Tuesday, June 15, 2010

About the Author: Patricia Wrightson

Patricia Wrightson (19th June 1921 – 15th March 2010) was without doubt one of Australia's most accomplished writers of children's literature. Her first book won the Children's Book Council prize for Best Novel in 1956; this was an award she was to win three more times. She also won the coveted Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1986, won Great Britain's Carnegie Medal for a 'Little Fear' in 1983, and was awarded the Dromkeen Medal in 1984. There were many other awards spread over a period of 44 years. In her role as Editor of the NSW School Magazine she also helped many other young writers. Her integration of Aboriginal Dreamtime stories with her contemporary stories was ground breaking.

Mark McLeod in his valedictory comments said of her:

"Few Australian writers for young people have equalled and none have surpassed her achievements."

In his tribute in 'Magpies' (May, 2010) Maurice Saxby said of her:

"...she was more than a 'good writer'; she was a superb writer, able to craft her style according to the mood and emotional tone of her subject matter."

Patricia Wrightson was born in Lismore on 19 June 1921. Her early education was through the State Correspondence School for Isolated Children and later she attended St Catherine's College. She was married in 1943 and became a nurse serving in Lismore (1946-1960) and later in Sydney (1960-1964). She served as Assistant Editor of the NSW School Magazine from 1964 to 1970.

Her Work

Patricia Wrightson wrote about 30 children's books (at my count) mostly for children aged 7-14 years. Her work appealed to readers of all ages including adults. I can remember discovering her books as a young primary school teacher and reading devouring them and then recommending them to the children I taught. 'The Rocks of Honey' (1960), 'I Own the Racecourse' (1968), 'The Nargun and the Stars' (1973), and 'A Little Fear' (1983) stand out in my memories as wonderful and memorable stories, that were beautifully written.

Her stories always had a wonderful sense of authenticity. Her first novel 'The Crooked Snake' (1955) was a tale about some country kids who were battling with a gang that called themselves the 'Crooked Snakers'. Ordinary Australian kids doing ordinary things, but told in a memorable way with complexity of characters and beautiful language use. 'I Own the Racecourse' is a story focused on Andy who in spite of disability manages to teach others about life and the human condition.

'The Nargun and the Stars' was a groundbreaking novel for older readers in which she drew on Dreamtime mythology woven into a contemporary context. The Nargun is a large rock-like creature that can move whole mountains. I can recall reading this book for the first time and being challenged by it at many levels - the complexity of the plot, the use of the Dreamtime, the contemplation of the unknown and the question 'what-if?' Some criticised her use of Dreamtime stories as a non-Indigenous person, but her use of these stories was based on genuine interest in and respect for Indigenous Australians, not exploitation of their stories. For me, the pinnacle of her craft is shown in 'A Little Fear', a slim novel for younger readers that is enjoyable and challenging for all ages. The feisty Mrs Tucker is not prepared to simply give in to old age and lose her independence, and instead heads to a lonely place where she decides to live alone. Here she confronts the Njimbin, a spirit and symbol of the the way Indigenous Australian's see the enduring power of the land. Mrs Tucker not only conquers fears and regains her independence but also learns of things she has previously not understood and which she still senses are a wisdom from beyond her physical existence.

Patricia Wrightson's work is characterised by the power of her stories, the brilliance of her language use, the novelty of her stories set in the ordinariness of life in country and urban Australia. She was without a doubt one of the most influential writers and along with Ivan Southall and Colin Thiele helped to raise the profile of Australian writers around the world. Her stories, and her influence on other writers will endure.  Not many of her books are still in print but I've added links for those that are below. As well, most are available from Amazon as used titles and many are in public libraries. Australians will find most of her books in libraries and international readers will find most of her most famous books from Amazon in used editions.

'The Crooked Snake' (1955). Winner Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 1956.
'The Bunyip Hole' (1958). Commended Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 1959.
'The Rocks of Honey' (1960)
'The Feather Star' (1962). Commended Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 1963.
'Down to Earth' (1965)
'A Racecourse for Andy' (1968)
'I Own the Racecourse!' (1968). Highly commended Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 1969; IBBY Honour Diploma, 1970
'Beneath the Sun: an Australian collection for children' (1972)
'An Older Kind of Magic' (1972). Highly commended Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 1973.
'The Nargun and The Stars' (1973). Winner Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 1974; IBBY Honour Diploma, Writing, 1976
'Emu Stew: an illustrated collection of stories and poems for children' (1976)
'The Ice is Coming' (1977). Winner Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 1978.
'The Dark Bright Water' (1978)
'Night Outside' (1979)
'Behind the Wind' (1981). Highly commended Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 1982; Ditmar Award. Best Long Australian Science Fiction or Fantasy, 1982.
'Journey Behind the Wind' (1981)
'A Little Fear' (1983). Winner Children's Book Council of Australia, Book of the Year 1984; Carnegie Medal, 1983.
'The Haunted Rivers' (1983)
'Moon-dark' (1987)
'The Song of Wirrun' (1987)
'Manmorker' (1989)
'Balyet' (1989). Shortlist Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Older Readers 1990.
'The Old, Old Ngarang' (1989)
'The Sugar-gum Tree' (1991). Shortlist Children's Book Council of Australia Book Year, Younger Readers 1992; Family Therapists' Award for Children's Literature, 1992.
'Shadows of Time' (1994)
'Rattler's Place' (1997). Honour Book Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year, Younger Readers 1998
'The Water Dragons' (1999). Illustrated by David Cox

Other awards

The Order of the British Empire, Officer of the Order of the British Empire, for Services to Literature, 1978
Dromkeen Medal, 1984
Lady Cutler Award for Distinguished Services to Children's Literature in New South Wales, 1986. 
New South Wales Premier's Literary Award for writing for a primary school audience was named the Patricia Wrightson Prize, 1999.

Photo Credit
Photo of Patricia Wrightson, National Library of Australia

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