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?


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



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.

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