Category Archives: Work in Progress

Guest Post and Holidays


Worked like a demon to get the first big edit of the manuscript finished before the end of 2017 – and made it with, at least 48 hours to spare!

Then my family and I went to the beach for a week. No wifi. Bliss.

Then (thanks to my hard working editor) came back to find the first nine chapters of the manuscript ready to copy edit. So that’s what I’ve been doing, instead of blogging. But if you would like to read a little something, try this Guest Post I wrote for Bill over at the The Australian Legend.

Most of you already know Bill – not least because he is a prolific commenter here at Adventures in Biography – but for those who might like an introduction, he’s a blogger who is also a long distance truck driver with an MA in Australian Literature and an interest in Australian women writers.

Over the next weeks, Bill is presenting a series on Australian women writers.

My post starts at the beginning, and is called: Australia’s First Women Writers – a piecemeal and imperfect overview enlivened by a giveaway at the end.



SMH – What to read in 2018


Wow! Got a mention beside the big kids in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

Jane Sullivan has an article called ‘What to read in 2018: a selection of the big books on the shelves next year.’ And if you scroll right down (keep going, yep keep going), you might find a mention of me. Huzzah!

From Sullivan’s list I’m also keen to read:

  • Eleanor Limprecht (The Passengers, Allen & Unwin, March) – because I’ve enjoyed her earlier novels.
  • Ruby Murray (The Biographer’s Lover, Black Inc., April) – because with a title like that, why wouldn’t I?
  • Melissa Lucashenko (Too Much Lip, UQP, August) – because her earlier novel Mullumbimby is one of my all time favourites.
  • Historian Peter Cochrane’s first novel, The Making of Martin Sparrow (Viking, May), is described as “Deadwood on the Hawkesbury” – which sounds fantastic too me.
  • Robbie Arnott’s Flames (Text, May) – because when I met Robbie last month he seemed really nice.
  • Anne Summers’ memoir is Becoming (Allen & Unwin, second half of the year) – because anything Summers writes is usually worth reading.

Happy new year, everyone.


Finding images for the book


‘Clovelly’, Watsons Bay, NSW (circa 1900). Source: SLNSW

When you pick up a biography, do you first turn to those glossy pages in the middle? The pages with the pictures, the paintings, the maps. The pages that somehow tell you what it is you’re going to be reading about. The pages that the author – a person by definition good with words, rather than images – has sweated blood over.

Reader, I know of what I speak!

When I signed the contract with Text Publishing, my agent carefully pointed out the clause that says I’m responsible for “all illustrative material” and “shall bear all costs relating to supply of such illustrative material”. Yep. Sure. No worries.

In the writing lull which occurred after I submitted the draft manuscript to my editor, I started compiling a list of all the images I wanted to include. Then I went away to find them, on the interwebs.

Some of them were easy to find (thanks, Google).  Some were happy surprises, like this photo of Clovelly, the Macarthur holiday house at Watsons Bay, where Elizabeth Macarthur died. Some of them were much harder to find (and I could only find them in hard copy books). Some of them didn’t exist – for example, Elizabeth Macarthur’s youngest daughter, Emmeline, does not seem to have a picture anywhere, despite being married to a premier of NSW (Henry Parker).

Eventually, long weeks later, I happily sent off my list (my very long list) to the editor.

You, being a person of intelligence and discernment, can probably guess what happened next.  Read the rest of this entry

The stories that get left out


What should biographers do with all the wonderful stories – or snippets – they discover along the way but can’t include in their books?

Many biographers do, of course, include them. But readers often don’t like it – for example wonderful reviewer Whispering Gums recently discussed a biography she enjoyed, but felt contained too much extraneous detail. And, I’ll confess, as a reader I feel the same way. I just want to read about the biographical subject, please.

But as a writer? Of course I want to include all the details! Because I’m assuming the reader is every bit as obsessed by the subject as I am – which is, tragically but patently, untrue. All those extra details, every little meandering away from the main subject, are crucial to the writer’s understanding but frankly unnecessary to the reader’s.

However, Nathan Hobby, A Biographer in Perth, raises an interesting point. He is cutting out some of his meandering details in his work-in-progress biography of writer Katharine Susannah Prichard but he laments their loss. The anecdotes and historical facts may not be relevant to his subject’s story, but they remain anecdotally and historically interesting. Surely someone, somewhere, might find them useful?

This point is particularly Read the rest of this entry

Inside the publishing industry


How do books get from the publisher’s hot little hands onto the shelves of bookstores? No, I don’t really know either but yesterday it became a little clearer.

Traditional publishers are part of a logistical chain.

From the sale of each book, every player in the chain takes their cut. However online sales, self-publishing and e-books have increasingly muddied the waters. Still, the typical chain – and the typical cut for each player – looks something like this:

  • Author: 10% (less their agent’s fee, which is typically 15% of that 10%. Bestselling authors get a slightly higher percentage)
  • Publisher: 30% (which has to cover editorial work, graphic design and marketing)
  • Printers: 10%
  • Distributors: 10%
  • Retailers: 40% (which seems like a lot until you factor in bookshop rent and salaries)

Traditional publishers don’t necessarily deal directly with booksellers, or certainly not with every bookseller in the country – they use distributors.  At Text Publishing, I guess through some sort of contractual arrangement, they use the distributors of the big multi-national firm, Penguin Random House.

Yesterday I visited the Melbourne office of Penguin Random House, to pitch my book to the distributors. Two other Text authors were there too (keep an eye out next May for Robbie Arnott’s novel Flames and Jessie Cole’s memoir Staying) as were Text Publisher Michael Heyward and an enthusiastic group of Text publicists. Read the rest of this entry

Help me with this paragraph?


Sydney Cove from Dawes Point – painting by Joseph Lycett,1817. Source State Library NSW

To set the scene, I’m reading my manuscript out loud, to test for clarity and sense. The dog seems nonplussed but the cat is appreciative. I’m also beginning to realise how lazy my pronunciation usually is.

Govvumen. Govvament. Government.


I’m reading the part where it is 1790, Elizabeth has just arrived in New South Wales, and is lonely and bored. It’s the third paragraph (in the second half) where I’d like your opinion – what am I trying to imply? Is it clear enough?

Elizabeth ‘filled up the vacuum of many a Solitary day’ by reading, or by writing long letters in which she complained of having no female friends. None of the other officers were accompanied by their wives. Some of the rank-and-file soldiers had brought wives along, but the class divide rendered any friendships there impossible. Even if Elizabeth was willing to bridge that gap (although nothing suggests that she was), the social habits of a lifetime – reinforced by notions of regimental propriety and proper discipline – prevented the soldiers’ wives from expressing anything beyond mere civilities to the only ‘lady’ in the colony. Reverend Johnson had brought his wife but Elizabeth described her as ‘a person in whose society I could reap neither profit or pleasure.’ The Johnsons were not well-liked – two months after the Second Fleet arrived, the convicts were threatened with the withdrawal of rations unless they attended the Sunday church service. Elizabeth’s antipathy was such that she delayed little Edward’s long overdue baptism for nearly another year.

But Elizabeth’s natural optimism soon asserted itself. Just as she had at the Cape, Elizabeth took the time to look around and appreciate the landscape. ‘Every thing was new to me, every Bird, every insect, Flower, &c in short all was novelty around me, and was noticed with a degree of eager curiosity.’ Elizabeth was herself noticed with a similar degree of eager curiosity by Sydney Cove’s small society of officers, who had endured more than three tedious years of one another’s constant company. Among the officers at least, Elizabeth was instantly, and extraordinarily, popular. They fell over one another to be her friend. Here was a pretty young woman who, protected by her marriage and her child, could converse with freedom and intelligence.

Second Lieutenant Dawes, at twenty-eight only four years older than Elizabeth, was a talented polymath whose skills encompassed engineering, science, surveying, and astronomy. ‘He is so much engaged with the stars,’ wrote Elizabeth, ‘that to Mortal Eyes he is not always visible.’ Elizabeth attempted to learn astronomy from Mr Dawes and he went to great efforts to make models of the solar system for her and to explain the general principles of the heavenly bodies. Elizabeth, though, soon claimed she had mistaken her abilities and she quickly brought an end to her astronomical studies, writing ‘I blush at my error,’ to Bridget and implying that, intellectually, she simply wasn’t up to it. But she may well have been blushing about other things entirely – the evening visits to Dawe’s observatory opened many opportunities for others (including Dawes?) to misinterpret her educational motives. Instead Elizabeth and Dawes sensibly looked to the daytime art of botany and Elizabeth was soon able to class and order common plants.

I then go on with a paragraph about her new friend George Worgan (who gave her a piano), and another about Watkin Tench.

The actual text contains lots of footnotes but they don’t paste neatly in to WordPress. So the sources for all the above are as follows:

  • Elizabeth Macarthur to Bridget Kingdon 7 March 1791.
  • Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, August 1790.
  • Edward Macarthur was baptised at St Phillips, Sydney on 1 April 1791. C. Smee, Born in the English Colony of New South Wales 1788-1800, self published, 2009.

Any and all assistance gratefully received!