Thursday, 19 March 2009

Some fun facts about Australian writers

Australia has a long history of cultural cringe when it comes to writing (more about that in another post). Meanwhile, I am reading a fascinating book, Susan Drury’s Writers and Writing. Published in 1979, its intention is “to serve as an excellent introduction to a wide and varied subject at a time when Australian writing is broadening its horizons.” It was recently culled from the school library and gratefully received by me as an antidote to my massive ignorance.

And now I share with you 10 fun and potentially useful facts about Australian writers (prior to 1940 which is where I am up to in the book):

1. “To achieve a high reputation in literary circles a writer must be published and read in other countries.” Susan Drury

2. There was actually a well-known Australian writer named Joseph Furphy. Do you think anyone believed anything he wrote?

3. The first “Australian made” book was convict Henry Savery’s Quintus Servinton that was published in Hobart in 1830.

4. The first colonial-born novelist was John Lang. Born in Parramatta, New South Wales in 1818, his novel The Forger’s Wife or, Assigned to His Wife was published in 1855 (in England of course).

5. Early writers were as bitchy as modern writers. Furphy described the characters in fellow-novelist Henry Kingsley’s books as “slender-witted, virgin-souled, over-grown schoolboys.”

6. In the 1890s it was common to show one’s patriotism by inscribing the front of one’s novels as ‘For Australia” and signing letters “Yours for Australia.”

7. Henry Lawson was found dead (from excessive alcohol) in the backyard of a house in Abbotsford, Sydney in 1922, aged 55. His epitaph in this book? “Despite all the efforts of his friends he spent the rest of his life in misery and degradation.”

8. Frank Dalby Davison’s famous story Man Shy was only accepted by a publisher after Davison and his brother, desperate for money, printed it and sold it door to door for sixpence a copy. Beware friends when I start knocking on your door.

9. If you are a woman writer, you need a really cool name, preferably androgenous. Good examples:
Henry Handel Richardson (actual name Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson)
Aeneas Gunn (Jeannie Gunn or Mrs Aeneas James Gunn)
Miles Franklin (Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin)
Dymphna Cusack (Dymphna Cusack)

10. According to Ms. Drury: “Women writers are now usually judged simply as ‘writers’. They have the same range of topics open to the as men do and while some still choose to write ‘women’s novels’ of love and romance, many more write on serious topics of relevance to all people.”

My take home message? To be a serious Australian writer I need: a much more interesting name; I can’t write “women’s novels”; my preferred title of Quintus Servinton was taken long ago; I have to avoid alcohol and back yards and I must be published outside Australia.

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