Mrs Macquarie and the tragic accident

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Veale Headstone

Headstone of Grace and Richard Veale, Elizabeth Macarthur’s sister and father. St Bridget’s churchyard, Bridgerule. Source: Adventures in Biography

One of the problems of being a researcher of women’s history is all the dead children.

Over and over again the archives yield stories of families broken by illness, accident and disease – so many stories that they are in danger of seeming commonplace. But of course the death of each child was, to his or her own family, an occasion of enormous tragedy.

Elizabeth Macarthur lost two of her nine children as babies – one daughter born prematurely who ‘lived but an hour’ and a little boy who died at the age of ten months from ‘teething’. Elizabeth was not yet six when her younger sister Grace died aged two years and nine months. Her father died a month or so later.

Elizabeth’s girlhood best friend Bridget Kingdon lost a younger sister too. When the friends were twenty years old, little five year old Griselda Kingdon drowned in a sudden flood of the Tamar while riding her pony across the ford at the Bridgerule Bridge.

As far as I can tell few, if any of Elizabeth’s New South Wales friends managed to raise every one of their own children to adulthood. But some lost their children in particularly awful circumstances.

In August 1801 Elizabeth’s friend and neighbour Betsy Marsden was involved in an accident. Not twenty yards from the Marsden farm gate Mrs Marsden’s chaise overturned, spilling out a pregnant Betsy and her three year old son Charles. The little boy subsequently died in his mother’s arms. Two months later Betsy gave birth to another boy, John, but heartbreak and depression kept her from writing to friends in England for more than a year.

Two years later tragedy struck again. Little John Marsden, the baby born two months after his mother was flung from the chaise, died from a scalding received in his mother’s kitchen.  Betsy never really regained her equilibrium and forever after considered August a fearful month, a time when she could hardly bear to let her other children out of sight.

I only recently learned that Governor Lachlan Macquarie and his wife Elizabeth lost a ‘dear angelic girl’ in 1808, not long before they departed for New South Wales. The girl Jane, their first child, was only twelve weeks old when she died. Between then and 1814, when Elizabeth Macquarie was finally delivered of a healthy boy, Mrs Macquarie endured seven miscarriages ‘and some of these,’ wrote her husband to his brother, ‘very bad and dangerous ones.’ Unsurprisingly, she was subsequently something of a helicopter parent to her son, the couple’s only surviving child.

Too often, I think, historians forget that fathers grieve for their lost children too. The ADB entry for Lachlan Macquarie, noting the death of little Jane, describes the decision to transfer his regiment to New South Wales as a ‘dramatic distraction from grief.’  Really? Could he truly be so easily distracted? And what was the impact of all that worry and grief surrounding each miscarriage on Macquarie’s governorship, I wonder? At least the ADB entry notes that he was a doting father to his son.

Not long after the birth of her son, Elizabeth Macquarie was witness to yet another childhood tragedy. She subsequently suffered a nervous collapse and was confined to her bed for weeks. On 6 October 1814 Private William Thomas, a Light Horseman in Governor Macquarie’s personal bodyguard, was on duty, riding alongside the Governor’s carriage. The carriage, with Mrs Macquarie inside, passed along the road in front of Private Thomas’ own home. What happened next was related many years later by Private Thomas’ eldest son, William.

Shortly after the McQuarries came to Sydney, my little brother’s third birthday came round, and my mother put him in knickerbockers. In the afternoon Charlie rushed into the road to meet my father and show him a set of whistling bells that Lady King had sent him. Just as he reached the road Lady McQuarrie’s carriage dashed round a corner. People shouted to the coachman but he paid no heed, and before any of the onlookers could reach the child the foremost horse had knocked him down and two wheels passed over his body.

My father couldn’t even pick up his own child – it was all he could do to protect the coachman, as the crowd were mobbing him. They would have killed him if they could; but my father told them they would be doing him the greatest kindness if they went away quietly, as he couldn’t go while they were likely to molest the coachman, who, as it happened, was drunk, so the people contented themselves by letting loose the horses and dragging the carriage to Government House.

In her own wordsMeanwhile Lady McQuarrie had picked Charlie up and carried him in to mother, who, when she saw him, fainted. And then I remember that the doctor came and said that death had been instantaneous, and a few days afterwards I remember going to the funeral and standing by the open grave holding my father’s hand.

Years afterwards when we lived in Hobart Town Lady Macquarrie often came to see my mother, and she always used to cry and blame herself for my brother’s death. She was a very good woman, and most kind. Everybody liked her.

Elizabeth Macarthur, in a letter to her god-daughter, called Mrs Macquarie a ‘very good woman’ too.

I found the story above, and much much more, in a beautifully produced book called In Her Own Words: The Writings of Elizabeth Macquarie. The book was published by Macquarie University and edited by Robin Walsh, the curator of the Lachlan Macquarie Room in the Macquarie University Library and the man behind the digital Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie Archive (LEMA).

An earlier post about Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie can be found here.

In the media #1

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bplusp_masthead3My first mention in the media has occurred already.  That was fast.

Books +Publishing  is, according its own website, Australia’s number-one source of news about the book industry, keeping subscribers up to date with the latest book industry news, events, features, interviews, opinion, personnel changes, job advertisements and classifieds. Books+Publishing is also the only source of pre-publication reviews of Australian books.

And today they’ve published a little article about me and my book!

Gosh, I wonder if people will stop me in the street now? Will I get mobbed at my regular lunchtime sushi place? Are the other kids going to tease my children?

No?  Nothing? Right.  Best get back to the day job then…

Just for the record, though, my last name is Scott Tucker.  Two words, no hyphen.  Like Mary Grant Bruce.😉

Had a coffee with my publisher yesterday…

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Text LogoWow. It feels unbelievably good to say/write that out loud.

After much deliberation and a lengthy discussion with my agent (ok, yes, it was over lunch but we both drank water – honest!) I decided to go with Text Publishing.

In the end I was lucky enough to receive seven generous offers for the manuscript. I can’t imagine that will ever happen again so I was careful to enjoy every minute! And speaking at length with the wise, intelligent and enthusiastic editors from each of those houses has been a genuine privilege.

It was very much a line-ball decision – and I’m sure any of the publishers I spoke with would have been great – but I chose Text because Michael Heyward and the people there really ‘get it’.  They asked smart questions and clearly want to take the manuscript in the same direction I want to go. Their deal includes a second version of the biography, rewritten for a Young Adult (YA) audience. Also and importantly, Text’s backlist is full of books I admire very much, that hit the sweet spot between intellectual depth and commercial readability. The fact that Text is home to authors like Helen Garner, Inga Clendinnen, Peter Temple, Kate Grenville, Clare Wright and Tim Flannery (to name a few) wasn’t a deciding factor but, once again, wow.

Jane Pearson

Jane Pearson

So yesterday I had a coffee with my editor at Text, the lovely Jane Pearson.

Jane introduced me, one at a time, to everyone in the office (they were all very friendly and kind) and then took me into a literary lollyshop – the Text Publishing storeroom. Heaven!  Suffice to say that, with Jane’s blessing and encouragement, I walked out of heaven hefting a Text carry bag loaded with gorgeous new books. I like it here already…

Then we walked down the street to very hipster cafe and spent an hour or so in a wonderfully intense conversation about next steps, the editing process, deadlines, our children, contracts, and – best of all – the party held by Text for writers and industry people during next month’s Melbourne Writers Festival. To which I am invited. Yes, I know.  Wow.

At this stage it looks like the book will be released in 2018.  So if this blog goes quiet over the next little while, with less regular posts, it’s because I’m working hard on my manuscript – the biggest adventure in biography so far.

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Book Reviews – where are all the women? Stella Count paints a depressing picture.

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For five years the nice people at the Stella Prize have been counting who receives (and writes) book reviews in Australia.

No prize, even a stellar one, for guessing who does: men.

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Reviews that were of books by women, tracked over the past five years. Source: http://thestellaprize.com.au/the-count/2015-stella-count/

Despite men writing only 28% of all Australian books published in 2015, books by men received well over half the published reviews.  Men’s books were consistently the focus of longer reviews and male reviewers had more reviews published than did women reviewers – and those male reviewers usually reviewed books by (you guessed it) men.

When you look at those figures over a five year period (see chart above) there’s not even a trend suggesting that publications are actively addressing the issue.  What about the Sunday Age, you ask? It stopped publishing book reviews in 2016.

Whether by accident or design, a cause or an effect of reviewing processes, the tendency across review publications for male reviewers to review male authors rather than female authors perpetuates cultural biases that suggest that writing by men is universal, and writing by women is for women only.

Yes, the counting people took into account those books co-authored by a man and woman (about 1% of the total and not included in the figures). And yes, the counting people confirmed that female reviewers tended to review equal numbers of books by men as they did books by women. But men consistently only reviewed books by men.

At the Monthly, for instance, just 5% of reviews published were written by male reviewers about female-authored books. The proportion of other reviewer–author gender combinations was 30%, 30% and 35% (for females reviewing male authors, females reviewing female authors, and males reviewing male authors respectively).

It gets worse. Of non-fiction books reviewed, only a tiny percentage were written by women. Yet women write around two-thirds of all published non-fiction.

The fact that an imbalance in critical coverage persists, despite there being no underlying imbalance in authorship, creates and perpetuates the perception that nonfiction by males is more worthy of critical attention, in that it frequently deals with typically masculine topics such as war, history, economics and so forth.

The problem is, of course, what do we actually DO about it?

The Australian Women Writers Challenge is one excellent response, and trade publication Books & Publishing – the only Australian publication to reach something likely parity in book reviews – is certainly to be praised.

But how do we make a dent in the male-focused bastions of Australian books?  I’d love to hear your ideas…

For full details about the statistics I’ve quoted above (with an easy-to-read overview and lots of useful charts) go to the source: 2015 Stella Count

Is this also a problem for Britain and the USA?  Yes – read more about the VIDA count (upon which the Australian Stella count is modeled):

Offers from publishers

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Walking into sunriseRight now I have written offers from six different publishers (so far).

Yes, six.

Yes, all of them well-known publishing houses.

I know, I’m gobsmacked too.

I’ve spent the last few weeks talking with each of them, on the phone and face-to-face – wonderful and lengthy conversations about writing, editing, history and Elizabeth Macarthur.

I must say that everyone I’ve spoken with has been incredibly friendly and nice.  And all very keen to win me over. I’ve never heard so many people say so many lovely things about my writing!

The offers are more complicated than I naively expected, too. They all differ in terms of advances (and how the advance will be paid – often in installments); royalties (and at how many books sold the royalty percentage rises); marketing plans; rights management; e-books; second books; and a whole heap of other things I really don’t understand. Very glad to have my agent Jacinta di Mase in my corner, fielding the publisher’s emails and encouraging them to up their offers!

While the financial aspects will certainly be a factor in my decision-making, I’m in the very privileged position of being able to choose which publisher will be best for what I hope to achieve.

It’s all so much more than I dared hope for.

Jacinta and I will meet next week to discuss the offers.  Until then I guess I’ll continue to wander about in a daze, all distracted and grinning.

Online Discussion with Lucy Treloar, author of Salt Creek

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Lucy TreloarLast night HARDCOPY participants (past and present) were lucky enough to take part in an online Facebook discussion with Australian novelist Lucy Treloar. Here are some of the highlights of Lucy’s responses (reproduced with the permission of Lucy, and of the HARDCOPY project officer Nigel Featherstone.)

For 90 minutes Lucy was inundated with questions and she gamely fielded them with good cheer and fascinating insights.

Lucy’s debut novel Salt Creek, was published by Picador in August 2015 (click through for my review). Salt Creek has been shortlisted for the 2016 Miles Franklin Award. The novel also won the Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, and it has been shortlisted for one of the Nita B. Kibble Literary Awards – the Dobbie Award.

Just to be clear, the questions were posed on the fly by various 2016 HardCopiers and not by me. I’ve edited only a little, and then simply to tidy up (for example occasionally the conversation drifted to pleasant thoughts of wine!) In some places I’ve changed the order of the questions, simply to ensure similar questions flow from one to the next.

The theme of the discussion, agreed beforehand, was ‘editing’.

Did you have to ‘kill any darlings’ while you were editing, and how difficult was it to identify them in the first place, and then to cut them? Read the rest of this entry

Biographer Brenda Niall wins Australian Literature Society Gold Medal

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MannixLast night the Australian Literature Society (ALS) awarded its Gold Medal to biographer Brenda Niall, for Mannix, her biography of Daniel Mannix, the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne from 1917 until 1963.

The ALS Gold Medal is awarded annually for an outstanding literary work in the preceding calendar year. The Medal was inaugurated by the Australian Literature Society, which was founded in Melbourne in 1899 and incorporated into the Association for the Study of Australian Literature in 1982. The winner receives a gold medal. No nominations are required, though ASAL members are invited to propose potential winners to the judging panel.

The shortlist for the 2016 ALS Gold Medal was:

  • MODJESKA, Drusilla. Second Half First, Knopf
  • NIALL, Brenda. Mannix, Text Publishing
  • BRADLEY, James. Clade, Penguin
  • BENNETT DAYLIGHT, Tegan. Six Bedrooms, Vintage.

In an interview with Jason Steger, Niall says:

“Definitive biography, I think, is nonsense; to think you have it all sewn up. People are not as simple as that. Unless there’s some mystery and the mystery will always remain, I think, it isn’t human.”

Steger, in the same article, notes thatNiall has written biographies of Georgiana McCrae, Judy Cassab, Father William Hackett, Mary and Elizabeth Durack, and the Boyd family. She finds the genre’s appeal in its location between fiction and history.
“I’m not a historian. I like the puzzle of biography and in a way I probably like having to make sense of certain things to understand people and times.”
Don’t we all?
Congratulations to Niall and to Text, her publisher.