Toni Brisland reflects on her recent publication, Patrick White, an accessible biographical account of the life, writing career and contributions of this literary icon and the only Australian winner of the Nobel Laureate in Literature.
Patrick White by Toni Brisland,
illustrated by Anastasia Popp
In my book for middle readers “Patrick White” I introduce children to one of our most famous Australians and hope to inspire them to follow their dreams.
Patrick White’s family believed “we are what we are born to be, free only to shape the lives fate has given us” (David Marr’s biography of Patrick White) and if PatrickWhite had become what his family had always been and what they wanted him to be, he would have been a wealthy land owner in NSW who ran sheep. Instead, Patrick White broke with family tradition because he wanted to be a writer.
Patrick White was goal-focused and self-disciplined and in the early days of his writing career quite poor. In his autobiography “Flaws in the Glass” he said: “I grew conscious of wanting to be a writer on leaving my hated English school and returning to the Australia I had longed for. No, it wasn’t so much a case of growing consciousness as a matter of necessity. Surrounded by a vacuum, I needed a world in which to live with the degree of intensity my temperament demanded”. This growing awareness of what to do with one’s life starts in childhood.
Middle readers are learning to find their place in the mini-society that is school and the broader community, learning to face their own fears and insecurities and sometimes illnesses, are confronted with bullies and domineering peers and are grasping with their idea of self and what they want to be in life which sometimes conflicts with how their parents see them and the expectations their parents have for them.
This is not very different to the generations that have gone before and not different at all to what Patrick White experienced as a child. My book shows that he was bullied at school, full of self-doubt and was sick all his life with asthma and in and out of hospital. As a child he did not mix easily with other children: he played with them but made no friends. Patrick White was private and solitary and when he was growing up he often asked himself the question: “What will I be when I grow up?”
I believe that as children learn to cope with who they are, the influences on their lives, and what they will become, they turn to “story” to explore how others have lived and coped, assimilating from books what they need into their own lives and this is one of the reasons I wrote about Patrick White’s life.
|From Patrick White, Chapter 9, Awards, pp. 48 & 51. © Anastasia Popp.|
Children often ask the same question – “what will I be when I grow up”. Take the fabulous illustrator of my book, Anastasia Popp. Anastasia says, “When I was about six and adults asked me what I wanted to become, I answered that I'd be an animator. My road was winding and actually I don't create cartoons, but here I am - an illustrator”.
My own road was circuitous: I always wanted to write and I eventually found my way via teaching, management and the law.
So, I’m hoping the children who read my book will find something in it of value to them, even if it is just the faith and self-belief to be what they want to be and not what someone else tells them they should be.
Author and Poet, previously Director, CBCA (NSW Branch Representative)
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Editor's note: Patrick White is a quality publication on quality paper and excellent layout of text overlaying the illustrations. The timeline and awards presented at the end of the biographical narrative reflect key highlights in Toni's highly readable prose. An interesting addition to Australian biographies targetting middle school readers.