Elizabeth Macarthur’s Grave

I took the opportunity, late last year, to visit Elizabeth Macarthur’s grave. The Macarthur family graveyard is on a quiet hill, about a mile away from and opposite the family home at Camden Park House (about 70kms south west of the Sydney CBD). Elizabeth’s son William, passionate about botany, planted the site with exotic palms, which no doubt quickly grew tall enough to be seen from the house, but most of the site is now sheltered by native trees. In all my years of researching, I never did find a [...]

My Writing Day

Her name is Winter. She's a Scottish Deerhound. Yes, she's very tall. Saves bending over to give her pats - she's already at just the right height. One day a week. That's all I have for my own writing. And when I say 'day' I don't mean a whole day, I mean a school day, between about 9:30 and 3:00pm. Also minus the school holidays. And minus time spent hanging out the washing, catching up on my day job, making cups of tea and procrastinating by playing Tetris. [...]

Done! For now at least…

With apologies to those who already know, via Facebook and Twitter - I sent the draft manuscript to my editor at Text Publishing late last week. Very happy. Subsequently spent a relaxing weekend in the garden, and celebrating Mother's Day with my gorgeous kids. No deadlines, no pressure - bliss. Next steps? The editor edits the manuscript, sends it back covered in comments and I go back to working on it. And in the meantime I keep following up and trying to source all the images I need. And yes, [...]

How to finish a manuscript

Young Woman Writing a Letter (detail), from a poster for Encre Marquet by Eugene Grasset, 1892. Image courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Well, by not spending time writing blog posts, obviously. The manuscript must go to the publisher (for editing) in about week, so the last little while has been just a teensy bit frantic. I kind of finished working on the text a few weeks ago, and since then I have: drawn up a Macarthur family tree (thank you PowerPoint), included a list of [...]

Elizabeth Macarthur died today

Elizabeth Macarthur in old age. Source: https://blogs.hht.net.au/cook/happy-birthday-elizabeth-macarthur/ Not actually today, obviously. Elizabeth Macarthur the woman died almost 167 years ago, on 9 February 1850. She was eighty-three years old. But today I wrote the paragraph in which Elizabeth dies, the final paragraph of the book really, and I felt strangely sad. It’s been my job to make her come to life on the page and I’ve been working to do so for more years than I care to admit. Yet there she was, having a stroke and quietly [...]

Elizabeth Macarthur’s Quilt at the National Gallery of Victoria

The gallery had sold out of the glossy, colour catalogue for Making the Australian Quilt: 1800–1950 by the time I saw the exhibition last week. But I had a terrific chat with the young woman serving at the museum shop while I placed an order to have the catalogue mailed out (at a discounted rate, no less). "Isn't it interesting," she said, "how contemporary some of those quilt designs are. It's amazing to think they predated modernism by decades.  But not acknowledged, of course." She gave me a gorgeous, wry [...]

Mrs Macquarie and the tragic accident

Headstone of Grace and Richard Veale, Elizabeth Macarthur's sister and father. St Bridget's churchyard, Bridgerule. Source: Adventures in Biography One of the problems of being a researcher of women's history is all the dead children. Over and over again the archives yield stories of families broken by illness, accident and disease - so many stories that they are in danger of seeming commonplace. But of course the death of each child was, to his or her own family, an occasion of enormous tragedy. Elizabeth Macarthur lost [...]

Offers from publishers

Right now I have written offers from six different publishers (so far). Yes, six. Yes, all of them well-known publishing houses. I know, I'm gobsmacked too. I've spent the last few weeks talking with each of them, on the phone and face-to-face - wonderful and lengthy conversations about writing, editing, history and Elizabeth Macarthur. I must say that everyone I've spoken with has been incredibly friendly and nice.  And all very keen to win me over. I've never heard so many people say so many lovely things about my writing! [...]

Maligning Mr Leach – the gaps are where the mysteries lie

Someone asked me the other day if the biography I'm working on will contain any fictional elements. Um, no. If it did it, wouldn't it be a work of historical fiction, and not a biography? And yet, I do confess, the temptation to create fiction - to fill in the gaps - is strong. Occasionally within the text of my manuscript I offer some brief conjecture.  But I'm careful to make it very clear that conjecture and guess-work (albeit educated guess-work) is all that it is.  However sometimes my conjecture [...]