A couple of weeks ago I posted my review of a terrific new biography of the Australian diva Marjorie Lawrence: it’s called Wotan’s Daughter and it’s by Australian biographer, Richard Davis. Now it is my pleasure to introduce the author because Richard has kindly agreed to participate in my occasional series, Meet an Aussie Author.
Richard was born and educated in Melbourne. He has had a life-long interest in writing which he describes as his only useful talent. In his teenage years Richard was encouraged and supported in his writing by two distinguished Australian writers – Ivan Southall (who wrote those wonderful children’s books Hill’s End and Ash Road and the Simon Black series) and Ian Marshall (of I Can Jump Puddles fame). Later he also received encouragement from Patrick White who became and remains Richard’s literary hero. [And mine too].
On leaving school Richard pursued a thirty year career in commerce, married and raised a family. ‘I never stopped writing,’ he says, ‘but my writing didn’t pay the bills or pay off the mortgage.’ It was not until he reached his mid-forties that Richard took up full-time writing and since then he has produced a steady stream of books – both popular and academic.
The popular books have included two collections of Australian ghost stories, the most recent, Great Australian Ghost Stories published last year by ABC Books. He explains, ‘I love collecting and writing ghost stories – it’s a fascinating genre and fortunately readers enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.’
Richard’s other great life-long passion has been classical music (opera in particular) but unfortunately he was not born with any musical talent. It took him a long time, he admits, to accept that his role in the world of classical music was to write about it, rather than to perform it. ‘Writing about music has opened doors for me into the classical music world I thought would never be opened and I feel privileged and honoured that many of the world’s greatest musicians accept me as a colleague – not for my notes, but for my words.’
Over recent years, Richard had written four internationally acclaimed biographies of classical musicians:
- Anna Bishop: Adventures of an Intrepid Prima Donna, (the nineteenth-century English soprano);
- Eileen Joyce: a Portrait, the Australian concert pianist;
- Geoffrey Parsons: Among Friends (another Australian and recognised as the leading piano accompanist of the last half of the twentieth-century); and most recently Wotan’s Daughter: The Life of Marjorie Lawrence which chronicles the life and career of another remarkable Australian and was published last November by Wakefield Press. Richard’s work in this genre earned him the Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Award in 2011. You can read my review here.
Richard also teaches Creative Writing at various educational institutions and his Creative Writing Weekend Workshops have become justly famous in the eastern states. ‘I love to teach writing and to help new and emerging writers realise their dreams and avoid some of the mistakes I made!’
Now here are Richard’s answers to my questions!
I was born in an era that seems long past, when teachers were respected, the pubs closed at six and politicians expected to be believed.
When I was a small child (and an only child of mature aged parents) I was so insecure that anything I wrote was immediately destroyed for fear that someone might criticise it. In a sense I suppose I was doing myself a favour. Most professional writers would wish to see their invariably derivative first efforts shredded or burned.
I was lucky a few years later to be encouraged to write by some famous writers who generously shared their time and wisdom with me. I am also indebted to an aged aunt who fired my enthusiasm for words when I was no more than three or four, by buying me the latest Walt Disney comic book every week (they cost a shilling). Great literature it was not, but by the time I started school I could read quite proficiently.
I write in a room set aside for that purpose where I’m surrounded by hundreds of reference books. The view of my garden from the window is an inspiration and a tonic when I need it and so are the endless cups of tea which (like Norman Lindsay) I drink while writing.
I write early in the morning and again in the late afternoon – about six hours per day and seven days a week if I’m facing a deadline. I don’t write at night since I discovered that whatever I commit to paper after dark is usually twaddle.
Research is a major component of writing biographies and I admit that playing detective and foraging for facts among dusty old papers is one of the great joys of my writing career. Research has also taken me all over the world and given me opportunities to travel to places I would never otherwise have visited and to meet countless numbers of interesting people.
I keep my published works shelved along with all my other books and within reach for when I need a shot in the ego.
I can’t remember the day on which my first book was published but I’m sure I felt proud, as I do to this day when I hold a new book in my hand for the first time.
At the moment I’m working on a new popular title and researching for two possible new biographies. All still under wraps at the moment, I’m afraid, but watch this space.
When I’m stuck for an idea, a word or a phrase I just put down the best I can come up with in the moment. Sometimes it will be an imperfect word or an imperfect phrase, but that can always be worked on later. I find it’s better not to interrupt the flow by worrying too much about such details.
My thanks to Richard for supplying the biographical information and for generously answering my questions! We look forward to seeing the next biography soon!
To buy Richard’s books, click the covers (except the Ghost Guide to Australia, it seems to be unavailable now).