Growing Up home page The Stories What the Critics said
'Dad,' she asked one night, lying in bed and wondering, 'what was it like in the olden days?'
'What do you mean "the olden days"?'
'When you were growing up ... you know, in the 1950s and that. What was it like?'
Because she was interested, for the 1950s are suddenly all the go among the young – a period fixed with the sureness of hindsight in contrast to the uncertainties of the present. And because, too, it was important to form those bonds of memory with the past that will unite her to the future, just as every generation has done before.
So I began to tell her, bits and pieces of what I could remember: of the day the War ended in 1945, writing on slates at school, the milkman's horse, watching television for the first time, the royal tours, the advent of rock 'n' roll, stovepipe trousers and duffle coats. That sort of thing. And reflecting, as I did so, how deceptive and elastic time is. What, to me, seemed so recent, to her was so very strange, and romantic, and far off – as it was, I know, when I talked to my grandmother years ago about her youth in the 1890s and what was another age altogether.
Change is the only constant. And yet, you come to realize, it is only the externals that change. The internals – the hopes, the fears, the insecurities, the joys, the pain, the fun of growing up and the slow journey through adolescence – are much the same now as they always were. What it was like in ‘the olden days’ is not so very different in its essentials than it is today.
Still, it is important to wonder and to find these things out for yourself. And it was from the recollections with my daughter that the ideas for these stories began to develop. Not that they are intended to be autobiographical, although inevitably there are fragments of myself scattered among the fictions like raisins in a pudding and it is hard to separate them out.
Rather, what I have sought to do in these fourteen stories is to chronicle the difficult business of growing up from a variety of perspectives. Some are told from the point of view of the adult, some from the point of view of the child. Some are set in the more recent past, some in the present, and some combine the two. And while there is, certainly, a common theme linking all the stories, there is no other continuity between either the characters or the points of view. Each story is separate and is meant to be complete in itself.
In this, I have tried to assemble a collection that hopefully will appeal to readers of many ages and at different levels – from the relatively simple early stories in this book to the progressively more complex in the second volume, Discovery and Other Stories. As a writer I have always admired what the critic, Max Harris, called 'companionate literature' – that is, as he put it in an article in The Australian published in June 1989, 'a narrative pleasure shared between children and adults, along with an exchange of views and visions between the generations.'
This is certainly my ambition. But at the very least I hope younger readers of Growing Up and Other Stories will discover a feeling of what it was like in 'the olden days'; and that older readers, looking back, will remember that time when we were finding the links that hold us to the chain of human experience and all the generations.