Work in progress

It seems that now we are virtually imprisoned there is a greater need to connect. I’ve found that when I exercise my dog more people say hello and now that I have to write from home rather than at a cafe, suddenly the need to share what I’m working on is palpable, although I rarely used to talk about my projects. Here is a snippet from a chapter entitled Shopping. It is from the second book in the trilogy manuscript entitled Paris Next Week. I hope you enjoy this glimpse. Like all of us at the moment, she is imprisoned. In Sarah’s case by the threat of violence.

Shopping

Melbourne was wonderful, the Block as they call it, much nicer than I expected. Funny how in Sydney we think everything in Melbourne will be inferior to what we have. The Block arcade of shops I could have spent all day in and Mother would have disappeared for days. But Clarissa had obviously set herself a vast list of places to visit and Pene and I could only follow in her wake. I felt like a child glancing at the marvellous domed ceiling, the tiles below my feet with my character Anne whispering in my ear that it would be a lovely place to play hide and seek in.

Yes, wouldn’t it be marvellous to lose myself here. Simply not go back to the ship. Find a cheap hotel and stay for a while until Nana’s five pound note ran out. But what then? I have no idea how many shops we visited but number one on Clarissa’s list was Georges on Collins Street.

Clarissa was intent on buying a woollen, navy coat for London. She tried to offer to buy me one as well but I told her that my terrible mink would keep me warm. She also offered to buy me some warm underwear for France. You have no idea, how cold it can be, she exclaimed but I stood firm, explaining that I couldn’t be seen spending money as I was soon to tell Toby I didn’t have any. Although I felt such a longing to buy one single thing from the wealth of beautiful items on the shelves.

It was then, as the spoilt only child of a Sydney socialite prone to spending a lot of money on clothes and accessories that, stupidly, I felt the full force of how my life has changed. As I gazed at a sunset coloured evening dress, which would have been perfect with my auburn hair, I realised that Toby was actually a terrible straightjacket, squeezing the life out of me.

Now as I return to my cabin I can feel that band around my chest. I am actually short of breath as I open our cabin door. Toby is inside seething. That much is obvious at first glance.

“You actually had the nerve to go shopping, did you? Shopping!”

“I was invited.”

“You were invited. You were invited!”

He is moving closer, his red face shoved close to mine. His left hand begins to squeeze my arm tight when there is a knock at the door. I open it quickly before Toby can compose himself.

It is Clarissa, serene, composed and with a happy smile on her face. She bursts into the room without invitation, startling Toby. I struggle to hide my relief.

“Darling, I got you something. It’s just a trinket for being so patient whilst I dragged you and Pene through all those shops. Pene’s is silver but I thought gold would suit you better with your marvellous hair.” Clarissa raises her arm to give me a small paper bag with the large scrolled writing of Georges on it, the G an extravagant loop…..

Forgotten Australian women novelists

Marjorie Clark

Marjorie Clark aged 20

It’s only the last ten years or so that I have really questioned how few Australian women novelists there were (or at least we know of today) writing in the years 1900-1950. Before then I just accepted the exceedingly low number as normal and relative to the times. Australia was a small country, population wise. It was a given that in those years it would have been much harder for women to get published and then harder still to keep writing with the demands of a husband and children. And nearly all not as lucky as Eleanor Dark with a studio of her own. No surprise there weren’t many. Or so I thought.

As I began to read more widely on the subject, I discovered that quite a few had slipped through the net of history. They wrote, they published but were forgotten (or ignored) by those who came after to make up the lists of worthy novelists of the 20th century. What I’ve only recently discovered is how many were left off the lists! A surprisingly large number. I have had to do a complete 360 in my thinking and marvel at how many were actually writing and regret that so many came to be forgotten and in most cases completely out of print.

Dale Spender in her book Writing a New World: Two Centuries of Australian Women Writers chronicles those who have slipped through the net and for me (researching Australia during the 1920s) it was wonderful to read about these women. I also mention this in my blog How fiction/historical fiction can save historical fact and touch on my discovery of Jean Curlewis and her writing. An excellent essay on this fascinating writer is here.

Consulting Spender again this month I have made up a shortlist of forgotten Australian women novelists I would like to read. They are:

Elinor Mordaunt 1872-1942

Mary Eliza Fullerton 1868-1946

Mabel Forrest 1872-1935

Marie Bjelke-Petersen 1874-1969

Agnes Littlejohn 1865-1944

Julia Levy 1881-1959

Hilda Bridges 1880-1971

Lillian Turner 1867-1956

Velia Ercole 1903 -1978

None of the authors’ works are available to buy. At least as far as I have been able to discover, except for Velia Ercole’s second novel Dark Windows at a cost of approximately $90 including postage from the US. (I did wonder what it was doing there). However, several libraries hold titles by the above authors so I’m hoping I will be able to borrow some of their books soon.

The titles I’m particularly interested in (because they appear to deal with Australian city life) are The Wild Moth by Mabel Forrest (a very interesting and talented woman), Jewelled Nights by the very prolific Marie Bjelke Petersen. I would also like to read Devotion by “Juliet”, the pen name of Julia Levy, who I couldn’t find much information about. Also Our Neighbours by Hilda Bridges a Tasmanian writer, along with her brother who was Tasmania’s most prolific writer with 36 novels.

Lastly but not least (as the book won the Bulletin novel competition for 1932) is No Escape by Velia Ercole (Margaret Gregory). It is set in the 1930s and explores the experiences of an Italian doctor adapting to life in rural Australia. Although not really fitting my bill for a book that will help my research of life in Sydney or Melbourne in the 1920s, it sounds very interesting.

Whilst troving for details and books of the above authors, I came across three more forgotten authors in this essay in the La Trobe Journal. Jean Campbell has not been completely forgotten although you can’t borrow or buy her first novel Brass & Cymbals for love or money. I’ve tried, believe you me. Unless my memory is playing tricks I don’t remember reading about Marjorie Clarke (writing as Georgia Rivers) in the Spender book. Her photo is at the top of this blog and she looks to me like a “kindred spirit”. I hope to be able to read She Dresses For Dinner. The third writer is Doris Kerr writing as Capel Boake, who died quite young. Her output was small and the one novel of hers I really want to read, I will probably never be able to. “‘The Flying Shade’, set in Melbourne and depicting art student life in studios and cafés in the city, was finished by early 1921, but was never published.”

Lastly I’ll finish with Vera Dwyer who I discovered in a book of Australian women photographers. Her portrait, taken by May Moore, is striking and when I read she was a writer, I was drawn to discover more about her. I’ve since read two of her books, The Kayles of Bushy Lodge and The Banished Lovers, both of which I bought at abebooks.com. Several more of her books are available which is strange considering she is one of the least known of the forgotten novelists. (Is that an oxymoron?)  I don’t remember her being listed in the Spender book and she’s definitely not in Drusilla Modjeska’s Exiles at Home: Australian women writers 1925-1945.

Please watch this space in my journey to read these forgotten Australian women novelists. Hopefully I won’t experience the dramas I had trying to read Eleanor Dark’s first novel Slow Dawning. More details here. Wish me luck.

PS Last Saturday I found a book for $5 at the Lifeline shop at Charlestown. It looked old – a pale blue cloth hardback entitled Annette of River Bend by Irene Cheyne. I opened the book to find it was published by Angus & Robertson in 1942. Another forgotten Australian woman novelist.