Ann Blainey is the author of the acclaimed I Am Melba, which won the 2009 National Biography Award and was the most popular book in the 2009 State Library of Victoria Summer Reads program. Her other books include biographies of Leigh Hunt and the Kemble sisters, and most recently a biography of Charles Kingsford Smith.
Ann explained that she came to writing biographies more or less by accident. “At Melbourne University I did an honours course in History and English,” she said. “In my final year, for the History part of the course, I was required to write a 15-thousand-word essay on a historical subject using original research. I chose a poet associated with Australia. This was Richard Hengist Horne, a well -known poet in England in the 1840s.”
“The following year I married historian Geoffrey Blainey and subsequently gave birth to our daughter, Anna. But I did not forget Horne. When in 1966, I went with Geoffrey and Anna to England, I took with me with me a full-length biography of Horne that I had written over the previous six years. The English publisher, Longman’s, accepted it and it received good reviews. That started me on my biographical way.”
Following the biography of Horne, Ann wrote several other biographies of other figures of his era. It wasn’t until she was 65 that her husband suggested she should concentrate on the biographies of very famous Australians, and she willingly took on the advice. “The diva, Nellie Melba, was an easy choice because she was the most internationally famous of all Australians, and I already had some knowledge and a keen interest in opera,” shared Ann. “My latest book on Charles Kingsford Smith was also influenced by his international fame. However, it has proved to be the most difficult book I have written, because I was obliged to project myself into a personality and a world quite different from my own. But I’m very glad I accepted the challenge. Writing King of the Air has taught me a great deal.”
Ann believes in thorough research, using primary sources wherever she can. “While researching my Melba book, I spent many hours in state libraries, reading old newspapers. With King of the Air I sat at home, reading them on my computer.” Following the completion of the research, it needs to be arranged into the correct sequence which for Ann, is particularly important. “This type of mental digesting is a slow and sometimes difficult process. But if it is properly done, writing can be quite fast and exciting. Some authors describe it as a book writing itself.”
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