Writings as buildings


Re-reading my 2018 diary, I found this from July.

Rejoinder to recent thoughts on the impermanence of writing. A helpful metaphor for writings is buildings. There are many buildings which last a century or two, are tended and lived in by people who want to see them remain standing. And that is one of the great aims for a writer, to have a book still read a century or two after it is written. There are only a few outstanding buildings preserved for many centuries, buildings which have acquired a sense of awe and prestige. But at the other end there are many other buildings. Perhaps most blogging is like building a cubby house for kids to enjoy for anything from a day to a few years; or perhaps it’s like putting up a tent for a week at a caravan park. It has its purpose, we need these temporary shelters and we live in them a time – but there’s no handwringing about their temporariness. And then the average suburban house is something like most books people write. Shiny and good looking for a time when it’s built, but it looks dated one or two decades later. It stays standing for thirty or forty years, and then it’s knocked over when someone wants the block for something else.

Kathleen O’Connor of Paris


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Years ago in her story “Paris Bled into the Ocean” Western Australian writer Amanda Curtin fictionalised a legend about the artist Kathleen O’Connor throwing her own paintings into the sea at Fremantle when she couldn’t pay the import duty on them. Fremantle Press suggested she write a book about O’Connor and for it, Curtin has turned from fiction to biography. O’Connor (1876-1968) is a difficult subject. She was a private person, revealing little of her inner or personal life in the papers she left behind. The recollections of those who knew her best suggest she was a mystery to them, too. In these cases, writing a subject’s life as a biographical quest—as Curtin has done—is often the best choice. Curtin walks in O’Connor’s footsteps, from New Zealand where she was born, to Perth where her father, the famous engineer killed himself in 1902, and to Paris, her spiritual and artistic home. ‘I am looking for Kate in this place where she was born. There may be little, or nothing, to find but I have come to believe that people leave traces of themselves in the places they inhabit; that they can carry those places with them forever. It’s a familiar method of research for me—an alchemy of the physical and the instinctual.’ (22) Curtin is unintrusive, alluding to echoes of O’Connor’s life in her own but never taking the focus away from O’Connor and the quest for traces of her. Continue reading

I’m talking about Katharine Susannah on Radio Fremantle


I’m going to be on the wireless tomorrow! I’ll be talking about Katharine Susannah Prichard on the program Out of the Woodwork with Riley Buchanan, Radio Fremantle (107.9 FM in Perth metro area), Friday 30 November, from 11am AWST, between songs.  It’s streamed online and I’ll post a link to the MP3 when it’s available. Continue reading

Katharine Susannah Prichard commemorative competition



Katharine Susannah Prichard looking out from her workroom. From This Australia 1985, date of photograph ca. 1930s.

Next October will be the fiftieth anniversary of Katharine Susannah Prichard’s death. To mark the occasion, KSP Writers Centre (which meets in her house) is holding a literary competition. Entries are open to all Australian residents and citizens until 22 February in fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. The best entries will appear in an anthology to be launched in October. It is a themed competition, with entries needing a connection to Katharine, her work, or her house. I will be judging the non-fiction and fiction sections. I encourage you to enter!


Letter to my newborn daughter


Dear girl,

You came into the world on a Monday afternoon at the end of winter. That winter felt like it had gone on as long as the pregnancy, days of rain and gloom and your mum perpetually sick. Wanting to bring you into the world was an act of hope on our part – yet it comes with the long anxious reality of waiting in uncertainty. Will you be okay? It doesn’t end now you’ve come out into the world; it’s only been intensified in these first nights of late-night television and islands of sleep. Oh, hope and fear usually go together – maybe by the time you read this, you’ll have started to understand that about the world. Continue reading

The Biographer’s Lover by Ruby Murray


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Novels about biographers form a rich subgenre of twentieth and twenty-first century fiction. Henry James’ Aspern Papers (1888) is one of the earliest; A.S. Byatt’s Possession (1990) is another landmark. I wrote about the subgenre for my creative writing dissertation to accompany my own unpublished attempt, “The Remains” (earlier title “Immortalities”). It was this project that made me decide I wanted to be a biographer myself. Usually, biographer novels take on the form of a quest – the quest for truth of the subject’s life, often involving the recovery of lost letters or diaries. Australia has its own examples of the genre, including Louis Nowra’s Ice (2008 – Lisa’s review and mine) and Virginia Duigan’s The Biographer (2008). In her second novel, The Biographer’s Lover (Black Inc, 2018), Ruby Murray has created a compelling Australian biographical quest narrative that works within many of the conventions of the subgenre while adding its own rich elements.

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The 28th, 29th, and 30th prime ministers: a memoir

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Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, September 2013.

The day Tony Abbott became prime minister we were in Lauterbrunnen, a town in the Swiss Alps, the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. For the second night, we were eating at a restaurant run by an Australian. He was jubilant about the result. I was quiet, melancholic, and suddenly unhappy to be in his restaurant, sitting outside in the dusk. He was going on about the mess the ALP had made of things and I couldn’t possibly be sorry to see that over. I was sorry, sorry it hadn’t worked out better, sorry for the tragedy set off by Rudd’s character flaws. But the ALP wasn’t my party and I made no more than a cryptic suggestion to him that it was complicated for us; if he thought Abbott was a good idea, there was no point telling him how far left we’d voted. We went to a different restaurant the last night in Lauterbrunnen, even though his food had been good. Continue reading

My further biographical adventures: year four of the quest for Katharine Susannah Prichard


Katharine Susannah Prichard, from Perth’s Daily Mail, 26 September 1929, courtesy of Trove. Most of the information in the original caption is wrong.

I started my Katharine Susannah Prichard biography four years ago. Measuring progress by her life (1883 to 1969), this time last year, I was in 1919, just finishing part one; I’m now in 1933 – the most important one of her life – near the end of part two of the book. Continue reading