Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 22, 2022

Vale Helen Hodgman (1945-2022)

I am sad to pass on the news that the Australian novelist Helen Hodgman has died aged 77 this month, after a long struggle with Parkinson’s Disease which had deprived her of the ability to write since 2001.

Born in Scotland and educated in England, she came to Tasmania Australia when she was 13.  As you can infer from this article at the SMH (which may be paywalled) the difficulties of her parents’ marriage and her mother’s depression made their way into her fiction, particularly in Blue Skies. 

She left school at 15 and worked as a bank teller before training as a primary teacher, but she never taught.  Instead she married Roger Hodgman and bore a daughter, Meredith.  When Meredith started kindergarten, Hodgman ran an art gallery in Salamanca Place, before setting off alone for London, so that she could write. Her family joined her some months later, and again she worked in a gallery while also writing.  Duckworth published her first novel, Blue Skies, and also Jack and Jill. 

Hodgman’s page at Wikipedia tells me that:

On publication of her first novel, British critic Auberon Waugh, referred to her as “a born writer with a style and an elan which is all her own”.

Disaster struck when she was in Canada where her husband was working in theatre.  She had a car accident in 1979, and in 1983 was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. She was able to publish further novels at long intervals, and a screenplay, but sadly, her pen has been silent for a long time.

Novels

  • Blue Skies, London: Duckworth, 1976, see my review.  Also check out Danielle Wood’s review at the SRB. 
  • Jack and Jill, London: Duckworth, 1978, which won the 1978 Somerset Maugham Award
  • Broken Words, Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin, 1988, which won the 1989 Chrstina Stead Fiction Prize in the NSW Premier’s Awards. On my TBR.
  • Waiting for Matindi, St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1998
  • Passing Remarks, Sydney: Anchor Books, 1996, on my TBR
  • The Bad Policeman, Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2001, see my review

Blue Skies and Jack and Jill are available as Text Classics.

Screenplay

I am indebted to this interview at the SMH for some of the details of Helen Hodgman’s life.


Responses

  1. Sad news. Looks like she had an interesting body of work and probably so much more to say.

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    • Yes. I liked her first one so much that I raided every second-hand bookshop I could find.

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  2. Sorry to hear this. I think some of her works were published by Virago over here.

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    • What I think affected me most from reading that article in the SMH was that the technology we now have wasn’t there when she needed it. It says that she could type out her ideas on a computer, but it was laborious, but what she couldn’t do was scribble down her thoughts in the writer’s notebook that all good writers have. At least in the early days when her speech wasn’t affected she would have been able to record those thoughts on a digital voice recorder which could transform them into print on a computer, and she could have dictated her books using voice recognition technology.
      I hadn’t known that she had Parkinson’s but now I will treasure reading the remaining books for the heroic effort that went into writing them.

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      • We are so lucky to have the technology we now have.

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    • Yes, Blue Skies & Jack and Jill were published in the UK together as one volume by Virago

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      • Yes, that’s right, thanks Luci… there’s a copy of that at AbeBooks, where I have just ordered the last two that I didn’t have.
        BTW for anyone looking for it in the US, Broken Words was published as Ducks there.

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  3. This is very sad. My reading group read Broken words when it came out. I remember being impressed but can’t remember the details now. But I had no idea about her Parkinson’s. A cruel disease.

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    • Yes. Like MND, it is so destructive, and knowing what’s coming must make it even worse.
      Broken Words is the one I plan to read next.

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