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Reaching and revealing: Dr Robertson’s nationally shortlisted memoir and the writing process

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“I’m trying to not write a sequel.”

Dr Rachel Robertson
Dr Rachel Robertson whose memoir Reaching One Thousand was shortlisted for the National Biography Award this year.

Dr Rachel Robertson, lecturer in Professional Writing and Publishing at Curtin, smiled as she said this, before adding, “but maybe my son can write it – it will be about the next stage of his life after all.”

The book in question is her memoir Reaching One Thousand about her experience raising her son Ben who is autistic. It was recently shortlisted for the National Biography Award alongside acclaimed biographers like Robert Drewe. Her son Ben is thrilled about it.

“He is quite proud of it – not embarrassed at all,” she told me. “I had to think a lot about the extent to which you reveal things – about myself, about my son, about my ex-partner, about my childhood as well.”

Reaching One Thousand started life after Dr Robertson tried to find books that would help her with her son after he had been diagnosed. She felt there was a gap as most of the books encouraged her to fight her son’s condition rather than accepting it and working with it. “’Normal’ is a construct,” she said. “I want my son to be who he is.”

The book also functions as a scrapbook – one that her son dips into frequently. “It’s my view of what has happened over the last twelve years,” she said. “And he knows that.”

Reaching One Thousand was first published as an essay in the Australian Book Review, the book being structured in a thematic format. Dr Robertson was rather surprised when the publisher Black Inc called her up and asked her if the full length manuscript was done.

“I’m so aware that that isn’t what usually happens – you don’t usually get an offer of publication,” she laughed. “I have got a lot of support from Curtin for what I do. And I think it’s good to support the idea that academic research can result in fantastically creative production and in things like creative non-fiction which I‘m interested in.”

How did she balance it all as a full time lecturer and a single mother?

“There was a lot of writing done in coffee shops while my son was at therapy sessions. But there is also a lot of flexibility at Curtin which helped a great deal.”

Her recommended reading list included fellow shortlisted writer Robert Drewe but also Patricia Hampl and Vivian Gornick. She isn’t entirely used to the idea of joining their ranks as a published author yet. So will she continue writing more books?

She doesn’t have any other works in progress but Dr Robertson wouldn’t disclose if she had any ideas for future books. And the sequel to Reaching One Thousand is still a possibility.

“It’s his life. I think it would be invasive for me to try to write it when he could and should if he wanted to,” she said. “I read a lot of memoir writing and you have to know when it isn’t your place to write about something.”

Reaching One Thousand is available online and in bookstores across the country.

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This story has 2 comments

  1. What an excellent title this is. It is amazing what many single mothers go through to bring up their children. The fact that Robertson has been able to put this book together, speaks of her strength and determination.

    Her comment about knowing what not to write about, is full of human insight, which I could only dream to own.

  2. I don’t have children but know families who have gone through a similar journey to Rachel. Even so, I loved this book. It is beautifully written and structured – highly recommended to anyone interested in reading about life and the different challenges we all encounter.

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