Monday, November 14, 2016

Day 2587 - How the "Harp in the South" made me believe in myself ...

Anyone studying for exams in your house?

My daughter's desk today

My girl has a busy week ahead with another two trips to Sydney for modelling commitments and a bunch of school exams slotted in around the edges.

For someone who is juggling a career with study, she has to make sure she's super organised and always a few steps ahead.  She's chosen to take some exams early to fit it all in.

Her "head down, bum up" approach to life this weekend has had me reflecting on my own year 11 studies.



When I was only 14 and in year 9, my mother was diagnosed with leukemia and only given a few weeks to live. The emergency dash to Sydney for three years of life saving treatment obviously had an impact on my schooling and how I handled myself as a teen.

By the end of year 10, as my mother's life continued to hang in the balance, I was moody, restless, angry and ready to ditch school altogether but some gentle coaxing tough parenting kept me in class (albeit kicking and screaming).

I feel sorry for the teachers who had to deal with me in year 11 as I made it quite clear I didn't want to be there.  I was restless in class and made very little positive forward movement.  I would always do the homework, but got by with a "bare minimum" approach to life.

Then something happened half way through the year.  My English teacher saw something that nobody else had seen.  A kid who had promise.

My memory is vague on the order of events but the book The Harp in the South was definitely the catalyst in this story.

The Harp in the South was the debut novel for Ruth Park. It was first published in 1948 and portrayed the life of a Catholic Irish family living in Surry Hills, Sydney.

I remember reading it at least three times over the course of my final years of high school as I prepared for the HSC.  I was captivated not only by the story line and characters, but by the style of writing and the way Ruth Park brought old time Sydney to life.

I had always been a bookworm, but the previous years of high school had forced me to read books like A Tale of Two Cities and Wuthering Heights, with such heavy prose and unrelateable story lines, that it turned me off reading altogether.

The Harp in the South showed me a different style of writing that felt achievable.  It was more than a book, it was a glimpse into the possibilities for me as a student and as a writer.  I can honestly say that from an academic perspective, this book saved me. I became interested in school again.  That combined with my English teacher's belief in my abilities saw my grades start to climb and a renewed interest in my future.

By the time I hit year 12, I was back to taking pride in my school work with much of my study done around the edges of a hospital bed as Mum went through her bone marrow transplant.

I was never any good at exams with the pressures associated with testing usually seeing my results suffer.  The Harp In The South had me excited about exams for the first time.  I knew this book inside and out and I could talk about it until the cows came home.

Ask me about the book now and I have little recollection (as with anything I learned in years 11 and 12), but I know how it impacted on my life story.

It's fairly safe to say, The Harp in the South helped me believe in myself.

As far as my year 12 exams went, I did far better than expected and ended up at uni as a result.

As far as my mum is concerned she's still alive and well today.

As for The Harp in the South, it's not even on my bookshelf, but a quick trip to an online bookshop will rectify that.

Do you recall what you were studying in year 11?

Ever read The Harp in the South?

Have you got people studying for exams in your house right now?



Today's post was inspired by Denyse Whelan's "exams" prompt for her weekly "Life This Week" linky.


21 comments :

  1. Just finished exams x 2 so we are now a happy, stressfree household til next year! As for books, the whole class decided Henry James was too boring and we should move onto the next book as no one would do it for the HSC, and the teacher thankfully let us. The next book was The Great Gatsby and I don't think I've loved a book more (or been more shocked as I read certain events unfold). I still get excited when someone tells me they're about to read it for the first time (I've read it many times) and I get slightly jealous that they';; have those moments of surprise that I know longer get the impact of. I think we had an amazing teacher to trust us and not force us to be bored with James (whom she loved) as she may've put us all off studying literature for good.

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    1. And I'm glad your mum survived all that! Amazing to think what they can do.

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    2. What a relief that the exams are over!
      Do you know, I've never read The Great Gatsby. I think I was supposed to at school but it must have been another one of those books I ditched prior to year 11. Perhaps I should try again!

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  2. I am so glad your mum survived and thrived after her diagnosis, Leanne!

    Best of luck to T for her exams and work commitments. She is one busy and talented girl.

    SSG xxx

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    1. She definitely thrived and continues to do so. As for Tahlia, she's doing a good job. Better than I did at her age, that's for sure.

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  3. Oh god, I can't remember year 11 at school. But I love that you had a teacher who believed in you. I had a basketball coach (also when I was in year 11) who did the same and my bball flourished under him as a result.

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    1. Oh yes, coaches are great creators of self belief too. I hope I was that sort of coach.

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  4. In Year 11 I was put into an English class away from all my mates who got to do fun pop culture stuff while we did dry classics and standard texts - I was told it was because I was more likely to go to uni (which I didn't) and the teacher was horrendous. English was one of my favourite and strongest subjects but she just about ruined it for me. I feel almost certain that I've read The Harp In The South but I've definitely read Playing Beattie Bow by the same author!

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    1. It was those "dry classics" that almost did me in.
      My daughter had to read "Of Mice and Men" last year. I read it with her in case it was like the old classics I used to have to read. I surprisingly enjoyed it!
      Which makes me wonder if I should go back and try a Tale of Two Cities again. Although I never actually got past the first page the first ten times I tried to read it. It was that bloody looooooooong paragraph that did me in. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... blah blah blah ...

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  5. Leanne what a time you had...and what a reflective post about resilience, learning and life. I have so much admiration for teen Leanne who took on so much (emotionally) and managed, as you say, to do well despite the awfulness of what was happening to your Mum. Big kudos to teachers who recognise and nurture kids in the way in which they need it. I am so very pleased a particular book and its contents by that most iconic and talented writer, Ruth Park, has stayed as a talisman for you. Wow. Again wow! Thanks for sharing and linking up. Denyse xx

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    1. She was a great teacher. I had the opportunity to include a message to her in a book that people were putting together for her retirement a few years ago. It was organised remotely via Facebook. I was so happy to have the opportunity to tell her what a positive impact she had in my life.

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  6. I loved Playing Beatie Bow and Callie's Castle by Ruth Park when I was a young un. I remember high school English for completely ruining any book, poem or play we studied, for me forever!!!!

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    1. I know right! They would turn the books inside out, shake em up and spit them out. Which is why The Harp In The South was such a different experience for me. It was gently nurtured by this teacher.

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  7. I love this post Leanne!
    I'm glad that your mum is still here!!
    I haven't read The Harp In The South, but I will put it on my huge to-be-read list! :)

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    1. I imagine you do have a HUGE to-be-read list. The plight of the book blogger!

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  8. Year 11 is such a tough year but you had so much more to deal with. So pleased your mum pulled through and your teacher saw a spark in you back then.

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  9. I totally agree that books can save your life as well as enriching it, I cannot imagine life without a book.
    Great news about your Mum, but that must have been an incredibly tough time for you.

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    1. It had a huge impact on my life. We are lucky to be a very close family unit of 3 which helped. The whole experience definitely made us "bigger, stronger and braver" in the end (which just happens to be the title of one of my books ... and has nothing to do with illness ).

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  10. I loved this book! Such a great story. It came out as an Australian telemovie as well.
    I remember reading Bridge to Terabithia in school too, which I enjoyed. I have no recollection of the books I read for my exams in year 12! Maybe it was One flew over the cuckoos nest, Farenheit 451 or Animal Farm or something. It was a long time ago.

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  11. Not a fan of exams. I read Harp in the South some years ago for my book club and loved it. It's amazing how some books can be life-changing, huh? For me it was Harry Potter :)

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