With shiny new books at my hip, I re-entered the hall to hear Rachel Barrowman, in conversation with Geoff Chapple (Gee’s cousin), about her biography of Maurice Gee. This was a fascinating talk about a man who they described in turns as mild-mannered and self-assured, with a sensitivity at odds with the often disturbing subjects of which he writes. A complex man, and a prolific writer, whose work is oftentimes an iteration of the darkness that is accompanist to life, even in childhood.
Barrowman and Chapple chattered about the centrality of the creek and the kitchen to Gee’s boyhood, the trials of his adolescence (it seems Gee’s mother was a ‘secular puritan’, and this rubbed off on her son). They spoke about his turbulent on-off relationship with Hera Smith, with whom he had a child; about his jobs as teacher, postie, hospital porter and librarian. They chronicled his overseas spells, and his eventual meeting with Margaretha Garden, who would become his wife and the mother of two daughters.
Gee’s writings were discussed too, with it noted that Gee had been on the writing path since sixteen, inspired, in part, by a year reading Charles Dickens. Discussion turned to Plumb, with Barrowman and Chapple teasing out family biography from fiction.
This was a very interesting event, but somewhat awkward to behold. Chapple unremittingly cut through Barrowman’s speech, to the visible exasperation of some of the audience. Barrowman did not seem overly fazed by these disturbances, and the session generated what was largely intelligent and nuanced dialogue.
Event attended and reviewed by Elizabeth Morton