Perth Writers Festival 2017

I look forward to three days of immersion into the world of books every year at the Perth Writers Festival, held at the UWA campus. It’s always exciting but this year I experienced a different kind of anticipation. I was there as invited author with two panel sessions to take part in and a 3-hour writing workshop to run for twenty-five people. Packing for what was clearly going to be one of the hottest weekends of the year, I wondered how I’d manage to look cool and calm while my nerves were speeding along in overdrive. How would I know what to do, where to go, how to get there and when?

I needn’t have worried. From the moment I arrived at the hotel, the PWF team had everything under control and the organisation behind the scenes worked like a very well-oiled machine. I was helped and looked-after in every way, including ensuring there was vego food available and literally guiding me from one place to another between sessions.  Even so, it was hard not to feel the world around me was surreal, especially when I first saw my own book on the shelves in the Green Room alongside publications by all the other authors at the festival, including some of my favourite writers like Patrick Holland, Jessie Burton and Hannah Kent.

The first panel session took place in the Tropical Grove amid the sound of parrots and the fringed shadows of palms, a perfect outdoor setting for a discussion about a botanical collector and an artist who painted birds. Convenor Barbara Horgan expertly guided Melissa Ashley and me through a lively discussion about the iconic women who are the subjects of our books. We did have one short interruption, when two members of the audience passed out from the heat!  If you haven’t already read Melissa’s beautiful book, ‘The Birdman’s Wife’ I highly recommend it. You’ll find that Elizabeth Gould and Georgiana Molloy had much in common.

The second panel, convened by Vivienne Glance (who so skilfully drew out the less obvious connections between my book and that of Amy Stewart) was just as lively and even standing room at the back of the lecture theatre was full. Feeling a bit more relaxed after two days of nervousness, I found myself laughing as loudly as everyone else at Amy’s hilarious descriptions of the personal research she and her husband ‘had to do’ on the alcoholic beverages that are the subject of her book, The Drunken Botanist. If you fancy creating your next tipple entirely from plants, you’ll need to try her recipes!

The writing workshop on Saturday morning was a great pleasure for me, working with twenty-five writers at just about every different stage you could imagine. There were writers of fiction and non-fiction, writers who had already completed a first draft of their manuscript and others who were still making early notes, experienced writers and even writers who didn’t yet think they WERE writers. Working with others opens the mind, especially if they bring fresh new views about how and why we write. I always learn as much as I pass on and this time, I’m sure, I’ll be seeing a few names I recognise on publishers’ lists of new releases before too long. Good luck, everyone!

I must admit to you that meeting some of my favourite authors, having dinner with them and having photographs taken with them while we sat in the book-signing area was a huge thrill. How could it not be? I’m a reader! But there were other wonderful things to remember. My publisher, Picador, is based in Sydney but the team were in Perth for the festival so it was very special to have time for long discussions. Phone calls do their job but nothing can replace talking face to face. But the best thing of all was the same thing that always means most to me and often makes my eyes fill up with emotions I can’t really describe. My biggest thank-you goes to all the readers who came to my sessions, asked questions, bought the book, talked to me and told me snippets of their own stories, so many people I’ve never met before. Somehow, the book I wrote, the book you read, has forged a link between us in the magical way that happens when readers and writers connect. In the end, you’re the only reason I believe it’s all true and I really am a writer.

 

One of my fan-girl moments. My book on sale next to the latest by Sebastian Barry, one of my favourite books of 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

Endings or beginnings?

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When the frenzy of writing has been going on for more than a year it begins to feel like the only thing there is. It invades every waking moment and sometimes the sleeping time, too. I dream of words. Not sentences or meaningful phrases, just words. Then suddenly, it comes to an end, on the day a complete manuscript is saved and printed.

That happened to me recently and I hadn’t experienced the feeling of closure for two years, something seemingly enormous, finished. I sat at my computer the day after the manuscript was sent off to my agent and looked at my ‘writing wall’ as I have done for hours every day through a summer, an autumn, a winter and a spring. It’s a large board, covered in pictures, photographs, snippets of text and anything else that captures the essence of the places and people in the story. Photographs of old portraits provide faces for me to stare at while I search for the best words to describe a nose, or a smile, or a way of standing. Landscape paintings show me the settings I’m trying to recreate in words. Since part of the plot is set in places I’ve never been, these add something more to the other research that underpins everything. I don’t need my writing wall any more but I can’t bear the idea of a blank canvas in front of me so it will stay right where it is until I begin collecting images for the next one and that won’t be until after Christmas.

Time at the end of December has already been set aside for the reading I’ve missed out on for months. The Reading Pile has become The Reading Tower. There’s always at least one book on the go but it’s a long time since I’ve been able to do that delicious thing of disappearing into a book and devouring it from beginning to end in one long gluttonous read. Reading is still the most important part of writing, for me anyway, because that’s where everything begins – characters, places, lives, words. Especially words.

Sorting through the piles of loose papers on my desk today, I’ve realised that finishing one thing isn’t an ending, it’s a beginning. There’ll be a lot more work to do on my manuscript next year. There’s a historical writing project to begin in January, that’s been waiting patiently in the wings for months. And there’s a backlog of transcription that I can’t set aside any longer if I want to write more on the story of Georgiana Molloy, to make new information available before the end of next year.

I never like to wish time away but I’m looking forward to 2017. Here’s the exciting news: at the end of February, I’ll be joining about 60 other authors at the Perth Writers Festival. I can’t think of much that could be more thrilling than taking part in my own local festival to celebrate reading and writing. 2016 is ending on an equally exciting note too. The wonderful crew at ‘Readings’ bookstores in Melbourne included ‘Georgiana Molloy: the Mind That Shines’ in their list of ‘50 great reads by Australian women in 2016’.  While I was writing the book I had no idea I might create something that could be described as ‘a good read’ so that means a great deal to me.

There are so many times when writing makes you feel vulnerable and inadequate, useless and foolish, but other writers tell me they often experience the same self-doubts. We have to keep going, bent over notebooks and keyboards, finding a way through to the end of the story. And then beginning another.

 

See the Readings bookstores list of ‘50 great reads by Australian women in 2016’ here.

Publication Day!

Tomorrow, March 22, is the publication date for the new Picador edition of ‘Georgiana Molloy, the Mind That Shines’. We’ll be celebrating a happy ending to more than a decade of work and a year of self-publishing but with so much going on it feels like an exciting new beginning at the same time.

I’m so happy with the wonderful job that publisher Alex Craig and editor Jodi Devantier at Picador have done with the book, and the new interior design and subtly updated cover from Lauren Wilhelm.  There are two more sections of new colour images and I finally have the hand-drawn maps I’d hoped for in the first edition – which had to fall by the way in early 2015 when we reached our budget limit.

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The best thing of all at the moment is having the opportunity to talk to so many people about the book. I can’t say I look forward to the nerves involved in recording live radio interviews that will air in every state, but it feels fantastic knowing that the outcomes of my research into Georgiana’s life will be reaching so far in the next few weeks. My original objective was to make the story publicly available, even if that meant printing fifty copies at home and sending them to libraries or just publishing the book on a website.

In the new edition, a few extra lines appear in the list of thanks, including an acknowledgement of the hard work of the whole team at Picador; so many people contributed their skill to the final lovely package. There’s also an expression of gratitude to my agent, Martin Shaw of the Alex Adsett Literary Agency, who’s done so much to support and encourage from the very first tentative email I sent him on 21 July last year. He’s simply the best and I could not be luckier.

And there’s another important addition to that list: ‘Huge and heartfelt thanks go to the many bookshops and other retailers who supported the self-published book in 2015 and started it on its journey.’ Booksellers shared their enthusiasm with readers and did a great deal to keep sales flying high.

Finally, I’m so glad that the book being published tomorrow still has the same statement on its very first page – and nothing else – just the acknowledgement of country. It was a personal choice for me in March 2015 and Picador have retained it in this new edition.

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Everything changes and things move on.

With just a few copies of the 2015 self-published book left in bookshops and the new 2016 Picador edition on its way, it’s time to update the information I share about ‘Georgiana Molloy, the mind that shines’. It’s also an opportunity to create a website that can manage everything, including new writing.

The design is underway so watch out for that news in a couple of weeks. The site will look very different but all the original information will still be there, including the photographs.

The Picador book will be released on 22nd March.

Meanwhile, please stay in touch via this website or the Facebook page: Georgiana Molloy 1805 – 1843

Exciting news

My first and strongest motivation in writing a book about the life of Georgiana Molloy was to share as widely as possible the full story and the true facts. Selling so many copies, so quickly, since the book was published in March was a wonderful surprise and hearing from so many readers who’ve enjoyed the book has been fantastic.

But self-publishing has its limits and with an increasing number of requests for copies from bookshops in other states, and from readers in the UK and US, we realised that we couldn’t manage to meet demands on our own and I decided to look for a publisher. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind journey…

First, I was signed up by a literary agent who’s turned out to be the best agent I could have wished for, Martin Shaw of the Alex Adsett Agency. He returned my first email within hours and was excited enough about the book to pitch it to major publishers within a couple of weeks. Then he guided me with wisdom and sensitivity through the process when I was faced with more than one publishing offer and a decision to make.

Pan Macmillan will be publishing the book next year under their Picador imprint and after meeting my publisher, Alex Craig, for the first time last week in Sydney, I’m absolutely sure that Georgiana’s story is in the safest of hands to move on and travel more widely than Mike and I could ever have taken it on our own. It’s an overwhelming privilege to be working now with an agent and a publisher who bring such knowledge, experience and creativity to what’s been a very personal project until now. All I have to do is learn to let go – and try to focus on the book I’m writing now!

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And here’s a photo of a very happy moment: signing the publishing contract in the Reading Room of the Battye Library in Perth (where so much of the research was done) with Georgiana’s great-great grandson Patrick Richardson-Bunbury, to whom the book’s dedicated. He signed as the witness on the contract.

‘Cover to Cover’: an interview

As part of Writing WA’s ‘Cover to Cover’ series, I enjoyed a discussion with Meri  Fatin about Georgiana and John Molloy, the research that kept me hooked for so long and the process of writing and publishing the book. The programme is currently being aired several times on the Westlink TV channel (602) and is also available now to view on YouTube, using THIS LINK. (30 minutes)

 

Book Club notes can be downloaded from the ‘For Readers’ / ‘Book of the Month’ section of the ‘Writing WA’ website.

August news

Another great review this week. Thank you to the National Trust (Australia) and to reviewer Dr Robyn Taylor (NT quarterly magazine, ‘Trust News’ August 2015).

‘This beautifully illustrated book is a joy to read’.
It ‘has a different approach’ that ‘brings psychological depth to the main characters and greater poignancy’.

And thank you to the Biodiversity Heritage Library, one of my favourite online browsing places. A fascinating article popped up on Facebook this morning.

My own research showed that the Leach family were close friends of the Kennedys and the reason Georgiana met her future husband. John Molloy and Jonathan Leach fought together in the Peninsular Wars. The other two brothers, George (a lawyer) and William Elford Leach were also close friends with Georgiana’s parents and she knew them from childhood as house guests in her home near Carlisle. William Elford Leach was a very talented zoologist whose work influenced Darwin, but he died tragically at a young age. Georgiana’s youngest brother George was entrusted with some of Leach’s precious specimens. You can read about this on Page 111 of ‘Georgiana Molloy: the Mind that Shines’ and if you’d like to know more or to see images of the beautifully hand-coloured pages of Leach’s most well-known publication, here’s the link. Thank you BHL!

https://www.facebook.com/BioDivLibrary/posts/10152889273631566

‘History West’ August 2015 (RWAHS)

A big thank you to the Royal Western Australian Historical Society and to Gillian Lilleyman for her review of ‘Georgiana Molloy: the mind that shines’ in ‘History West’, August 2015, which describes the book as ‘an even closer study of Georgiana and ‘a sensitive reappraisal’ that ‘will assure this fascinating pioneer heroine a new generation of devotees’.

Writing about the strand of anecdotes that relate highlights from my own research story, Gillian Lilleyman says, ‘Anyone who researches family and social history will relate to her excitement at chance discoveries, the fragmented pieces of information that suddenly fit together’.

‘Although the author maintains a presence she has a light touch. Her elegant prose is very readable. Particularly eloquent are her descriptions of the gardens and landscapes of Georgiana’s past which, accompanied by Georgiana’s own words, convey a greater appreciation of how, along with her strong religious faith, Georgiana’s love of nature gave her the fortitude to adapt to pioneer life.’

Feedback and reviews

Boffins Bookshop, Perth WA
Thank you for putting us in very special company on the front page of the Mother’s Day 2015 recommendations newsletter.

Viva Books, Busselton WA
What an outstanding read Bernice Barry’s new book, Georgiana Molloy, is. This is a biography on a significant historical Australian settler that should become a part of the curriculum and read by anyone who has even the remotest interest in settlement, history, significant Australians or simply an interest in the local area.

I rarely read bio’s and although I enjoy history I find most books on history fairly dry, but Bernice’s book is one of the best biographies I have read!
Highly recommended.

Collins Bookshop, Southlands WA
This is an exquisitely presented book about the outstanding life of one of Western Australia’s leading ladies. Historical narrative exposing a tale of love, drama, adventure and resilience.

The local book launch 18th April 2015

An enormous thank you to the Hon Barry House, the team at MR Bookshop, the friends who sent flowers and sponsored the wonderful wine we drank from Gralyn and Cape Mentelle (‘Georgiana’) the descendants of original Augusta settlers and the many others who travelled to join us in Margaret River. We launched a book… but it was also truly a celebration of Georgiana’s life and work. This photo captures perfectly my own experience of the event: the joy in finally signing books for readers after so many years of working towards that – and in the background, by pure coincidence, the portrait of little Georgiana holding flowers, a story I told during the launch. She was there.