CRASH SURVIVOR LAUNCHES MEMOIR IN HOME CITY
FOR any author, the release of your first book comes with a great deal of trepidation and uncertainty.
Tonight, Toowoombaraised writer Lech Blaine returns to the Garden City to face who he says are his most important critics – his friends, family members and the community he still calls home.
A St Mary’s College old boy, Blaine will host the launch of his book, Car Crash: A Memoir, which details his journey after surviving the tragic collision that killed three of his friends in 2009.
“This will be my first time returning to Toowoomba since the book was released and my first time coming home for quite some time since moving to Sydney because of COVID which has been a little bit tough,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to coming back and being around people who really understand my experiences and who the book really resonates with. Naturally that comes with a lot of expectation but it’s also quite a relief because there isn’t anybody else that I’d rather be around right now.”
No stranger to writing thought provoking and insightful journalism for Australian publications, Blaine’s first published article was in this newspaper when the 13year-old wrote a pre-season report on the Oakey Bears.
Blaine’s debut novel has been praised by some of Australia’s most successful authors, including Tim Winton, Trent Dalton and Bri Lee.
And while the reception from his peers had been welcomed by the 29-year-old, Blaine said the most important feedback came from readers much closer to home.
“It’s nice to get glowing reviews from people I really respect but the most nerveracking period of the whole process is when I sent it to the people who were affected by the event,” he said.
“That was a heavy weight and such a hard thing to do but ... I felt like if I got through that process and that the people that I really trust … if they accepted it and if they could live with it and if they felt like it resonated with them emotionally – that was sort of my toughest test.
“Everything else after that is nice, to get the applause from like literary legends is great but on a personal basis the most important readers were the people who were personally affected.”
It’s been nearly 12 years since the car crash that claimed the lives of William Hutchison, Henry Keevers and Hamish Stewart and seriously injured Tim Coonan and Nicholas Bergen. Driver Dominic Hodal and Blaine, who was positioned in the front passenger seat, walked away relatively physically unscathed but mentally and emotionally damaged.
Blaine said it wasn’t the crash or the turmoil he faced following the collision that was most difficult to write about, but all the parts in between.
“I didn’t necessarily plan for it to take this long to finish writing the book, but I’m glad that it did,” he said.
“I think it took me a lot longer because I just needed to grow enough in confidence to write it. There were definitely parts of it that were really hard to write. But some of the toughest parts to write were actually the really happy memories because it actually took me quite a long time to be able to think about those moments as it was almost more painful than the trauma.
“It was very hard to revisit and explore the times when we were just seven teenage mates existing within the space of time before the accident, when my innocence was still intact and when my friends were still alive, so that in some ways was actually the most difficult part of the whole memoir.”
Blaine quickly establishes the role both his late parents played in his recovery early on in the book, describing his mum when she met Lech’s father in 1979 as a nervous bookworm and a bush-poetry enthusiast with a permed mullet, who shunned make up, dresses and jewellery, while his sport-obsessed father had never read a book in his life.
“I think my mum would have loved the book even though it’s very honest and goes through some stuff within my family that certainly wasn’t public knowledge, even within my social network,” he said.
“I don’t know exactly what she would have felt about some of that personal stuff. But just on a very basic level, I know that she would have been incredibly proud that I’ve written and published a book.
“That’s how I remember most of my childhood years after we moved to Toowoomba when I was five, I’d go to the sport on Saturday with dad and the Toowoomba Library with mum on Sunday afternoon and whenever we had spare time, which was very special to me because that’s how we bonded, over books, so I’m proud that I’ve been able to translate something that she was so passionate about and turn it into a career.”
Despite the difficult memories
he has of Toowoomba, the writer said the Garden City still held a dear place in his heart, and to some degree would always consider it his home.
“The book deals with some difficult stuff, but I love Toowoomba and I loved growing up there and as an adult I think it was a great place to grow up and raise a family,” he said.
“One of the best parts of writing the book was that I was able to see how unique Toowoomba is. It was such an easy place to write about because it’s so physically beautiful and looks and feels very different to a lot of other places in regional Queensland.
“I’m looking forward to coming back this week and returning to St Mary’s for the launch on Friday. It’s going to be a night of storytelling and a night to remember not just about the accident, but about this tight network of friends and what they meant to me and how these friendships sustained me after the accident and into adulthood.
“There are a number of important people that I became friends with either just before or just after the accident who are still my closest friends to this day. I think Friday’s launch will reflect all of this. It’s not just going to be about grief and trauma, it’s going to be about friendship and importance of human connection and the way that those human connections help you navigate those experiences in life, which are really tough, but obviously, inevitable.”
Blaine lives in Sydney, as part of the research and writing process for his next book.
The book will be a prequel to Car Crash, and centre around his family’s background and his siblings who were fostered there.
Tonight’s book launch at St Mary’s College Cultural Centre will be opened by Henry Keevers’ mother, Melissa Keogh, and co-hosted by Archie Hamilton from The Betoota Advocate.
TO BOOK A TICKET TO TONIGHT’S FREE EVENT, HEAD TO TRYBOOKING.COM.