They say that time heals all wounds, but for author Jesse Blackadder, it’s taken over forty years for her to come to terms with and understand a tragic loss from her childhood. Her latest book, Sixty Seconds, is based on real life events from her childhood but is told via fictional family, the Brennans – parents, Finn and Bridget, and their sons, Jarrah and Toby.
It took more than forty years to write this book.
Forty years to understand my own sister’s death and how it shaped my life, and nearly two to write a fictional story about a family facing a tragedy in some ways like mine.
When I was twelve, my two-year-old sister wandered through an unsecured pool gate. She fell into our backyard pool and drowned.
That event has rippled through my life since 1976, affecting me in known and unknown ways. I wrote about it, aged twenty-eight, in my first attempt at a novel – a piece of thinly disguised autobiography that didn’t make it to the bookshelves.
It wasn’t until 2014 – as my late sister’s fortieth birthday approached – that Sixty Seconds leapt into my consciousness, sure of its time and demanding to be written. I finally had the maturity as a writer and a person to make a true creative response to my sister’s death.
On the day of her birthday, my father, one of my sisters and my brother gathered around that little headstone in the babies’ section of the cemetery where she’s buried. There was so much sorrow still with us, but incredible love too. We shared that moment, acknowledging the power of this loss in our lives, acknowledging grief and pain, and acknowledging that this had helped make us who we are.
In the midst of horrific events it’s so difficult to understand them, or make sense of them, or believe that you’ll ever experience happiness again. They feel so cruel and random and senseless. There’s a great deal of self-torturing about the seconds of inattention that lead to accidents. They can cause a lifetime of guilt.
I came to understand that this event had changed my life and my family’s lives – dramatically, tragically, powerfully. I also came to see some meaning and beauty in it.
This is a book about going through traumatic experiences and coming to learn they are part of life. It’s not my story, nor my family’s story. I’m not telling anyone how they should go through grief or that it’s good for them. From the perspective of forty years down the track, I’m writing a story in which three people – Finn, Bridget and Jarrah – take the first steps in making sense of tragedy in their lives.
Words: Jesse Blackadder
Sixty Seconds is available online and in all good bookstores now.
Posted on September 27, 2017 by Andrea Johnson