It’s always a beautiful shock to see Katharine Susannah Prichard in colour. This photo comes from my KSP Writers’ Centre column in May. I’ve written four columns about the heritage of the house itself, with more to come later when I’ve done further research. Katharine lived at the house in Greenmount for nearly fifty years, and the centre hopes to install a series of heritage plaques. The columns are available to read on the KSPWC website:
Biographers are vastly outnumbered by novelists, poets, and probably playwrights. We need to stick together more. I’ve started a new Facebook group called Biographers’ Forum – ‘The art, the joys, and the woes of biography. A place for those writing researched biographies to converse and share resources, tips, reviews, stories, and news.’ https://www.facebook.com/groups/571559926526111/?hc_location=group … It is already trans-Pacific with its first two members, Laura and me. Michelle and Janine and other biographers who read this blog – if you’re on Facebook it would be great to have you there! And for everyone else, if you know any biographers, please do invite them.
Over at “The Australian Legend”, Bill has an interesting interview with biographer Sarah Goldman, author of Caroline Chisholm: An Irresistible Force. I started out my biography in fear someone else would publish one on my subject before me; that actually happened to Goldman, and it was still okay, as she explains in answer to one of Bill’s questions.
Caroline Chisholm: An Irresistible Force by Sarah Goldman is the recently released biography of one of the most interesting and influential women in Australia’s early history. My review copy arrived with a letter suggesting Sarah would be happy to be interviewed, so I sent her some questions to which she has been kind enough to give extensive answers. I didn’t let on, but this is my first interview.
Lisa Hill of ANZ Litlovers has reviewed Katharine Susannah Prichard’s novel, Haxby’s Circus (1930). It’s a sympathetic and astute review, giving a good sense of its themes and characters.
It comes the same week I’ve been writing about Haxby’s Circus in my biography. In the comments on Lisa’s review, Fay Kennedy mentions the origins of the novel in an incident when Katharine was at her brother’s surgery comforting a trapeze artist with a broken back. She writes about it in her autobiography, Child of the Hurricane. The incident was reported in a number of newspaper digitised on Trove, including the last paragraph in this article “District News” Cohuna Farmer’s Weekly (Vic), 23 November 1917, 3:
It comes right in the middle of the second conscription campaign, and an intense time in Katharine’s life. So much happened in Katharine’s life in 1917 – two deaths, a broken heart, and political development. It’s been a big month trying to cover it all.
In the midst of the many disturbing social, environmental and economic policies of the incumbent federal coalition government, its treatment of writers has not been prominent in the national consciousness. But Mr Brandis, the arts minister, has taken away millions from the Australia Council for the Arts to administer himself. This includes all the funding for writers, and writers of Australia have now been living in uncertainty for a considerable time while the new arrangement has not been announced. Kate Forsyth has written a “A small and very polite rant about the importance of writers to the world” directed at Mr Brandis. It concludes with some innovative additional ways forward for funding writers better, including letting writers write on the dole, and exempting writing income from tax. Two ideas well-worth considering.
As you may know, I have a separate biography blog, A Biographer in Perth, concerned with the life of Katharine Susannah Prichard and the art of biography, topics slightly more specialised than this present blog, which aims at a more general audience. But some topics fall between the stools, like perhaps Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career. You can read some stray thoughts on it from me, which add up to a partial review; and also a post on its connections with Katharine Susannah Prichard. There’s also a link on the other blog so you can follow it by email.
My novelette, “The Zealot”, is now available from Review of Australian Fiction as an ebook. Set on the streets of Perth in the tumultuous year of 2001, it’s about a student activist torn between his ideals and his love for his housemate. It’s for anyone who’s ever lived in a share-house, wondered what the meaning of it all is, or that matter, been eighteen years old at some point in their life. You can download it to your smartphone, tablet or computer (epub or kindle) for $2.99; it comes with a story by acclaimed writer Ryan O’Neill. I’ve been working on this piece, on and off, since 2002, and I’d be so glad if you read it. You might want to subscribe to RAF – $12.99 for six issues.
Publishing this piece brings a long saga to an end. After I finished The Fur, I wanted to write a short, punchy novel about the activist scene in Perth, with the energy and anarchy of Fight Club (the film and the novel). I was in too much of a hurry, and too eager to saddle my characters with my (then) ideologies. I went through years of rewrites. In retrospect, I’m glad the novel I wrote wasn’t published, as heartbreaking as it was.
I came back to it in December, and with new eyes I saw what was redeemable in it. I cut out 80% of the novel, leaving just the parts written through the perspective of Leo, who hadn’t been the protagonist. I did one more rewrite, feeling a new clarity about what I now wanted to say and do. I felt I’d learned so much about narrative and structure in the intervening years. What has emerged is a 12,000 word novelette, with not a gram of fat on it.
I’ve been very interested in biography lately, and my reflections on that deserve their own home, given they are a little specialised. If you’re interested in my thoughts on the art of biography, please visit “A Biographer In Perth” – http://biographerinperth.wordpress.com/.
It’s been the experience of writing a novel about a biographer over the last five years which has sparked my interest in biography. I’ve realised it’s a genre with such potential, sitting between literature and history. It’s a genre which attempts to recover lost time, and to make the dead live again. Or perhaps it attempts to do neither of those things, but only to put in order the fragments of individual lives, the traces they’ve left behind. It’s a personal approach to the past, and involves assembling a narrative from the archives, testing the writer’s skills of synthesis, structure and theme. It seems a noble pursuit to me.
I will be continuing to update this blog with more general matters, and An Anabaptist in Perth with matters theological.
It is a joy to discover someone who shares your quaint pleasures. I love to find ephemera in old books, a regular occurrence in my library. My theological librarian colleague Philip Harvey shares my interest. I sent him the passage in my new novel which touches on it, and I was chuffed that he quoted it in an excellent and wide-ranging post on the traces left behind in second-hand books. You can find it here.
My novel-in-progress is about im/mortalities; so it’s fascinating to stumble upon the story of Henrietta Lacks, a woman who died in 1951, but whose rare cells have been replicated in laboratories around the world to the point where there are 50 million tons of them. And this without her permission or her familly’s benefit. The tattered black and white photo of her on this post is haunting.