"A standout read for young adults.... Burke nails the angst, anger and tenderness displayed by her lead character and, despite the serious theme, she’s not the slightest bit preachy." - The Age, December 23, 2005.

The Story Of Tom Brennan




Slovenian Edition


For Tom, a seventeen year old from the country town of Mumbilli, life is simply about rugby, his mates and his family who are highly respected and involved in their small community.

A 'sudden death' rugby victory and what was meant to be a night of celebration instead becomes the night Tom's life changes forever. 

Daniel Brennan, Tom's older brother by 20 months starts a fight at the party. Daniel is drunk and his dark moods known by all cause him to accuse his cousin Fin, of trying to steal his girlfriend. Fin, younger by two weeks has lived in Daniel's shadow yet worshipped and trusted him all his life.

That night, Daniel's rage extends to behind the wheel and they are involved in a car accident. Fin suffers irreversible spinal injuries. The other two passengers, teenagers from their town, are killed.

The worlds' of Tom, his family and the town of Mumbilli explode, forcing Tom to question exactly who he thought the Brennan's were and who they are now.

Daniel is sent to jail and the Brennan's leave town. They move to Tom's Grandmother's in Coghill- an old house whose dark walls are covered in Patron Saints. And here Tom's strange new life begins.

Tom and his sister Kylie start their new school year at St Bennies whilst their mother takes to her bed and their father plays the game of 'tiptoe' as he tries to balance the pain of his family with the debt of his paralysed nephew.

What Tom thinks he misses most is football, especially playing with his brother Daniel a winning partnership of halfback and five-eight followed closely by the local paper as 'The Legend of the Brennan Brothers.'

Now Tom must join St Bennies rugby team, known as the team that 'couldn't catch a cold'. But there are lessons to be learnt as Tom is reminded that a great team is one that plays with unity and spirit.

Brendan, the boys' uncle, is the middleman. Tom and Brendan start running together in the morning and it's only then Tom begins to relive his memories of Daniel – some good and to Tom's realisation some suggesting how they'd come to this.

Brendan suggests they train for something. So plans are made to trek to the Mount Everest Base Camp and Tom prepares for the gruelling task of climbing a mountain.

But the past is never far away. Daniel is racked with guilt and blackness to the point he is transferred to the prison's crisis care unit. And at the hospital Fin lies there angry and bitter. There's still the footy game against his old team St John's and Daniel and Fin's birthday. The St Bennies football camp different to the St John's calculated and slick operation and Kylie, his angry sister who spills the guts of their family in a public speaking competition.

Through the fog of everyone's pain and guilt Tom begins to see what he misses most – himself. It is with Chrissy Tulake, the beautiful Tongan girl who sings in the church choir, that Tom begins to remember who he was and who he still is.

'The Story of Tom Brennan' weaves the past into the present, a sense of Tom's loss never being far away. But Tom is a survivor. He loves his brother Daniel regardless of what he did that night and is glad his brother lived. But as much as Daniel, Tom needs a ticket out of the past and through his journey he finds it in many ways. It's a story about family love and loss, secrets and revelations and making sense of a past that once Tom had thought perfect.


2006 CBCA Book of the Year - Older Readers

2006 australian Family Therapists Award

HSC ‘Into the World’

HSC ‘Transitions’ 2014-2020

Shortlisted for the 2006 Australian Publishers Association Design Awards – Older Readers

Shortlisted for the 2007 Childrens’ Peace Literature Award


"Tom narrates the story, reluctantly releasing information about the incidents that lead up to the traumatic destruction of four families. We watch their painful and total loss of self, then the slow edging towards recovery...." - Good Readings Magazine, November 2005

"Horrible car accidents involving young people, isolated roads and booze are a reality of country and city life. While we all see the effect in the weekly road toll figures, the impact on the living – whether physically or emotionally scarred – is more hidden. Burke gently probes the pain suffered by Tom and his family and uncovers, realistically, some of what goes on behind the headlines." - Eliza Metcalfe, Bookseller & Publisher, September 2005

"A must read for all teens." - David Koch, Channel 7 Sunrise

"I sometimes wonder if some of the best realism being written in this country isn’t aimed at the under 18’s." - The Age, Saturday October 29 2005

"Make no mistake, this is very tough, confronting reading from time to time. That said, this is also a book about resilience...." - Sunday Tasmanian, August 6, 2006

"Burke’s latest novel is beautifully moody, with intense sorrow soothed by instances of love and humour." -  The Sydney Morning Heralld, August 19, 2006.

The Process

One day I was having a conversation with my mother-in-law about mothers and sons. She has one son, who is my husband and I have one son. We were discussing how it was a complex relationship and did we feel the need to protect our sons in a different way to our daughters. It wasn’t a big, deep and meaningful one, just a general chat and soon we were onto a different topic. Yet, for some reason the conversation stayed with me and started to grow in my head.

These were the questions I had and the thoughts that followed:

  • As a mother do we treat our children differently and why?
  • Is it that we know or think that one child can tolerate more/or less than another and does this ultimately affect the child’s behaviour and path in life?
  • Do we put less boundaries in front of our sons, less rules and restrictions yet feel the need to protect them and buffer their falls more than our daughters?
  • Do we have more rules and restrictions for our daughters yet expect them to cope better than our sons?

From there, the questions shifted away from children and onto families as a whole. Families are like political systems. There’s a boss, a spin doctor, an underdog, a primadonna and many more varieties. Why is it in a family that there’s always one member who sets the mood and the tone? In some cases it’s a parent, in others it’s one of the children, but the point is that this member holds ‘the power’ and has great influence over the family’s well being. IE- when they are in a ‘good’ mood everything’s fine and everyone’s relaxed BUT when they are in a ‘bad’ mood everyone becomes anxious and treads on egg shells. In many families, these ‘powerful’ members are often not expected to be as ‘accountable’ for their actions as the others.

As with all my novels, the idea starts with a series of questions that aren’t necessarily answered. But after I’ve turned these questions around in my head I then start to play the game of ‘Hypothetical’ and it’s in this stage that I start to see characters and a story emerge.

This was the ‘Hypothetical’ I started off with in Tom Brennan.

Just say........ there was a brother, probably the first born, who was the ‘powerful’ one in the family and set the mood. Because of this, Mum and Dad treat him differently, placate him more than the other kids, allow him to ‘get away’ with behaviour all for the sake of peace in the family. BUT then... just say, there’s another brother, a little younger, who is easy going and cooperative; who doesn’t push the boundaries and manipulate the rules; who is always held to account and made to understand the consequences of their actions (not picked on); who’s dealt with fairly and not indulged.

After playing this game of ‘Hypothetical’ I had found the characters of Tom and Daniel Brennan. But the ‘Just say...’ game never ends there.

This is the next one. Just say.... the brother (Daniel) who’s always got away with everything does something terrible one day (an accident, not intentional). So terrible that the immediate and extended family, the town, the peripherey all suffer the consequences. If this happened, what would happen to the other brother (Tom)? Would his life change? Would he be punished even though he’s done nothing wrong? Merely guilty by association. And how would this brother (Tom) cope in contrast to the other brother (Daniel). Who would be more resiliant?

Early on in the process of thinking about the story I knew I wanted to tell it in the viewpoint of the younger brother. ‘The innocent bystander’, the one who’s done nothing wrong but still has to suffer the consequences. To me, this was a more interesting viewpoint to look out from.

Now at this stage, I buy a notebook and jot these ideas down. It helps me to see these things written on the page. It’s the way I start to understand the other characters that will be needed in the story; the events that need to take place etc etc.

In Resources for Tom Brennan, Explanatory Notes Part 2, p 25 onwards are examples of my note book writings. The earliest thoughts I had are seen on some of these pages such as names of characters, areas that I needed to research, events and the very first page on who I wanted Tom to be and what I wanted him to experience.
Page 3 is Tom’s mood line throughout the novel. The ‘yellow highlights’ the chapters when Tom feels that life is hopeless. The ‘pink highlights’ when Tom starts to feel hope and gains more control over his life. Sometimes I need to be this methodical and careful when I’m writing. A mood line like this, helped to keep track of Tom’s mood.
There are also examples of pages from earlier drafts, the different ending of the story, suggestions from my editors and general scribble that’s always a part of getting a story together.
The youtube video is me speaking about the very personal side of Tom Brennan and how it relates to my own life.
** Explanatory Notes Part 1 and 2 go together.

Song/s I played