Snapshot 2014: Philippa (Pip) Maddern, in memorium

Image via History of Emotions



By Lucy Sussex 

I became a writer because of the Australian SF writing workshops. Ursula Le Guin’s name on the cover of the 1975 workshop proceedings, The Altered Eye, was sufficient for me to buy the book. Then I got entranced by the descriptions of the workshop process. I bought The View from the Edge, too.  Although they featured various talented young writers, some of whom would publish books, the absolute standout was one Philippa C. Maddern.

It was some years till I met Pip (as people called her), at a restaurant meal around Aussiecon II.  I noticed first the mop of black hair, the wide, warm smile. At the time I was considerably in awe.  Viv Albertine’s recent memoir describes the effect of seeing the cover of Patti Smith’s Horses; and then the Sex Pistols live. Smith looked like an ‘ordinary girl’, the Pistols like Viv and her friends:  young outsiders. When I started out the stars of the Oz SF scene were almost to a man hoary old blokes, tending to the deeply sexist. The women of SF were unattainable goddesses, and overseas. Pip was older than me, but otherwise young, acclaimed and an Aussie girl. I found her inspirational. Moreover, she was a strong feminist.

Not that I could get all fangirl over Pip and a story I adored—“Ignorant of Magic”—because she did not stand upon ceremony. If she liked you, then you knew it. Neither did she hide a razor-sharp intelligence. Her obituary photograph in the Australian was pure Pip: hands on hip, the background cluttered bookcases, feistiness in repose.

In the years following the workshops, she pursued a PhD in medieval history at Oxford, and attended Milford three times. Lisa Tuttle posted on Facebook a photo of Pip at Milford, resplendent in red overalls.  Pip’s problem was finding time to write, as a young academic. I can’t remember who suggested an informal series of workshops, which took place over the next few years in our various houses. Pip hosted at her College rooms at Melbourne University, and also at the Champion’s, with whom she had formed a long-lasting Christian community.  Although she was deeply religious, she never bothered others about God. She had her worldly pleasures too: she cooked well, and played in a medieval music ensemble.

I knew her best in these few workshop years, and then not well. She was looking for an academic niche, then beginning to be fiendishly difficult, and at one stage got fed up and got an ordinary job. Had she not got a permanent position at the University of West Australia, she might have written more. I heard (not from Pip) of an unpublished novel, and at the workshops she presented extracts from another novel, a human repetends, a love triangle repeating the same mistakes through time.  It was very good, but I suspect she never finished it. I did, however, manage to get a story from her for She’s Fantastical.

At various parties I met people from the original workshops, who had a persistent bond. One was Ted Mundie, older, part-Chinese, a charmer in person and prose, with a very relaxed style.  One time I saw Pip she mentioned she was ‘having a fling’ with Ted. Next thing they got married—some 25 years after meeting at the Le Guin workshop. I visited them at their Bayswater home, he enjoying looking after her; she cherishing him. Sadly Ted died of a heart attack after 5 years of marriage. The last email I had from Pip, we were both bereaved, and she mentioned publishing his memoir.  It was one of those things that she never got around to, but such is the state of academe, the grind of lectures, committees, publications, research etc, etc.

She had ovarian cancer as a young woman. The disease returned, this time fatally. I was told by her fellow medievalists that she was gravely ill, and was able to send a card. In it, I said how inspirational she had been, and that I hoped she would get back to writing. Later I was one of six people who contributed to her obituary in the Australian, which is how her SF got mentioned. Some academics had never heard of it before.

Her memorial service in Melbourne filled a small church on a cold day.  I sat gazing at the stained glass window, through which the leaves of trees, rendered bright green by sunlight and the tinting, could be seen tossing.  As the minister spoke of the Redeemer and the Light, and how her last meal had been the Sacrament, I recalled “Ignorant of Magic”. In it she used the words “Kaleidoscopic precision”, a good image of how her mind, and by extension her prose worked.

What she leaves, beside a memory of an excellent woman, talented historian and teacher, is her stories. ‘The Ins and Outs of the Hadya City State” was her submission to the 1975 workshop, and it remains a startling debut.  It was written under the influence of Le Guin (like we all were!), as was “Ignorant of Magic”, this time mixed with medievalism. In retrospect, the best is “Inhabiting the Interstices”, a scary but utterly prescient story of the future of cities, the future of work.  What was sitting in her bottom drawer or hard drive is unknown, but what was published was extraordinary.

Ursula Le Guin gave me permission to quote her words about Pip:

It grieves me very much to know Philippa is dead, yet it gives me joy to remember her in life.  Teaching workshops you meet a few people like her,  you smile when you think about them,  you always are grateful to them for being who they were, for writing what they wrote, for believing that you could teach them anything.

I still have a tiny box Philippa gave me. I had told her that when I saw Blue Wattle acacias flowering in Australia they made me feel at home, because they grew at our place in California, and in the box is a sprig of those blossoms, still yellow after all the years.

SnaphotLogo2014This post is part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

Cranky Ladies of History guest post: Ellen Davitt

A Cranky Lady of Crime History:  Ellen Davitt

Guest post by Lucy Sussex

“Was this Ellen Davitt contentious?” said the Archivist to me.

An interesting question.  I was in the reading room of the National Archives, deep in nineteenth-century Education files from the colony of Victoria. The woman I was looking for had a chequered history, but in the 1850s she had been the most powerful female in the colony’s secular education system. I was trying to find out why a (male) historian had described her as having “overbearing self-esteem”.

“Yes, she was contentious,” I decided to say.

“Then try the Special Case files!”—in which I would find that Ellen Davitt fully qualified as cranky, and for excellent reasons.

Force and FraudEllen Davitt (1812-1879) wrote Force and Fraud (1865) the first Australian murder mystery novel, at a time when the crime genre was in the process of formation.  For this distinction, the Davitt award of Sisters in Crime, for Australian women’s crimewriting, is named after her. Force and Fraud will be reprinted as an e-book this year. But in a long career, in which as a widow she was obliged to be self-supporting, Ellen Davitt was a teacher, exhibited artist, public speaker, something at the time which was daring for women, journalist and novelist. She was also feisty and tough, particularly with overbearing males. Had she not had a healthy self-esteem, she would have been crushed.

Her entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography only cites Ellen as an educationalist, with no mention of her other interesting work, only rediscovered in the 1990s.  She was born in England, the daughter of Martha and Edward Heseltine, a (dodgy) bank manager, the eldest of five daughters. Her sister Rose married famous novelist Anthony Trollope. Ellen married Irishman Arthur Davitt, who worked in education, and the pair emigrated to Australia in the 1850s, to run the ModelSchool in Melbourne.  It was a difficult job; and changing politics and an economic recession saw the Davitts’ positions terminated. Arthur died in 1860, of tuberculosis. Ellen vigorously sought compensation, indeed sought to address the Victorian Parliament—an extraordinary move for the time, which was refused.

Her journalism, public speaking and fiction writing were all a means of supporting herself, as a widow, without family in Australia. Force and Fraud was serialised in the Australian Journal. It was a mystery of real ability, without a central detective, rather a group of people banding together to find justice, a common device of the time.  The narrative was a sophisticated whodunnit, as well as being a close observation of colonial society. Other notable works include the short story “The Highlander’s Revenge”, a powerful story of Aboriginal massacres in the Gippsland region, probably based on an eyewitness account.

Conditions for writers in the Australian colonies were poor in the 1800s, it being particularly hard to earn a living. It seems Ellen Davitt contributed anonymously to the press for some time, then returned to teaching. She had the ill-luck to be sent to a rural school outside Bendigo, where she faced a headmaster with a bias against female teachers, and a low salary, which did not take into account her previous experience. It destroyed her health but not her spirits—hence a gold mine of letters to and from the Education department, in which she sought compensation. She was refused again, and in 1879 died of cancer and exhaustion.

Was she contentious? Oh yes!  But with excellent reason, as she fought against the male authorities who sought to contain and control her.  She and Mary Fortune (an even more cranky lady, a bigamist who consorted with criminals, and had a jailbird son) are the mothers of the Australian crime genre. That both of them have been marginalised, in Fortune’s case nearly lost to history, shows the importance of revisiting the lives of women, which are so often braver and less conventional than the official male historians allow.

History is written by the winners. Herstory is stranger and wilder than we can possibly imagine.

Long live the Cranky Ladies!

Cranky Ladies logoThis post is written as part of the Women’s History Month Cranky Ladies of History blog tour. If  you would like to read more about cranky ladies from the past, you might like to support our Pozible campaign, crowd-funding an anthology of short stories about Cranky Ladies of History from all over the world.