Tuesday, 3 April 2007

On beauty and the impossible task

According to some in the publishing industry, Jane Austen is not attractive enough to sell books. A new edition of one of her books is being published with the only known portrait of her on the cover, but the portrait has been altered to make her more attractive. This fascinating fact was brought to my attention by Verlyn Klinkenborg, one of my favourite writers in the New York Times.

He points out that a writer’s appearance is not the most relevant feature and that what he wants to know is “how anyone who lived 200 years ago talked or sounded or dressed or ate or felt. I would recover all the unrecoverable details about any life that passed in those days just to come to terms with the distance and the difference of the past.”

This coming to terms with the distance and difference of the past is the goal of my research. I don’t want to recite dry facts and figures – we have many listings of those. I don’t want to write an academic treatise – I’ve done that and had a pretty narrow readership. I want to write something that will bring the life of the German settlers vividly to life in my, and others’ imaginations. I want my children to read this book and be excited in the same way they are about fairy tales, fantasy and heroic efforts. I want them to look at the modern world around them and have the old world superimposed on it. I want them to have a sense of the history of where they live and play.

Impossible? I’ve already been asked, very politely, what are my qualifications for this task. I have plenty of academic qualifications and research skills. I’ve written for academic journals and an online magazine. I’ve edited the work of many people, some of whom were very good writers. I’ve read aloud and to myself, many novels for young readers (and quite a few for the not-so-young). However, I’ve never before written a book for young readers. My answer has to be “perhaps”. I plan to trial it on my children who are vigorous critics. Watch this space for details but don't wait for an author photo.

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