Click on the arrow above to listen (In emails: click on the title above)
Hi, I’m Biff Ward and I’m going to be reading from my manuscript Alison, which is a memoir, and I’m in the final stages of completing it … and this is from early on in the book.
Sixty-six years after Alison died I tried to find her death certificate.
In the National Library in Canberra, I peered at the microfiche screen, brow screwed in concentration as the slightest pressure of my fingers on the lever caused ten pages to fly past. Back and forwards I went, muttering foully. Suddenly, I was in the right section:1941. I willed my fingers to slow down to the vagaries of the clunky technology.
That was her name! I yelped like a pup as it whizzed past. I saw it! Holding my breath, I eased back to that page, gave a final nudge and there she was: Alison Russel Ward. It was her. It could be nobody else. I had a crazy thought: she really did exist!
I had not seen or heard her middle name before. I didn’t need to because I knew what it would be. Mark and I had ‘Russel’ for our middle name, so of course Alison would too.
Even as a child, I thought it odd that we had to have not only the patronymic surname, Ward, but the ‘Russel’ as well. It was the surname of his father’s grandparents, the Russels, with one ‘l’ and his parents plucked it down the decades to name him, their firstborn.
In my teens I felt weighted by this name, its masculinity as well as its family history, so on the rare occasions I needed a middle name, I deleted Russel and said, Alison. It was, after all, a name in our family and it wasn’t being used.
When I had collected both her certificates, birth and death, I had the bookends of her life, all over and done with in four months.
It felt, each time I found her name, as though I was bringing her out of hiding.
There are, for example, no photos of her.”
ABOUT BIFF WARD:
Biff has been an English teacher, specialising in creative writing at high school level and in community groups; a human resources consultant and trainer for 22 years; and has expertise in peace camps, the Vietnam [American] War, post-traumatic stress disorder, mental illness education, child sexual abuse and being a funeral celebrant.
“I spent time at Varuna on a Fellowship in March 2011, for 2 weeks. I also had one week work time in July 2011 with development assistance from Helen Barnes-Bulley. Varuna has supplied a very affirming environment for my ms and a brilliant work space this year.” Biff Ward
• Father-Daughter Rape, The Women’s Press, UK, 1984
• Three’s Company, poetry with Donna McSkimming & Deborah McCulloch’ Wakefield Pres, 1992.
• Various anthologies, including Gender Violence, ed. O’Toole & Schiffman, NYUP, 1997.
Varuna has been funded by the Australia Council to produce a Varuna Writer-a-Day “app”. When we have recorded 365 writers the app will be made available via the iTunes store. In the meantime, if you subscribe to this free blog, you can receive a daily reading delivered to your email inbox which can also be directed to your mobile phone.To find out more about Varuna’s programs, residencies, events and support services for writers click here.