Going out of print: a brief history



Saturday 10am #2

The publisher of my novel has destroyed the unsold copies, I suspect. They haven’t told me this; they haven’t told me anything for years. But first I happened to notice it going cheaply late last year and bought some copies. Then, last month, I was visiting the publisher’s online store and saw the promising heading ‘TAG Hungerford Award Winners’, of which I am one, and clicked on it, only to find my book and the other winners before 2003 wiped away. I started searching for other books which used to be available and almost anything more than ten years old was gone. And finally, a bookseller told me she had tried to order a copy of a book from this publisher, only to be told they no longer had any stock; perhaps she should contact the author directly. There are two things for me to deal with, then. First, my grievance that the publisher didn’t offer me a chance to buy copies before their destruction – a final insult, but I won’t dwell further on that. Second, the fact I have gone out of print.  Continue reading

Katharine Susannah Prichard Heritage Trail


1967 - Katharine in colour - KSPWC

Katharine Susannah Prichard in her garden, 1967. Photo: KSP Writers’ Centre archives.

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:

#1 The Workroom

#2 The Verandah

#3 Katharine’s Place (the house itself)

#4 Katharine’s Garden

Anger and Love by Justina Williams




Autobiography is an impossible genre. Memoir is easier – the writer is allowed to present an aspect of their life, to create a story out of one of its strands or seasons. Autobiography has to try to include them all. The desire to remember and record names, dates, and places is in the tension with the need to craft a narrative. And different phases of life require quite different types of writing which might not go together. The problems of autobiography are on show in Justina Williams’ Anger and Love (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1993), but it’s an important, fascinating text. Continue reading

Saturday 10am series

Back in what may have been a golden age of this blog in 2009, I committed to blogging every Thursday at 3pm and managed 37 such posts. Writing usually gives me life, even a book review. So in these times where my whole day can go by transcribing handwritten letters and barely constructing a sentence of my own, I’m going to make some time to write. I shall attempt from now on to write a weekly blog post scheduled to appear on Saturday 10am AWST. You’ll be hearing from me tomorrow!

Writing the circus chapter



Wirth's ad

The ad for the performance Katharine attended on 5 September 1927. (Swan Express, 2 September 1927, 5). I really like the warning about leaving things in your  motor car.

This month I’m writing the circus chapter of my Katharine Susannah Prichard biography, chapter 24 in the current structure. It’s focused on the writing and reception of her novel Haxby’s Circus (1930). The novel was written at the end of her five year creative peak from 1924 to 1929 and is usually regarded as one of her better novels but less accomplished than the other two novels of this period, Working Bullocks (1926) and Coonardoo (1929). Whatever its flaws it’s an engaging and moving novel. I reviewed it in July 2014, writing that it ‘has the most powerful scenes I’ve yet encountered in KSP’s work, scenes of beauty, darkness and insight’. More recently, Lisa has reviewed it on ANZ Litlovers.

It’s a pity that the edition reprinted several times has always been the British one. The American edition, Fay’s Circus (Katharine’s original title) – published a year later – contains an extra section of 9700 words which scholar Carol Hetherington believes resolves the structural flaw late in the novel. Katharine was writing for a competition deadline and her sick child meant she didn’t write this section as planned in the first version. (Carol Hetherington, ‘Authors, Editors, Publishers: Katharine Susannah Prichard and W.W. Norton’, Australian Literary Studies 22, no. 4 (October 2006): 417–31.) Continue reading

Getting Hugo Throssell a little wrong



Throssell, Hugo - 1914 - slwa_b2425052_2

Hugo Throssell, 1914, photo: State Library of WA. https://encore.slwa.wa.gov.au/iii/encore/record/C__Rb2425052


It was uncanny to see Katharine’s husband, Hugo Throssell, as the lead story on the WAToday website today. He was one of many whose lives were destroyed by the Great War and his death in 1933 can be seen as the long term consequence of the trauma he suffered at the front. Kudos to WAToday for examining the impact of war and placing history on its front page. But it was an article which got several things quite wrong. I was going to leave it at a fairly irenic comment at the bottom of the article – but they still haven’t approved the comment nine hours later, so now I’m feeling annoyed. Continue reading

Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World by Michelle Scott Tucker


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The twelve-year journey to publication is over for my fellow biographer-blogger Michelle Scott Tucker – her book, Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World, is out. It’s an impressive debut, telling the life of a key Australian colonist as a compulsive story and handling adeptly the gaps in the archive and the jagged edges of an ambitious woman married to a difficult, impulsive man. In 1789, aged in her early twenties, Elizabeth left Britain for the fledgling New South Wales colony with her officer-husband, John, on the Second Fleet. She lived the rest of her long life in New South Wales, conscious of her position as one of the first ‘ladies’ in a convict colony and determinedly steering her family’s wool-growing business to success, despite John’s appalling feuds and vendettas which sabotaged their efforts.

Continue reading

The Everlasting Sunday by Robert Lukins




Melbourne writer Robert Lukins’ debut, The Everlasting Sunday (UQP, 2018), is an elegant novel about seventeen-year-old Radford’s time at a home for troubled boys in England over the Big Freeze of 1962-1963. He finds friendship and brotherhood there among the other boys and their admired but mysterious mentor, Teddy, as the life of the home begins to fall apart. The novel is cinematic in its sumptuous visual narration, which is in tension with its careful avoidance of explanations. Even when we’re inside the head of Radford, we only see glimpses. This restraint gives the novel some of its distinctive tone; it is beautifully written. Perhaps its flipside is that the more dramatic events of the narrative took me too much by surprise – was the narrative working with a different logic to what I was used to, was it the fault of a somewhat lazy reader (quite likely), or could it have been strengthened by some foreshadowing or other changes? Setting the novel over the big freeze was a superb choice with its symbolic resonances and the way it gives a timeframe, a clock ticking over the course of the freeze as the characters – and the reader – wait for the inevitable thawing. It doesn’t read like a first novel and it’s probably not; ‘assured writing’ Lucy Treloar claims on the cover, and I agree. It’s also wise and haunting. I came to this novel through Lukins’ inspired Twitter presence; it’s not necessarily the tone or type of novel I expected from his tweets, but it’s every bit as good as I hoped.



Re-reading Coonardoo



I reviewed Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Coonardoo back in 2014 and stand by most of my comments. I’ve just finished re-reading it, and want to add some further thoughts.

It’s inevitable that literature is read in terms of its social relevance, praised or blamed for its handling of issues that matter to us as a society now. It’s one of the functions of literature, and it’s a significant one, but it shouldn’t be the only one. It’s a two-edged sword, of course. When Coonardoo was serialised in the The Bulletin in 1928, some readers wrote in angrily about the fact it depicted miscegenation between whites and Aboriginals. (This is an oft-repeated statement; if I get time I’d like to get behind it and see if these and other negative reactions are preserved in the archives anywhere – certainly not in KSP’s papers.) Later, Coonardoo was praised for its progressiveness in representing Aboriginal characters more fully. Continue reading

Sweet Country


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For my birthday, I watched Sweet Country. It’s a brilliant film: beautifully crafted shots, a clever plot working within the conventions of the thriller, and a superb evocation of 1920s outback Australia. It’s the story of an Aboriginal man, Sam Kelly, who shoots a white man in self-defence and goes on the run. At one point the townspeople are watching a travelling screening of the early silent film The Story of the Kelly Gang, and the parallel is a good one: in Sam Kelly, we have an outlaw we can unequivocally cheer on. The actor who plays him, Hamilton Morris, is brilliant. I love the fact that in 2018 we can finally have a film with a middle-aged Aboriginal hero, wise, quiet, and complicated and so alien to every cliche of Hollywood heroes. I also love this film for the way it made me experience the outback, the heat, the beauty, the harsh life. It made me glad to be Australian. It comes just as I’m re-reading Katharine Prichard’s Coonardoo, published the same time the film is set. The whole film feels like a contemporary reworking of Prichard’s outback ouevre from an Aboriginal perspective. For that and many other reasons I recommend it highly.