Musings on a year in the life of The Memory Pool

With The Memory Pool celebrating its first birthday today,  I have been reflecting on some of the highlights of the past 12 months.

The launch

What a wonderful gathering of family, friends and representatives from NewSouth Publishing and Writing NSW on 1 November last year. It was great to have some of the people I interviewed for the book present at the launch including Lily Sisa who made the big trip to Sydney from Lightning Ridge, Diane Fingleton from Brisbane, Adelaide-based Rick Chmielewski and Linda Kennedy as well as Sydneysiders, Tony Doherty, Yusra Metwally and Diane Vukelic, and Lizzie Buckmaster Dove from the Illawarra. I am always grateful to these people and the 21 others in the book for telling me their ‘memory pool’ stories.

It was also wonderful to welcome from NewSouth my publisher Philippa McGuinness, CEO Kathy Bail, publicity manager Harriet McInerney and publicist Caitlin Lawless.

Caitlin Lawless (left), Harriet McInerney, Kathy Bail and Philippa McGuinness from NewSouth.

Introducing the book, Philippa McGuinness said you could read thousands of books before you had quite the insights into Australian childhoods that The Memory Pool reveals.

‘Of course there’s lots of sunburn, ice blocks and lollies … but the figures who loom most in the book, I think, are fathers, ‘ Philippa said. ‘Often absent, often the force that made some children want to spend all day out of the house at the pool. But fathers at the pool seem to form the memories that for some of the people in the book are among their fondest.’

Diane Fingleton’s reading of a short segment from her chapter, ‘Escaping  to Spring Hill Baths’ was an excellent follow-on from Philippa’s observation about fathers in the book.

‘Dad didn’t drink for a long time and then he busted badly. When he’d been drinking and there was trouble at home we’d escape to the pool. We’d be there morning, noon and night.’

Rick Chmielewski’s reading from his story, ‘Diving for catches in Adelaide’, gave the audience another insight into the book as well as a few laughs.

Rick Chmielewski reliving his childhood at Adelaide’s Henley and Grange Pool.

There were beautiful flowers arranged by my sister Annette for the team at NewSouth and a sensational The Memory Pool cake made by Mezzapicca, as well as drinks and nibbles, book sales and signings and by the end of the night all 100 copies brought by Callum from Berkelouw’s at Leichhardt sold out.

Media coverage

Then the book was ‘in the wild’ and thanks to Harriet McInerney’s publicity campaign, over the subsequent weeks, reviews and extracts appeared in the media including The Big Issue,  The Australian Women’s Weekly,  The West Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times and The Australian.

In The Conversation, 25 December 2019, Penelope Rossiter, Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Social Analysis, Western Sydney University said:

‘Fans of outdoor swimming, in both wild places and public pools, will enjoy The Memory Pool. But there is also something here for non-swimming readers interested in the small stories of ordinary people, about community, migration, class, family, making a life, and how we have and might live together in multicultural Australia.’

The Memory Pool was also listed in the catalogues of many independent booksellers including Gleebooks Summer Reading Guide:

‘This collection … creates a fascinating social history of our country through the narrative of suburban, Olympic and tidal swimming pools.’

I was also interviewed by Writing NSW, Australian Writers Centre and the book was featured in the Australian Society of Authors and the Faber Academy e-newsletters.

Live broadcast with Cassie McCulloch from ABC 702 at Leichhardt Pool.

I made my one and only TV appearance on ABC-TV’s weekend breakfast show and over a few months did numerous interviews on various ABC radio stations.  You can access all the media coverage on my website: theresespruhan.com

Events

Events were also a big part of the book’s first 12 months with talks at Brisbane’s Avid Reader, the Woollahra Library, Fullers Bookshop in Hobart, Cronulla Library and a West Australian launch generously organised by Diane Vukelic (Toasting a Swan River icon chapter) and her family in Perth.

At the Avid Reader it was a privilege to share the podium with Diane Fingleton and Ashley Hay, at Fullers  with Shane Gould and David Bartlett and in Perth with Kim Mettam, Priya Cooper and Diane Vukelic.

A particular highlight was being interviewed by writer Ailsa Piper at Woollahra Library whose insightful questions unearthed the depth of many of the stories in The Memory Pool.

Ailsa Piper (left) with Therese Spruhan and Tony Doherty at Woollahra Library.

There weren’t many dry eyes in the house when she asked me to read a section from Trent Dalton’s story about being hugged by a Down Syndrome boy at Sandgate Pool – and how it was a beautiful moment in his life about perspective and how you can read things wrong.

I had hoped to organise an event in Canberra to celebrate Merv Knowles’ Manuka Pool memories but sadly that didn’t happen as he died in July this year aged 97. Merv was at the opening of Manuka Pool on 26 January 1931 and on the same date next year when the pool marks its 90th birthday, Merv will definitely be present in spirit.

Sadly, events in April at Dymocks in Geelong’s Waurn Ponds and Readings in Melbourne had to be cancelled when Covid-19 arrived.  At the same time, I counted myself very lucky to have released The Memory Pool in 2019 and felt sorry for authors with books hitting the shops in the midst of the pandemic.

And while in-store events were out of the question, promotion moved online and I was delighted to see Readings generously featuring The Memory Pool and other books with cancelled events on Twitter and other social media sites. I was also thrilled to discover ‘iso’ reviews including one from Australian Geographic, Her Canberra and Swim the World.

In July I did an enjoyable Zoom talk with members of the Balmoral Beach Club and in late August I was back live talking to the Clovelly Probus Club.

You can find more info on events including an upcoming one at the Liverpool Regional Museum on Friday, 4 December on my website: theresespruhan.com

Readers

One of the best outcomes of publishing The Memory Pool has been how it has sparked others ‘memory pool’ stories.

Over the past year I have been told some beauties including one from a woman at Fullers Bookshop in Hobart, who recalled her first attempt at swimming a lap of the 50 metre pool at Cabramatta in Sydney’s west and halfway along being rescued by no less than Margaret Whitlam. In Perth, we heard beautiful stories from members of Diane Vukelic’s family who lived at Nedlands Baths on the Swan River.

Most recently I was contacted by Rob Miller, who spent his first 13 years at my ‘memory pool’, Northbridge Baths. Rob said my story, ‘Embracing the glorious king tide’ brought him to tears … ‘for the beauty of that time … that cascading of powerful, sensual memories.’

He also remembered things I had forgotten like the brand of cigarettes Col, the manager, smoked – Marlboro Greens – and that Col loved to eat Vita Wheats loaded with butter and topped with Vegemite!

In a letter, reader David Rowe recalled:

‘…the dash to be first in each spring when the dark black cover came off our family’s backyard pool and the occasional dive off the backroom roof into the pool!

At Cronulla Library members of the Jelly Beans, a group of women who swim each morning at Oak Park ocean pool, recalled their synchronised swimming days in the late 50s and early 60s. At Woollahra Library, Nielsen Park swimmer Bruce Bland spoke about his champion diving days performing off the high towers at North Sydney and Enfield pools, while other Nielsen Park swimmers remembered being taught to swim by Alf Vockler at Watsons Bay Baths.

During the northern hemisphere summer, I connected with overseas readers through Instagram and Twitter including Australian expat Lex who sent me photos of The Memory Pool at some of her favourite swimming spots in Berlin including the historic Olympiapark Schwimmstadion, the venue for the 1936 Olympics.

Fiona McCarthy, Vogue Living’s London editor and author of London Precincts (Hardie Grant) bought numerous copies for her UK-based Australian friends, and in Ireland, I am grateful to Paul Donnelly, a keen swimmer and volunteer coordinator at the Dublin Fringe Festival, for promoting his enjoyment of the book numerous times on Twitter.

It was always a lovely surprise to see a reader share a photo of The Memory Pool on social media or to read a review of the book on Booktopia and GoodReads. I am especially grateful to Kathleen O’Shea, who I joined for a swim with the Prevelly Penguins in WA back in March, for her considered and in-depth review on GoodReads.

Booksellers

Finally to bookstores across Australia, particularly the independent ones who championed The Memory Pool to readers. Thanks for welcoming me to your stores to sign copies, for all the times you shared The Memory Pool on social media, placed it in a prominent spot or promoted it with like-minded books like Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui or Places We Swim by Caroline Clements and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon.

A big thank you to everyone who bought a copy or two of the book – especially my friends Trudy Hopkins and Margie Burke, who purchased many and distributed them far and wide including to Janet De Neefe, organiser of the Ubud Writers Festival. To my husband Bruce, I can’t thank him enough for being an enthusiastic partner on the book promotion big ride!

I look forward to The Memory Pool’s second year and hopefully Dan Jordon from Balmain’s Roaring Stories words will come true: ‘It’s a book with legs,’ and it will continue to attract readers in years to come.

For more information on The Memory Pool, including media coverage, upcoming events, and where to buy go to my website: theresespruhan.com

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