I’ve just finished reading Henry Handel (or as I like to call her Ettie) Richardson’s memoir, Myself When Young.
I’ve been a fussy reader recently, picking up the latest literary best sellers, then putting them down again, unfinished. This though, I read all the way to the end.
Even though H.H. died before she’d completed the manuscript, her notes and her husband’s jottings were used to flesh out the final section. I found it a fascinating read. Not only because it gave us a woman’s perspective of Australia in the late 19th century, but also because her writing is such a pleasure. Clean and clear. Her voice carried me through, even without a plot driving the story forward. Even though she was writing almost one hundred years ago.
Her life wasn’t easy. Her father died young and the family struggled, despite their middle-class privilege. But she knew this:
“To a writer, experience was the only thing that really mattered. Hard and bitter as it might seem, it was to be welcomed rather than shrunk from, reckoned as a gain and not a loss.”
H. H. Richardson
I’ve been telling myself and my writing students the same thing for a long time now. As creative artists, all the shitty stuff that happens to us has value. It is the gold we mine for our stories. And a wonderful way to begin to be grateful for the traumas in our life.
EVERYTHING IS MATERIAL!
Every experience is be relished. Treasured even. No matter how painful. Because everything we endure increases our depth of understanding of the human experience and that is what writers need, more than any fancy turn of phrase, or fast-paced plot. Because we write to make sense of what it is to live in the world, of what is is to live a human life.
The more we live, in all the pain and muck and glory, the better our writing will be.
Thank you, dear Ettie, for your words and for your wisdom.
Books are classics for a reason.
With lots of love