's memoir of the rougher side of life in the Big Smoke won the IP Picks 2010 Best Creative Non-FIction Award..]
DO: Some real-life characters in this book have been obscured for privacy reasons: how do you tread the line between what is legitimately your story and what might be someone else's? What process did you go through to work out what you could and couldn't say?
OC: It was crucial to tell the story as honestly as possible from Oli's perspective. I didn't really think about it too much but followed my instinct mainly because it's hard to remember names from so long ago. I actually met up with someone from that era and I mentioned an incident which was used in the book, but we both remembered a different person being involved. So on that level, truth is subjective anyway.
I did draw the line at inventing events for dramatic purposes. A good writer can make the most boring aspect sound interesting. So the events in the book did happen.
DO: For a memoir, the book is written much more in the mode of a novel. Do you prefer this to the more traditional, more confessional one of modern memoir?
OC: I guess it's more of an autobiographical novel and yes, I do prefer it. When I first started writing the book my main task was to get the voice right. I felt that being, at the time, close to middle-aged and writing from that perspective would turn it into something lame - someone looking back on a period in their life but without that raw energy of youth. I find many memoirs that are written in that confessional mode tend to be preachy. I just wanted to tell a story the way I felt it was back then and for younger readers to relate to that voice.
DO: As the story sits knee-deep in youth drug and partying culture of Melbourne, do you think people from elsewhere will still be able to identify with it?
OC: Absolutely. I'd say anyone, anywhere will relate to the story. It's a universal story and one that will never go away and probably never be resolved.
And there's this bizarre collective thought that it is only a certain type who get involved in this culture. But that just isn't the case.
DO: At the beginning of the book, Oli pities those young people who lead less dangerous and fun lives than her own. Do you still feel that all people should have a phase of going wild?
OC: Oli felt alienated throughout school and estranged from her peers. It's probably how most people feel at that age. But she had different tastes and interests to what her peers did and wasn't interested in pursuing the same suburbaeams. So when she fell in with this cool group of people who shared similar interests, life suddenly held possibility. It seemed new and exciting. Here was a group of eccentric, indiviual young people living life on their terms. Not settling for what 'the establishment' said they should settle for. It's a pretty amazing thing to be welcomed into.
I don't know if people should have a phase of going wild but I believe, for many, it's a natural progression to rebel.
The book launch for The Importance of Being Cool was a great night. Nerves didn't get to me in the end. The beautiful flowers were from my dear friend and fellow writer, Kathy, the pics were taken by the lovely Kalyan Ky (sneaky but thanks so much). The fuzzy bottom photo is the responsibility of another. Thanks so much to all those who came along and supported me.