Monthly Archives: December 2015

Wrap-up of a year’s reading in biography

I wanted to read as much of a particular kind of literary biography as possible – heavily researched but gripping narratives of writers who have been in their graves a while. But I found myself reading well outside the boundaries I’d set myself, gravitating also to memoirs and hybrid life-writing which mixes biography and fiction. I don’t regret these digressions; even as an advocate and practitioner of that certain kind of literary biography, my diet must be more varied. Continue reading

Hugo Throssell and Katharine Susannah Prichard in the shadow of the Great War

A speech for “Katharine’s Birthday,” Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre, Sunday 6 December 2015

In London a hundred years ago Katharine Susannah Prichard met Hugo Throssell in the shadow of World War I. The war brought them together and cost them both so dearly. The Great War radicalised them, leading them to reject militarism and the system which had caused such a disaster. Continue reading

Link: The best biographies of 2015 | Books | The Guardian

The Guardian has a fine trans-Atlantic review of the year’s best biographies, capturing some of the diversity of life-writing in 2015. Not an Australian in sight, but I suppose that’s understandable given the limits of how much one poor reviewer can read in a year. The Young Eliot is on my shortlist to read; T.S. Eliot and Prichard do not overlap in any significant way but are contemporaries and I also want to do some more thinking about the partial biography that tells only of a subject’s early life.

Enthralling Eliot, spellbinding Thatcher and Le Carré unmasked

Source: The best biographies of 2015 | Books | The Guardian

Happy 132nd birthday, Katharine Susannah


Dear Katharine,

I think of you every day, of course, but I’m especially thinking of you today, on your 132nd birthday. It’s not as if I can imagine you at 132, it’s a decade beyond the reach of the greatest super-centenarian, so instead, I’m remembering your 32nd birthday one hundred years ago on 4 December 1915.

You were in Ceylon, on your way home from London after four years. You spent a some time with your pregnant sister, Beatrice Bridge, and her conservative husband, Patten. You’d missed their wedding the year before – I’m not sure how much that mattered to you. How did you celebrate your birthday that year? Sri Lankan food perhaps, though you wouldn’t have called it that. It was during this stay you visited the Buddhist temple you describe in Child of the Hurricane, and came as close to a spiritual experience as you ever would.

This photo is from much later, but has a connection to your birthday in 1915. It accompanied an article I found this week about your family’s long friendship with the Bridges, culminating in Bea marrying Pack. I had such high hopes for some new information, but it only repeated everything you said, somewhat unreliably, in Child of the Hurricane. It did have this photograph though, one I’ve never seen before and particularly like. You’re looking out of your writing cabin some time in the 1930s; I spent some glorious days in that cabin at the KSP Writers’ Centre earlier this year.

You had no idea what was about to hit you the year you were thirty-two, the year I’m immersed in right now. It was a big year, a year of such immense heartache for you. But there were many years like that. You survived it, like you survived every year but your last. It’s not like I can actually warn you, but please know I’ve seen, as much as anyone can from this distance, and I care.

Until next time, N.

Katharine and Hugo in the shadow of the Great War: speech on Sunday

Anzac Crusader to marry Australian novelist

It’s a hundred years ago on Friday since King George V decorated Katharine Susannah Prichard’s future husband, Hugo Throssell, with a Victoria Cross, Western Australia’s first. To mark the occasion, I’ve been asked to give a speech at Katharine’s Birthday, the annual end-of-year celebration at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre, alongside Chris Horvath, a specialist on the 10th Light Horse. It’s an interesting assignment for a pacifist like me. Continue reading