‘Just one thing to make clear,’ she said, ‘I’d be astonished if any agent or publisher thought it was a good idea to write a trilogy on Katharine Susannah Prichard.’
I was hoping for something more like: I would be astonished if any agent or publisher turned down this manuscript. But I hired my editor for a manuscript assessment because of her frank and fearless advice and industry insight. I was glad to hear she considered it well written, but what stood out for her was my premise that the early life of KSP was worth an entire book. Did I provide some startling justification for this later in the manuscript? Did I have a better example of a similar undertaking other than Judith Wright? No and no.
I find long biographies overwhelming to read. I would like to spend three hundred pages in someone’s life at a time, but rarely six hundred, let alone nine hundred. Yet if I liked a biography enough, I would read two sequels over time. Fiction series are encouraged, a trilogy following the life and times of fictional characters. Why not for biography? Yet I can’t change the publishing industry. Off the top of my head, the examples of partial biographies I have found (some of them series) are William Shakespeare, Franz Kafka, T.S. Eliot, and Winston Churchill. I cannot make a strong claim that KSP belongs on that list. There is the early life of Judith Wright, published in 2016, a figure KSP could more easily bear comparison to. But I don’t think that book was the start of a publishing trend and nor was it the first of a trilogy.
The risk in submitting my early-life biography now is that it closes future doors for me if I do finish a complete biography – usually there’s only one opportunity to submit a manuscript to each agent or publisher. In addition, I don’t think I can cope with the rejection at this point.
The alternative, which fills me with a mix of despair and determination, is to spend the next two years (at least) writing the rest of KSP’s life. The scale is different – instead of 90k words times three, it will be more like 150k to 200k total. Part two (1919-1933), 60k; part three (1933-1969), another 60k. Not that the word count is a true indication of the work involved, but I will be dropping the crazy comprehensiveness of at least my first two years, when I thought that a great biographer would get to the bottom of every small mystery or clue.
I was desperate for my biography come out soon. It’s thirteen years since my first book was published and it’s painful to contemplate more years in the wilderness. But impatience has mainly caused me problems in my writing career and perhaps it’s time I tried its opposite.