‘Butterflies‘ is written for all of us, so that when we face the challenges of life, whatever they are, we know we can make it and be all we can be.
‘Butterflies‘ was my response to a request by a young burn survivor. I spent six challenging months researching and interviewing survivors, families, medical teams to reach into their experiences. Then I wrote ‘Butterflies’ which is now internationally recognized as Outstanding Youth Literature on Disability (IBBY). Endorsed by the Children’s Hospital Sydney and Dr Hugh Martin Head of the Burn Unit:
Like tempering steel, the process of passing through the fire helps make a person of exceptional quality. ‘Butterflies’ captures these subtleties for the reader, and gives a stunning insight into a difficult topic.
I was honoured to speak at the World Burn Congress in New York, invited by The New York Firefighters, New York Presbyterian Hospital of Columbia and Cornell, Weill Cornell Medical College and Phoenix Society.
It was one of the great moments of my life.
Addressing an audience of survivors, medical teams, firefighters, family and community was painfully confronting. I am a confident speaker who has spoken at major conferences and festivals throughout the world, but I was nervous. How could I address this audience? What if ‘Butterflies’ did not capture their journeys?
After my talk, a line of people wound around the room with ‘Butterflies’ to sign. They wanted to touch and connect with me. Then there was the pivotal moment when a girl with facial reconstruction said to me:
‘I’m 15, nearly 16′ with her softly spoken voice and we touched hands, nothing more had to be said. It was deeply emotional – she wanted to know there was a future for her, and there is.
I was privileged to address the Congress and be part of the faculty with Kim Phuc.
On June 8, 1972, Kim Phuc’s village of Trang Bang came under attack by South Vietnamese planes that mistakenly dropped napalm on a Buddhist pagoda in an area that the North Vietnamese were infiltrating. As the villagers ran, children died, but Kim escaped screaming, badly burned by napalm. Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize winning photo captured her escape and his photo became the symbol of the civilian tragedy of war.
Kim’s keynote was inspiring as she related her courageous journey through burns and life to forgive the bombers and use her life to bring healing and peace. She is the UNESCO Ambassador for Peace and has established the Kim Phuc Foundation for the child survivors of war.
That’s Why I Wrote This Song
That’s Why I Wrote This Song is the special collaboration of my talented teenage daughter Tory and I. Tory wrote the lyrics and music of the songs that drive the story – PSYCHO DAD and I WANNA BE FOUND. She shared her life with me. Even my son get into the book as EDDIE.
It was an emotional roller coaster weaving the stories into the music, lyrics and words. Finally ‘That’s Why I Wrote This Song’ was finished with Tory’s lyrics and music, a fantastic video clip of Psycho Dad and recordings of the two songs.
The launch was packed at Bondi Pavillion with Tory sining and the band NOT PERFECT playing perfectly.
That’s Why I Wrote This Song is especially important to me, as it is a collaborative work with my beautiful, talented song writer-singer daughter Tory. It was madly chaotic making the video clip for Tory’s song Psycho Dad.
PSYCHO DAD even played on ABC TV’s RAGE!
A lot of young people helped:-
For the photo shoot of the cover, Tory’s girlfriends posed on the cover.
Rachel Guerry, a girl I’d known all her life produced the video clip Psycho Dad. Kids contributed from Tory’s school and the area. It was crazy and fantastic. That’s me jumping into the pool for the video clip.
I went to music festivals, concerts, watch endless video clips of Eminem and lots of bands, drove Tory nuts with questions. It was tough going. Tory and I were upset at each other at times, laughed at other times, cried at other times. Afterwards, we felt we had been through an amazing mother-daughter journey and it has bonded us.
What’s That’s Why I Wrote This Song about?
It’s the journey of four sixteen-seventeen year old girls and their relationships with their fathers – the good, the bad and the PSYCHO – and how that impacts on their relationships with boys, each other and their lives.
That’s Why I Wrote This Song is about dependence-independence, guys, friendship, love, mothers and daughters and the music:
- Read chapter 1 of “That’s Why I Wrote This Song”
- Video clip Psycho Dad produced by Rachel Guerry
- See the video on Youtube
- Psycho Dad by Tory
- I Wanna Be Found by Tory
- Listen to Psycho Dad & I Wanna Be Found
- Read the lyrics for Psycho Dad & I Wanna Be Found
- Read the sheet music for Psycho Dad
- Winner of New York Book Fair Award 2009
- Download the Teacher Notes
The Cave is a journey oscillating between the city culture of rave dances, beach parties, body piercing, soccer, girls, nipple piercing and the vast wilderness of the Great Dividing Range with its powerful physical challenges of hard trekking, abseiling, rock climbing, white water rafting and there are the flies, thousands of them and the freezing nights and the sweaty days.
Against these backdrops, The Cave exposes male culture as young men search for their place in the world today. It explores mateship, leadership, male humour and the way they speak, or don’t speak. It’s about girls – getting them, discarding them, wanting them. However, ultimately ‘The Cave’ reveals the underbelly of peer group pressure and male capacity for violence and courage.
It’s eight days without showers, with the ‘long-drop’, sleeping on rocks, eating ‘shit’, working out how to survive the camp. It’s tough when Spano weasels out of doing anything, but there’s pay back. There are other guys like Fat George who are just slow. Watts has it in for him. Bennie has the runs and stinks. Guys hate him. Sam doesn’t.
There are scenes of exhaustion as everyone collapses after the Chimney climb. Hilarious scenes at the kangaroo attack and leech invasion. Rough humour as Robbo and Andrew go for each other in the physics lab. There are times of reflection overlooking the valleys and scenes of Sam’s relationship with Laura. Ultimately the camp winds towards the Cave and the final place of initiation where Jones cracks and real leadership is exposed. Ultimately the camp winds towards The Rave, the rape and Sam’s decision of courage.
“The Cave is a gritty story of courage and hope … Susanne Gervay takes us on a journey, eight days’ camping with the hero Knox and his mates including Fat George, Bennie and Jones, and the evil Watts.
This journey was eight days of descending into fear, exhaustion, ravines and rivers, each in their own way carving out a sense of self-knowing and mateship; eight days of reverie where past and present ghosts comfort and perplex. Ultimately, in the cave, Knox comes to a sense of responsibility and authenticity that is more powerful than the mystery of the Rave Party or Watts metal tip leather boots. … Susanne Gervay compels us, like the river that is part of her story, towards the rancid murky Cave, the final place of initiation. This … goes right to the heart of young males in modern society.”
Carole Kayrooz PhD, Pro Vice Chancellor, University of Canberra.