At the outset, I warned you that I was going to expand your understanding of Ethel Turner, the English-Australian author of Seven Little Australians. Moreover, I might also have mentioned that I’m still reading her books as we go. So, I’m on a steep learning curve and a thrilling adventure, while also trying to nut out these posts. Life wasn’t meant to be easy, but it can be delightful!
At this point, I’m going to interrupt my own thoughts, and ask you how often do you read a book and find that the author has unwittingly expressed the innermost desires of your heart? They know you in a way that is so intimate and personal, that they couldn’t know you any better if they hopped inside your boots, put on your skin and merged with your heart and mind and became you? It doesn’t happen very often, does it? Yet, I keep having these moments where Ethel Turner knows me to the very deepest core of my being, and then some. I’ve shared a few of these moments already. However, while I was reading Three Little Maids, I found another.
I guess, in a way, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I have been writing seriously personally and professionally to some extent for years. I self-published an anthology of poetry back in 1992 called Locked Inside An Inner Labyrinth. I gave a solo reading in Paris at the Shakespeare Bookshop a few months later. However, since then, all’s been quiet on the publishing front. Of course, I want to have a book published. Indeed, multiple books. However, to have a book published, you first have to write it, and that’s my problem.
Anyway, I haven’t been above praying for this to come about, and recently after submitting my entry for the SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition, I had a heartfelt prayer for my story to win.
Indeed, it was that very week that I read Dolly’s equally impassioned prayer and I felt Ethel Turner had known me long before I was even born.
However, before I launch into her prayer, I’d better set the scene.
Three Little Maids was published in 1900. At this point, Ethel Turner had been married to Herbert Curlewis for six years and their daughter, Jean, was two years old. It has been said that elements of Three Little Maids are autobiographical, and that Phyl represents her older sister, Lillian; Dorothy or “Dolly” is herself and “Weenie” represents her younger half-sister, Jeannie “Rose”. The book is divided into two halves: Part I: Play Days and Part II: Scribbling Days. When the book starts out Phyl is ten, Dolly is eight and I don’t think an age is given for Weenie, but she could be five. By the end of the novel, the two older girls have left school and in real life, Ethel Turner was 24 when Seven Little Australians was published.
So, we’re well and truly into scribbling days and onto the second last chapter, when Dolly has received a very exciting letter. Barely able to speak through the excitement, she puffs:
“I’ve-I’ve-I’ve ___” she said, and excitement grasped her throat again, and she merely laughed and choked. Someone shook her again.”I’ve-written a b-book,” she said, thus urged.” 1.
We turn a few pages and then we come to the scene where Ethel Turner expressed the deepest, innermost cries of my heart:
“One night,” Dolly said, in the same low tone,” I felt I must do something. I felt I couldn’t just go on doing little things always,-staying at home and helping, and going to dances, and playing tennis. I used to think I should like to go as a missionary, – not to China, of course, only somewhere here where people were very poor and miserable. But that night I didn’t seem to want anything but to write books that people would love to read, and that might do them some good.”
“Well?” said Phyl, for Dolly had paused and was looking with glowing eyes at the happy sky.
“I just prayed, Phyl. It seemed so simple. God had said all things were possible to faith, – that we were to Ask, and we should receive, that all things whatsoever we should ask in prayer, believing, we should receive. He didn’t say we were to stop to consider if the thing we asked seemed impossible. He just said all things whatsoever. And I prayed, Phyl, that I might write books. All my life seemed to go in the prayer. And everything was – wonderful. I was kneeling by the window, and the sky seemed to bend down all around me, it was so warm and close. We have never known just what it is to have an own, Father, Phyl but I knew that night. And I prayed and prayed, and I knew. He was answering me. Of, Phyl, if you could have seen the stars, – so large and kind!” 2.
I must admit that I’ve wondered whether praying to get this elusive book of mine published, was worthy of prayer. It wasn’t as materialistic as asking for a Porsche (or in my case a restored Kombi). It also wasn’t asking God to strike down my enemies, which really doesn’t sit well with values like loving your neighbour or forgiving your enemy seventy times seven. However, Ethel Turner has unwittingly legitimised my prayer, and she even suggested that a book might even be able to “do good”. That writing a book isn’t just pure self-indulgence.
Moreover, and I think this is something Ethel Turner does really well and it particularly stands out in her Sunbeams columns in the Sun newspaper. She understands, empathises with and has compassion for people from all walks of life. In her own life, she has known poverty and desperate struggle. She lost her father as an infant, and her step-feather when she was eight. However, on the 28th March, 1930 her beloved daughter Jean died of tuberculosis, and this is what saw her stop writing novels altogether.
So, is it any wonder that I like the thousands of children who have flocked to Ethel Turner throughout the years, would also find a kindred spirit in her? A soul mate? Indeed, perhaps the greatest thing of all the greatest thing of all….hope?!!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what I have called: “A Writer’s Prayer”. I wonder if you also relate to it? In that case, I say a silent prayer for you, and if you could spare a few prayers for my illusive book and the competition entry I’d also be grateful. It’s not easy being a writer, and not adding oneself to the dreaded waste paper bin!
Many thanks and best wishes,
PS The illustrations in this post came from my grandfather’s German Bible, which was a 21st birthday present from his grandfather, Heinrich August Haebich of Hahndorf in South Australia. He was a blacksmith, while my grandfather was a Lutheran pastor. We had the Bible on the altar at our wedding, and I’d scanned some of the etchings into the order of service.
- Ethel Turner: Three Little Maids, Ward Locke & Co., London, p. 296.
2. Ibid. pp 302-303