The Courier-Mail - QWeekend

Solace in face of grief

Her own sad family history has helped inform the second novel of Boonah writer Tabitha Bird

- Story LEANNE EDMISTONE The Emporium of Imaginatio­n, Tabitha Bird, Penguin, $33. Events at Avid Reader, West End, April 16, 6.30pm; Cedar & Pine, Manly, April 22; 87 George St, Kalbar, April 23, 6pm tickets via eventbrite

Boonah author Tabitha Bird’s latest novel is deeply personal. It honours the people she loves, processes crippling grief and celebrates the little country town which continues to embrace her family.

The Emporium of Imaginatio­n was inspired by the wind telephone created by Japanese garden designer Itaru Sasaki to talk to his late, beloved cousin. It became a beacon of hope and solace for thousands after the 2011 tsunami killed a tenth of his village’s population.

Bird’s magical emporium travels the world, offering vintage gifts to repair broken dreams and extraordin­ary phones to contact lost loved ones, in turn allowing people to connect with each other through their grief.

“People from all over the world travel (to Sasaki’s garden). I thought, isn’t it amazing that something that really is just about the imaginatio­n is such a powerful, healing tool; that people are actually using it to heal their own grief,’’ says Bird, 44.

Her debut, A Lifetime of Impossible Days, also set in Boonah, won the 2020 The Courier-Mail People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year Award.

“What if there actually was a phone where you could have that last conversati­on with someone who had passed, and what if it wasn’t just about people losing loved ones but losing opportunit­ies? There’s lots of things we grieve, it’s not just the people we love.’’

This, her second novel, was almost finished when Bird lost her beloved Nannie, Ann Petch, 84, to cancer in April last year. The pair share a name – Bird’s second name is Ann – and, as the first grandchild, a very special bond.

Author Tabitha Bird sees grief as an opportunit­y for

connection. Bi

Their relationsh­ip inspired characters Ann, Nannie and Luke, who mirrored the role taken by real-life Nannie’s son and carer, Jason Petch.

“(Writing Ann and Nannie’s story) was a great way of me deciding, how do we hold onto the people we love and how do we let them go? What does that look like? It’s a living grief – when you watch someone die, you’re living in grief and there is a huge desire for it just to be over; even though you never want to let them go, you also just want them to go because you want their pain to end and your pain to end.

“You feel guilty about that and it’s a hard thing to reconcile, so I threw it into the book and used words to work it out.’’

Another storyline was inspired by the way third son Darius, 10, came to live with her, husband Matt, 45, an exhibit designer, and their biological sons

Isaiah, 17, and Cyrus, 13.

The couple became Darius’s official long-term guardians – “we’re Mum and Dad, and aunt and uncle” – nearly nine years ago when his mother, Bird’s younger sister, was unable to care for him.

“She’s very, very unwell, so he’s never met her. There’s a grief in that and just mixed emotions – every Mother’s Day, just watching children’s milestones and knowing that someone else is missing out on that, and that he can’t share those things with her,’’ she says.

“Lots of people said to me, ‘oh, it’s wonderful he’s coming to live with you, he’s blessed and so are you’. All that’s true, but not many people wanted to hear about how very sad it was and how there was actually a lot of grief.’’

Bird cannot understand the taboo which surrounds grief in Western society, preferring to see it as an opportunit­y for connection.

We make it worse because we don’t say anything at all and we leave people alone; there’s that loneliness when we don’t actually reach out, the uncomforta­bleness of not knowing what to say.

“I wanted to show in the book, there could be connection,” she says.

“Even if you haven’t experience­d someone else’s specific grief, chances are you’ve experience­d grief and understand what loss is, so we can all connect and we don’t have to be alone.’’

Masters of Disguise

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