Writing a memoir can certainly be a soul searching endeavour – a fact that Rebecca Poulson knows only too well. Rebecca did the Life Writing course at the Australian Writers' Centre and has since been published. In her book Killing Love, published by Simon & Schuster last year, she recounts the tragic events and aftermath of the 2003 murders that rocked her family. As the book’s blurb says:
“On the day of Rebecca Poulson’s 33rd birthday, her father, niece and nephew were murdered. The murderer had been part of her family; her brother-in-law, Neung, the father of the children. Killing Love is Rebecca’s journey through homicide; grief, the police investigations, the media interest, the court cases, the moments of great despair – and the healing.”
It also goes on to say:
“This powerful, unforgettable and uplifting story is one part wrenching family memoir, and one part inspirational journey towards healing and forgiveness – but most of all, it’s an unputdownable journey through one family’s tragedy and how they refused to let it define them.”
In the years since, Rebecca’s story has effected change in the laws surrounding domestic violence. She has appeared on television, in print and spoken to politicians including the NSW State Premier – all with the hope of improving mistakes that led to her family’s tragedy.
Neung had left a note for Rebecca’s family; he hoped that he would destroy them. Killing Love is the story of how he didn’t. We spoke with Rebecca to learn more.
So, in your words, can you give us an overview of the book?
It is my journey through grief – first of my older brother Adrian then my father, niece and nephew. I show how grief, homicide and domestic violence affect so many people – a ripple effect that reaches whole communities. I tell via my narrative the errors that were made in most of the systems that were there to protect my family–and didn't. I tell my story and then move onto an almost “how-to” section that shows practical things I used to help me. The last part of my book is resolution and hope.
The material for the book is clear, yet how and why did you decide to write a book about it? And was it a lightbulb moment or did it evolve over time?
At the time of the deaths, my life was a chaotic blur. I was busy doing a surreal task list like simultaneously organising funerals and media press releases. I didn't have time to process my grief. In the following years I slowed down and did a number of things to work through the shock and sadness of my grief. Writing was an important part of that process for me as I have always been a writer. It forced me to look a lot of my fears in the face and it didn't allow me to live in a state of denial. The most emotional chapters were fully formed in my head already and came out in a rush. The transition paragraphs evolved over time.
So when you’re writing, is there such a thing as a “typical day”? Do you have a writing routine?
I am a single mum of three young children. I wrote Killing Love while they were all aged under four. I was extremely sleep deprived and exhausted but the urge and obsession to write got me through. Also caffeine helped – the importance of being adequately caffeinated at all times was very important! (It’s funny how many times the words “long black” pop up in Killing Love.)
I had every Wednesday from 10am to 1pm child-free. No matter how zombie-like or exhausted I felt, I wrote for those three hours, as I knew I wouldn't see my manuscript again until the next Wednesday. Occasionally I also wrote at night usually from 10pm until around 1am. Now that my kids are slightly older, I do more night writing. Like most industries, writing with children on board is hard.
What's next for you? What are you working on?
I continue to work through the media interviews on my book (great news for an author!) – which takes a lot of time. For example, last year a 12-minute interview I had on Studio 10 (Network Ten) in Sydney took seven hours including travel. And I have started putting words on paper for the stories rattling inside my head. My next project is a fiction book, something with a strong narrative but lighter than Killing Love.
Finally, your advice for aspiring writers.
Creating space to write is not an easy battle and it has been a long time for me planning this life. It is particularly hard for mothers.
Someone once called my writing a “stupid hobby.” I think it’s the fact that you don't get paid until published – money is important for respect in our current society. I used to work in banking and never received the negative feedback I have had as a writer. “Where is the money?”, “No I won't babysit for you to ‘write’”, and “But what is your REAL job?” The only advice I have is to be obsessed and to have writing as your number one goal and be completely confident in that goal.
I had to let go of the idea of an ideal space to write and of ideal writing conditions. I wrote tired, exhausted and hungry. I wrote with dodgy internet and a keyboard with missing keys. I had to give up the idea of new clothes or visiting the hairdresser. I even moved out of the Sydney area which had become unaffordable. But these sacrifices are worth it to me.
I have a house and food which is more than most. The luxuries had to go but if you asked me to have those luxuries back in place of not writing anymore, I would say no. See, I am obsessed!
Thanks for the chat, Rebecca!
Rebecca did the Life Writing course at the Australian Writers' Centre.
WIN A COPY OF KILLING LOVE
This week, we have a copy of Killing Love to give away. In our interview above, Rebecca said she couldn’t do without her daily caffeine fix while writing. So tell us – what can’t YOU go without when writing? Our favourite answer will win a copy.
This competition has now closed – thanks for your entries! Winners will be announced in our weekly newsletter