The many faces of grief

Molly Schmidt tapped into her own grief from her father’s death for her Hungerford-listed manuscript Salt River Road.

FORMER Fremantle Herald journo Molly Schmidt is among four authors who have been shortlisted for the prestigious Hungerford Award.

Other’s vying for the $15,000 prize money and publishing contract with Fremantle Press include Joy Kilian-Essert, Gerard McCann and Marie O’Rourke.

Schmidt’s experiences with grief, loss and relationships influenced her manuscript, Salt River Road. 

She looks at the lives of two teenagers who lose their mum to a terminal illness, paralleling her own experience of her father’s death while she was still young. 

“The teenagers within Salt River Road are torn apart by the death of their mother,” she says.

“It’s not only her death that injures them, but the reality of terminal illness – the years spent hoping that death might be avoided. Protagonists Rose and Frank Tetley are struggling, but they struggle differently.

“Most of the time, Rose tries to keep it all together; food on the table, flowers in a vase. Her brother flies off the rails, smoking, drinking, stealing and leaving a storm of havoc behind him. 

“I think the siblings show there is no one way to grieve, something I know to be true from my experience. 

“The book echoes my discovery that grief is not linear, and it doesn’t fade once the funeral is over and people stop calling.”

“I was nearly 10 when I lost my dad, and I couldn’t relate to the kids around me talking about the local swimming pool and TV shows. 

“I tried to capture this dissonance between the pages of my book, but also the process of gradually reengaging in life, and the depth of relationships that are made through sharing the process. 

“My mum and I battled out losing my dad together, and my relationship with her is unique and rare. I tried to capture this intensity, beauty and rawness within the Tetley family.”

Schmidt is currently undertaking the Four Centres Emerging Writers Program with Fremantle Press. By day she works as a radio producer and reporter for the ABC, where her passion for storytelling is put to good use. 

While writing her first manuscript, Schmidt also collaborated with Menang elders from her hometown of Albany, with the goal of producing a novel that actively pursues reconciliation.

She completed her thesis on the topic in 2021 under the supervision of Professor Kim Scott and Dr Brett D’Arcy.

The winner of the Hungerford, named after prominent WA writer Tom Hungerford will be revealed on October 20. 

It’s specifically for “an unpublished novel, collection of short fiction, young adult fiction or a work of narrative non-fiction by a Western Australian”. 

The award was established in 1988 and the first prize awarded in 1990, with the City of Fremantle a major sponsor.

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