16 July 2008

Dennis's book launch

Dennis McIntosh launches his book at Readings, Carlton

Sherryl's already blogged about our mate Dennis McIntosh and his booklaunch the other day, so rather than rehash what she had to say (which you can read at the Books and Writing link), I thought I'd put up what I had to say. Dennis asked me to speak at the launch -- just for a few minutes. I was following another friend, Margaret Campbell, so sat down that morning to think about what I wanted to say. (I hate public speaking at the best of times, but teaching has made it a bit easier. But this isn't a post about that. That's for another post.) And so I wrote a speech.

And here it is. It's not what I said verbatim, because I didn't read it. (Mind you, it was very handy that I had it in my pocket, seeing as I went blank about halfway through. Not one of my better moments, but I just sallied on anyway.)

I first met Dennis in 1996 in Sherryl Clark’s TAFE poetry class. Dennis was the only male student with his own harem of girls, following him around, and I guess I was one of the harem. Being the only male might’ve daunted a lot of students, but not Dennis. He revelled in it.

One day he asked me to read something for him – a book he was writing for his daughter’s 21st – Nicole’s Story. I’d just started editing so he thought perhaps I could edit it for him. Even back then two things were immediately clear about Dennis and his writing: the first was that he had a story to tell, a big story and one he was passionate about, and the second was that he had a voice. Now, the non-writers among you won’t necessarily appreciate what a fantastic thing that is, but it’s something that can’t be taught, something that each writer has to find somewhere within themselves, and Dennis’s writing was oozing with it. But the other thing that struck me at the time was his lack of spelling, grammar and punctuation skills – I was left thinking, does this guy even know what a sentence is. And the answer, probably, was no.

Dennis has come a long way since then. Many of you probably know that he used to be a swimming coach and trained elite athletes. In writing, getting a book published is the gold medal at the Olympics. I think all that coaching probably taught Dennis a lot of what he needed to know – and maybe he already knew these things. He knows about persistence, perhaps the most important thing. He knows about wanting to improve, wanting to achieve a “Personal Best” – since our days as students together, he’s studied editing under me at TAFE – even repeated the subject, not because he needed to, because he did pass first time around, but because he thought he had more to learn. He’s gone through university, honours, a masters, finishing with first class honours. Along the way, at different points, he’s been told to give up, he’s not good enough. Many people would have hung up their goggles, but not Dennis. He just squares his shoulders and says, “I’ll show them”. And he has. He’s shown everyone. I’m sure he would’ve gone on and done his PhD and blitzed it, if he felt he still had something to prove, but clearly he doesn’t.

So, if you ask me am I surprised, given his early work, to be here at his book launch, I’d have to say no. I’m not surprised. Dennis always was determined, and that uniquely larrikin voice set him apart from everyone else. But I am proud, immensely proud, of all he’s achieved. I hope his book is a great success, and I’m really pleased to be here helping him celebrate his launch. Mate, you’ve done a great job, and I hope it’ll go on to be an award-winner and a bestseller! You deserve it.

I know I forgot to say the goggles bit, and did say a little more about his memoir: Beaten by a blow: a shearer's story, which for the record is a great read, with a really strong, unique voice. It's honest, brutal, evocative, gripping, often harrowing and uncomfortable -- a total immersion for the reader into the life of a shearer.

1 comment:

Lorraine said...

Nice report, Tracey. Reading your speech through took me right back into the night and the atmosphere. It was, indeed, a great night and a great achievement on Dennis's part.