Guest Post: Reading, Rioting and Libraries {The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison} by Meredith Jaffé

I’m delighted to be hosting this special post by Meredith Jaffé today which introduces her thoughtful and entertaining new novel, The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison.

You can click here to read my thoughts, but first, read on to learn more…

 

Reading, Rioting and Libraries

The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison is about a bloke named Derek Brown who is in prison because he embezzled the takings from the golf club to fund his gambling addiction. His modus operandi is to keep a low profile, it’s safer that way. He looks down his nose at the junkies, thinks he is better than the murderers. His job as an orderly in the prison hospital and his weekly sewing group keep him sane. He has the occasional grumble to his mate Parker about the quality of the food but other than that, Derek is getting through his sentence the best way he knows how.

The catalyst for the story is Derek’s sister-in-law, Sharon. She makes her first ever visit to Yarrandarrah in order to impart important news. Derek’s one and only daughter, the light of his life, is getting married. It’s fair to say this comes as a bit of a shock to him. Last time Derek saw Debbie was at his sentencing hearing with him in the dock and her in the school uniform. Five years ago, she was sixteen, how could she possibly be getting married?

So unfolds the drama of the wedding dress and the harebrained scheme that the men in Derek’s sewing group will make the dress. Egged on by the sewing teacher and cocky young crim called Joey Maloney, the Backtackers, as they are known, embark on a journey of discovery that is about a lot more than just figuring out how to make a wedding dress.

The setting for this novel is the fictitious Yarrandarrah Correctional Centre. There is a whole other direction I could go on here about world building and creating an authentic environment. How I did mountains of research to understand the structured environment and the kinds of issues that arise when men live cheek by jowl. Instead, I want to talk about how, in my internet travels, I followed a trail that led to a particular sub plot that fascinates me on many levels. The prison library.

Derek has an uneasy relationship with a fellow inmate called the Doc who is serving life for murder. Yet somehow, murder is no obstacle to the Doc scoring the cushy job of prisoner librarian. Being the keeper of the books affords a man a certain status because the library is about a lot more than borrowing something to read. It’s where men go to escape the jail talk and violence. It’s a place to research your appeal or spend time lingering over the crossword or the sports pages. The Doc runs a book club and a journal writing course. The guys who attend the literacy program in the education unit next door receive an extra half day’s access to the library each week. They are always asking the Doc to keep a book aside or placing requests for a particular title, especially the guys doing the Open University courses. Then there are those who want to read the same book as their loved ones on the outside so they have something to talk about in their weekly phone call. All in all, the Doc is a popular man.

The local town library is fundamental to the success of the prison library. Each week, it supplies additional books, periodicals and specialist magazines on woodwork, stamp collecting, gardening and model trains. It delivers the newspapers so the men who care to can keep up with the outside world. Together, the town library and the prison library provide a lifeline for men who have too many hours to fill and not enough to do with them. In essence, it provides connection. Unlike the members of the town library though, in prison, reading is a privilege. Take that away and you might end up with a riot on your hands.

The Doc’s overriding belief is that reading sets you free. As prisoner librarian, he has the power to transform lives, to influence and encourage the men he shares C Wing with to find a meaningful way to connect with the outside world and family. Maybe even leave this place a better man than when they entered.

No wonder Derek hates the Doc. Bloody know-it-all strutting around like he owns the joint, forgetting he’s in here for the same reason as the rest of them. Doing time for the crime. Poor Derek, unable to see that whether it be the men in his sewing circle, or the Doc and his precious library, each are seeking the same thing; to find meaning and purpose. To escape the tedium of their existence. To find a way to make amends for past transgressions. To make a connection. And, in a way, that’s no different to anyone else, inside or out.

 

The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison by Meredith Jaffe ($32.99), published by HarperCollins.

Meredith Jaffé is the author of three novels for adults – The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison (May 2021), The Making of Christina (2017) and The Fence (2016.) Horse Warrior, the first in a children’s series, was published in 2019. She also contributed a short story, Emergency Undies, to the 2019 Funny Bones anthology.

She is the Festival Director of StoryFest, held on the NSW South Coast, and regularly facilitates at other writers’ festivals and author events. Previously, she wrote the weekly literary column for online magazine The Hoopla. Her feature articles, reviews, and opinion pieces have also appeared in The Guardian Australia, The Huffington Post, and Mamamia.

Click the image to read my review

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jennifer
    May 11, 2021 @ 10:26:12

    Great post, and a wonderful novel. I really enjoyed ‘The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison’.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  2. Trackback: Review: The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison by Meredith Jaffe | book'd out
  3. Liz Dexter
    May 12, 2021 @ 04:48:02

    What an interesting guest post and an intriguing sounding novel, too! Unfortunately, we can’t get it at a sensible price here in the UK at the moment, but hopefully it will get picked up by a publisher or distributor as I think people here would enjoy it.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  4. Helen Murdoch
    May 15, 2021 @ 14:04:34

    I love the concept of this book; it sounds like a good one.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  5. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #SundayPost #SundaySalon | book'd out
  6. Tracey (Carpe Librum)
    May 21, 2021 @ 22:11:37

    Enjoyed this guest post 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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