I’ve set up an online shop for signed copies of The Red Witch delivered to your door anywhere in Australia. It could make a great Christmas or birthday present. Please ‘add a note for seller’ if you would like an inscription.
Nathan Hobby’s biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard is an eloquent and powerful tracing of the life of one of Australia’s once most celebrated writers. It is a compelling tale that will be valued by general readers and scholars of literature and history. Typically, the Miegunyah Press has published a beautifully finished book that adheres to its well-established values of excellence in every facet of presentation.
Katharine Susannah Prichard first voted in the 1906 federal election. Victoria had not yet given women the vote at a state level, but they were able to vote federally. She had just turned 23, and she didn’t dare tell her father that she voted for the Labor party. He had just been in a mental institution after suffering severe depression, and she knew he would take her vote very badly. He was a conservative, railing against a minimum wage and welfare in his newspaper columns.
Katharine had met a visiting socialist earlier that year, Rudolf Broda, who believed Australia was a beacon of hope for the world. Australia was one of the most progressive countries in the world, opening up the vote to women and about to hand down the court ruling establishing a living wage that could keep a family in the necessities of life. She was very taken with Broda and his pot-belly and enthusiasm. He was an optimist who believed a better society could be achieved through reform. He was an early key influence pushing her to the left.
By the end of her life, Katharine had to contend with an Australia which was not a beacon of hope for the world when it came to a more just and fair society. She lived the last twenty years of her life under a government of the newly formed Liberal Party, most of them under her nemesis Robert Menzies. (Yet the Liberal Party of those years, in my understanding, cared deeply about avoiding corruption and guarding against deep inequality and poverty. The party of Menzies is not the party of Morrison.)
At the pivotal 1949 federal election in which the Liberals came to power, Katharine’s friend Dr Alec Jolly stood as the Communist Party candidate for the seat of Swan. Although he was a Midland councillor, the council forbade him as a communist candidate from hiring the town hall. So he held the rally outside his house on Great Eastern Highway. Anti-communist protestors came to disrupt the meeting, singing ‘Waltzing Matilda’ in unison as loudly as they could. Katharine was the celebrity guest, declaring ‘In this most critical period of Australian history, is up to all of us to use our courage and common sense to fight the gang of millionaires, warmongers, unscrupulous politicians, and their henchmen.’
Katharine would vote for the Socialist Alliance today. But they’re probably not going to win any seats, and I would like to think she would recognise that climate change is the most important issue facing us and to vote for candidates standing for stronger action than the incumbents.
One of my hopes as I was working on the Katharine Susannah Prichard biography was that it would be published before Phillip Adams retired as a radio broadcaster and I would have a chance to be on Late Night Live with him. The hope came true last night! I was honoured to be a guest for a LNL special on the Prichard and Throssell family alongside KSP’s granddaughter, Karen Throssell. You can listen to it here.
Today, I am on ABC Pilbara at 10:45am AWST and on ABC Perth after the 2:00pm AWST news for the History Repeated segment with Dr Kate Gregory, Battye Librarian.
I have some in-person events coming up too:
State Library of Western Australia, Wed 25 May, 6:00pm – in conversation with Dr Kate Gregory – bookings here.
Boya Community Centre, Mon 20 June, 6:00pm – bookings here.
And an online event for Love to Read Local, organised by Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre, Fri 10 June, 6:00pm – in conversation with Elizabeth Lewis – bookings here.
My book will be for sale at the in-person events. In the meantime, if you’re trying to find a copy, I’m aware that the following places have stock:
Beaufort Street Books Mt Lawley (49 copies!)
Lane Bookshop, Claremont (am hoping to sign their copies this afternoon)
Boffins Books, Perth
Readings – Carlton and State Library of Victoria
Roaring Stories, Balmain
Dymocks, Canberra Centre
There’s plenty of other places, I’m sure. If you’re after the ebook, you can buy it directly from your publisher, or the Kindle edition is now available too.
This is a review I will always treasure! I have been so encouraged by Lisa Hill of ANZLitlovers along the way of researching and writing my biography and I’m thrilled she liked my book so much. I actually reference Lisa at a critical point in the book – her review of Coonardoo highlights a discussion of Aboriginal massacres that has been overlooked in some of the scholarship about the novel.
It means a lot to be put alongside Hazel Rowley’s Christina Stead (not to mention the other biographies Lisa lists!) – I found that biography in a secondhand bookshop in Glenelg in April 2014 a few months before I officially started and was so impressed by it I decided I had found a model to aspire to.
Having come to the end of Nathan Hobby’s superb new biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard (1883-1969), I’ve come to the conclusion that I would have liked her very much — but I’m not sure that she would have liked me! Despite all the circumstances against her, she was brave in contesting the prevailing political climate, tenacious in pursuing her craft as an author and generous to a fault. But she fell out with longstanding friends who didn’t share her political views and I probably would have been one of those.
But I would still have bought KSP’s books. Indeed, I still am. Reading the bio prompted me to buy two more, so that in addition to those I’ve already reviewed, now I’ve added her last novel Subtle Flame (1967) and her second short story collection Potch and Colour (1944) to my existing Prichard TBR i.e. Working Bullocks (1926)…
My first copy of The Red Witch: A Biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard arrived in February and the book became a lot more real to me! We opened a good bottle of Cab Merlot from 2014, the year I began the biography, but alas it didn’t go well with packet sweet and sour chicken which had already been made. I’m so happy with how MUP have published it, from the design to the printing and not to forget the editing. The official publication date has been put back to 17 May due to delays at the ports, but I’ve been assured there were still be copies at my launch eight days earlier. Here’s details of some events taking place:
Here’s the cover for my biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard! The Red Witch is now available for pre-order from the publisher’s website ahead of the 3 May 2022 release in hardback and ebook – https://www.mup.com.au/books/the-red-witch-hardback. It’s still five months away, but feeling much closer with this. I’m so pleased it will be published in hardback and under the Miegunyah imprint of Melbourne University Publishing. The cover uses a 1949 photograph by D. Glass of Katharine in her sitting room at Greenmount. So happy with the design. I hope to speak about the book somewhere near you next year – will just have to see what Covid (and WA) does.
It’s not easy knowing how to start a biography. The preface to my biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard went through a number of versions. Talking to a respected literary figure, she advised I write about why I had written the book because people would want to know. I don’t appear at all in the body of the biography, but it is a long-standing convention to tell something of the biographer’s quest in the preface, so it seemed like good advice and I followed it. I was quite happy with it as an introduction to a biography for a general readership. But one of the anonymous peer reviewers felt it didn’t work: ‘the preface draws tenuous links between the life of the subject and that of the author, and admits (no doubt unintentionally) a kind of obsessiveness, not unlike that asserted with regard to [certain figures in the biography]. I understand that with this gesture the author is attempting to acknowledge his standpoint, but it doesn’t work.’ Maybe the reviewer is right, and/or maybe it was a little mean to call me obsessive when that’s what biographers do, and my tone is more whimsical or self-deprecating than seems to be appreciated. Whatever the case, the published book – when it finally comes out in April 2022 (yes, the date has been pushed back) – will have a quite different preface, which makes a case for Katharine’s significance and outlines the approach I have taken. I’m very happy with that preface too. But for what it’s worth, here’s one of my lost prefaces that is possibly obsessive and self-indulgent in laying out why a non-communist male (somewhat) Anglican is writing the story of a long-dead female communist.
The first thing I did when I started writing a biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard was to read all of her novels, roughly in order. I even found a rare copy of her rarest novel, Windlestraws (1916) at just the right time. But I didn’t find a copy of her second rarest novel, Moon of Desire (1941) – at least not at a price I wanted to pay – and so it languished unread, as I marched on with other more pressing things. She rated it lowly herself, explicitly writing an action-filled romance when she was short of money in the hope of it selling well and being optioned as a Hollywood film.
Here I am in the Officeworks carpark on Thursday signing a contract with Melbourne University Publishing for my biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard.
I have to submit it by 1 September (gulp – this has become a bit harder since isolation, now there are children with us all the time). The publisher has let me go to 150,000 words (about 500 pages) – twice as long as my PhD, which only covered the first part of Katharine’s life. I have two chapters to finish off, then an immense amount of editing to do. (Alas I’m at 159,000 words right now, so it shall include more cutting!) It’ll be published in the first half of 2021. Really hoping I can have a book launch by then. A national tour would be nice, children permitting.
It’s been a long road, six years working on this, and sixteen years in the literary wilderness since my first book, so it means a lot to finally be coming back. Thanks to everyone who’s accompanied me along the way.
I miss blogging. Once I’m done, I’d love to get back to it. At the moment, time has become rather scarce. I miss you all!