About Nathan Hobby

At work on a biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard for a PhD at the University of Western Australia. Also a novelist and librarian.

WA Writer’s Websites #7: Katharine Susannah Prichard


The writers’ centre in Greenmount, KSP House, has some excellent pages devoted to its eponym. Katharine Susannah Prichard (1884-1969) is a giant of Western Australian literature.  A communist and strident critic of injustice, her work is of great literary and historical value.  (She also gave David Helfgott piano lessons, I seem to remember.)

You’ll find on the site:

  • an interesting outline of her life and work
  • a list of all her works held at the writing centre 
  • photographs of her

On the site, Bruce Bennett writes:

In her thirteen novels, five collections of stories, twelve plays and the autobiography Child of the Hurricane, (1964), Katharine Susannah Prichard has left abundant record of her often inspired attempts to express ‘the life of our people and country with love and an intense intimate sympathy’.

Coonardoo is generally recognised as one of her best works; it’s the only book of hers I’ve read, but I  recommend it.  At the time I read it, I wrote, ‘It reads to my mind like an Australian station retelling of Wuthering Heights (with a little Jane Eyre thrown in).’ A few years ago, it was named by the Australian Society of Authors as one of the best forty Australian books ever.

The writer’s centre is located in the house she lived in for much of her life.

WA Writers’ Websites #6: Nigel Gray


Nigel Gray has had a fascinating life. Visit his website and you can read his biography: 

 I spent two years travelling and working in ten European countries and was then arrested by a beautiful Greek/Irish teenage girl and an unplanned pregnancy. I became an anarchist, was involved in numerous political causes, was arrested many times, locked up on a number of occasions, and deported for political offences from four countries.

Nigel now lives in the hills of Perth. He’s written so many books in so many genres in so many countries. Unusually, he has managed to produce award winning books for both children and adults.  His last book, A Baker’s Dozen, was published two months ago and will be available from WA public libraries some time in 2008.

Westraliana #2: Retribution by Robert Roget

I saw a copy of this novel on my grandad’s reading pile about ten years ago. I felt cross because – as a teenager with grand literary ambitions – I had written a short story with the same mediocre title and was hoping to turn it into a novel. And here was this guy stealing my title!

Since then, I’ve noticed the book around at a lot of secondhand booksales and op-shops. For some reason, I kept noticing it. The cover is distinctive – a skyscraper being struck by lightning at night. It was only by chance that I discovered last week the story behind the novel and realised that the skyscraper is probably meant to be the Bankwest Tower.

I was helping a client locate an article in The West Australian from 1990 when I noticed a competition being run by the Herd On The Terrace column to come up with the best fake review of a new WA book called… Retribution. The columnist wrote that Roget was pestering The West for a review of his book so he could quote from it in the second print run.  

The self-published novel is apparently a thinly-veiled account of the W.A. Inc days of Western Australian history, written by a man who knew a lot of the key players. The twist is that in the novel, the Brian Burke-style character has a long lost brother raised in the bush by Aborigines and now returning to Perth for revenge on his brother.

The proper review which did finally appear was quite critical of the novel, but that didn’t stop Roget from taking some selected quotes appearing to endorse it.

The book apparently sold well in Western Australia and enjoyed notoriety for its fictionalisation of the events which were gripping the state.

You won’t find much about Robert Roget on the internet. He did write a second novel in 1993 – Hollywood & Vine – which you can order from WA public libraries.  (The catalogue record for Retribution shows only Battye copies are left, which you can read in the State Library building but not borrow.)

In 1998, he also wrote and produced a TV mini-series called Justice, starring Kerry Armstrong.

WA writers’ websites #5 : Stephen Dedman


Perth speculative fiction writer Stephen Dedman has a strong web presence, with a website and a blog.  Stephen is well known both nationally and internationally in the fields of science fiction, fantasy and horror.  He’s published four novels and an excellent collection of short stories which your WA public library can order in for you.

Writers are known for having many and varied jobs, but few can match Stephen – from working as an actor (I’ve heard a rumour he was an extra in Gallipoli) to a used dinosaur-part salesman.

On his website, you’ll find a bibliography of his many and varied publications. (Except for his short stories, which are so numerous they’re listed on his blog for quick updating.)

Stephen’s blog offers candid insight into the daily life of a writer, with word counts, the misery of rejections and the thrill of acceptances.

Westraliana #1: Upsurge by J.M. Harcourt

In 1934, Perth’s most controversial novel was published. It was Upsurge, by the socialist J.M. Harcourt. The book’s original blurb stated:

…the Author takes us to Perth, the capital of Western Australia, and paints for us a powerful picture of post-war conditions. There are strikes, lockouts, riots and sudden deaths… He shows us the undermining of morals, loose-living and so forth among the upper and middle classes, and the retribution which follows in its wake.

 The novel sold well when it was first published, but reviews in The West Australian and The Daily News criticised its morality and radical politics. The storm was only just starting.

 According to the anti-censorship website The File Room

 In July 1934, a group of detectives removed copies of the novel from a Perth bookstore and requested that further copies be handed in to them. Later in the month, the investigation branch of the Attorney General’s Department received complaints about the book from the police. All copies were removed from Perth bookstores and Harcourt had to leave Perth (where he lived) under threats of prosecution. Other cases involving the removal of the book sprung up in other Australian cities and federal authorities received complaints from numerous organizations that the novel was “Communist propaganda” and filled with obscene sexual content.

The novel was completely banned throughout Australia by the end of the year. For a country in Depression,  the writing about life in relief camps and corrupt officials was considered potentially incendiary. These were the days when novels were thought to be much more dangerous than they are today. (The last novel to have stirred much public outrage was Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho in the early nineties; after that novel, there probably isn’t much left that can shock.)

Sadly, Harcourt wrote only one more novel and it was a failure. He died in New South Wales in 1971, not living to see his novel republished in a facsimile edition by UWA Press in 1986. Outside rare-book shops and the State Library, even the facsimile is a little difficult to find in 2007. But you can read chapters 2, 4, 5 and 20 in the wonderful ‘W.A. Writing : an online anthology’ published online by UWA.

If you can get hold of the facsimile edition, Richard Nile has written an excellent introduction summarising the novel, its history and the life of Harcourt.

WA writers’ websites #4 : Shaun Tan


Shaun Tan (1974-) has become one of Western Australia’s best known illustrators and writers, especially after the amazing success of The Arrival in the last year. (He lives in Melbourne now, but I think we can still call him Western Australian.) His children’s books are that rare kind that I enjoy reading on their own terms.

His website is one of the best looking you will find, with cute black and white cartoons as buttons. Under the ‘projects’ section, you’ll find an interesting account of how he painted the two murals in the Subiaco Library.  It includes photos of him at work and of the finished artwork.

Before you go sending him an email asking ‘How did you become an artist?’ or some other question he gets asked every day, he’s provided a comprehensive FAQ

It’s a generous website, with lots of illustrations and lots of personal insight into what he does and why.

WA writers’ websites #3: John Kinsella


Harold Bloom is one of those scary old men of literature, so well read that he’s intimidating. You get the impression he thinks Shakespeare was pretty much the son of God, and that everyone should know his complete works by heart. Unfashionably, he believes there’s such a thing as Great Literature, and when you become really well-read, you can pick it.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I was amazed to find Harold Bloom himself selecting the poems for John Kinsella’s collection Peripheral Light and also writing an introduction. An endorsement from Bloom is a rare thing indeed. He’s not one to heap praise on many living writers.

And here he is endorsingJohn Kinsella, a poet who grew up in W.A.! Kinsella’s still only 44, but he’s already got a huge reputation.

His website is fascinating; it’s only a pity he hasn’t updated it since 2005. It’s got a biography and an alternative biography where he describes himself like this:

I am a vegan anarchist pacifist

(I like it when someone’s prepared to label themselves.) He’s also got interviews he’s done with interesting people like Coral Hull and Bruce Dawe; a piece of art he did and a couple of essays, including one on veganism.

There’s only a couple of poems in the poems section, but then there’s the manuscript section where he’s provided pdfs of his manuscript for Peripheral Light at two different stages, complete with his red pen editing. It’s great to have that insight into a writer’s work – I find it generous of him to put them up.

If your local public library doesn’t have Peripheral Light, it can order it in for you.

WA writers’ websites #2 : Greg Egan


 Perth is home to one of the world’s most acclaimed science-fiction writers – Greg Egan. His mind twisting novels and short stories combine intriguing scientific thought experiments and engaging writing.

My favourite is his collection of short stories Axiomatic. The pick of the collection starts with this memorable sentence:

I was six years old when my parents told me there was a small, dark jewel inside my skull, learning to be me.

The jewel or ‘dual’ is a second, identical self, non-organic and thus immortal. But the narrator starts to get anxious when it’s time to remove his physical brain and switch to the jewel.

 Egan’s website has information about his novels, links to free online editions of his stories and a bibliography.

What it doesn’t have is a photograph of the author. Indeed, I’m told the only photograph on the public record is of Egan as a child when he won an award and was in The West Australian.

Remarkably for a writer who values his privacy so much, Egan spoke out publicly over the treatment of refugees earlier this decade.

WA writers’ websites # 1: Samantha Ellen Tidy


W.A. writer Samantha Ellen Tidy has a nice-looking website about her life and writing.

Tidy was runner-up in the 2000 T.A.G. Hungerford Award for her novel Cappuccino Diva, set in Fremantle in the late 1990s. It was published in 2003 by Black Coffee Press; your local public library can order it in for you.

You can even read the opening chapters of some of her unpublished novels.

New Western Australian books

WA publisher Hesperian Press has just released Padre Plod , the story of Father Barry May’s  life, including his years as a police chaplain. According to the press release:

Starting as an Anglo-Catholic traditionalist, he plunged into Charismatic waters and discovered new, healing aspects of his faith… Crackling with wit and self-deprecating humour, Padre Plod offers unique and honest insights into the usually hidden world of Church governance and clerical duties. Barry May’s sermon reads like no other.

 Padre Plod will soon be available from the Battye collection on the third floor of the State Library building.

Meanwhile, Fremantle Press have published The Food Lover’s Guide to Perth, ‘an insightful guide into the best fresh produce available in Perth’.  It’s on order for public libraries.

UWA Press have released Susan Midalia’s short story collection with the intriguing title A History of the Beanbag and other stories.  You can download two free podcast previews on the website, presumably for two of the stories. The books is also on order for public libraries.