Childhood: A Memoir

Shannon Burns

Childhood: A Memoir
Text Publishing Co
5 October 2022

Childhood: A Memoir

Shannon Burns

Things may have been good for a while, but it didn’t last: they argued fiercely and he left. Weeks later, she tracked him down and said she was pregnant. So he moved back in with her and they prepared themselves for parenthood.

Eleven months later I was born. By the time my father discovered the deception, it was too late.

In this arresting memoir, Shannon Burns recalls a childhood spent bouncing between dysfunctional homes in impoverished suburbs, between families unwilling or unable to care for him. Aged nine, he beats his head against the pillow to get himself to sleep. Aged ten, he knows his mother will never be able to look after him: he is alone, and can trust no-one.

Five years later, he is working in a recycling centre -hard labour, poorly paid-yet reading offers hope. He begins reciting lines from Greek lyric poets, Keats, Whitman, speeches by Martin Luther King, while sifting through the filthy cans and bottles. An affair with the mother of a schoolfriend eventually offers a way out, a path to a life utterly unlike the one he was born into.


Hailing from the Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth North, Shannon Burns’ parents were young and working class; for most of their lives they survived on welfare payments. His mother was the wild daughter of Greek parents; his father was the son of an English sailor who abandoned his family of seven children, leaving Burns’ father to grow up in state care. His mother was in her late teens and father in his late twenties when they hooked up. Neither had finished high school and neither had a trade or profession which would provide any stability.

Burns’ mother had told his father that she was pregnant and convinced him to move in with her. Eleven months later, Shannon Burns was born – the timing another product of his mother’s litany of deceptions. She could be very warm and affectionate but could also fly into terrible rages and Burns’ father moved out after she smashed him over the head with his guitar. His mother moved through a progression of men and relationships that usually ended in some sort of raging conflict.

When Burns was eight or nine years old, he was sent to live with his father and stepmother, to another dysfunctional home. Following that, he was bounced around different care situations, all horrible in different ways. He withdrew and developed ways of coping with the chaos around him, and one of those mechanisms was reading.

Burns’ story by itself is sad, moving and inspiring, but what makes this book truly exceptional is the power and perceptiveness of the writing. It’s a marvellous work.

Mark Rubbo is the managing director at Readings.

This item is in-stock at 4 shops and will ship in 3-4 days

Our stock data is updated periodically, and availability may change throughout the day for in-demand items. Please call the relevant shop for the most current stock information. Prices are subject to change without notice.

Sign in or become a Readings Member to add this title to a wishlist.