Katharine Susannah Prichard and Greenmount: the Biography and Literature of a Writer at Home

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1967 - Katharine in colour - KSPWC

Katharine Susannah Prichard in her garden in 1967 (Source: KSP Writers’ Centre)

Saturday 10am #9

This is a paper I presented at the Limina Conference at the University of Western Australia on 27 July 2018. The conference theme was “Home: Belonging and Displacement”.

In her memoir, Perth journalist Justina Williams describes seeing Katharine Susannah Prichard’s house for the first time in the 1930s:

 [My uncle] Harry… gave up Sundays to drive us all in the A-model Ford… on an excursion to the hills… Ascending Greenmount’s steep stretch, the radiator fulfilled all [Grandma’s] fears by boiling over.

The car stopped at the junction of Old York Road—the original route to the Eastern Goldfields—and the Great Eastern Highway, almost at the gate of a small wooden cottage half hidden by pale blue plumbago and tangled grape vines. A red witch lived there, Grandma said, named Mrs Throssell… ‘She’s quite a famous writer… An awful scandal about her book…’

My desire to meet her stirred…. [But] [t]he house was empty. Harry got some water somewhere else and we moved on.[1]

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Winter: a memoir

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1897 Winter

“Winter”, Melbourne Punch, 3 June 1897, 18. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article174626116

Saturday 10am #6

The trip to Canberra in July two years ago is my most vivid winter memory. We were staying on the outskirts at the edge of the mountains, and on our first day we were walking at midday in cold, crisp air while the sun shone in a cloudless sky, a lemony light. I love winter sun and this was its most pure expression. Other days of true cold, where it hurt to even be outside, wind, rain – all those winter things. Perhaps I glimpsed snow for the first time on a hilltop. And nights – I’d never experienced negative six degrees before. But the slate floor was heated, a warm presence.  I could live in Canberra, if the chance arose. Continue reading

Impasse in the land of Narnia: bad covers, poor bindings, and a sentimental attachment

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Saturday 10am #5

The free books shelf at the front of my library is filled with donated books which haven’t made the cut for the booksale we run. It throws up hidden gems and many ghastly paperbacks, and some which are both, like the two at the top published by American company Collier in 1980. They are not only easily the worst of the many covers I’ve seen for C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia – they are possibly the worst covers (or the best bad covers) I’ve ever seen. The pictures look like the work of an average high school art student obsessed with swords and sorcery. The design looks suspiciously similar to the early covers of the Choose Your Own Adventure series, which Bantam had started publishing with massive sales in 1979.  The inside text, for reasons unknown, has slightly clumsily redrawn versions of Pauline Baynes’s charming 1950s line drawings from the original edition. Continue reading

How to start a biography?

KSP-window-from-100-years-of-Bridges

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

Saturday 10am #4

I’ve decided to write a conventional biography for my first one, ‘cradle to grave’ as it’s called. Because of that, I feel the need to start with an introduction that grips readers and gives them a taste of Katharine’s life, why it matters, and some of what lies ahead in the narrative. Perhaps this is misguided; I just picked up Jill Roe’s Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography off my shelf and she starts in 1879 with Franklin’s birth. Yet as acclaimed as Roe’s biography has been, it didn’t grip me. And Miles Franklin has a name recognition today which Katharine doesn’t have. Continue reading

Going out of print: a brief history

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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

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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

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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