Good Reading : September 2007
SEPTEMBER 2007 ı goodreading 23 cover story deciding to live apart from Maurice, at a time when this certainly flouted convention.The fact that they were married not once, but twice, and also had a daughter, yet Maurice was still thought of by many as a bachelor. We had to commission a book about these two fascinating people! The letters Maurice wrote to Marcia during their court- ship are now in the possession of their daughter Simone, who kindly gave permission for them to be used as the basis for the book The Vintner’s Letters, the story of their romance. Where the letters appear in the text, they are high- lighted by the image of a stamped and franked envelope, addressed in Maurice’s own hand to Miss Marcia Fuller. The image was scanned from a wonderfully fragile envelope, browned with age, that is held with the letters themselves in a New South Wales regional library. The book is illustrated with photographs and sketches, too. Simone, a talented artist, provided delightful pen-and- wash sketches of the early winery at Mount Pleasant, drawn from her memory. She also kindly consented to the inclusion of photographs from her personal family album, so the book includes images of Marcia as a young girl, of Simone as a young child and as an adult with her father, and of Maurice’s father, his brother Jack and Maurice himself, as a young student and then on his return from France. Despite the poor quality of the originals, Maurice’s transformation from the sweet-faced, earnest university scholar to the elegant, dashing sophisticate in his mid-twenties is striking. It is easy to understand how Marcia could fall in love with him and tolerate the prolonged, remote courtship-by-correspondence that was caused by his passion for the vineyard. While major events in Maurice and Marcia’s lives have been included in this story, the identities of some of their acquaint- ances have been changed. And, of course, the connective web between the facts of the letters, the facts of Simone’s account of her parents’ lives, and the romance of the two lovers had to be spun by the story. To achieve this, author Peter McAra and in-house staff used the novelist’s techniques: characterisation, dialogue, imaginative description, creation of scenes; but always emphasising the substance of the actual story over the style of the presentation. Maurice was torn between two passions, his love for Marcia and his love for making fine wine.That conflict is evident in his letters. In illustrating his intensely personal struggle, the story needed to be more subjective, more focused on the personal, than straight non-fiction. So it could certainly be argued that in The Vintner’s Letters, the boundaries between non-fiction and fiction are blurred, and we acknowledge this at the outset, both in a note from the publisher and in the Preface. There is already debate in the Australian book market about the notion of authenticity in creative non-fiction. One need look no further than Dr Inga Clendinnen’s criticism of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River. Harsh criticism, indeed.As a publisher (and as a past publisher of history text and reference books) I’d argue that all history is a construct, an intellectual concept, and consequently any book about historical events will always be, at least in part, crea- tive non-fiction. For example, in writing a school textbook on Akhenaten for Ancient History students, the author would of necessity be interpreting primary and secondary source material, making decisions about its value, and then expressing his or her perceptions in the way s/he thinks is the most appropriate for the intended consumer’s understanding of the subject matter. How, then, to categorise The Vintner’s Letters? I think I’d describe it as a fictionalised biography, firmly anchored in the truth of Maurice and Marcia’s unconventional and unusual life together. Perhaps it’s time for people in the book trade to find a neat, acceptable name for this genre, which is growing in popularity. The Vintner’s Letters will be published next month by MIRA Books, rrp $32.95 TERMS AND CONDITIONS 1. Information on how to enter and prizes form part of these conditions. 2. The promoter is Good Reading Magazine Pty Ltd. 3. Entry is open to all residents of Australia. 4. Entries must be made between 01/09/07 and 30/09/07 and be sent to Good Reading Magazine, GPO Box 3835, Sydney NSW 2001 or entries can be made at http://www.goodreadingmagazine.com.au 5. The draw will take place on 01/10/07. 6. Prizes cannot be transferred or redeemed for cash. 7. The promoter accepts no responsibility for late, lost or misdirected mail. 8. Any change in the value of the prize between the publishing date and the date the prize is claimed is not the responsibility of the promoter. 9. The Judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into. 10. The winners will be notified by mail and the winners’ names will be published in the November issue of Good Reading and will also appear on the Good Reading website during October 2007. Win This month 10 lucky readers could each win a copy of The Vintner’s Letters by Peter McAra, valued at $32.95 each. To enter, tell us the name of Maurice and Marcia O’Shea’s daughter. Simply write your answer and your name and contact details on the back of an envelope and mail to ‘Vintner Competition’, GPO Box 3835, Sydney NSW 2001, or enter online at www.goodreadingmagazine.com.au Maurice’s transformation from the sweet-faced, earnest university scholar to the elegant, dashing sophisticate in his mid-twenties is striking. It is easy to understand how Marcia fell in love. Marcia as a young girl, above, and as a young woman, above right.