Hi Toni, Welcome to my Time Out Blog.
Patrick White is your latest book for middle grade readers. Why did you decide to research and write about this iconic Australian writer and Nobel Prize winner?
The idea for the book came from a conversation I had with a friend who taught English at tertiary level. She was bemoaning the fact that most of her students, fresh out of high school, had never heard of Australia’s only Nobel Laureate for Literature and that those few who had heard of him had a dismissive attitude towards his work because of Australia’s current postmodern, postcolonial criticism – even though they hadn’t read him. I was saddened that Patrick White is slipping into the past of authors regarded as “another dead white male of settler origins” when he is one of my favourite authors because of his gorgeous literary eloquence, stunning descriptions of the Australian landscape and mastery of characterisation, not to mention that he’s a great story-teller. And, even though middle readers are too young to read his work, I wanted to introduce the name of this icon to them by writing a biography about Patrick White’s interesting life and work. Hopefully the book will act as a reference source for children wanting to know about a great author and perhaps inspire them to read his work later in life because it is doubtful they will study Patrick White at high school.
What was the most rewarding part of this project?
The research and re-reading of some of Patrick White’s great novels and working with the fabulous illustrator, Anastasia Popp. I started by reading David Marr’s “Patrick White. A Life” and then Patrick White’s Autobiography “Flaws in the Glass” before I started to re-read Patrick White’s books – Voss, The Tree of Man, Riders in the Chariot, The Eye of the Storm and others. Always in my mind was the question “What would primary school students be interested in reading about Patrick White?”
Favourite part of your new book?
Page 28 where I discuss Patrick White’s observations of people and how they reacted to different situations, particularly journalists. He took notes on many individuals and used those notes in forming his characters in his later books. He was fascinated by the observation that what some considered the “truth” in a situation, others perceived differently. When Patrick White was an Intelligence Officer in the RAF during World War II, one of his jobs was to brief the press on what was happening on the war front. He complained to the press that they didn’t print the information he gave them, to which they explained that they had to exert their own personalities on their writing. To Patrick White, this idea of “what is the truth” is played out in themes in many of his books.
What was your path to publication?
I sent the Manuscript to every traditional publisher in Australia over the period 2013 to 2016 that accepted this type of work and all the rejection letters basically said what the National Library of Australia’s rejection letter dated 14 March 2013 said: “I did discuss your proposal with the Education section but ultimately we have decided not to proceed with publication because the predicted sales of the book were not sufficient to cover our costs.” So, I thought about it years and because I felt so strongly about this book and because many of the rejection letters had praised the content and quality of the manuscript, I decided to approach the partner-publisher Little Steps Publishing who had previously published two of my Picture Books.
How did you learn about the craft of writing?
Apart from the formal study of literature at university where I learned by analysing the craft of great writers, I have undertaken numerous writing courses and mentorships mainly through Writing NSW at Rozelle, Sydney, and participated in writing workshops and festivals. But, the greatest learning experience has been through participation in a writing group that commenced with a 10-week writing assessment course led by editor Nicola O’Shea at Writing NSW. Three of us from that class – Kerry Rogerson, Judith Flanaghan and I – formed a writing group where we assessed each other’s work via email monthly. And, every few months we’d meet for a “working lunch”, mainly at Bodhi in the city, and sometimes Nicola would come to Sydney to join us. COVID-19 has put a stop to that of course and my own writing now has become more focused on my poetry. But, being a part of a writing group reinforced the discipline required to be a writer and developed my craft and I will be forever grateful to Kerry, Judith and Nicola.
What were some of your favourite children’s books as a child?
Wind in the Willows, Winnie-the-Pooh, The Hobbit, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Little Prince, The Story of Ferdinand. As a middle reader, I liked Fantasy and Science Fiction and couldn’t get enough of Ursula K. Le Guin, Isaac Asimov and H.G. Wells’ short stories, and in adolescence D.H. Lawrence and Steinbeck, but I was always reading poetry, and after graduating from nursery rhymes and A.A. Milne, Mary Howitt and Lewis Carroll, I particularly liked, and still do like, Robert Frost.
What’s next for you?
My book on Patrick White is my sixth and probably last book for children. My books for Young Adults have never been published. But, my poetry for adults has been published in anthologies since 2013 and has been commended in many poetry competitions. So, I’ve decided to spend my writing time more productively by focussing on my poetry. Also, I’m going to pull 60 or so of my current best poems together into an anthology called “Emotional Attachments”. It will be in two parts: People and Places. After it’s edited I’m going to send it off to a poetry publisher.
Do you have an online presence?
Yes. My website is www.tonibrisland.com My Twitter account is @toni_brisland and Facebook
Thanks for joining me on my blog today, Toni. I wish you all the very best.
Thank you, Robert, for inviting me as a guest on your blog.
Interview organised as a part of the ‘Patrick White’ book campaign with Books On Tour PR & Marketing.
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