Let’s talk about Austen and Dickens!

Two posts in one day! I am outdoing myself. But I had to mention a writer’s website that I came across today via a link on the Jane Austen Centre newsletter. Due to the all-consuming effort to finish the first book of my family history series I usually I don’t have time to give such emails more than a glance. One of the links ‘Let’s talk about Jane Austen’ caught my eye and brought me ultimately to one of the most interesting writer’s website I have seen.

The website is Books and Things run by a young writer Katie Lumsden who describes herself as a  ‘writer, blogger, vlogger (?), booktuber and until recently…played Kitty Bennett at the JAC.’ She writes professional engaging reviews about the staggering number of books she reads. She also gives talks about books, writing and writers on her booktube channel.

The JAC link was to a booktube talk about Jane Austen: Let’s talk about Jane Austen. I viewed it twice. When she mentioned she had done a similar talk on Charles Dickens, Let’s talk about Charles Dickens, I viewed that, too. Dickens and Austen are my favourite authors – together with Evelyn Waugh. The talks were given with an infectious enthusiasm. I really enjoyed them.

Books and Things is well worth the attention, especially for young writers.


Duncan McLaren’s Evelyn Waugh tours

I have been so engaged in finishing the first book of my family history series that I have neglected the blogging for just about the whole year. I have a backlog of Duncan McLaren’s highly entertaining Evelyn Waugh tours to post. No Waugh aficionado should miss the entertainment and information in the Waugh tours. In order of reception:

Evelyn Waugh and Lord Berners

Evelyn in Appeldore

Evelyn and Alistair’s Grand Tour

Duncan’s book on Evelyn Waugh EVELYN! RHAPSODY FOR AND OBSESSIVE LOVE was published this year (available here and here). It is in the same eccentric style of his book on Enid Blyton LOOKING FOR ENID. Both are thoroughly enjoyable and a must for lovers Waugh and Blyton. I intend to write a review of the Waugh book after I have published Prison Hulk to Redemption. 



Burleigh Heads Queensland – part of my childhood

Burleigh Heads beach on Queensland’s Gold Coast is one of the most memorable places of my childhood. Mum and Dad took us there for the first time in May 1955. It was our second major holiday, the first being to Victoria in 1952. It was a holiday full of adventure. We went up via the New England Highway to Glen Innes and then took the Gwydir Highway down to the coast to Grafton. After Grafton, we had to cross three rivers on a punt. At Burleigh Heads, there was the beach and surf for swimming, the rocks to explore at big Burleigh, and the walk around the headland to Tallebudgera Creek. There was not enough time, it seemed to us, to fully enjoy what Burleigh Heads and the Gold Coast had to offer. We returned to Burleigh Heads. just about every year until I left school. Below are some before and after photos.

Burleigh Head in the 1950s

Big Burleigh May 1957

Burleigh Beach3 May 1958


Burleigh Heads in 2015



Click to enlarge



My intention to undertake an extensive revision of my first family history title has resulted in a complete replanning and rewriting of the series. I had wanted to add much new information about family members and put all the people and action into their proper social and historical context.

I found, however, that the undertaking was not so simple. I had badly underestimated the time this would take and the amount of social and historical information I would have to add to give an adequate picture of the period in which my ancestors acted. Providing that adequate picture has meant reorganizing the books (and the existing text) into periods different from those I had originally planned.

The first book with a new title – Prison Hulk to Redemption – will cover the period 1788-1901.   I have given up setting publication dates because I have continually found it necessary to put them back. A paperback edition as well as an ebook edition of Prison Hulk to Redemption will be released in the second half of 2015.

The reason the third book is almost finished is that my original intention was to write a childhood memoir that included some background information about my immediate family (parents and grandparents) and of my pioneering ancestors. After writing about the 1940s and early 1950s, I found that I had material for more than one book.  The project eventually grew into four books.

The Wilson Family History series will now cover these years:
Book 1: 1788-1901 – Prison Hulk to Redemption (nearly there)
Book 2: 1902-1945 – War Depression War pub. 2016 (40% written)
Book 3: 1946-1953 – Me ‘n’ Pete pub. 2016 (90% written)
Book 4: 1954-1958 – Billycarts & Two-Wheelers, 2017 (10% written)

I will keep updating my progress on the rewriting of the first book of the family history series.

Was the past no better or worse than the present?

‘Richard Glover takes a trip back in time’

Richard Glover (presumably the ABC one) wrote a humorous comment about the past for the 17 January 2015 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald.

More precisely, it was about some of the strange (for people under 50 years) habits and customs of the past. He seemed to be talking mainly about the habits and ways of the 1950s and 1960s. I can attest that most of what he says is true – at least according to my experience.  Let me comment on the more surprising ones.

1. ‘School students, particularly boys, would be regularly beaten with sticks, usually by the teaching staff.’

Very true. My loving parents wielded the cane from a feather duster when we boys tried their patience too much. The nuns also applied the cane to naughty hands and legs. But Glover does not mention the strap. The brothers at the school I went to seemed to have their specially made penitential strap permanently fixed to their hand – so often was it applied to the hands of recalcitrant boys. ‘Six of the best for you, son!’ rang out continually through rooms and halls.

2. ‘When using a public phone, you could avoid paying by shouting into the earpiece, knowing that you could just be heard, however faintly.’

True again. I used the public telephone earpiece like today’s mobile phone to ring my parents to tell them where I was and where to be picked up.

3. ‘A trip to the tip was considered a leisure activity.’

My brother and I had a wonderful time scrounging around the local tip. The only danger we were conscious of was being caught by the tip guard. We found many treasures there.

4. But this one I never witnessed – and there were plenty of smokers who visited my mum and dad. A bit fanciful, I think.

‘When grown-ups had parties, the children would be required to light the guests’ cigarettes.’

5. The following is one of the great myths about the 1950s:

‘As part of a “health” campaign, school children were forced to drink a small bottle of milk that had been left out in the sun until it was warm and about to curdle.’

Not true – a myth grown over time from a few rare cases.

The state government supplied crates of milk in small bottles to primary schools as part of a health policy. During all the time the crates of milk were delivered to the schools I attended, I can think of only one occasion when the crates were left in the sun. And then nobody drank the milk – and did not have to. I always looked forward to that swig of milk still chilled. I was a kid who could down a pint of milk in two seconds flat.

Glover’s point for listing the strange customs:

‘My point isn’t that the past was better or worse than the present. Just that it was a different country – one that now seems unrecognisable even to those of us who once lived there.’

I don’t agree. Every age has its benefits and disadvantages, its joys and sorrows, but to say every age is of the same value is to commit the common fallacy of equivalence. One can make a judgement on the balance of good and bad. I think the 1950s was a special period in Australia’s history.


Invitation to celebrate Teresa Waugh’s birthday

Dear Evelyn Waugh reader,

Mr and Mrs Evelyn Waugh invites you to a coming-out celebration for their daughter, Teresa, on Thursday 5 July, 1956.

The celebration is divided between two sites:

1) The Hyde Park Hotel, 7pm, for dinner.

2) The tents erected in Kensington Square Gardens for photographs, afternoon drinks and post-dinner dancing.

Non-vintage champagne for all except Evelyn. Any departures from the correct formal dress for men (billiard-table-green tweed suit and orange-and-white brogues) will be recorded in his private diary.

To accept the invitation, simply click the link:

Best wishes,

Duncan McLaren (soc. sec.)

Writer … and still in the fifties