Auto-fiction novel “The Eulogy” by Jackie Bailey is a story about family, grief, intergenerational trauma, poverty, disability and abuse. In saying all that it is also about love and how that can combat and heal wounds but also bring humour in life. The primary protagonist of the novel is Kathy, who is the youngest of 8 siblings returns to her childhood home in Queensland for a family funeral and deliver the eulogy. Her sister, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour as a child had lost her battle, and as Kathy writes the eulogy, she reflects on their lives growing up as well as the family intergenerational trauma they experienced, and this brings back many dark memories.
At the same time, Kathy has relationship issues of her own, hiding from her husband’s phone calls as she contemplates taking her own life. Having read the book myself, I was saddened to read about all the tragedy and trauma, but at the same time there is a lot of love portrayed in the novel as well as how life is about conjuring on despite all obstacles.
Such an intense plot, themes and story lines was actually based off some of the real life experiences of Jackie Bailey growing up in Queensland. Growing up half Chinese and half white Australian, Bailey talks about being biracial and how her identity inspired her to write this book.
When I was 5, I actually had blonde hair, and I remember my sisters saying ‘ah, she’s going to be pretty because she has blonde hair”. But as I grew older my hair colour changed and got darker, and all of a sudden I was “Chinese”, and got the racism and the name calling in school and on the street.
It is both an advantage and a disadvantage being half white and half Asian. I mean, I still think I have a level of privilege from having a white father but most of the time people assumed I was Asian, so I got the racism and the taunts growing up. Now that I am married with a Chinese Australian husband and I have my own family, I see how much more racism he encountered growing up than I ever did. There was also many times in my life where I questioned my identity – was I more “white” or was I more Asian. I think questioning this has really inspired me to write this book.
At the core of “The Eulogy” its all about intergenerational trauma and family relationships. Bailey comes from a big family and is 1 of 7 kids. Before writing the book, she did a lot of research into her family history.
With my dad, the research was a lot easier because he was enlisted in the army for 15 years or so, and the army kept meticulous records of everything. After getting a hold of the records from the National Archives in Canberra, I found so much stuff about my dad which I didn’t know, such as things when he met my mum, issues around him going awol, alcoholism etc – it was all documented.
With my mum it was a lot harder because it is based on what she was willing to tell me and she doesn’t talk much about the past. My mum was a gambler growing up. She was addicted and that was her “Asian curse”. Other than that it was not easy to get the information from her and I literally had to sit her down and ask her to tell me about her stories. From one year to the next the same story would have a different version, so I had to go back and join the dots to find what was closest to the truth.
One interesting fact about Bailey is that in addition to being an author, she is a funeral director by day. She said her day job is what gave her a deeper insight into writing and bought her to a better understand about people and how to frame their personal stories.
As a funeral director, I have to understand the person, their life and write what needs to be said about the person who has passed away so they can be remembered. So really it’s similar to writing because both things, you are telling a story.
When I meet the family of the person who has passed, they tell me their story, and sometimes I am the first stranger with whom they have told the story to. This is similar skills sets to researching and writing a book, because you gather your research, thoughts and information and use all that to create a story.
Finally, what advice does Bailey have for other Asian/Asian writers who have a story to tell and have dreams to get their book published?
I would say keep going, and keep an eye out for opportunities to have your book seen. Like mine was only picked by by Hardie Grant because of my entry into the competition held by SBS or else I don’t think it would have been acquired.
I would like to say it is an easy road, but for me it wasn’t. As Asian/Asian Australians, we need these competitions or else we will not be seen on a level playing field and/or get the attention from the decision makers in these publishing companies. And finally, I would say, just keep writing, the more you write, the more you improve and find your own little niche.
If you are interested, you can purchase “The Eulogy” online, but here is the link to the book sold on the Hardie Grant website.