Shannon O’Leary recently announced the release of her latest book Out of the Fire and into the Pan, a sequel to The Blood on My Hands. Genres: True Crime / Memoir
Set in 1960s and ‘70s Australia, The Blood on My Hands tells the dramatic tale of Shannon O’Leary’s childhood years, growing up with an abusive father, who was also a serial killer. No one, not even the authorities, would help O’Leary and her family. The responses of those whom O’Leary and her immediate family reached out to for help are almost as disturbing as the crimes of her violent father. Relatives were afraid to bring disgrace to the family’s good name, nuns condemned the child’s objections as disobedience and noncompliance, and laws at the time prevented the police from interfering unless someone was killed.
The Blood on My Hands is a heartbreaking—yet riveting—narrative of a childhood spent in pain and terror, betrayed by the people who are supposed to provide safety and understanding. The strength and courageous resilience it took for O’Leary to not just survive and escape from her father, but to flourish, thrive, and triumph over the unimaginable trauma she endured as a child is both powerful and moving.
“The Blood on My Hands is a powerful, dark memoir… This is a story that is going to remain in my mind for a long time.” – Readers’ Favorite
“The confusion, uncertainty, and sickening foreboding ring true and offer vital insights into the experience of abuse, including the fact that victims had few options, especially in the 1960s.” – Kirkus Reviews
In her sequel, Out of the Fire and into the Pan, Shannon explains to the reader how she progressed into the adult world while coming to terms with her terrifying past. Out of the Fire and into the Pan takes the reader on a personal journey where Shannon questions herself, her past, her choice of relationships and her place in the world. It is a story of resilience, accomplishment and personal triumph.
“Out of the Fire is relentlessly gut-wrenching and almost too wild to believe…” – Red City Review
Excerpt from Out of the Fire and into the Pan:
After my book The Blood on My Hands was published, it became obvious that people wanted to know more about my story. Those of you who have read my first book will know that what seemed “normal” to me as a child was horrific abuse.
“Why did the book stop at age fifteen?” This question was asked to me by countless people and interviewers. “What happened in your adult life, and how did you cope?”
The questions made me think. “Why did I stop where I did in the first book? Why didn’t I just keep on with the story?” The truth was, it seemed too painful and difficult to write at the time. Besides, I had written most of The Blood on My Hands during my teenage years and twenties. Later, when I finished the book, and my life had taken the irregular twists and turns of adulthood, I had innumerable notes, songs, poems, and diary entries I had kept, but collating them seemed an onerous task. As an adult, I had children of my own, and my adult past seemed too close to write about.
When I wrote about my childhood, I had countless diary entries and memories that I had locked into my “Dad” basket. It was a story about what I had witnessed and what had happened to me, not about what had become of me and how my childhood torment affected me as an adult. I described how I was an onlooker to his brutal killings and how I was subjected to sexual abuse. I told of my mother’s torment and how she saved our lives by fleeing the perpetrator. I also explained how my mother and other people I met along the way helped me to realise that with an education and by asking questions, I could reach a better potential and seek a different perspective in my life.
I had always intended on writing my second book, the continuing story of how my life unfolded, but it seemed too arduous and complicated. To continue my story, I needed to breathe and think, to regroup my thoughts and feelings, read through my writings and notes from the past forty-five years, and weigh up the effect my continuing story would have on my family. But after being asked countless times, “What happened to you as an adult?” I decided that it was important for others who have experienced trauma to read and see how others cope in life. In my childhood, there were no therapists or child protection teams to intervene and save me. Nor were there any laws to enforce that domestic violence was a crime. We were a poor family who lived in an isolated bushland area; we were charity children who went to school under the umbrella of a judgmental Catholic system. My childhood was enshrouded in a “fend for yourself and crawl out of the hole” mentality.
I also lived with the ever-present fear of being taken away from my mother. I had heard a conversation at school when I was five years old. A new girl named Rosie had come to my school, and, for the first time in my life, I had someone to play with. My euphoria lasted only a few days, because Rosie didn’t come back to school. At first, I thought she must be sick, but then I heard my mother in a conversation with another parent.
“Where’s Rosie?” she asked.
“Don’t you know? She’s been taken away.” My heart fell.
“‘Taken away’? Why?”
“Her father was interfering with her, and she has been put into care.”
Afterwards, I asked my mother what “care” meant, and she explained that if a parent can’t look after their child, the government can take them away.
“What did Rosie’s father do?” I asked, with questions and guilty thoughts panicking my mind.
“He touched her where he shouldn’t have” was my mother’s answer.
With guilty heart pounding, I knew what happened to children if they disclosed the truth.
They will come and take me away, and I will never see my mother again, I thought.
I can see my broken self, shelved away and mended so many years ago. It is being pulled tightly from end to end. The scars are stretched so tightly that they are leaking ever so slightly . . . trickling the blood of the silenced child and making me feel deeply saddened. I often wonder if I’ll ever get over the fear of disclosure, the fear of allowing others to see who I really am. The fear of other people laughing at me, ridiculing me, and saying, “Oh, you made it all up!”
It’s a terrible thing, fear. It eats into my heart and makes me feel totally vulnerable. My formative years were sculpted by violence, piteously carved into my psyche and furiously shaped by the madman I called “father.” To grow up, I had to reorder my thinking and attempt to trust others. I had to rearrange my trauma, which was webbed in fear and self-doubt, and compartmentalize it by placing it firmly in the past. Unfortunately, this stone sarcophagus can still be opened in a millisecond by triggers. I can be thrown back into a place where I want to hide under a bed or in a cupboard, somewhere small, where only I can crawl inside. A place where I can safely say, “I don’t want to share this with the world. I just want to be left alone.”
People often ask me, “How did you come through it? How did you raise yourself up out of the trauma? How did you get over seeing such violence?”
The truth is I didn’t get over it. There is a sadness that lurks in the murky corners of my mind, challenging me daily. Each day presents itself as a small battle, but I try to steer my life in a positive direction. I liken my life to learning the violin. It can be all scratchy and excruciatingly unpleasant one day and reasonably tuneful the next. At times, my life has been hard, complicated and soul-destroying, yet it has also brought me moments of great joy and happiness.
My first book, The Blood on My Hands, was exceedingly painful to write. It spoke about the atrocities my father committed and how I bore witness to his acts of terror and mutilation. It was difficult to tell the truth and announce to the world, “My father was a murderer.” It is even more difficult to disclose the abuse I endured as a child. I am fifty-eight years old now. When I look back over the years, I can see how my life was shaped by my twisted formative beginnings. In this book, I attempt to reveal how I tried to take control of my life, while often being hurled back into the past by triggers and subconscious pre-conditioning. My life has been a series of steppingstones where I have walked forwards, trying to make better choices, unravelling the confusion and chaos of the past. As I look back, I can see how my childhood has affected my relationships with others and how my father’s conditioning shaped my view of what is acceptable and defined my concept of normality…
“What made me the way I am today, and how did I get here?”
I look back at my younger years and can see my initial confusion when embarking on relationships. I can also see how my father’s influence crept into different liaisons and warped my perception of what I felt and how I dealt with different situations. My father had a “knock on” effect, and his actions bore testament in my adult life. This book is about personal growth and change, as I tried to fix the lifetime’s worth of damage he bequeathed me. It tells how I was fortunate to have survived and how I created new steppingstones to rebuild myself.