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 St Bridget’s church (where John and Elizabeth Macarthur were married) and then rang the church bells for just for me! That’s him holding the enormous key to the church.
Online I discovered a supportive and caring community of bloggers, who all love books as much as I do. After leaving my first, tentative comments on their sites they warmly encouraged my own blogging efforts and have introduced me to some fantastic texts I might otherwise never have known about. Cruise through my list of Best Blogs, listed at right, but special shout outs to Sue at Whispering Gums, Lisa at ANZLitlovers, and Bill at The Australian Legend. I’ve met all three in person and what you read is what you get – intelligent, friendly and interesting.
A particularly honourable mention goes to blogger Dr Marion Diamond at Historians are Past Caring. Marion, an academic and a professional historian, started up an email correspondence with me and has been very generous with her expertise and research. Thanks to her I have the transcript of the adultery trial (actually a trial for ‘criminal conversation’) of Elizabeth Macarthur’s son-in-law. Married only for a year or two himself, he had an affair with a married woman, she fell pregnant and it all turned sour. Biographical gold!
I’ve had an equally friendly correspondence with Roger Kingdon, a man whose ancestor Bridget Kingdon was Elizabeth Macarthur’s best friend in Devon.
Last week I visited Sydney and you’ll be unsurprised to know that the librarians at the Mitchell Library could not have been more helpful. Very kind to a gormless researcher like me.
In Sydney I also met with Jacquie Newling, author of Eat Your History and the cooking half of The Cook and the Curator blog. I also met Jacquie’s colleague, Jacky Dalton, who works at Living Museums Sydney and who for many years worked at Elizabeth Farm. In the near future I’ll be posting interviews with both but in the meantime you should know that they were – again – friendly, helpful and interesting.
I stayed in Sydney with my gorgeous friend Jane McKenzie, a ceramic artist and heritage architect. I’ve regularly drawn on her historical knowledge and pressed the friendship by asking her to come on excursions with me. This time to the Mitchell Library but in the past she and I spent a lovely day travelling by ferry from Circular Quay to Parramatta, then walking up to Elizabeth Farm, then across to Government House and back to the ferry and home again. It was a fantastic way to get a sense of the lay of the land.
Along the way I’ve also met many terrifically talented writers. It’s such a relief to talk with people who totally understand the challenges of applying one’s behind to the ergonomic chair, day after day. I met and became friends with a couple of writers when I stayed at Varuna. Then I hit the literary-friends-jackpot during my HardCopy year. Seriously, I think I found my tribe.
And last but not least are the publishing professionals that became part of my life this year. Which makes perfect sense – it is in everyone’s interests for the book to be as good as it can be. My agent, Jacinta di Mase, is excellent company (I can vouch for her at lunch and at publisher parties!) and has totally got my back. And my editor at Text, Jane Pearson, is every bit as excited about my book as I am.
So, far from being a solitary exercise, it turns out that writing a book can be quite a social whirl. Who knew?