Category Archives: biographical quests

Dark Night by Martin Edmond: a review

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Dark Night: Walking with McCahon Martin Edmond (Auckland University Press, 2011)

Dark Night is a profound work of creative non-fiction. Edmond retraces – quite literally – the steps of the New Zealand painter, Colin McCahon, following the route he took as he had a breakdown and went missing in Sydney for a day and a night. It has elements of a biography of the late artist and criticism of his work; an autobiography of Edmonds; a narrative of Edmond’s observations of the streets and haunts of Sydney; and reflections on religion, art, history, and the authentic life. It is not a biographical quest in the archival sense I’m used to using the term; but it is a biographical quest of a different kind. The life of McCahon becomes a lens for Edmond to examine the world. He writes well, observing acutely while never over-writing, and with genuine insight into the questions of existence.


Cyril Cook & the Lost Letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard

Your KS #15: Cyril Cook & the Lost Letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard

Source: Your KS #15: Cyril Cook & the Lost Letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard | Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre – home

One of the most interesting things to happen in my research this year has been the discovery of “lost” letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard and new insight into the circumstances of Cyril Cook’s 1950 thesis on Katharine. It was my AS Byatt’s Possession moment, and I wrote about it for the KSP Writers Centre newsletter; read about it on the KSPWC website!

 


Visible and invisible biographers: a quick response to David Marr

Sue at Whispering Gums has given a great overview of David Marr’s Seymour lecture, “Here I stand”. He focused on the biographer’s craft, and he said so many things of great relevance to me, but I’ll just engage this comment:

Marr spent four years (I think) on the project, meeting with [Patrick] White, visiting places he’d been, meeting people he knew, and so on, but he is not in the book. Editors today, he said, would “tell me to get in there”, to write of his adventures in research. He described this style as “quest biographies”, and he doesn’t (generally) like them. They “inflict their homework on readers”

I love biographical quests; they’re how I came to biography. For my Master’s thesis , I wrote a biographical quest novel (“The Remains”) and a dissertation on aspects of the genre, including the influence of its non-fiction counterparts. From AJA Symons Quest for Corvo to Laura Sewell Matter’s “Pursuing the Great Bad Novelist” and Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – and not forgetting Martin Edmonds Dark Night: Walking with McCahon, which I’ve just started – I’ve encountered some superb non-fiction biographical quests.  Continue reading


Link: Following Katharine to Yarram

Source: Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre – home | Your KS #9: Following Katharine to Yarram

KSP Writers’ Centre – based in Katharine’s old home in Greenmount – has a great new website, including a blog. I’ve been writing a monthly column for the KSP newsletter, and these columns are now up on the blog. Here’s a link to the most recent one, first appearing in March’s newsletter.


Some notes on Who’s Been Sleeping In My House?

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With Who’s Been Sleeping In My House? showing on ABC and Who Do You Think You Are? on SBS, biographical quest television is having its moment, and I’m so glad. Each week on My House, presenter Adam Ford researches the past of an Australian house. This season has gone from a former hotel in country Victoria, to a flat in Sydney, to Adelaide, to north Queensland, and most recently to Mt Lawley, an inner-city suburb in Perth.

Continue reading


Certain Admissions: true crime as biography

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Certain Admissions: A Beach, A Body and a Lifetime of Secrets by Gideon Haigh (Penguin, 2015)

Certain Admissions is a gripping narrative of the murder of Beth Williams, her body found on a Melbourne beach in December 1949, and its aftermath. It becomes a biography of John Bryan Kerr, the young man convicted of the crime on the basis of a disputed confession, as well as an account of Haigh’s archival quest and an investigation of the many byways related to the case. It was the highest profile case of its time, perhaps due to Kerr’s charm and the salacious details of the crime. Continue reading


Link: The remarkable ongoing case of Richard Greener’s papers, salvaged from a condemned house

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Years ago, researching eccentric libraries for my novel The Remains, I stumbled across the remarkable story of Belle da Costa Greene (1879 or 1883-1950), the African-American woman “passing” as white who became the glamorous librarian to the wealthy Pierpont Morgan. Continue reading