On APRIL 22nd, 6pm


701, Glenferrie Road

We  held a Book Signing featuring …

Disturbing the Dust

by Pauline James

Below you can read the speech I delivered to the assembled guests and view some of the photos that were taken on the night. It was a great event with around 50 guests present to share in the launch of my new book Disturbing the Dust. Most of the guests also took the opportunity to pick up a signed copy.



Book Launch at Readings, Hawthorn



I’d like to thank everyone here for joining me today: my good friends, of course, from the Jane Austen Society of Melbourne, former staff from the old Hawthorn Institute of Education and the University of Melbourne, former students from the University, Bruce’s colleagues from La Trobe, and many other friends and family made over the years, my daughter for flying down from Cairns for this special occasion – and my publisher too for making the production of this novel relatively painless. And I’d like to welcome anyone else who’s here today just out of interest.


How the book came about

It certainly had a long gestation period. My first thoughts about writing it came in 2003 when I returned to England for a holiday and, while visiting the village where I grew up, I walked past a house where I’d lived with my family. I was 4 years old when we went there and 8 when we left – and the possibility of writing something in that setting (fictionalised of course) was first conceived at that time. But the novel’s birth was delayed: I was still involved in academic work then – supervising postgraduate students, reviewing and still writing journal articles, all that, so time for a novel was very limited. Even afterwards, as the novel grew and matured, for years I gave precedence to everything else, because I couldn’t quite believe it would ever leave home. And of course as in every journey towards maturity, there were many false starts, mistakes, certain enthusiasms coming to nothing but then a regrouping and trying again. But now, at last, and it is a wonderful feeling to reach this point, it seems to be ready to take on the world.


What is the novel about?

Its title comes from a poem by TS Eliot, which, among other things, is a meditation on time and relationships between the past, present and future. And, as the poet walks through a garden, he asks, ‘To what purpose disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose leaves I do not know.’ Yet my novel to some extent challenges the view that it’s futile to look back at the past. Sometimes, not always though, we may need to in order to accept it and live well in the present.

So, in general, my novel is about what shapes the people we become and, if necessary, what might help to repair any damage. For in it two young people are blamed for something they haven’t done, and respond differently, to some extent because of their ages but also on what happens to them later and how they interpret those events. (Jenny is 8, as I was when we left that house, and a family friend, Terry, is 16, though the boy on whom I base him, very loosely, was actually a bit younger than that). And the rest of the book involves their attempts to resolve some of the psychological difficulties stemming partly from those experiences, and being dragged into a drama not of their making.

In shaping some of that unpleasantness, as John said, I took certain themes from an incident in my own early-adult life (for example, misunderstanding, stereotyping, false accusations, being thought to have lied but being unable to prove my innocence, gossip and inadequate resolution of the issues) to form the conditions experienced by those two main characters. And because I wished I’d dealt with that incident differently, I chose to place what happens to Terry and Jenny in that childhood setting, during years I believed for me were especially formative. Could I understand myself better through writing this novel? I thought at the time it would be quite an interesting intellectual exercise but it also became a very emotional one.


What are the novel’s themes in general?

In a sense this is a universal story about the abuse of power both by individuals and groups and attempts by victims to recover from it. So it’s about the long-lasting psychological effects of injustice and of not being able to prove our innocence.

 And it addresses the potential importance of:

  1.  As already mentioned, looking into past events in order to repair any damage done;
  2. childhood experiences, particularly the more traumatic ones, including those associated with family relationships, how they may shape our lives, and how damage may be passed down through the generations;
  3. understanding how memory works, exploring different ways in which the mind may deal with traumatic events, its potential unreliability, including suppression and/or the persistent reliving of negative experiences;
  4. what’s helpful in avoiding psychological damage associated with traumatic events; what might predispose us to damage, both in prior experiences and in the support or lack of it at the time and afterwards;
  5. understanding how certain beliefs about what shapes who and what we become (genetics and/or experience and the interactions between them) may influence our capacity to learn and change;
  6. views about the extent of control we believe we have over our own lives and decision-making; chance events may throw us completely, as I found out through bitter experience;
  7. becoming more aware of the tendency to scapegoat those we don’t know or who are different from us in some way, displacing our anger onto convenient targets; Terry and Jenny have a lot of anger displaced onto them and they did quite a bit of anger displacement themselves too;
  8. differentiating unintended from intended consequences of our own actions and those of others and being mindful of the psychological implications of those differences; when you go into that in depth it is quite complex; so I explored it quite a lot in the novel, not as in an essay of course, but through some of the characters’ reflections;
  9. the need for whistleblowing at times, why we do it and why we don’t, and how we often shoot the messenger for telling us things we don’t want to hear, that we don’t like;
  10. the value of apologies, in helping to restore peace of mind to those who’ve been wronged – and, not to forget this,
  11. differentiating different kinds of love, e.g. sisterly and brotherly love, romantic, passionate and companionate love.

Now all of that may sound very serious but the novel is quite humorous in parts, at least I hope you’ll think so, and it has a romance too. And, of course, it wasn’t a neat linear process of these themes dictating the plot and characters. At times, they arose from the demands of the plot or the characters themselves and I found myself exploring an issue I hadn’t even thought of before. And as the plot thickened and the characterisation deepened, new aspects entered and others fell away. And some of what emerges in a novel is likely to be unconscious anyway.

In no way am I trying to suggest that the traumas experienced by my characters Jenny and Terry are comparable to those experienced by many people around the world – well here in Australia too. We can always find people far more badly treated, far worse off than we are. Though that rather wonderful man Martin Luther King once said: ‘Injustice in one place is a threat to justice everywhere,’ and coming to terms with injustice is really what my novel is about.


So again, thank you everyone for joining me today. I feel so privileged to have you all here. And I do hope you enjoy the novel.





Another book signing was held on Wednesday, 24th June, at the Co-op Bookshop in the Agora at La Trobe University, between 1:00 and 3:00pm. It was a lovely afternoon with much friendly discussion about the book. My thanks to all who attended.




In late September 2015 and April and May 2016, I was privileged to be invited to speak about and sell copies of my book at three VIEW Club luncheon meetings (for the Greensborough, Doncaster and Heidelberg clubs). About 70 people attended each event. VIEW clubs (VIEW standing for Voice, Interests and Education of Women) undertake extensive charitable work and a proportion of my sales were donated to The Smith Family. I was delighted to participate in this and to meet such friendly, interested groups of people.



Disturbing the Dust is now available in eBook format from Amazon.

Australian residents can also purchase a copy from Booktopia.

International residents can purchase a copy from Book Depository.

You can also purchase a copy of the book from the following book stores in Melbourne:

Dymocks Doncaster

Dymocks The Pines (Templestowe)

Readings Hawthorn

Co-op Book Shop La Trobe University

 Collins Booksellers Croydon

Tim’s Bookshop Kew

Tim’s Bookshop Canterbury

Hill of Content Bookshop Melbourne


New Publisher

Disturbing the Dust now has a new publisher, Woodslane Press


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