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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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

Impasse in the land of Narnia: bad covers, poor bindings, and a sentimental attachment

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Saturday 10am #5

The free books shelf at the front of my library is filled with donated books which haven’t made the cut for the booksale we run. It throws up hidden gems and many ghastly paperbacks, and some which are both, like the two at the top published by American company Collier in 1980. They are not only easily the worst of the many covers I’ve seen for C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia – they are possibly the worst covers (or the best bad covers) I’ve ever seen. The pictures look like the work of an average high school art student obsessed with swords and sorcery. The design looks suspiciously similar to the early covers of the Choose Your Own Adventure series, which Bantam had started publishing with massive sales in 1979.  The inside text, for reasons unknown, has slightly clumsily redrawn versions of Pauline Baynes’s charming 1950s line drawings from the original edition. Continue reading

How to start a biography?

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Katharine Susannah Prichard looking out from her workroom. From This Australia 1985, date of photograph ca. 1930s.

Saturday 10am #4

I’ve decided to write a conventional biography for my first one, ‘cradle to grave’ as it’s called. Because of that, I feel the need to start with an introduction that grips readers and gives them a taste of Katharine’s life, why it matters, and some of what lies ahead in the narrative. Perhaps this is misguided; I just picked up Jill Roe’s Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography off my shelf and she starts in 1879 with Franklin’s birth. Yet as acclaimed as Roe’s biography has been, it didn’t grip me. And Miles Franklin has a name recognition today which Katharine doesn’t have. Continue reading