Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Let's say gidday at the Henry Lawson Festival

I will be speaking on Saturday at the Henry Lawson Festival of the Arts in Henry Lawson's home town. I'm driving -- 1,740km round trip for the weekend.

My part of the program (PDF file) on Saturday the 9th:

12:20 pm Author Pip Wilson talks on "Mum and Mistresses: The Women in Lawson's Life".

2:00 pm Author Pip Wilson talks on "Anarchists and Terrorists: The Radicals in Lawson's Life".

I will have a swag of novels to sign, too. I hope to shake hands with you on Saturday.

How much of my novel is fact, and how much fiction?

Fair question.

A reader wrote to me yesterday, asking how much of 'Faces in the Street' is fact, and how much fiction? Is it true that Henry Lawson pretended to his rival poet (and friend), Banjo Paterson, as he does in one chapter of the novel?

I replied:

It's fictitious about Henry pretending to be Banjo, but he was known for saying that he was not Henry Lawson. He was probably at 25 the most famous man in Australia, and after a few years everyone knew his face from The Bulletin and his books. But it's recorded that he would deny to people that he was Lawson. Why? Dunno.

My father's father was a Brethren street preacher on the streets of Sydney, round about WWI. He was in the printing trade, working within the same small locale as Lawson's publishers, so it is inconceivable that he would not have known Henry's distinctive face with its big nose and moustache. He might have met Lawson in a printery, but he certainly would have seen him as Sydney had a small population and the printing trade is very small. Also, by then, everyone knew Henry was begging on George St and at Circular Quay -- he was a character of Sydney. So famous, it would be like Russell Crowe begging for five years at Circular Quay. My grandfather, a Christian gentleman, took a man home for a feed, at table with his own wife and 11 children. He believed all his life the man was Lawson, but the destitute man denied it. He was Lawson, almost no doubt about it. He just had this funny game of denying it, and I think I read somewhere that he played that game long before he was ashamed of being a beggar/drunk.

You asked how much in my book is real. Most of it. I wrote the chapter with Lawson dining with Mark Twain before I discovered that they actually DID. Life followed (or preceded) art.

Robert Louis Stevenson lived for months 100 metres, maybe 200 metres from Lawson. Did they meet? I don't know. I bet they saw each other. It wasn't like Phillip Street today. The photo below shows how small the place was.

Click photo to embiggen

Archduke Franz Ferdinand (he whose assassination precipitated WWI) was in Nyngan, NSW the same fortnight as Lawson. But they never met -- I made that billiards game up for fun.

Lots more I made up. But much is true. Hannah and Lizzie are true. The gypsy is true. The bombings are true. It would take hours to explain which is and which isn't.

I hope you enjoy it, true or not.

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