It’s five years today since I officially started my biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard. This is starting to be a long time. The decade was young when I began and now it’s finishing. In fact, I was beginning just at the start of the centenary of the Great War, and I submitted my PhD thesis on Katharine’s early life in late June, just before the centenary of Armistice. My thesis lasted the length of the Great War; the whole biography – extending the story to the end of her life – will take somewhat longer.
I sort of limped to the finish line with the PhD. Not in terms of the quality of the thesis – I put everything into it, and it’s as good as I could possibly make it. But five years ago I had hopes of an academic career. I knew how broken the system was, how there might be one or two jobs for every one hundred PhD graduates in the humanities, yet I thought I would be the exception. Instead, I learned along the way that parenting two small children wasn’t going to leave time for the academic publications, the sessional teaching, and the networking I would need to have any hope of an academic career. I decided that rather than putting energy into a doomed attempt, I would focus on writing the biography (my main goal) and being the parent I needed to be.
There’s another factor which I had already anticipated – I’m not at home in any discipline and I’m not really fashionably interdisciplinary either. In an academic sense, I exist in the overlap between creative writing, history, and literary criticism – but I’m no longer creative enough for the first, I don’t have the formal background for the second, and the usual concerns of the third don’t excite me. However, I count my blessings – under two great supervisors, Tony Hughes d’Aeth and Van Ikin, I was able to do the sort of research I wanted to do within English and Cultural Studies at the University of Western Australia. I hope to maintain connections to academia, probably as an honorary research fellow, while accepting my accustomed position as something of an outsider. (Let’s be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way.)
In this last year, side-projects have kept taking me away from the biography itself. Maybe I’ve been unwise, but they were all worthy things. I mean, one was the introduction to my thesis, which was non-negotiable, and the endless fine-tuning before submission. And I was honoured to be the judge of three literary competitions, including the fiction and non-fiction sections of the KSP commemorative competition. I wrote an overview of Katharine’s life for the anthology from that competition. I wrote a paper on Katharine’s research trip to Kalgoorlie for the Australian literature conference in July. An editor asked for a scholarly essay on the status of Coonardoo after the critiques of its Aboriginal representation; she liked it, but the reviewers did not. And ahead of the fiftieth anniversary of Katharine’s death I’m about to submit a creative non-fiction piece on Katharine’s final year to a journal.
I did make some linear progress on the biography too. Finished off 1933 – Katharine’s trip to Soviet Union and Hugo’s suicide. Wrote half of the next chapter, including much of the Egon Kisch affair, and am stalled in 1935. Wrote a bit of a 1941 chapter. Have the beginnings of the 1969 chapter.
Most importantly of all, last month I had a meeting with a publisher who liked the chapter I sent and wants to see more; next priority is revising a big section to send her. Hope I haven’t jinxed it by mentioning it!