EXPERIENCE – A WRITER’S FRIEND

Henry Handel Richardson – Ethel Robertson author of The Getting of Wisdom, Maurice Guest and The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney

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.

Ethel with her mother and younger sister, Lil.

Books are classics for a reason.

With lots of love

Edwina xx

NEW BEGINNINGS

HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope your year has started well, even amid the ongoing chaos of Covid 19. I hope you and your loved ones are well and safe. We’ve been fortunate here in Australia to have escaped the worst. I used to curse being born in Queensland, far from everything groovy, but it turns out it was very lucky indeed.

1996 Edwina’s English School -Sihanoukville Cambodia

Recently I was helping my mother clean out some cupboards and found this old photo from 25 years ago. In January 1996 I opened my very own English language school in Sihanoukville Cambodia. In 1994 I’d opened the Australian Centre for Education in Sihanoukville as part of an Australian Government aid program. But by 1996 I was ready to spread my wings and open my own school with a Khmer business partner. It was a brave new beginning.

Some of my lovely students

However, I’d also fallen head over heels with a rather odd, but exceedingly handsome young East German and, as luck and my misguided notions of natural family planning would have it, fell pregnant around the same time as I opened my school. UHOH! I was probably already pregnant in the photo. I suffered terrible morning – all day – sickness but had to continue teaching from six every morning until seven at night, travelling on bumpy buses up dangerous roads to Phnom Penh every Sunday, trying to find a replacement teacher.

Morning sickness and motherhood won. I returned to Australia in April, married my German in September and had our baby in October. That little baby will be 25 this year!

Backyard wedding in a beautiful borrowed dress

Another time, I’d just scored the perfect apartment in a much sought after inner-city suburb here in Brisbane. It was in a beautiful old building, my friend lived across the hall and my bedroom windows had birds painted on them. I’d just unpacked the final box, put the last book on the shelf, when the phone rang.

I had a new job!

In Sydney.

As the old saying goes, “Want to make God laugh? Tell her your plans!”

So HAPPY NEW BEGINNINGS to you. May the gods smile upon your endeavours and the road rise with you, wherever that road may take you.

And if it takes you in a different direction to the way you were planning, trust that it will all work out for the best in the end. It always does.

With lots of love and best wishes for a healthy, peaceful new year that brings us all together to work towards the healing of our precious world.

Edwina xxx

PS – If you are in need of comfort, reeling from losses you’ve incurred through Covid or otherwise, check out my Guide Through Grief- First Aid for Your Heart and Soul. I wrote it after the loss of my third child as a baby – another new beginning that sent me in a very different direction to the way I’d intended.