Letter to my newborn daughter

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Dear girl,

You came into the world on a Monday afternoon at the end of winter. That winter felt like it had gone on as long as the pregnancy, days of rain and gloom and your mum perpetually sick. Wanting to bring you into the world was an act of hope on our part – yet it comes with the long anxious reality of waiting in uncertainty. Will you be okay? It doesn’t end now you’ve come out into the world; it’s only been intensified in these first nights of late-night television and islands of sleep. Oh, hope and fear usually go together – maybe by the time you read this, you’ll have started to understand that about the world. Continue reading

The Biographer’s Lover by Ruby Murray

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Novels about biographers form a rich subgenre of twentieth and twenty-first century fiction. Henry James’ Aspern Papers (1888) is one of the earliest; A.S. Byatt’s Possession (1990) is another landmark. I wrote about the subgenre for my creative writing dissertation to accompany my own unpublished attempt, “The Remains” (earlier title “Immortalities”). It was this project that made me decide I wanted to be a biographer myself. Usually, biographer novels take on the form of a quest – the quest for truth of the subject’s life, often involving the recovery of lost letters or diaries. Australia has its own examples of the genre, including Louis Nowra’s Ice (2008 – Lisa’s review and mine) and Virginia Duigan’s The Biographer (2008). In her second novel, The Biographer’s Lover (Black Inc, 2018), Ruby Murray has created a compelling Australian biographical quest narrative that works within many of the conventions of the subgenre while adding its own rich elements.

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The 28th, 29th, and 30th prime ministers: a memoir

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Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, September 2013.

The day Tony Abbott became prime minister we were in Lauterbrunnen, a town in the Swiss Alps, the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. For the second night, we were eating at a restaurant run by an Australian. He was jubilant about the result. I was quiet, melancholic, and suddenly unhappy to be in his restaurant, sitting outside in the dusk. He was going on about the mess the ALP had made of things and I couldn’t possibly be sorry to see that over. I was sorry, sorry it hadn’t worked out better, sorry for the tragedy set off by Rudd’s character flaws. But the ALP wasn’t my party and I made no more than a cryptic suggestion to him that it was complicated for us; if he thought Abbott was a good idea, there was no point telling him how far left we’d voted. We went to a different restaurant the last night in Lauterbrunnen, even though his food had been good. Continue reading

My further biographical adventures: year four of the quest for Katharine Susannah Prichard

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Katharine Susannah Prichard, from Perth’s Daily Mail, 26 September 1929, courtesy of Trove. Most of the information in the original caption is wrong.

I started my Katharine Susannah Prichard biography four years ago. Measuring progress by her life (1883 to 1969), this time last year, I was in 1919, just finishing part one; I’m now in 1933 – the most important one of her life – near the end of part two of the book. Continue reading

Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey by Frances Wilson

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Francis Wilson, Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey (Bloomsbury, 2016) 397 pages.

The English essayist Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859) was an infuriating person to know. Frances Wilson tells of how he might drop in on a person for a meal and still be at the table the next morning; he could then become a semi-invited or uninvited lodger for months. He would fill up rooms or houses he rented with books and papers, neglect to pay the rent, and then flee to a new lodging, leaving behind many of his possessions. He was, famously, an opium addict (author of Confessions of an English Opium Eater), and obsessed with William Wordsworth; his discipleship of the great Romantic poet turned to an intense disenchantment. It’s not a ‘journey into hell’ as the reviewer-quote on the front suggests, but it is a journey into the life and pain of an addict, and one who seems peculiarly contemporary. Continue reading

The Little Free Library

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I’m drawn, of course, to the three little free libraries in my neighbourhood. They’re waterproof cabinets in public places filled with books; anyone can come and take one with the hope they’ll leave one too. There’s one in my local park, just a hundred metres from my house, and it gives me an extra thing to look forward to when I take Thomas to the playground there. I’m always hoping to find a book I would love to read, and I’m pleased when I have a good book to leave, but as much as these things, I’m also ready to be intrigued and horrified by the books I would never read and the things they say about local reading habits and the economics of free things.

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Katharine Susannah Prichard and Greenmount: the Biography and Literature of a Writer at Home

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1967 - Katharine in colour - KSPWC

Katharine Susannah Prichard in her garden in 1967 (Source: KSP Writers’ Centre)

Saturday 10am #9

This is a paper I presented at the Limina Conference at the University of Western Australia on 27 July 2018. The conference theme was “Home: Belonging and Displacement”.

In her memoir, Perth journalist Justina Williams describes seeing Katharine Susannah Prichard’s house for the first time in the 1930s:

 [My uncle] Harry… gave up Sundays to drive us all in the A-model Ford… on an excursion to the hills… Ascending Greenmount’s steep stretch, the radiator fulfilled all [Grandma’s] fears by boiling over.

The car stopped at the junction of Old York Road—the original route to the Eastern Goldfields—and the Great Eastern Highway, almost at the gate of a small wooden cottage half hidden by pale blue plumbago and tangled grape vines. A red witch lived there, Grandma said, named Mrs Throssell… ‘She’s quite a famous writer… An awful scandal about her book…’

My desire to meet her stirred…. [But] [t]he house was empty. Harry got some water somewhere else and we moved on.[1]

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Winter: a memoir

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1897 Winter

“Winter”, Melbourne Punch, 3 June 1897, 18. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article174626116

Saturday 10am #6

The trip to Canberra in July two years ago is my most vivid winter memory. We were staying on the outskirts at the edge of the mountains, and on our first day we were walking at midday in cold, crisp air while the sun shone in a cloudless sky, a lemony light. I love winter sun and this was its most pure expression. Other days of true cold, where it hurt to even be outside, wind, rain – all those winter things. Perhaps I glimpsed snow for the first time on a hilltop. And nights – I’d never experienced negative six degrees before. But the slate floor was heated, a warm presence.  I could live in Canberra, if the chance arose. Continue reading