Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 20, 2016

Behind the Text: Candid conversations with Australian creative nonfiction writers (2016), by Sue Joseph

behind-the-textOver breakfast this morning The Spouse and I were engaging in some mild rivalry by comparing the stats on our respective blogs, and I noted that there are always dips at certain times of the year, the pre-Christmas month being one because everyone is too busy with EOY stuff to have time for reading blogs.  We could both expect a dip in page views, I said, (though I like to think that my loyal readers will still be around.  I will certainly still be reading my favourite blogs even if the Christmas cards get sent out late because of it!)

The imminence of December is why I am bringing to your attention a book I have only half-read…

Behind the Text: Candid conversations with Australian creative nonfiction writers could be the perfect Christmas present for readers of all kinds, and possibly even non-readers too.  It is published by one of Melbourne’s small indie publishers (who recently published the joint winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards History Prize Let My People Go, the untold story of Australia and the Soviet Jews 1959-1989 by Sam Lipski and Suzanne D. Rutland) but despite this prestigious honour I am not surprised that Behind the Text doesn’t seem to have caught the attention of old media reviewers yet because they are not very good at knowing about the gems that can be found among the books published by small indie publishers, IMHO.

Anyway, have your credit card ready, you will almost certainly know someone who is going to love unwrapping this book on Xmas Day…

I have been reading an interview each day over breakfast and had read the interview with Paul McGeough (which is riveting); the one with Doris Pilkington Garimara (which is poignant); and I skipped the one with David Leser (because I’d never heard of him).  (Perhaps I should be embarrassed about this but I’m not.  He writes for newspapers I don’t read and (apparently) biographies of people I’m not interested in.  I will come back to him later when I have read the others because now I’m sure that Sue Joseph can make him interesting).

It was the interview with Kate Holden, former heroin addict and prostitute and author of the memoir In My Skin that brought me straight to my laptop to tell you about this book.  These are the excerpts that I read out loud to The Spouse over breakfast:

She was talking with her Text publisher Michael Heyward recently.  “He said to me, ‘You know you’re a real writer, but you had this one book that was just so burning to get out of you that that’s what you did first; and it had all of that passion.  And what you’re doing really, now, is going back and writing novels that you would have written in your twenties if you hadn’t been doing everything else … so now you have to write your way through all of those.’ He thinks I kind of jumped ahead and now I have to limp back and – which is kind of depressing because I don’t want to have to write five unpublishable novels before I get back to where I was before.  But I can see what he means; I probably would have been writing bad novels before.  I just have to write them out, to actually do it.”  She shrugs again.  (p.84)

Holden spent eight months walking the streets as a prostitute, had a break, then went back on the streets.  She then worked in two brothels – and was sacked from both.

“For being a union loudmouth; for standing up for the rights of the workers … I was sacked from a brothel, I know, twice.  What a glorious career!” When she laughs it is with her whole body – there is joy and entertainment in her laughter.  It is authentic and it is infectious.  “What a bold girl, I was so bad I even got sacked from brothels.” Her eyebrows arch and she laughs some more.  We both do. (p.87)

This excerpt comes after she has been describing a reading at Readings bookstore in Melbourne, and there in the audience was the madam of the last brothel she’d worked in was *yikes! Holden had been critical!* …

… “Do you hate me?” And she said, ‘No we love you.  The flowers are from us, all the girls … We all put money in and we’re so proud of you because, Jane, [sic] you always said you were going to write a book and you bloody did it!’  Then she said, ‘… and thanks for the publicity, it’s been great.’ (p.89)

How could you not love the authenticity, courage and humour of this book?!

Ahead, there are interviews with writers I’ve reviewed on this blog: Margaret Simons (one of my all-time favourite journalists); and Anna Goldsworthy (author of Piano Lessons) and more.  This is a terrific book, offering more than a glimpse of the real people behind the books and articles we read all the time.  Sue Joseph is obviously a highly skilled interviewer who treats her subjects with great respect and yet provides a revealing story behind the names we know.

At one chapter each day I’ll finish this book in early December, but I’ll be buying it for birthday presents in the New Year as well…

Author: Sue Joseph
Title: Behind the Text, Candid conversations with Australian creative nonfiction writers
Publisher: Hybrid Publishers, 2016
ISBN: 9781925272475
Review copy courtesy of Hybrid Publishers

Available from Fishpond:Behind the Text: Candid Conversations with Australian Creative Nonfiction Writers
Or direct from the publisher, or from good bookshops everywhere.




  1. So glad you liked it! We think it’s a great read.


    • *chuckle* I read the next chapter (about John Dale) over a long, lazy lunch… no wonder I never get any housework done!


  2. Sounds great, and yes, skip those writers who work for Satan. I’m meant to be working xmas day, but I’ll make time to click on you so you get a stat. Kate Holden talks about the ‘five unpublishable novels you write in your twenties’ (unless you’re Christina Stead) and it rings a bell – the first novel is often bursting with ideas, but after that the author needs hard work and perseverance to avoid being one of those one-hit wonders we were discussing the other day.


    • Long ago in a self-deluded past I went to a novel-writing workshop with Andrea Goldsmith – and she said exactly the same thing. She called them practice novels. Like Holden, I wasn’t keen on practising, but unlike her, I gave up…
      PS Will click on you too, on Xmas Day, LOL maybe if we all network (and remember our promises, after the Xmas drinks) we can reach 10 for the day?


  3. Thanks for help with the Christmas list, Lisa! This might have to be one for myself, though.
    I hadn’t heard of David Leser either when I listened to him speak at the Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival a few years ago. On the strength of that, I bought ‘To Begin to Know”, his biography of his father and I enjoyed the book. Not at all what I was expecting.


    • That’s brave, writing a bio of a parent…
      PS Are you writing something new? I did love your bio of Georgina Molloy…


  4. It was indeed a brave biography – he started when his father asked him to do it, then stopped, then restarted many years later for reasons of his own. Thank you so much. (And I loved the review you wrote of ‘Georgiana Molloy’! )Yes, another manuscript finished last week. Historical fiction this time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • His father asked him?! That’s a brave father too, then, unless he was quite confident that he could censor the finished product if he wanted to.


  5. The father is the key ingredient! I’ll say no more in case you decide to read it one day :)

    Liked by 1 person

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