Good biography, bad biography – two brief book reviews

This year's winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography was Caroline Fraser, for Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. If, like me, you read the Little House on the Prairie books as a child, then you already know all about Laura Ingalls Wilder. She grew up in the 1800s on the American frontier, with Ma, Pa, blind sister Grace and little sister Carrie.  Ma was endlessly patient and good, and jovial Pa was wise and strong and brave. There were blizzards and locusts, danger and drama, all tempered by [...]

2018-04-27T12:00:42+00:00 April 27th, 2018|Book Review|9 Comments

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 [...]

2018-03-24T23:03:43+00:00 December 4th, 2017|Work in Progress, Writing|18 Comments

The people you meet…

Given that writing is such a solitary act, I had no idea how many people I would meet in the process of writing my book. And what wonderful, friendly and helpful people they would turn out to be. In England, when I visited Elizabeth Macarthur's birthplace (a tiny village in north Devon) I met Sheila Cholwill, her husband Colin and her good friend Rose Hitchings. For two days they showed me around, fed me, introduced me, and generally just made me feel extraordinarily welcome.  Octogenarian Mr Bowden showed me through [...]

2018-03-25T12:51:45+00:00 December 10th, 2016|Life, Writing|4 Comments

Why is history still written mainly by men?

Fantastic article in The Guardian: Only four female writers appeared in the list of top 50 bestselling history titles in the UK last year. And women are still perceived as more suited to writing about drawing rooms than battlefields. Why? Leading historians and biographers discuss sexism and subject matter. All the big British names in history and biography have contributed to the piece, and quite a few big names from elsewhere too.  Well worth a look. And if you are in the longform essay mood, try this review by Janet [...]

2018-03-27T20:31:57+00:00 February 8th, 2016|Interesting Articles|0 Comments

Virginia Woolf – The Art of Biography

Woolf's essay about biography is prescient and ever so slightly patronising. Thus the biographer must go ahead of the rest of us, like the miner’s canary, testing the atmosphere, detecting falsity, unreality, and the presence of obsolete conventions. His sense of truth must he alive and on tiptoe. Then again, since we live in an age when a thousand cameras are pointed, by newspapers, letters, and diaries, at every character from every angle, he must be prepared to admit contradictory versions of the same face. Definitely worth reading (and it's [...]

2018-03-21T14:56:15+00:00 August 26th, 2014|Writing|0 Comments

Updike – a review of a review

I read so many book reviews that I often feel far more well-read than I actually am. "Oh yes," I say, affecting an air knowledgeable nonchalance when asked about a certain book.  "I know it.  It received great reviews."  Chances are I'll never get around to reading it, though.  And does that matter?  A good book review is an end in itself, as enjoyable and informative to read as any other essay form. Just such an example of a fascinating review can be found here, in the Times Literary Supplement.  [...]

2018-03-21T14:56:19+00:00 June 28th, 2014|Interesting Articles|0 Comments