Had an epic conversation about Katharine Prichard with Riley Buchanan on Radio Fremantle yesterday. (May never again encounter such an astute, well-prepared interviewer!) You can listen here until Friday; talking starts at 14 min: http://220.127.116.11:8001/shows_this_week/fri-11_00.mp3
Katharine Susannah Prichard and Hugo Throssell were engaged one hundred years ago at the end of World War One. I wrote about their whirlwind courtship in a column for the KSP Writers’ Centre here. Also, December’s column features a piece of my biography I’ve cut – Katharine’s obsession with lavender in London; you can read it here.
As promised, part two of this blog’s greatest hits!
Statistics have a way of humbling us, I think. My most popular post of all time, by a long way, is a rather prosaic summary of my favourite novel, Paul Auster’s Moon Palace – sitting on 9855 hits. In writing it, I was just trying to remember the details better, but unwittingly I created an essential resource for students who have Moon Palace as a set text and don’t want to actually read it. I have actively contributed to about 9000 people not reading my favourite novel. Continue reading
Michelle Scott Tucker at Adventures in Biography and I both happen to be in the midst of cutting anecdotes and details from our biographies which distract from the main narrative. She has found a potential use for them: in author’s talks! It’s a good idea to try to give the audience something different.
I tweeted about my editing process on the weekend: “Criteria for keeping scenes in my biography: Does it connect to anything later on or is it an orphaned anecdote? Does it matter to my readers? Eg: sorry Madame Marchesi, you’re not connected & you’re not so famous as when KSP wrote her autobiography.”
What should biographers do with all the wonderful stories – or snippets – they discover along the way but can’t include in their books?
Many biographers do, of course, include them. But readers often don’t like it – for example wonderful reviewer Whispering Gums recently discussed a biography she enjoyed, but felt contained too much extraneous detail. And, I’ll confess, as a reader I feel the same way. I just want to read about the biographical subject, please.
But as a writer? Of course I want to include all the details! Because I’m assuming the reader is every bit as obsessed by the subject as I am – which is, tragically but patently, untrue. All those extra details, every little meandering away from the main subject, are crucial to the writer’s understanding but frankly unnecessary to the reader’s.
However, Nathan Hobby, A Biographer in Perth, raises…
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The quest to find out about Wandu, the house Katharine Susannah Prichard and Hugo Throssell lived in 1919, led to some interesting discoveries last month, some of which I wrote about for my column for KSP Writers’s Centre – it’s now up on their website.
There was a grand old house in Greenmount called ‘Wandu’. A teenage girl accidentally shot the surveyor-general there in 1915. Katharine Susannah Prichard rented it in 1919. Then, for decades, it was a guest-house and social hub for the district. I wrote a piece on it for my monthly KSP Writers’ Centre column; I’d love to uncover a photo of it.
UPDATE 11 OCTOBER 2017
I’ve uncovered a photograph, under the alternative spelling ‘Wandoo’. It’s not quite as grand looking as I imagined, but here’s a 1931 ad for the house Katharine and Hugo lived in when they first moved to Perth.
I wrote a short review of Katharine’s 1948 novel, Golden Miles, for my monthly column in the KSP Writers’ Centre newsletter and it’s now up on the centre’s website.
The Guardian has an interesting article today on the rise of “comic-book biographies”. It notes an important antecedent – Art Spiegelman’s Maus – which I read and enjoyed for a unit I was tutoring last year. That was the story of the author imagining his father’s unimaginable Holocaust story; it had elements of autobiography as well as biography. This is different – comic-book treatment of key scenes in the lives of famous figures like Einstein. It sounds like a good thing, but more the equivalent of historical fiction than biography-proper. To the extent that the creators have moved beyond the historical evidence to imagine the scene more fully, they are fictionalising. It reminds me of my surprise / irritation that great biographies are often adapted as “biopics” rather than documentaries. I like biopics, but the filmic equivalent of a biography is surely the documentary, with its weaving together of sources rather than the fictionalised illusion of a fully-realised world offered by a feature film.
I have a two-page memoir called “Archaeologist” in the new special issue of Westerly. It’s a free download in pdf or epub from https://westerlymag.com.au/issues/westerly-crossings/.
Editors Amy Hilhorst (UWA) and Owen Bullock (University of Canberra) write in the introduction:
This special issue of Westerly is a collaboration between the creative writing students of the University of Western Australia (UWA), and those from the International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI), based at the University of Canberra (UC). It aims to showcase and celebrate the creative and critical work conducted by current or recent postgraduates, and undergraduates, at these two institutions. Reaching across the Nullarbor from west to east, this issue offers a snapshot of some of the best writing from the respective corners of Australia. In curating this material together, we aim to foreground the connections and contrasts in the stories of our students. These short stories, novel excerpts, essays and poems have been commissioned by co-editors who are also completing postgraduate study. It is, then, an issue for students and by students, and aims to give readers an insight into the exceptional standard of work being written in the postgrad study rooms, shared offices and library carrels of UWA and UC.
I’m looking forward to reading the other contributions. Many of the UWA writers are part of the Words and Thoughts postgrad creative writing group with me.
I wrote my piece just after my son was born in 2015. I was suddenly taken with a desire to remember my childhood. I was originally imagining an entire book-length memoir of occupations I have dreamed of / abandoned / actually done, including not just archaeologist, but the Phantom, lawyer, pastor, novelist, counterhand, librarian, and biographer. But I only wrote the first one; its another book that I’m not going to write just yet.
One of the most interesting things to happen in my research this year has been the discovery of “lost” letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard and new insight into the circumstances of Cyril Cook’s 1950 thesis on Katharine. It was my AS Byatt’s Possession moment, and I wrote about it for the KSP Writers Centre newsletter; read about it on the KSPWC website!