Brothers & Sisters - A note from the editor
Charlotte Wood on the genesis of this new Australian anthology
Publication date: November 2009
A year ago I was introduced to a woman at a party, who said nice things about my novel,
The Children, which deals in large part with the strained relationships between three adult siblings. Minutes into our meeting the woman said with sudden emphasis, tears springing to her eyes: “My brother hates me.”
A warm, attractive and successful professional in her late forties, this woman went on to describe the differences between her personality and her brother’s, their opposing values and politics and ways of living, and told me how the chasm between them seemed uncrossable, and always had.
She had recently found an excuse to travel overseas to visit him, she told me, because she felt, more and more as she grew older, that it was crucial to try to resolve whatever unnamed, unspoken thing lay between them. But she now felt equally strongly that this was never going to be possible.
The deep, primal sorrow that this so visibly caused her struck me like a bolt. Here was a woman whose life was patently a success, who had grown children and a loving partner of her own, a job she loved, the respect and admiration of her friends and colleagues, and a close relationship with her sisters - but as she spoke, it was plain that this hole in the relationship with her brother was an old, but deep and still open wound.
When The Children came out I was quite unprepared for the intensity of readers’ responses
to the relationships between the siblings portrayed in that book. I received many messages from readers telling me how closely they identified with one or other of the siblings, and I received with stunned gratitude one of the greatest compliments a writer can expect, when people told me they felt I had written about their family.
All this revealed to me that in a stumbling way, I had somehow touched a raw nerve in contemporary life - the deeply troubled bonds between adult siblings. This relationship remains a great conundrum, it seems, for many people. For at a time in our life when we have come to terms with so many complications, and found clarity about a great many difficult relationships – for example with our parents, if not by acceptance or resolution then by other means – the adult sibling relationship still seems to run deep with conflicting, often overwhelmingly ungovernable emotions.
That’s why, when the idea of editing this anthology was put to me, I jumped at it. I thought straightaway of the woman at the party, and all the other responses I’d had from readers troubled by their own sibling relationships, not to mention my own avid interest in the subject as a member of a large family and a keen listener to tales of my friends’ sibling tribulations and tendernesses.The editing process
I worked closely with publisher Jane Palfreyman at Allen & Unwin on the collection.
We decided that unlike many contemporary anthologies, the number of stories in ours would be small – there are just 12 in all – and that we would commission entirely new works rather than republish old stories.
I was given the freedom to approach any writers I wanted, from some talented newcomers I admired to my favourite long-established authors. Once our dozen writers agreed to take part, we gave them total freedom to explore the subject of siblings in any way they wished, and asked only that the pieces be written to a longer length than is often the case with short stories. Almost all the pieces in Brothers & Sisters are longer than 5000 words - some as long as 10,000 - and we think this has had a wonderful effect on the depth and range of the resulting stories.
We gave the writers a deadline many months away, and waited patiently for the fruits of their labour. When the stories came, their quality vastly exceeded our expectations. Individually, they sparkle: sometimes confronting, often beautiful and always carrying some deeply held truth about the sibling experience. Together, these stories make up a truly impressive - and, we think, important - collection of Australian writing about brothers and sisters that will stand the test of time. We are very proud of it, and of our contributors.
Read more about the writers and their contributions to Brothers & Sisters here.