At what stage of that long afternoon did Martin and I get the crazy notion that we could both solve our work problems by combining them?All I know is that, by the time he left, we had a piece of paper on which we had a plan for a collaborative biography of Charmian Clift and George Johnston.By 1980, we were no longer together, but I still regarded Martin as my closest male friend.
In the following passage — which purports to be part of an essay by the fictional biographer, Strong — Penelope Lively points out a significant difference between the genre of the novel and the genre of biography: The novelist recounts as much of what happened as is appropriate or pertinent.
He leaves out what is either unnecessary (to the plot and to the theme) or what would distract.
Nor did Martin give me information, except for a short taped interview in an ABC studio, and an untaped interview in a restaurant.
Also, despite my friendship both with Martin and with Charmian and George's younger son, Jason Johnston, it was always clear that in no way was this work to be presented as an 'authorised' biography. As a historian, I would not have agreed to the job unless I believed I had authorial freedom.
I should begin by explaining that I never set out to be a biographer, and nor did I have some sort of burning desire to discover what made Charmian Clift tick.
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I inherited the project from Clift's elder son, Martin Johnston, with whom I had lived Sydney and Greece from 1972 to 1978.This problem was compounded by a series of legends of the life of Clift and Johnston, which in some cases had been started by the authors themselves — and which they themselves sometimes believed — but which had spun out of control in the three decades since their deaths.Charmian Clift's depiction of her childhood is one example of a story which the author herself believed, but which I believe to be a myth or lie.In account after account — both in the non fiction (or what purports to be non-fiction) of the essays and travel books and in pages and pages of unfinished drafts of autobiographical fiction — Charmian Clift wrote that she had the most perfectly happy childhood imaginable, with the most perfectly happy family.A recurring image of Clift's childhood anecdotes was of herself at the centre of a crowd of happy playmates.to be a cross between a journal and an autobiographical memoir.I knew that, because of this, many readers would come to a biography of Clift with a view that was shaped by the lies and silences of fiction — and a view which was already jumbled, fragmentary and highly selective.During that time, Martin had often mentioned his parents -- always in an affectionate and admiring way -- but his comments had invariably been prompted by some situation.For instance, there might be something on TV about a Hindu guru practising levitation (this was the seventies, after all) and Martin would say, 'My mother was always firmly of the belief that when she was a little girl she had been able to fly.' Martin would also sometimes sing songs or recite poems or relate anecdotes that he had learned from his family, and occasionally his opinion or comment would be prefaced by the phrase 'Mum always used to say...' or 'Dad always used to say...' For example: 'Mum always used to say that she thought you probably got the prizes first, and had to work for them afterwards.' Or: 'Dad always used to say that the world was divided into players and spectators.' All of this, of course, built up a picture of Charmian Clift and George Johnston. First, during those eight years I had absolutely no idea that I would ever write about Martin's parents.Of course, Johnston was perfectly entitled to do this in a work of fiction.Indeed, this is exactly the sort of thing to which Penelope Lively was referring when she wrote that ‘the silences of the novel are not lies but rejections of extraneous material’.