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A Biographer in Perth is relocating: please come join me at nathanhobby.com

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Photo: “Abandoned House” mrfreson, Wikimedia commons.

Starting this separate blog seemed like a good idea at the time. It was January 2014 and I was writing a lot about the art of biography on my original blog, nathanhobby.wordpress.com. It was quite specialised and I thought that (a) it might bore readers who came for other things and (b) if I started a new blog it might help me connect to other biographers and readers of biographies.

As it turns out, I don’t have time to maintain two blogs and most of the readers of this blog would probably enjoy or at least tolerate the things I write on my other blog. So the blogs have merged, and I’ve exported everything on this blog to my new address, https://nathanhobby.com. My two blogs, “The Annotations of Nathan Hobby” and “A Biographer in Perth”, have become one: “Nathan Hobby, a biographer in Perth: The life of Katharine Susannah Prichard, the art of biography, and other things.”

Thank you all for reading and commenting on this blog! I look forward to continuing the conversation with you over at the new address. If you haven’t already, please do follow me there through WordPress or by email or however else you like to do it. It won’t be much different, just a little more frequent, if anything. And for the moment, this blog can stay just as it is, like an abandoned house.

 

 


Reading at KSP Writers’ Centre, 19 February

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Alas, blogging is one of the things which have fallen by the wayside as I try to keep up a gruelling (for me!) chapter-a-month. So far I’m on track. It’s complicated by the fact that several chapters, including February’s, have divided into two. I’ve given Hugo Throssell VC his own chapter to introduce him and describe how he met Katharine, his future wife, in 1915 after Gallipoli. It means Guido Baracchi, the perpetual student Katharine met at the end of the year, gets his own (shorter) introductory chapter too.

My reading from the biography at the KSP Writers’ Centre was a couple of weeks ago now. There were over thirty people who came, braving the extreme heat and the drive out into the hills. There were many people I knew and many I didn’t; I was grateful to them all for coming. It was so encouraging to see so much interest in the biography. I love engaging in discussion after a reading, and there were some perceptive questions. I need to come up with a concise answer to the question: “Why Katharine?”; there are good reasons, if not necessarily obvious ones. Novelist Jenny Ackland was at KSPWC for a writing retreat ahead of Perth Writers’ Festival and I was chuffed that she wrote about my talk and the centre on her blog.


Governess: a reading in February from the KSP biography

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Katharine ca. 1904, from her autobiography, Child of the Hurricane, p. 42.

Governess – Katharine Susannah Prichard at Yarram, 1904: a reading by Nathan Hobby
KSP Writers’ Centre Sunday Session
4:00pm – 5:30pm Sunday 19 February 2017
11 Old York Rd, Greenmount WA
$10 general entry / $5 members (proceeds to KSP Writers’ Centre)
Refreshments provided
https://www.facebook.com/events/709078175927574/

Patience is an important virtue in writing a biography—or any book—and realistically it’s going to be a couple of years before my biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard appears. In the meantime, I’m excited to have a chance to share a chapter at the KSP Writers’ Centre Sunday Session.

The writers’ centre is in the hills of Perth, in the house Katharine lived in from 1919 until her death in 1969. Being involved with the centre has put me in touch with a community of writers who care about Katharine and her legacy. It’s also given me the rare opportunity to spend time in my subject’s house. The centre has many writing groups across genres, demographics, and timeslots. If you are a Western Australian writer, I encourage you to join up and be involved in some way – it needs your support more than ever in these days of limited government funding.

It’s chapter five I’ll be reading, “Governess,” the story of 1904 in Katharine’s life. I chose it because it’s a dramatic and largely unknown year of her life, as well as being quite self-contained as a narrative. Twenty-years-old and living away from home for the first time, Katharine set the tongues wagging in Yarram, a small country town in Gippsland. She beguiled several men, including a drug-addicted German doctor on the run from his wife. Starring in a play, she earned a new nickname. She gathered notes and impressions that she would turn into her first award-winning novel, The Pioneers, a decade later.

What better place to hear the story of this important year in Katharine’s life than at the house she lived in for fifty years? Tickets at the door.


70k, and the war just beginning

The word count of my biography just hit 70,000, so I thought I’d pause to celebrate with this blog post. It’s a nice milestone, but it’s not altogether welcome. The paragraph I’m on concerns the outbreak of the Great War, so I’m in August 1914, which means I have 4.5 years to go, and the original aim was for an 80,000 word biography.

Back at the end of August I set a plan to write a chapter a month, taking me to the end of the biography during 2017. I’ve been meeting my targets, but I’ve become painfully aware of how naive my plan was. The years I’m writing about in Katharine’s life have proven to throw up far more intriguing stories, characters and events than I anticipated. A good problem to have, I realise. I’ve already added two chapters, and I expect to have to keep adding them.

Writers often get obsessed by word counts and I think it can be a trap; words are cheap, quality words are hard. But it’s a balancing act: measuring, celebrating output can be a necessary and powerful incentive along the way and I feel my ambitious and naive targets have energised me. So far. Most days.


Katharine Susannah on Twitter!

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It’s rather speculative to imagine what Katharine Susannah Prichard would make of Twitter. She had a mixed relationship with technology. She flew in an aeroplane in 1916 when that was novel and dangerous, and travelled by motorbike and car around Western Australia with Hugo in 1919. Late in life she came to enjoy the wireless but disliked the advent of television and lived without many of the “modcons” of the postwar era.

I hope she wouldn’t mind that I’ve created a Twitter account for her, “Katharine S. Prichard”, https://twitter.com/KSP1883. After enjoying snippets of Samuel Pepys’ diary, as well as the tweets of Vita Sackville-West and C.S. Lewis, I decided Twitter would be a wonderful platform to serve up morsels of Katharine’s writing. 140 characters does not give room for context or nuance, but I believe it can give people a flavour of her writing and encourage them to seek out her books.

I’ll be tweeting quotes from across her oeuvre. The idea is to keep it entirely in her own voice.  Where there’s room I’ll give the name of the work as a hashtag, and I’ll also give the year of publication. It’ll often be a case of me live-tweeting whatever work of hers I’m reading at the moment, hence the wild veering across the years so far.

Even the profile for a Twitter account has to keep within the 140 character limit, so I was so pleased to find just the right words to fit the limit from a late article by Katharine, “Some Perceptions and Aspirations” (Southerly, 1968):

My work has been unpretentious: of the soil. Telling of the way men & women live & work in the forests, back country & cities of Australia.

Please come and follow her!


Two years in: an update on my Katharine Susannah Prichard biography

The two-year anniversary of the official start of my PhD passed by on 21 August. I had 20,000 words of the biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard written a year ago; I now have 40,000, which is a neat piece of symmetry. I’m imagining it’s going to be 80,000 words, but only if I can start reining myself in – I feared there wouldn’t be enough to say, but there’s always too much. I recently deleted a paragraph about the feud – which spilled into the local paper – between Katharine’s favourite teacher at Armadale State School and the bad-tempered headmaster. It represented several hours of research (some of it precious time in an interstate archive), but it really had to go. Other details are harder to let go of.  Continue reading


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