You know I’m fond of a little bit of magic: the way love trails through our lives and things sometimes happen right when we need them to; the way connections appear and disappear and reappear as if part of a crazy plan we can’t see; the way sweet coincidences bring a blast of sunshine for no discernable reason at all.
A particularly sweet slip of synchronicity occurred in my little corner of the universe just recently, one that involves a book, a very important book, at least to me – Power Without Glory by Frank Hardy.
I was thirteen when I first read this bestselling page-turner about grubby politics and fist-thumping thuggery, set in Melbourne in the early twentieth century. I read it, as I read so many books, on the floor of my parents’ small but well-stuffed library. Barely out of pigtails, half the shenanigans that unfolded throughout the story went straight over my head, but it switched me on in so many other ways, the debt I owe Power Without Glory is incalculable.
For all that I didn’t understand, this novel fascinated me, shining a bright light on the truths that lurk in the dark halls of power. It sent sparks through my young mind about a diverse bunch of issues – the evil that is gambling, the even greater evil that sends young men to war, as well as the arguments for republicanism, which continue today, with the idea that not every Australian calls England ‘Home’. I related to that last spark: no-one in my own home was interested in toasting the Queen. I could recognise the story of the Irish in this novel as an echo of my own history, too.
And there’s no doubt in my mind that this book is a big reason why my own writing focusses on Australian social history today, and why I am ever mistrustful of the right-wing of the Labor Party. I use a different frame for my own novels, but the driver of my narratives, the fire that stokes my curiosity, springs straight from the engine that Frank Hardy gave me.
So, imagine how thrilled I was about twenty years later, in 2000, when I was an editor at Random House and a copy of Power Without Glory landed on my desk – the same edition as the one I’d read when I was a kid – and I was asked to produce the 50th anniversary edition of it. I squealed with untold thrill. A thrill that would remain untold, too, for no-one in the office could have known of its significance to me, and wouldn’t know, because I couldn’t tell anyone of my secret writing dreams back then.
I held that 50th anniversary copy of Power Without Glory to my heart with silent promises to myself: One day… One day, I will be brave enough to write my own stories.
It would take another four years before I would find the courage to do that, and since then, stories have charged out of me like freight trains. But that’s not the end of this story, of course.
A couple of weeks ago, idling on Facebook, I came across a blog conversation on another writer’s page – it was Sophie Masson chatting with Michael Johnson about his new novel, Noah’s Park, and his past exploits in publishing. Michael mentioned that while a publisher, he bought the paperback rights to Power Without Glory – the very same edition I’d read as a kid.
I laughed out loud with deeper and deeper delight. Michael Johnson happens to be the father of my publisher today, Lou Johnson – Lou, who also happened to be one of my colleagues at Random House back in 2000 when the anniversary edition was published and I was too shy to squeak about anything.
Funny, funny old world. I can’t think of Lou’s dad Michael now without shaking my head in envy and disbelief: you had lunch with Frank Hardy? Really? Really. Just a little snippet of everyday magic.
If you’d like to read Power Without Glory, you can get a copy here.