Category Archives: Writing

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

Shortlist for the 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards – Updated to include the winners


UPDATE: Winners announced 1 December – winners are in bold, below.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for the Arts Mitch Fifield had a big, distracting day yesterday (YES!) but today they have actually got some work done and have announced the shortlist for the 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.

According to the press release there were more than 450 entries and “The 30 shortlisted books showcase the breadth and depth of Australia’s literary talent across six categories—fiction, non-fiction, Australian history, young adult fiction, children’s fiction and poetry.”

This year marks 10 years since the first Prime Minister’s Literary Awards took place in 2008. You’d think that would be long enough for the administrators to get it right but these awards are plagued by issues of timing (no one ever says when the shortlist or winners will be announced).  This year, all they can say is: “The winners will be announced in the coming weeks.” Well, that takes us very close to Christmas and does not leave long for the winners to capitalise on any possible boost to Christmas sales.

Hello government? This stuff is not brain surgery. To add insult to injury, Malcolm Turnbull’s name is spelled incorrectly on the (poorly designed but very fancy looking) website. I used to work for the relevant department (albeit in the Communications portfolio, not Arts), and I still do consulting work there from time to time, so I’m very much aware that the underlying problems are not the fault of the public servants (although the website probably is). Rather it’s the politicians using this prize as a political football. Enough already!

The publishers of each book aren’t mentioned until you click through on each title but in listing the titles below I noticed some interesting trends:

  • Several of the big multi-national publishing firms are completely absent from the shortlist, but Australian independent publishers are well represented.
  • The five poetry texts come from only three different publishers.
  • Three of the five history titles came from NewSouth Publishing.
  • Although the total authors (30) are split exactly 50/50 by gender, women authors are over-represented in the Young Adult and Children’s Fiction category, and under-represented in every other category.

Anyway, my heartfelt congratulations to all the shortlisted writers.


  • The Easy Way Out, Steven Amsterdam (Hachette Australia)
  • The Last Days of Ava Langdon, Mark Flynn (University of Queensland Press)
  • Their Brilliant Careers, Ryan O’Neill (Black Inc)
  • Waiting, Philip Salom (Puncher & Wattman)
  • Extinctions, Josephine Wilson (UWA Publishing)


  • Painting Red Orchids, Eileen Chong (Pitt Street Poetry)
  • Year of the Wasp, Joel Deane (Hunter Publishers)
  • Content, Liam Ferney (Hunter Publishers)
  • Fragments, Antigone Kefala (Giramondo Publishing)
  • Headwaters, Anthony Lawrence (Pitt Street Publishers)


  • Mick: A life of Randolph Stow, Suzanne Falkiner (UWA Publishing)
  • The Art of Time Travel: Historians and their craft, Tom Griffiths (Black Inc)
  • Our Man Elsewhere: In search of Alan Moorehead, Thornton McCamish (Black Inc)
  • Quicksilver, Nicholas Rothwell (Text Publishing)
  • The Art of Rivalry: Four friendships, betrayals and breakthroughs in modern art, Sebastian Smee (Text Publishing)

Prize for Australian History

  • ‘A passion for exploring new countries’ : Matthew Flinders and George Bass, Josephine Bastian (Australian Scholarly Publishing)
  • Evatt: A life, John Murphy (NewSouth Publishing)
  • Atomic Thunder: The Maralinga Story, Elizabeth Tynan (NewSouth Publishing)
  • A Handful of Sand: The Gurindji Struggle, After the Walk-off, Charlie Ward (Monash University Publishing)
  • Valiant for Truth: The Life of Chester Wilmot, War Correspondent, Neil McDonald (NewSouth Publishing)
Young Adult Fiction
  • Words in Deep Blue, Cath Crowley (Pan Macmillan Australia)
  • The Bone Sparrow, Zana Fraillon (Hachette Australia)
  • The Stars at Oktober Bend, Glenda Millard (Allen & Unwin)
  • Forgetting Foster, Dianne Touchell (Allen & Unwin)
  • One Would Think the Deep, Claire Zorn (University of Queensland Press)

Children’s Fiction

  • Home in the Rain, Bob Graham (Walker Books)
  • Blue Sky, Yellow Kite, Janet A Holmes / Jonathan Bentley (Little Hare Books)
  • My Brother, Dee Huxley / Oliver Huxley (Working Title Press)
  • Figgy and the President, Tamsin Janu (Scholastic Australia)
  • Dragonfly Song, Wendy Orr (Allen & Unwin)

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