Your KS #75 – Publication Day and the Centenary of Ric Throssell
Photograph: Ric Throssell as a boy ca. 1930 at the front of the family's Greenmount cottage.
On 10 May it will be 100 years since Katharine Susannah Prichard’s only child, Ric Throssell, was born – allegedly on the dining table – at the house in Greenmount which is now home to the KSP Writers’ Centre. Ric became famous in his own right as an award-winning playwright, a biographer, and a novelist, as well as a diplomat denied promotion during the Cold War because of unproven and unfair suspicions he was passing information to the Soviet Union through his mother. He was also the first patron of the KSP Writers’ Centre, a position he held until his death in 1999. He wrote 28 plays between 1944 and 1965, many of them staged in Canberra where he lived. He turned to biography, writing the first biography of his mother, Wild Weeds and Windflowers (1975) and a memoir exploring his father’s legacy and his own life, My Father’s Son (1989). Remarkably, in the last decade of his life he also published four novels. I’ve been researching Ric recently for a forthcoming entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, while last year his daughter, Karen Throssell, published her creative non-fiction book The Crime of Not Knowing Your Crime: Ric Throssell Against ASIO.
A week after Ric’s centenary, my own biography of Katharine, The Red Witch, will be finally be published. I began work on this book in 2014. After writing a novel about a biographer, I decided I wanted to be a biographer myself. I was thinking about J.S. Battye as my subject, the first state librarian, but he didn’t have a particularly dramatic life or leave personal papers behind. Then I was surprised to realise that no more biographies of Katharine Susannah Prichard had appeared after her son’s. The more I looked, the more it seemed there was much more to tell about her life. Her father had been a political conservative and a writer himself; what was the full story of his influence and his suicide in 1907? What had propelled Katharine into communism after such a conservative upbringing? And what of her unlikely marriage to Hugo Throssell which ended in his suicide? It turned out Katharine’s life was a thousand intriguing stories tied up together. I’d been worried there wouldn’t be enough material to write a comprehensive biography, but there was so much to be discovered I could have written three volumes.
I’ve sometimes been asked what aspect of Katharine’s life I’ve focused on – her personal life, her writing, or her politics? I haven’t exclusively focused on any of these, seeing them as three intertwined strands which constantly interact. She claimed she never wrote autobiographically, but there is much to glean about her life from her writings, and her works are better illuminated with an understanding of her life and the biographical circumstances of their writing. Of course, politics was an essential part of both. Biography has so much potential for drama, suspense, and the pleasures of a gripping story well-told. It’s been my goal to write the kind of life story reader immerse themselves in.
One of the constants over the course of this project has this been column for KSP Writers Centre, which I started in June 2015 after I was emerging-writer-in-residence. It’s been an unusual blessing to be connected to a community of writers who meet in my subject’s house and have an interest in her life and legacy. Thank you to all the members of KSP Writers’ Centre for accompanying me on my journey. I hope you can join me for the KSPWC launch on 28 May!
Nathan Hobby’s biography of KSP is out on 3 May https://www.mup.com.au/books/the-red-witch-hardback.
~ More on KSP at https://nathanhobby.com ~