Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 22, 2019

Book Launch: Rosa, Memories with Licence, by Ros Collins

Today I had the very great pleasure of attending a book launch: Rosa, Memories with Licence by my dear friend Ros Collins was launched today at the Jewish Museum by journalist and author Julie Szego.  It was my privilege to read parts of Rosa in draft form, but there is nothing like seeing the published edition! The launch was a sell-out event, complete with scones and lamingtons and a Lambretta scooter similar to the one that Ros and her late husband Alan brought with them to Melbourne in 1957.  Leah Justin from the Jewish Museum introduced proceedings by outlining the professional achievements of this remarkable author whose first book Solly’s Girl was published in 2015 when she was 85.  Characterising Rosa as full of candour, warmth and humour, Leah describes it as an homage to a specific time and to women in a certain era…

Then it was over to Julie and Ros in conversation about the book.  Julie began by asking about the catalyst for writing Rosa, an interesting question because the writer in the family had been Ros’s late husband Alan (1928-2008), author of two short story collections and four novels.   Her career with the Makor Project had been all about helping Holocaust survivors to write their stories, and as a librarian at Kadimah she catalogued tattered old Yiddish stories so that they would not be lost. She had spent her working life on other people’s stories.

So it was a significant moment when she removed Alan’s desk from its spot overlooking the garden and replaced it with her own.   Solly’s Girl was a companion to Alan’s novel Alva’s Boy (2008) but she wrote that as the story of the family, and Ros felt it was time to write her own story.  One Anzac Day when she was feeling very much the migrant, she realised she wanted to write a migrant woman’s story.  But whereas Solly’s Girl was as accurate as memory would allow, Rosa takes liberties with the truth.  Not the facts, only the motives…

Memoir with a little fiction, or fiction with a little history?  It’s hard to say.  Memories with licence.

Julie, who is a journalist by trade, of course wanted to know which bits were lies.  Nothing doing, said Ros!  But she did explain why the ‘licence’ was necessary. She wasn’t there to witness all the relationships in the book, and had to make them up—she read things into the photos she has of grandparents.  ‘Licence’ meant she was free to indulge an unsentimental view of her ancestors: to speculate what she might have liked about them, and what she might have inherited.

The non-linear form of the book is a form of ‘time travel’ offering ‘an avenue for redemption’.  You can’t change things, said Ros, but you can imagine making wrong things right, and being able to redeem oneself of the mistakes we make.  Like many migrants, she took a long time to become ‘Australian’ and it took a good while to come to terms with leaving her parents.

Julie noted that Ros has a command of detail that brings a light touch to serious moments.   In 1956 London was a cruel, hard city where Alan had tried and failed to get a decent job, and needed to get back to Australia but didn’t have the money for a berth.  But Rosa had made her mind abut Alan the night she met him at a party.  She became a radical, living ‘in sin’ at a time when that was outrageous, but this is presented in a matter-of fact way:

He remembered the afternoon when she accepted his invitation to move out of her flat and share his bed-sit in the old house.

‘Come for afternoon tea’, he’d said, very carefully distinguishing between ‘tea’, ‘dinner’, ‘supper’ ‘high tea’ and all the variations that had tripped him up in Britain. Not much furniture in his room, so he used a packing crate, on top of which he placed an embroidered tray cloth that he’d bought from a thrift shop.

‘Wanted to get you lamingtons but they don’t sell them here,’ he told her.

‘I don’t think I know what they are, but scones are just fine,’ she said.

And so began their lives together.  It was winter 1956, and very cold.  From the dormer window of his attic room they looked out over the snow-covered roofs of Hampstead and huddled back under thin grey army blankets.’ (p.5)

Over tea and scones afterwards I caught up with Hybrid publishers Anna Blay and Louis de Vries (many of whose books are reviewed here on this blog) and so I have a couple of scoops: Vivian Bi whose memoir Bright Swallow I reviewed here has a novel coming out soon, and Alex Skovron whose unforgettable prize-winning novella The Poet I reviewed here, has a new book of poetry soon too.

You can find out more about books by Alan Collins at Alan and Ros Collins and to keep up with her next book you can follow Ros on Twitter @RosWriter!

Ros in an unguarded moment, proud of her small grandson behaving beautifully in the front row.

Available from Fishpond: Rosa: Memories with Licence and direct from Hybrid Publishers. 


  1. How wonderful! Congratulation to your friend! 😁😁


    • She is *amazing*. She was amazing in her career, and she’s even more amazing in what, in other people, would be called ‘old age’ but just doesn’t seem to apply to her at all.
      And she was such a comfort to me when I was struggling with the last years of my parents’ lives. I love her to bits.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. My copy of this arrived mid-week from Hybrid.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. A very special afternoon, both funny and moving. And what an inspiration Ros is!


    • And wasn’t her grandson a star! We don’t often see a child of that tender age sit still and quiet for so long!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • And did you see the lovely note he wrote for her: ‘happy lornch day’!


        • No, but I bet I do when we next have coffee!


  4. Thanks for the post Lisa. I’m so pleased you were there and sorry I was not. Ros looks beautiful, as always. Off goes ‘Rosa’ into the world!


    • I should have said, there was special mention in Leah’s speech and Ros’s thankyous, of you as Ros’ mentor, who always encouraged her and gave her good advice. And you are quoted in the blurb at the front of the book: ‘someone destined for an extraordinary life of bucking trends and taking adventurous paths’.
      And BTW that jacket she’s wearing in the photo is stunning. Embroidered velvet. Super classy.


  5. Sounds like a lovely event, Lisa. I have started the book and am greatly enjoying her voice and the story. I hope to get more read in the next few days, particularly if it rains a bit here!


    • Good to hear you’re enjoying it, but I hope the rain holds off all the same!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. So inspiring to hear of Ros writing and publishing in her eighties.


    • It just shows you, you never know just what you can do until you find yourself doing it:)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a lovely tribute to your friend. She sounds like the kind of person I love to hear about.


    • I consider myself very lucky to count her as my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wonderful, thank you for sharing. And, you KNOW I have to read this :-)


    • I’d love to see what you make of it:)


  9. […] when I was at the Jewish Museum for the launch of Rosa, Memories with Licence my eye fell upon another book, one I’d heard about on Radio National. Philip Adams […]


  10. I forgot about this when I wrote my review, even though I commented on it when you posted it. That’s traveller’s brain for you!

    I’m glad though that what I assumed about the licence sounds mostly what it was, filling in the gaps about ancestors and people whose stories, motives and feelings she couldn’t know because she didn’t know them, or barely knew them, and/or had no documentation to refer to that contained their feelings or ideas.


    • LOl Sue, I don’t think you realise how impressed your readers are that you not only managed to post all your usual bits and pieces at WG while you were away, but that you also maintained an amazing travel blog as well! Mine always degenerates into lame slideshows after the first week or two, but not yours, you were still sharing heaps about Japanese culture and the best places to get a meal!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Lisa – but, you know, your travel slide-shows are never lame! And I did mange to set up 80% of those WG bits and pieces before I went.


        • But that’s what’s so amazing… I am always so last minute when I’m going away, the last thing I can get organised is blog posts…

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ah, that’s because you keep reading … let’s just leave this at a mutual admiration society!!


  11. […] of the Lamm Jewish Library of Australia was too good to miss.  Readers may remember that I was at the launch of her latest book Rosa, Memories with Licence, and of course I read the book, but it was a most enjoyable session […]


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