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Christina Stead

In their own words

Recorded 1969

Christina Stead
Audio: 2 minutes

I start with a character, somebody who strikes me very forcibly, and I think to myself, ‘This is it, this is the one’. Then I allow life to grow up around that person. I don’t question them. I see how it is with them in life, as you would if you were studying a tree and its background and its ecology. That’s kind of a job. And then the drama that arises, arises from them and their relations with their friends, their backgrounds. By the time I’m finished, it isn’t just one person, naturally, it’s a whole sector, group of people. But in one sense there’s a hero but sometimes it’s what they call, I think very foolishly, an anti-hero. But I don’t like that expression.

When I’m fairly advanced with conceiving the character and I’m beginning to see the lines of force and so forth round the character, I do in fact make many, perhaps five, and perhaps even 20 plans, schemes of all kinds of things, of relations, of deeds and so forth. This is just to organise my mind; I never use them. As I say, I’m struck by somebody in real life, and this is where I get my characters, in real life. And also it’s not possible to get them anywhere else.

The important thing to me in writing is writing. I love writing, and I used to find myself as a child and a young girl, trying out words, ‘That’s not really blue, the sky, it’s something else’ and ‘How would I say that about the leaf?’ and so on. These were just trial runs, of course. I wasn’t intending to write when I did this.

This sounds rather a strange thing to say – but I think what inspires me in writing is perfection. I like to get the perfection of an idea or an expression. Naturally one falls short, but that’s the idea.

I begin with a person who impresses me very much and in quite an animal way, because it begins at once like a love at first sight, it’s exactly like that. And when you love a person at first sight you know nothing about them, you don’t know their intellectual standing. You may vaguely see their personal characteristics, but you really don’t know.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of Christina Stead is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

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Christina Stead

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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