An interview with Marie O’Rourke, shortlisted for the 2022 City of Fremantle Hungerford Award

Entranced by the power of words from birth, Marie O’Rourke spent many years reading, analysing and teaching the stories of others before working up the nerve to start shaping her own. Her writing pushes against the tradition of first-person, past-tense, chronological, narrative memoir, hoping to capture the shape-shifting nature of memory and identity. Marie’s essays have been published in many respected national and international journals such as a/b, Axon, Essay Daily, Meanjin, Meniscus, New Writing, TEXT and Westerly. Marie holds a PhD from Curtin University, where she now teaches across the Creative Writing, English and Cultural Studies, and Professional Writing and Publishing departments.

Describe your manuscript in your own words.

The Japanese art of kintsugi provides the title for my work and its philosophy drives the whole collection. Kintsugi, or ‘golden joinery’, involves repairing broken ceramic with seams of gold lacquer, drawing attention to sites of damage rather than attempting to camouflage them. Like the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, kintsugi is all about embracing imperfection, celebrating the strength and beauty within breakage.

My manuscript works to do the same, as it explores a series of defining and difficult relationships in my life through a voice and imagery that has a delicate touch, alluding to trauma and sadness rather than leaning into them. Kintsugi shares the specifics of my life as I remember it, but it is very much about the nature of memories, generally, and how memory itself works on us, as we work on it, over time.

What inspired you to write it?

I’ve always been inspired by writers who push a reader to simultaneously feel and think fiercely, who experiment with form and language to ask questions both intensely personal and philosophical. Kintsugi aspires to work in this vein, exploring troubling memories from my personal past to ask bigger questions readers might find resonance with. 

One of my favourite essayists, Ander Monson, speaks of a writer friend of his as being ‘in a way transparent … a vulnerability artist’. That’s the space I also try to inhabit, and my work is intensely personal, yet not confessional. I don’t appreciate people dismissing life writing as therapy, but admit that my research and writing has all been focused on reaching a better understanding of not just what I think, feel or remember but why. I’m always trying to find new and better ways to capture those shape-shifts of memory and identity.

How long have you been working on it?

Kintsugi was created throughout the course of completing my PhD in Creative Writing. I was lucky enough to be awarded an APA scholarship, so had the privilege of four years of dedicated writing time. Many of the essays had seeds in much earlier drafts, however, which I refocused and refined as my research into memory and life writing progressed.

What does it mean to you to make the shortlist of the 2022 City of Fremantle Hungerford Award?

It’s an enormous honour to be considered for such a significant prize and named beside such talented writers. I find it incredibly satisfying to know that my words managed to connect with the judges, that Kintsugi‘s voice could be heard and appreciated. The thought of possible publication—and connection with many more readers—is absolutely thrilling to me.

Excerpt from Kintsugi

In The Odyssey, waiting decades for her husband’s return, Penelope keeps herself busy at the family loom. Weaving her father-in-law’s death shroud day in, day out (then unwinding it at night so she can’t be forced to remarry) she is the epitome of discipline, stability, constancy and order.

For the ancient Greeks, order was a concept expressed by the word kosmos and related to patterning in a way that was inseparable from craft. Ana Arajuo notes that craft was practiced in this world ‘with the very intent of making kosmos appear … the rhythmic process of (pattern-) making denoted a way to come to terms with the universal order of reality’. From consistent movements, a regular pattern: the crafted artefact a material expression of order, invoking the kosmic order of things.


Knitting was a constant in our home, all of us did it—even my brother Eric took up the needles when he was about eight. Made his own scarf. But only after finishing his paper round, of course, because he knew Mum relied on any extra pennies he could bring in.

When you kids were young I did it partly for the joy of making something, and because my mum had always knitted. But it was also … I sort of just wanted to … wrap my love around you girls. I remember always being cold as a kid—probably because I never had proper winter clothes, just a jumper over my usual dress. Even now, I still get a feeling of luxury when I’m really cold and put on something warm.

So when the autumn turn comes, as soon as parching heat gives way to days cool and crisp, the needles and wool appear. After dinner, Mum, Nan and Aunty Julie set up camp in the lounge room; form a knot away from the kids and TV, the husbands downing beer. Circled, knees brushing, the currency here is wool and conversation. Topics loop like the yarn on needles, circling, tightening, tying off.

I covet those knitting bags at their feet. Quilted fabric or tapestry, with fake tortoiseshell handles, to me they are pure sensory delight: I run my hand across the textures of their stitched surface, the shiny-smooth, cool handles; I pat the soft balls of colour inside, rub the texture of the yarn between my fingertips and see how it fluffs and gently frays. Wedged between Nan and Mum on the couch, if I don’t ask too many questions, they might forget I’m there and talk about the interesting things I normally miss. I sink into the cushions; the rhythmic whispering clack and click of needles.

When I’m seven or eight, Mum finally teaches me to knit. Sitting on her lap, our fingers meshed and balancing the needles between them, Mum guides me. In this fashion we work—me holding, she winding—two bodies doing the work of one. Purl, plain, purl, plain. The brightly coloured scraps of wool intertwine, vivid stripes of many colours, sometimes even changing partway through a row when we suddenly run out. It’s an unorthodox style, yet from these strands of cheap acrylic, something beautiful grows.

My first full garment is a vest for my doll Felicity, a miniature copy of the one Mum made me, using the last of that fairy floss-pink fluffy yarn. Large needles keep an open weave and it grows in a flash, a weekend project. Nan even teaches me how to cast off on my own. My doll’s head is huge and we three laugh at her proportions as we try to find a way to hold and stitch the vest’s little shoulders together.


Washing day sees me set up on the lawn, two buckets—one, warm soapy water, one cool and clear for rinsing—my dolls’ clothes in a small stack beside my kneeling self. Pushing up my sleeves I set about scrubbing away the dirt and bodily oils that do not exist.

I string a thin rope between the A-frame ends of my swing set. Pegging up tiny clothes, I mimic Mum: trousers by the bottom of the leg, sideways, to keep the front pleat slicing sharp; bloomers or knickers, two pegs, one at each side of the softly elasticised waist; t-shirts, folded over the line just a little (not too much or they won’t be able to dry).

A favourite photo shows me at my washing line, face concentrated, lip bitten, a purposeful curve of my spine as I lean into the task. I am staunchly domestic, a determined little ‘mother’.

But of course, I was meant to be a boy. A surprise pregnancy long after the cot and pram had been given away, long after they’d given up on the happy family myth, a son might have fulfilled a lifelong dream of both Jan and Frank. As I swam in warm amniotic fluid, Mum revelled in her vivid birth dreams: I’d dream I was in the delivery room, and Dr Connaughton would smile and say, “Congratulations, it’s a boy!” I’d wake up, heart thumping, crying. I was so happy. I loved my two girls but just thought a boy might … I don’t know … bring your dad back. I wondered if having someone to kick a footy with, fix his car, might make him happier to stay home. For (like her mother before her) Jan had a husband who seemed to resent the house and his family for keeping him away from his true love: drinking with mates. Yes, I really wanted a son. But when you were born, and you were a girl, of course I was happy. I loved you and couldn’t have imagined things being any different.

The winner of the City of Fremantle Hungerford Award will be announced at Fremantle Arts Centre on Thursday 20 October 2022.

Share via: