Actor Anna McGahan is well-known for her work on screen in Underbelly: Razor, Anzac Girls, Picnic at Hanging Rock and Glitch and on stage where she played the lead role of writer Charmian Clift in Hydra.
She is the niece of awarded author, recently deceased Andrew McGahan and has now written her first book Metanoia, subtitled ‘a memoir of a body born again’ (Acorn Press), which she spoke about at the Sydney Writers Festival (pre-publication).
This is an engaging literary memoir, a true-life story of the trauma she inflicted on her young body through anorexia, self-harm, drugs and careless sex and the metanoia, transformed heart of the title, that led to a new life.
Anna has a body of written work ranging from poems, stories, screenplays and essays. She was shortlisted for the Saturday Paper’s Horne national essay prize in 2016 and is currently writing a young adult novel.
Her writing is of high quality, arresting, honest and lyrical. The book is thoughtfully structured into sections based around the body, such as ‘the body is a marketplace’ and ‘the body is a sanctuary’, with lovely use of symbolism and imagery.
She describes herself as a noisy rainbow parrot, “I was rough, scattered and colourful, a parrot in a room of doves.” She found like-minded ‘parrots’ in the creative community, many of whom were also insecure dreamers, children trying to navigate adult lives. Her imagery of the verdant – seeds, secret gardens and growth is beautiful.
Growing up as a child in Brisbane she felt she had her own wild magic, danced and studied acting after leaving school. Method acting taught her to draw on her own pain, she learned that chaos is artistry, came out as queer and then bisexual, was known as “the sex girl” and “went wild”.
She had many relationships, with males and females, while living and working in Melbourne, Sydney and LA. Although privileged in some ways, life was a battle.
After she lays her life bare in her memoir, giving her readers the opportunity to judge her so they can trust her, Anna McGahan reveals the cause of her metanoia. “I can’t pretend I haven’t been waiting for this part of the story … I have protected you from the impossible and sheltered you from the panic of mystery and revelation”.
She has always loved the words of Pascal’s Wager, “Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate those two chances. if you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.” (excerpts from Pensees, part III)
Setting out to disprove the existence of God, she read the New Testament in the Gideon Bible in her hotel room. “When I read the Bible, I expected to be reprimanded. Instead, I was crowned… The words cut through me. They sliced away at my anger, leaving exposed the temptation of hope … The person of Jesus was on my side.”
Anna experienced healing, hope, beauty and joy. She began to believe that “the truth might be more complex, a bit more painful – and in turn, a bit more beautiful.”
Metanoia is a luminous, deeply personal story. It will provoke a response in every reader.
Follow Anna McGahon