Liz looks at life, love and getting older

Western Australian author Liz Byrski
Western Australian author Liz Byrski

When much-loved WA author Liz Byrski was a young girl growing up in Britain her mother took her to the Brussels Exhibition, a special event which stayed in her mind. This, and the polio epidemic at the time, are elements in her just-released book, At the End of the Day.

“I think of this event in my childhood quite often,” Liz tells Have a Go News from Busselton where she is on holiday. “I think there are a lot of people who don’t know about the polio epidemic, especially if they are younger.

“It interested me and I wanted to put it into a book. I am 77 now and I was about 14 when I went to the Brussels Expo with my mother, my mother’s friend and her 13-year-old daughter who had just been released after three years in hospital battling polio.”

At the End of the Day focuses on Mim Squires and Mathias Vander stranded together on a disrupted flight home to Perth, finding they have much in common. Mim owns a bookshop, Mathias is a writer, and both are at turning points in their lives. Mim’s childhood polio is taking a toll on her life, Mathias is contemplating a cross-continent move to be nearer to his daughter.

Readers will relate to the Perth and Fremantle settings and the couple’s challenges of being aged in their late 70s and facing secrets from their past.

“I remember my parents being really worried about the polio epidemic, trying to keep me away from other children for fear I might catch it,” Liz says.

“I have a very dear friend who suffered badly with it and who I mention at the end of the book and his whole life has been really affected by it.”

Liz says she hopes her new book gives older people the feel for change.

“I have found that as I have got older, I have become much more relaxed about everything. The pressures of work and family are not the same and so it is a great chance to explore new opportunities, that comes to the fore in the book.

“Reading it, I hope it gives people a sense of change that I have felt as I have got older, a lightness and a sense of there are lots of things to do. We don’t have to conform as much as when we were younger and working for other people.

Liz says she hopes her new book gives older people the feel for change.

“I think there is a lifting of that pressure. I didn’t retire until I was 75 and so there is the chance to embrace other ideas, new friends and hobbies and sit down and read a book without feeling guilty.

“A lot of that is due to how we feel when we get to old age. If we feel negative about it, you are going to have a sad time. If you are open to new things and new friends then you will have a much better old age. We have to accept the fact that we can’t do certain things we could do when we were younger, but you can do lots of other things.”

London born Liz started working life as a journalist in Britain, moving to Australia in 1981. She worked as a freelance journalist and, from 1988 to 1990 and from 1993 to 1996, was a broadcaster and executive producer at ABC 720 6WF in Perth. From 1996 to 2003 she was an adjunct teaching fellow at Curtin University teaching professional writing, journalism and media ethics.

She is the author of 11 novels starting with Gang of Four (2004) and 14 non-fiction books.

Liz suffered a mild stroke while writing At the End of the Day which, she says, affected her memory dramatically.

“I’m constantly having to ask people what I have said, where I am supposed to be and write everything down; I can’t hold things in my memory anymore.

“I found writing the book difficult because most of the ideas had evaporated with the stroke. Eventually I got back into it, the publisher had paid me in advance so I had to continue, which helped me in the long run.

“I have the idea for another book in my head so I know what the theme is and where it will be set. I’m looking forward to getting into it and starting something new; it makes me make use of my time. I live alone and, apart from responsibilities to my dog Gazza, I am in a straight forward situation.”

Liz says she is very much a writer, reads a lot and does yoga.

“I spend a lot of time with friends and alone. I seem to need that. You can be outgoing when you need to but I get sad and depressed if I don’t have time alone.”

Liz started to write books involving older people when she was in her 50s. 

“I looked around for books about older women and couldn’t find anything. I found a few but they weren’t Australian books.

Liz Byrski and her new book
Liz Byrski and her new book

“I wrote Gang of Four which just went so well, the publisher loved it and so did the readers. So, I thought I would continue with the theme of stories involving older women. It worked really well so I have kept on doing it.” 

At the End of the Day (RRP $32.99, Pan Macmillan Australia) is available from all good bookshops.