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The Shape of Sound

The Shape of Sound

Fiona Murphy

  • awardCommended, Non-fiction, Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, 2022
  • I am still unlearning the habit of secrecy. And yet, whenever somebody discovers that I am deaf, my body still reacts with churning terror. How do you build up a sense of robust pride when your body has taught itself to be fearful?

    Fiona Murphy’s memoir about being deaf is a revelation.

    Secrets are heavy, burdensome things. Imagine carrying a secret that if exposed could jeopardise your chances of securing a job and make you a social outcast. Fiona Murphy kept her deafness a secret for over twenty-five years.

    But then, desperate to hold onto a career she’d worked hard to pursue, she tried hearing aids. Shocked by how the world sounded, she vowed never to wear them again. After an accident to her hand, she discovered that sign language could change her life, and that Deaf culture could be part of her identity.

    Just as Fiona thought she was beginning to truly accept her body, she was diagnosed with a rare condition that causes the bones of the ears to harden. She was steadily losing her residual hearing. The news left her reeling.

    Blending memoir with observations on the healthcare industry, The Shape of Sound is a story about the corrosive power of secrets, stigma and shame, and how deaf experiences and disability are shaped by economics, social policy, medicine and societal expectations.

    This is the story of how Fiona learns to listen to her body. If you enjoy the writing of Bri Lee and Fiona Wright, this is a book for you.


    3RRR: The Breakfasters (1:45:00)  
    3RRR: The Glasshouse (0:09:30)   
    ABC News   
    ABC Radio Central Coast: Evenings   
    Anonymous Was a Woman podcast (0:21:00)   
    Avid Reader podcast    
    Booktopia blog   
    First Time podcast   
    Guardian: I’ve always been terrified of losing my hearing – but when it happened, I craved silence (op-ed)    
    Independedence Australia: Inform podcast   
    James & Ashley Stay at Home podcast   
    Kill Your Darlings podcast    
    Meanjin (extract)
    Meanjin: What I’m Reading    
    Melbourne Writers Festival blog    
    NorDocs (pp 33) [PDF]   
    Radio NZ: Nine to Noon    
    Saturday Paper    
    So You Want to Be a Writer podcast    
    South Sydney Herald     
    Sydney Morning Herald/Age   
    Sydney Review of Books   
    Sydney Writers Festival: Writing the Invisible    

    Fiona Murphy
    About the Author

    Fiona Murphy is a Deaf poet and essayist. Her work has been published in Kill Your Darlings, Overland, Griffith Review and the Big Issue, among other publications. In 2019, she was awarded the Overland Fair Australia Essay Prize and the Monash Undergraduate Creative Writing Prize. In 2018, she was shortlisted for the Richell Prize and highly...

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    30 March 2021
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    Praise for Fiona Murphy
    andThe Shape of Sound

    ‘I devoured this in a day, fascinated, enlightened, moved.’

    ‘In The Shape of Sound Fiona Murphy impressively turns the intimate yet inanimate sense of hearing into a tangible, tactical object to be shared and explored with readers. Through a personal lens, she investigates the social, environmental, economical and political impacts of deafness and disability with rigour, yet without ever losing a pervading humanity. The Shape of Sound is an impressive accomplishment, equally industrious and delicate, and an exciting addition to Australian disability literature.’

    ‘A unique voice that reveals the world anew. Mark the name Fiona Murphy.’

    ‘Fiona Murphy is a spectacular writer. Her memoir about keeping a medical secret close, then celebrating disability, Deaf identity and community, highlights the need to remove barriers to access and inclusion. The Shape of Sound is brilliant.’

    ‘Powerfully written—books like this restore the world.’

    ‘A beautifully crafted memoir describing the gifts of a life without sound.’

    ‘I have been waiting for Fiona Murphy’s debut: a memoir about the lived experience of deafness and a developing understanding of disability as cultural identity. There is no reading The Shape of Sound without wishing that every Australian would read it too.’

    The Shape of Sound is a game-changer, a book that challenges assumptions not only about what it means to be deaf, but what it takes to truly listen, communicate and connect.’

    The Shape of Sound is an exquisite, eloquent and poetic memoir. Fiona Murphy draws the reader into a different sensory world, and provides a devastating critique of a society that all too often punishes disability. A damn fine read.’

    ‘Full of heart and delving into what it means to inhabit flesh, blood, sound and movement. The Shape of Sound is definitely a book I will return to over the years, and gain more from with each read. A brilliant debut.’

    The Shape of Sound is about coming of age, and coming to terms with the unseen and unspoken forces that impinge upon a life lived in a disabled or different body. In this utterly gripping book, Murphy writes with candour and elegance, as she challenges how the reader sees the world.’

    ‘This book is an act of resistance. In her raw and unflinchingly honest memoir, Murphy tells the story of how she overcame shame and secrecy to claim her Deaf identity. An outstanding work and a must read.’

    ‘Beautifully written, honest and heartfelt, this is the book I needed years ago, when I was grappling with my own sense of self as a disabled person. As a musician, I was enthralled by how Fiona experiences music, and I marvelled in Fiona’s journey to true self-acceptance.’

    ‘“Deaf people feel and see sound: the entire body becomes a receptor,” Fiona Murphy writes in The Shape of Sound. You will feel and see this book. Every page vibrates with poetry and shines with brilliance. Murphy’s gorgeous prose is a doorway to a new world – and we readers are lucky to have her as a guide.’

    ‘Fiona Murphy’s writing – on the cost of concealment, the exclusion of others, and the mysteries and miracles of the human body – is so astute, generous and perceptive. There’s such wisdom here about what we can all learn in the quiet by paying attention.’

    ‘It is vital to read stories like this for their incredible insight, as Murphy navigates stigma, ableism and ideas of disability with reference to public space and her own time in the healthcare industry. The Shape of Sound presents wisdom hard-won through personal transformation, and Murphy’s story is compelling, honest and truly revelatory.’

    The Shape of Sound is wondrous…each sentence feels like a poem. It is a pleasure to open Fiona Murphy’s book and read her words.’

    ‘Beautifully written…[gives] profound insight into sound, into the experience of sound and language, in such new and interesting ways.’

    ‘Murphy’s personal story is one that reaches out to deaf and hearing people alike. It reveals the toils of stigma, the effects on one’s identity, the toll it exacts on social life…She shows through her own personal history what it is to carry a secret that impinges on every single interaction, every single day of one’s life.’

    ‘A brilliant and touching memoir that completely draws the reader in. Murphy doesn’t hold back, and I laughed with her and cried with her. There is complete vulnerability and honesty on every page…devastatingly powerful.’

    ‘Murphy writes incisively about the built environment, exploring how our health and wellbeing are significantly impacted by the design of our cities, suburbs and streetscapes. In a repudiation of the shame Murphy felt about her deafness, The Shape of Sound is about gaining deafness through culture and community.’

    ‘Tender, honest, poetic, and intellectually rigorous all at once. Murphy’s ability to blend everyday observation with critical theory and research on disability is a feat. This book punches well above its weight as a memoir – at once personal and political, humorous and serious.’

    ‘[Fiona Murphy] attends in fascinating detail to the body’s autonomy, and the physical stages of sound…The Shape of Sound’s compelling approach to sound, society, and disability contains the means to experience the world and the body in a deeper way.’

    ‘Murphy’s work…[asks] whether society can learn to mediate its needs and aversions, its desires and fears, according to the demands of those whose lives have often been ignored.’

    ‘Murphy’s writing is clear, spacious and unaffected, but also contains passages of heartbreaking lyricism…It’s an invigorating and thought-provoking achievement, as testimony and as literature.’

    ‘A powerful exploration of how social, political and economic factors shape the way we perceive and engage with disability…Fiona’s writing is beautiful and she skilfully breaks down preconceived ideas about sound…Incredibly compelling.’

    ‘Compelling and insightful…A thoughtful, generous and deeply honest book about sound and silence, secrets and community.’

    ‘Illuminating and an absolute breath of fresh air…Murphy’s attention to detail and her emphasis on language and language choices has really shone a light on how words and intentions matter….This book is such a gift.’

    ‘The range of imagery, as well as the poetry and precision of Murphy’s writing…sparkles like morning light on a diamond ring. The loveliness of her writing does not obscure the seriousness of her subject.’

    ‘Murphy writes with great insight and self-reflection.’

    ‘Generously, the author shares such personal experiences and takes us on a journey unimaginable to those without hearing loss…those able to address the issues raised should regard this as a blueprint from a truly knowledgeable insider.’

    ‘A tenderly written memoir that explores the author’s experience of coming to terms with her own deafness, which then forms a lens through which she talks about sound and silence and how our bodies move through the built environment. As a language nerd, I especially loved Murphy’s reflection on how Auslan and other signed languages build meaning and nuance through the whole body and its position in space.’

    The Shape of Sound encourages all readers to consider the ways in which the world embodies belonging, what types of bodies are fully enfranchised and how we can develop our awareness of difference.’

    Other editions ofThe Shape of Sound
    • The Shape of Sound
      ISBN: 9781925923919
      30 March 2021
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