Go Set a Watchman

Today Harper Lee’s first novel, Go Set a Watchman, is released in Australia.

The publication has been the subject of some controversy:  initially over whether 89 year old Harper Lee was being unduly pressured to publish the book at all, and more recently, over revelations that, in this book, Atticus Finch has a darker side.  According to reviews, Atticus, who has long embodied the best of mankind, attends a meeting of the Klan and expresses racist views.

To Kill a Mockingbird  has been my favourite book since I read it as a twelve year old, and Atticus Finch my literary hero.  I became a lawyer because of Atticus Finch, I became a writer because of what To Kill a Mockingbird meant to me and I named my son Atticus because I wanted him to have a name that represented integrity, courage and compassion.

And so when the early reviews revealed that Go Set a Watchman had altered the character upon whom I’d based the best intentions of my life, I was, like many, horrified. 

I want to read Go Set a Watchman not just because Harper Lee is a truly magnificent writer, but because I want to support the second book of an author who has given me so much with her first.   But now, it seems reading that book might break my heart.  I have for the past days, since the New York Times review first came out, vacillated between desperately wanting more of Lee’s writing and instinctively needing to protect the Atticus Finch I’d grown up with.  For some time my need to keep To Kill a Mockingbird and its characters unsullied looked like it might prevail.  But then I remembered what it was to be a writer.

To Kill a Mockingbird was reportedly written at Harper Lee’s publishers’ request when Go Set a Watchman was rejected.  Essentially To Kill a Mockingbird was a rewrite of Lee’s original story, a refocusing to make adult Jean Louise’s childhood memories central to a new novel.  But Go Set a Watchman was what Lee originally wrote, what she originally wanted to say.

Like many wordsmiths, I too have manuscripts in the drawer that have never found a home for a variety reasons.  Indeed, I suspect my best work lives in that drawer.  The bizarre thing about such manuscripts is that they call to you from the dark place to which you’ve consigned them, they demand their chance the sun.  But of course that is not always in an author’s ability to grant.  Those decisions are made by publishers, marketing, readerships, bottom-lines and the zeitgeist of the moment.

I wonder if Go Set a Watchman called to Lee all these years.  I think I understand then, why at 89 she would risk the legacy, the worldwide adoration of Atticus Finch, to give her first born a chance to make is own friends in the world.

I was a child when I read To Kill a Mockingbird and perhaps then I needed a hero, needed to believe that there were men like Atticus Finch as I read him to be.  I’m older now.  Perhaps I can bear to be disillusioned.

PS:  For the record, and in case anyone is worried, none of the manuscripts in my drawer include a story in which Rowland Sinclair joins the Klan.


Catching up again....

Argghh.... this planet is rotating too fast, and once again I'm running screaming "wait for me!"

So rather a lot has happened since my last post....

In January, I blogged for the Southerly and I wrote.

In February I wrote. And attended the launch the wonderful Gateway Bookshop's (in Wagga Wagga) program in celebration of fifty years in business!  It was a lovely evening with passionate booksellers and story enthusiasts.  And then I took a deep breath for March.

The month began with the inaugral Jugiong Writers' Festival.  It was a glorious country writer's festival - relaxed, warm and quirky.  I was previleged to join a stella cast of authors including Freda Marnie, Paul Daley, Peter Rees, Rochelle Llewellyn, Biff Ward, Jenny Glazebrook and Tim Fischer.  Since my husband, Michael, was called in to moderate a panel, my 9-year-old son, Atticus, became my chief photographer.  These are his photos.



The following weekend I was in Melbourne for History with Mystery at the Sisters in Crime, where I appeared with Malla Nunn (whose work and person I adore) under the scrutiny of the lovely Maggie Baron.


    The weekend after that I was off to the Historical Novel Society Association Conference, where I had the honour of speaking on a panel with Peter Corris who is a particular favourite of my husband's and was in fact the reason Michael advised me to try crime-wring in the first place.  Elisabeth Storrs and her team pulled off what was an extraordinary event.  The conference dinner saw me seated beside two very charming friends of Rowland Sinclair.


From the HNSA Conference I went directly to Lakes Grammar where I spoke to students about Greek Mythology and story creation.



Then back home for the Batlow Show which is a big deal in the Batlow calendar and requires all hands on deck.


 And so that me caught up to the end of March.  April passed in a "Good grief, I have a novel due at the end of this month blur and then the craziness began again in May.... but aware that this is already a ridiculously long post, I shall include May in my next instalment (which I am determined will be soon). 



2015 is underway as is a new Rowland Sinclair Mystery.  I wrote the old year out and the new year in, as is my own peculiar tradition/superstition.  My head will be in 1934 for the next several weeks.  I am, however, writing a few articles for the Southerly this month, the first of which you may find here, and the second here if the inclination takes you.  There will be four articles in total on the theme of discovery through story.  Happy New Year!


What happened to 2014?

It is with some sense of bewilderment that I note the date in the bottom right hand corner of my computer. I must confess that 2014 sped by so fast that I had barely come to realise it was no longer 2013!  The final months of the year in particular left me spinning.

A Murder Unmentioned was released on 1 November.  Michael (my husband) and I were in Sydney.  He was recovering from a cornea transplant and I was leading him about.  I did manage to lead him to dinner with the divinely talented but wonderfully human Malla Nunn and P.M. Newton.  We ate cornbread and okra in this literally brilliant company... see what I did there?... ;) 

I made it back home in time to drive up to Thredbo for the Snowy Readers and Writers' Festival which I have been a part of since its inaugral event.  My boys came with me.   One of the best things about this crazy profession of mine is that Edmund and Atticus have the opportunity to meet some extraordinary people.  Poets like Omar Musa and Victoria McGrath, writers like Anna George, Karen Viggers, Biff Ward, David Leser, Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis.  I think (hope) it compensates for all the time their own mother is distracted by imaginary people.


I returned to the peaks again at the end of that month for the official launch of A Murder Unmentioned at a magnificent event at Crackenback Lake Resort hosted by the Snowprint Bookshop.  Despite having nine books to my name, I am at a loss to describe how special that night was.  The band was brilliant, the singers superb, the venue perfect, the company delightful and to top the night off with superlatives, the drama students of Snow Mountains Grammar School performed a chapter from A Murder Unmentioned so well that I swear they had been inside my head!  It was an evening so extraordinary that I wish I could bottle it somehow to share with the world, because something that wonderful shouldn't belong to just me.  But of course I haven't quite worked out how to contain the essence of a experience so photos will have to suffice!



But that's not all!  I also managed to squeeze in a trip to Melbourne for the Crime and Justice Festival hosted by Reader's Feast Bookstore.  This is a truly unique event which discusses not only crime in literature but also addresses questions of social justice and reform.  I appeared on two panels... the first with my dear friends and admired colleagues, Angela Savage and Robert Gott, and later with my Pantera stablemates Melanie Casey and Josh Donellan.  We discussed all manner of things, shared experiences, ideas and  laughter with wonderful audiences of readers. 


And then there was Christmas... which I spent away from home this year with my Dad and sister.  Dad had surgery just before Christmas and Devini and I headed up to Brisbane to keep an eye on him and do what we could.  In the flurry I neglected to update this site and wish you all the very best of the Season and a happy and healthy New Year, but the wish is now given and no less sincere for being so late!





On launching....

Next week, or thereabouts my latest book will officially hit shelves.  A Murder Unmentioned is the sixth book in the Rowland Sinclair Mysteries, my ninth published novel and the tenth book I’ve written. So, how does one launch such a book into the world?

Later in November, on the 29th to be precise, the wonderful Snowprint Bookshop will help me celebrate the sixth Rowly with A Night Worth Mentioning under the stars at the spectacular Lake Crackenback Resort.  There will be canapés and champagne on the peaks, under a glorious night sky.  There will be conversations about Rowly, the 1930s and books as well music and I’m told dramatic performances of scenes from the novel.  I am looking forward to it beyond measure!

The 1st of November will, however, slip by quietly in terms of literary galas.  The date of the release of my book happens to coincide with the date that my husband Michael will undergo surgery for a cornea transplant, so I will be hanging out in Sydney keeping him company.  While I wish Michael didn’t have to undergo the surgery at all, I can’t help thinking that spending the time focussed (no pun intended) on him is somehow appropriate.

I’ve never made any secret about Michael’s involvement in my books – particularly the Rowland Sinclair Mysteries.    He is my first editor, my historical advisor and the inspiration for Wilfred Sinclair.  But it’s more than that.  Writing is for most writers a tough profession to make work in the real world.    If you don’t have a day job, it generally means sacrificing notions of income for at least a time, perhaps forever. If you do have a day job, it generally means working a night shift in addition to whatever it is you do in the day, in order to “get those books writ”!  When you have a family, both are hard roads.  For me, it’s only possible because Michael has compensated.

Society has always held those who support artistic endeavour in the highest esteem… galleries, philanthropic organisations, state institutions.  They are all necessary and rightly valued.  Sometimes overlooked however, are the partners of artists who in many cases, willingly or otherwise, find themselves patrons of the arts - unofficial sponsors of the artists with whom they have become entangled.  This is so with us.  Into every one of my novels have gone the characters and stories in my head, Pantera Press’s investment in my work, and Michael’s donation to the cause.

And so I will celebrate the release of A Murder Unmentioned by raising a quiet glass with my husband to what we have created together… some fairly disasterous meals, a high-maintenance garden, our extraordinary sons, and Rowland Sinclair.