Mary Garden’s New Memoir Exposes the Rarely Discussed Topic of Sibling Abuse

Mary Garden’s New Memoir Exposes the Rarely Discussed Topic of Sibling Abuse

March 22, 2024

One of the funniest author unboxing videos I’ve ever seen is the one writer Mary Garden has done as part of her book marketing campaign for her upcoming memoir. Her honest response to the unboxing of early copies of her memoir about sibling abuse – My Father’s Suitcase: A story of family secrets, abuse, betrayal and breaking free is hilarious (there’s a link to it at the bottom of this post).

‘Funny’ and ‘sibling abuse’ don’t normally get to appear in the same sentence, but Mary, an author and journalist, does not do ‘cookie cutter’, ‘normal’, or the ‘done thing’ when it comes to writing, publishing, and, it seems, much of anything really. And her new memoir helps explain, in part, why that is so.

As I type this, I have a warm smile on my face because over the last six months I’ve had a few fun interactions with Mary as she worked through how to publish her memoir, a difficult task given the book focusses on how her sister’s emotional and physical abuse impacted her life.

Mary Garden is no stranger to excellent writing, research, and books. She’s written for Meanjin, The Australian Financial Review, The Guardian, Newtown Review of Books and New Zealand Geographic amongst others.

Her previous book, Sundowner of the Skies, about her famous father’s aviation feats, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s History Award in 2020. Author Trent Dalton called it, ‘A rattling, searing, soulful story.’

Mary’s very first book, The Serpent Rising, about her time spent with cults in India in the 1970’s, won the High Country Indie Book Award in 2021 and was also the impetus for a podcast interview with The Cult Vault. That interview has now been shortlisted for the Best Indie Podcast for the True Crime Awards 2023-2024.

So yes, Mary can write, and she has amazing stories to tell.

But that didn’t mean traditional publishers thought her new book would fly, and indeed, even though she received offers, she wasn’t sure she wanted to be their passenger either.

I asked her about her decision to self-publish My Father’s Suitcase.


What made you decide to self-publish your memoir?

Mary: I am impatient and impulsive (Anna’s note: you can see why Mary makes me laugh!). I’d had several offers/opportunities and was about to accept the third but I found myself uncomfortable about some of the conditions so asked for a consultation with Kristin Gill of Northern Books.

I had never considered self-publishing for this memoir, mainly because of the problems of distribution to bookshops. But had been following you (Anna Featherstone) on Instagram and ordered your book Look! It’s A Book!. I had not realised the extent to which the self-publishing landscape has changed over the years.

Kristin looked at the traditional contract and asked, ‘what is it that they can do, that you can’t?’, and I said, ‘marketing and publicity’, and she said, ‘I’ll do that, I think you should self-publish.’

She then put me in contact with local author Andrew Skeoch, who’d just self-published a beautiful book Deep Listening to Nature. I was so impressed with its design and the fact that he had obtained a distributor (Woodslane) and had sold so many books in its first six months of publication.

This was 1st December 2023. For some bizarre reason, I had already ordered a design for a book cover from Alex Ross, who had been designing book covers for Penguin for 10 years. I also organised a second edit, even though it had already been fully edited by Samantha Miles, Bad Apple Press, in June, but I’d made some more changes since then.

I used the same typesetter Andrew Skeoch had used: Helen Christie of Blue Wren Books.

It was ready to be printed by second week of February: cover, editing, typeset. Luckily, Peribo agreed to distribute in Australia and Bateman Books in NZ. And I signed on Sarah Thornton, Thornton Publications, to be my publicist in NZ. All gearing up for a May 2024 launch.


What’s been the hardest thing about being an indie author?

Mary: Overcoming the stigma of being self-published, but that’s just the critic on my shoulder as not one single person has asked ‘who is the publisher of your book?’

Also, getting a gig at a writer’s festival, but it’s early days and my book is not out until May! Apart from that it has been an absolute breeze. Kristin and I have organised quite a few events and radio interviews for May and June.


What’s been the best thing so far about being a self-publisher?

Mary: Being in control of everything. It has been a real buzz seeing things fall into place so quickly.


Any tips for others authors?

Mary: Buy a copy of Look! It’s A Book! and then produce a book that is on par with books being produced by traditional publishers.

I’ve read two self-published books lately that were simply terrible. I’m not sure whether it is because of arrogance or ignorance but they were badly written and/or poorly edited and designed. It was such a relief to get an advance reader copy of Split by Maggie Waters, which is also out in May. It’s a beautifully produced self-published book, has a stunning cover, and very well-written.

Authors also need to seek out professional editors for structural editing, proof-reading and copyediting. For example, someone like Laurel Cohn, who I used to assess some chapters early on

And, if your book is controversial, seek legal advice from organisations such as ArtsLaw.


Anything else you’d like to add?

Mary: While I am trying to spend less time on social media for my own mental health, it is an invaluable tool for promoting my book. I’ve made some amazing connections online and been given so many tips (for example, uploading my book on Draft2Digital for world-wide library distribution).

I even scored an interview on Hembury Books Podcast because of a comment I made on someone’s post.

There’s a whole new world out there for those who self-publish, with opportunities that many who are published traditionally may not avail themselves of.

Also, why wait two years to be traditionally published when it’s ready now?


Final thoughts from Anna on Mary Garden’s memoir My Father’s Suitcase

Mary’s memoir is compelling, insightful, unapologetic, and searingly honest. You become immersed in the decisions and day to day of her very dysfunctional family, and the themes of mental health, family violence and a society willing to look away. Mary gives us a window into what it’s like when parenting responsibilities are foisted on a child and how sibling abuse is often mistaken for sibling rivalry and hidden away.

I was certainly not expecting the revelation that the sibling abuse ended in literary competition and plagiarism – and this turn in the story will be of interest to writers of literary fiction and non-fiction. Mary also weaves extensive research into the memoir, illuminating ideas and drawing parallels that enrich the reader’s understanding of her lived experience. A great read and courageous book!


Want to know more about Mary Garden?


Want to write your own book or are you looking for help on the publishing or marketing side? 

Get in touch with me, Anna Featherstone, grab a copy of Look-It’s Your Book!, or check out some of the courses at Bold Authors.


More in my 2024 blog series of authors and their experience of self-publishing, including their top tips for indie authors.