In this episode of Biographers in Conversation, biographer Matthew Lamb chats with Gabriella about the choices he made while writing Strange Paths, the biography of Frank Moorhouse, a celebrated Australian novelist, screenwriter and journalist.

Frank Moorhouse, who was prominent in Australia’s literary and cultural life in the second half of the twentieth century, wrote a trove of essays, short stories, journalism and scripts. He also wrote the iconic Edith Trilogy that follows the adult life of the ambitious, and somewhat eccentric, Edith Campbell Berry, and he pioneered discontinuous narrative. An activist, intellectual and libertarian, Frank championed freedom of speech and sexual self-determination.

In our conversation, Matthew Lamb explains why he chose to write Frank Moorhouse: Strange Paths in two volumes, why he refers to it as a cultural biography, and the meaning behind the book’s title, Strange Paths. Moorhouse died the year before Strange Paths was published and he and Matthew regularly lunched together. Matthew describes how he navigated the complexities of writing about a living subject and how knowing Moorhouse influenced how he portrayed him.

Moorhouse was an outspoken advocate against censorship and narrow social conventions, and he argued for freedom of information. He also lived at a time of immense social change and was a vocal advocate for Indigenous land rights, feminism and gay liberation. Matthew explains how he evoked the spirit of the age, enabling readers to experience the tumult of this time.

Many false assumptions and public misconceptions surrounded Moorhouse, including his views on censorship and social conventions and interpretation of his fiction as autobiographical. Matthew explains how he addressed these misconceptions and how he sensitively balanced Moorhouse’s professional, public, personal and interior lives.

Shortlisted for the AGE Book of the Year Award

Frank Moorhouse was legendary in Australian literary and cultural life, the author of a huge and diverse body of work - essays, short stories, journalism, scripts, the iconic Edith Trilogy - an unapologetic activist, intellectual, libertarian and champion of freedom of speech and sexual self determination. Though he lived his life publicly, his private stories have not been shared, the many paths he forged left unexamined, until now.Matthew Lamb shared many a luncheon table with Moorhouse and immersed himself in the archived life and cultural ephemera of Frank's world. This landmark study, from Moorhouse's own publisher, the first in a projected two volumes, is the fascinating and comprehensive story of how one of Australia's most original writers and pioneer of the discontinuous narrative came to be. Fearless, sardonic and utterly dedicated to his creative life, his relationships with friends, other writers and lovers were complex and long-lasting. Lamb shares the strange paths that Frank traversed and gives us a cultural history of the times that shaped Moorhouse and which Moorhouse himself helped to shape.

‘Lamb has laid the foundation of a cumulative work that may well reach, even exceed, David Marr's Patrick White- A Life, which many consider the high-water mark of Australian biography.'

NIGEL FEATHERSTONE, GUARDIAN

Matthew Lamb
Matthew Lamb

Matthew Lamb writes the Public Things Newsletter, which includes broad discussions about ideas and intellectual history regarding literary culture and democracy – these public things. The newsletter also includes an occasional series on the life and work of Australian author, Frank Moorhouse, and reflections on the art of biography writing, archives, publishing and media.

‘When the facts conflict with the legend’ – how does a biographer balance storytelling with the truth?

In his essay, When the facts conflict with the legend, Matthew Lamb sheds light on the process of writing a biography about Frank Moorhouse, the contradictions in his research and his personal friendship with the author.

1 Comments

  1. Kit Dwyer on April 22, 2024 at 10:29 pm

    Matthew, excited to find you by recommendation.
    Thank you for sharing your talents so that other, like me, can value our research.

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