Thursday, 5 February 2015

Goodbye Colleen McCullough

Recently one of Australia's most beloved writers, Colleen McCullough, died. I once had the privilege of meeting her at a Macquarie University Ancient History Conference, where she was the guest speaker. Most people only know her as the author of The Thorn Birds, but she was more than that. Few people realise that she also wrote the Masters of Rome, a brilliantly researched series of historical novels that earned her a doctorate. So it was sad that a woman with such an amazing intellect is more remembered for her appearance than her mind, according to one pathetic article in The Australian.
My dear friend and fellow writer, Debbie Johansson wrote a moving rebuke to that said article. So with her kind permission, I have re-blogged it here.

Last week, both Australians and the writing community were saddened by the death of Colleen McCullough. Author of the bestselling novel The Thorn Birds as well as many others, she was regarded as Australia’s most successful author. Unfortunately, her passing has been marred by a piece of careless writing.
Within the opening paragraph of an obituary written in one of the country’s most prominent newspapers, The Australian, it stated:
‘Colleen McCullough, Australia’s best-selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: ‘I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.’
Yes, you read that correctly – plain of feature and overweight. Seriously, what has her appearance got to do with anything? It beggars belief that in 2015 we’re still having such discussions, but sadly, this level of journalism continues here in Australia and around the world. Understandably, there was a public outcry by both the media and social networks.
As a fellow writer and ex-University student, I know the importance of a good opening paragraph. This was an apparent oversight from those at The Australian in order to meet their deadline. An otherwise well written piece (that does go on to mention her many achievements) was in dire need of a good editor.
I’d like to look at that paragraph in a different way. Here was a woman that didn’t care less how she looked or what others thought of her. She was a warm, intelligent woman with a good sense of humour and men were attracted to her because of it. She was a neurophysiologist before taking up writing full-time. Her intensely researched, historical series Masters of Rome is indicative of that intelligence (yes, I struggled and anyone who has read them I applaud you). These books led her to be awarded a Doctor of Letters degree by Macquarie University in 1993. Colleen McCullough knew the power of words – sadly, a lesson those at The Australian have had to learn the hard way.
My dad had a saying: ‘We all come and go in this world the same way.’ It’s what we do in-between that’s important. Colleen McCullough was a strong woman who made a tremendous contribution to Australia and the publishing industry; her looks are therefore entirely irrelevant. May she rest in peace.

Have you ever been judged by your appearance rather than what you could actually do? Have you ever sent out work that you later wished you had more time to work on? Did you read the Master of Rome series or did you struggle like me?

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