Monthly Archives: November 2015

Second Half First by Drusilla Modjeska


Before I started reading Drusilla Modjeska’s Second Half First, my father-in-law asked me what it was about, and I couldn’t give a good answer about what I expected. Modjeska herself has some trouble with this when she meets her old lover late in the book and explains it isn’t just about him, even though he’d triggered it, “It’s about a whole lot of other things, my mother, psychoanalysis, reading, writing, New Guinea, living away from where I was born.” (332) It’s a digressive book, rhizomatic, I suppose; tellingly, at one point Modjeska objects to another biographer who has “everything hammered into place.” Continue reading

The childhood of Katharine Susannah Prichard in the new Westerly

Source: Westerly 60:2 – Westerly

My biography of the early years of Katharine Susannah Prichard is a couple of years from completion, but a modified version of chapter two has just been published in Westerly 60.2. My essay is called “‘The memory of a storm’: The Wild Oats of Han and the childhood of Katharine Susannah Prichard, 1887 to 1895.” Continue reading

Biographical contradictions: Drusilla Modjeska Vs Victoria Glendinning

A key moment in the history of Australian literary biography was a panel on biography at the 1988 Adelaide Writers’ Week. On the panel were Australians Brian Matthews and Drusilla Modjeska and Britons Victoria Glendinning and Andrew Motion. Glendinning was already an established traditional literary biographer; Matthews had just published the postmodern Louisa and Modjeska was about to publish the hybrid fiction/biography of her mother, Poppy. In 1996 Graeme Turner used the panel as a starting point for exploring the state of Australian literary biography in his essay “Reviving the Author”. The Southern Review collected the papers in one of the more substantial statements on biography in Australia. Now Drusilla Modjeska has returned to that panel and her dislike of Glendinning’s approach to biography in her memoir (out last month), Second Half First. At the time, Modjeska made the comment the Australian biographers (well, particularly her and Matthews) were interested in exploring the lives of those not usually considered worthy subjects for a biography. “How extraordinary,” Glendinning said, apparently condescendingly. Continue reading

Publication of Many Hearts One Voice by Melinda Tognini


It’s Non-Fiction November, at least for children in Britain. (I think it’ll be hard to wrest November from the growing momentum of NaNoWriMo.) A decade ago, I was in a writing group for a season with Melinda Tognini; like me, she went on to do a master’s in creative writing, but unlike me, she tackled a non-fiction topic – the history of the War Widows’ Guild of WA. It was the first time I’d encountered someone writing non-fiction within creative writing, and it was one of the seeds that would eventually lead to me writing a biography for my creative writing PhD. It’s been a long road to publication, but Melinda has got there! On the weekend, WA’s governor launched the book she began for that master’s: Many Hearts, One Voice, published by Fremantle Press. I’m thrilled for Melinda and the great press she’s receiving for the book. She’s written an interesting post on the genesis of her book on her blog. Melinda brings a novelist’s eye to the writing of history, and as she writes on her site, “I am particularly passionate about telling ‘invisible’ stories – those stories absent from or sidelined in the dominant narratives of our history – and empowering others to find their voice.”