Emily Maguire's Love Objects launched at Charles Perkins Centre

13 April 2021
Novel explores relationship between social identity and health

Emily Maguire, acclaimed author and 2018 recipient of the Judy Harris Writer in Residence Fellowship at the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre, launched her new book Love Objects last week.

Emily Maguire signing books

Emily Maguire signing copies of Love Objects at the Charles Perkins Centre launch.

Addressing the complex relationship between social identity and health, Emily Maguire’s latest novel, Love Objects, is the second book resulting from the Judy Harris Writer in Residence Fellowship.

Established in 2016 through the generosity of University of Sydney alumna Judy Harris, Emily received $100,000 to support her work on a novel that would explore the underlying causes and connections of a serious health issue.

Love Objects tells the story of Nic, a 43-year-old woman with a habit of collecting all types of objects and who gets rid of nothing, a habit which her niece unintentionally discovers. The result is a heart-wrenching and deeply compassionate exploration of the poorly understood behaviour of hoarding and the humiliation exposure causes.

Joined in the atrium at the University’s Charles Perkins Centre by a mixture of academic and literary supporters, including the University's newly appointed Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott AO, Emily thanked the researchers, clinicians and patients that had helped her to understand this complex mental health issue during her time at the Charles Perkins Centre.

Maguire did extensive research into how factors that cause hoarding behaviour intersect with demographics which may be important indicators, such as class, gender and age, approaching experts at the Charles Perkins Centre in lifestyle diseases such as smoking and obesity.

"All of the people I spoke to over this time – researchers, clinicians, practitioners, those with lived experience – I cannot thank them enough. This book would not exist without them,” said Emily.

“And my time with all these amazingly generous people would not exist without the fellowship and without the generosity of our patron Judy Harris and the vision of the Charles Perkins Centre Academic Director, Stephen Simpson."

A new lens for society to view chronic disease and illness

The brainchild of Professor Stephen Simpson, the Judy Harris Writer in Residence Fellowship is premised on experimentation, which allows creative writers to sharpen the lens through which society sees chronic disease and illness.

“Right from the beginning, it was clear to me that we needed a creative writer in residence. I didn't want it to be just a sort of shiny bauble, sitting on the Christmas tree of the research and education that goes on as the main business of this building. I wanted an opportunity for a really outstanding creative writer to immerse themselves and become part of us - to be enriched by and to enrich the community.”

Stephen said Emily integrated brilliantly and engaged at many levels with the researchers, students and external partners of the Centre. Stephen shared a story where Emily’s insight at a medically focused workshop on obesity revealed the reciprocal value of the writing fellowship for health experts.

“Our formative experiences of love, comfort and nurturing are shaped by those around us and the foods we eat, and when those loved ones come in larger bodies, it becomes obvious why it might be hard to shift people to a “healthier” lifestyle. It’s not lack of health literacy or understanding about what constitutes a healthy diet that’s the problem – it’s just that our need to belong is more powerful than the urgings of health professionals,” said Stephen.

Making transformative work possible

Both literature and science are concerned with what it is to be human; why people do the things we do and how we might do those things better.
Emily Maguire

“Both literature and science are concerned with what it is to be human; why people do the things we do and how we might do those things better,” said Emily.

“Supporting the creation of fiction fortified by the best scientific knowledge and practical experience, this is the transformative work that the Judy Harris Writer in Residence fellowship is helping make happen.

“I had hundreds of interactions that influenced my thinking and understanding of hoarding behaviour, the possible causes and current treatment protocols and challenges. As well as the extraordinary access to a wide range of researchers and thinkers at the main hub in Camperdown, I was welcomed as part of the Charles Perkins Centre community at the Westmead and Nepean hubs. Speaking to people working in those clinical settings, especially social workers and psychologists dealing with the issues I was writing about, was invaluable.”

The Judy Harris Writer in Residence fellowship has supported the creation of two other works; The Weekend, a novel, by Charlotte Wood and Made to Measure, a play by Alana Valentine.  

The most recent Judy Harris Writer in Residence is Tracy Sorenson and interviews will be held soon for the next Writer in Residence at the Charles Perkins Centre.

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