Me and William Faulkner
A lot of unexpected things have happened this year. It’s a beautiful, brilliant year in the face of some great personal hardship. It’s strange the way life does both, but it seems to be the way it is. I am immensely grateful for it all! I am delighted to find my work reaching a wider world of readers, and I am deeply touched by the acknowledgement for so many years of hard work.
Along the way, there have been quite a few interviews, reviews and articles. This article by Jane Sullivan, published in the Age and the SMH, utterly surprised me (and totally delighted my Dad who has patiently waited to see if my books would ever be ‘discovered’ by people further afield.)
The first William Faulkner novel I read was As I Lay Dying. I must have been about 21. From there I read every novel of Faulkner’s, settling at last on Light in August as my favourite – and one of my top five favourite novels of my lifetime. I think it comes as close as any novel to being a perfect novel in form, characterisation, in tone and in the spectacular craft of good writing. So to find my words compared to Faulkner’s made my father cry, and me reflect on the wonder of life.
We never know how our creativity will touch other lives. For me that is a mysterious gift and a privilege that may yet keep me writing all my days.
It’s not easy to let the recognition in. But given everything that has unfolded, I wanted to acknowledge this very special observation by Jane Sullivan.
Here is the link to the article – and the complete text is below should the link fade.
“What a winning acceptance speech Heather Rose gave for the 2017 Stella Prize. She charmed everyone in the room: she was humble, honest and a little bit steely. To survive as a writer you need steel.
She liked to think of her winning novel, The Museum of Modern Love, as an overnight success. In fact it took 46 years from the moment her father told her a terrible thing when she was six years old.
She’d read him her poem about a rabbit, and he said, “You’re going to be a great writer.” For years she was devastated by the huge gulf that existed between her own writing and that of the great writers.
There was progress. Two failed novels; a first published novel (she remembers only the one unkind review); a second novel that once delivered her a royalty cheque for 57 cents in a 60-cent envelope; a third novel with ardent fans, but very few readers; a series of stories for children, written with Danielle Wood.
The Museum of Modern Love took 11 years to write, was rejected by Australian and US publishers, and finally found a home with Allen & Unwin. Somewhere along the line Rose accepted she would never be a great writer. But she wants nothing more than to continue to write.
This is literary success in Australia. But what about in the world. Something prompted me to compare Rose’s words with the indisputably great writers’ award acceptance orations of the past, so i went to the Nobel Prize website and had a look. You know what? I preferred Rose’s speech. It seemed to resonate more.
The Nobel prizewinners whose speeches I found were all men. They usually began with a dutiful nod to humility, and some of them kept up that note. But others became Godlike. They made stirring calls to the writers of the future (who they assumed were men) and told them what they should be writing about. I began to think that if their dads had ever told them they’d be great writers, they’d just take that as their due.
Of course I found rhetoric and grand pronouncements about literature that are still frequently quoted. Faulkner thought the writer must write about nothing but “the old verities and truths of the heart … love and honour and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice”. Hemingway thought the writer must always try “for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed”. Steinbeck believed that “a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature”.
These writers were speaking on a world stage, at a time when the world seemed a dark place at risk of nuclear annihilation. It’s still dark, though perhaps a different kind of darkness. Rose was speaking on a small stage, to an Australian audience, mostly women, after winning a prize for women. Inevitably it’s a speech about smaller, personal things.
Or is it? “Being a successful woman is not an easy path,” Rose said – especially in Australia, and she cited the case of Julia Gillard. And then she, too, rose to the challenge of defining the task of the writer: “to tell our stories. To reflect the human experience. To find what is common and what is uncommon. To explore the past, be with the present, to imagine the future … And if we do not foster our creativity when we hear it calling – whether in our children or as adults – then the world is poorer for it.”
None of those great men mentioned children.”