Wrightson, Patricia (1921—)

views updated

Wrightson, Patricia (1921—)

Australian children's novelist . Born Alice Patricia Furlonger in Lismore, New South Wales, Australia, in June 1921; daughter of Charles Radcliff Furlonger (a solicitor) and Alice (Dyer) Furlonger; attended St. Catherine's College, Stanthrope, Queensland, 1932; State Correspondence School, 1933–34; married, in 1943 (divorced 1953); children: Jennifer Mary Wrightson Ireland; Peter Radcliff.

Selected writings:

The Crooked Snake (1955); The Bunyip (1958); The Rocks of Honey (1960); The Feather Star (1962); Down to Earth (1965); I Own the Racecourse! (1968); An Older Kind of Magic (1972); (ed.) Beneath the Sun: An Australian Collection for Children (1972); The Nargun and the Stars (1973); The Ice is Coming (1977); (ed.) Emu Stew (1977); The Dark Bright Water (1979); Behind the Wind (1981); A Little Fear (1983); Night Outside (1985); Moon-Dark (1987); Baylet (1989); The Sugar-Gum Tree (1992); Shadows of Time (1994); Rattler's Place (1997); four-time Children's Book of the Year Award winner.

Patricia Wrightson was born Alice Patricia Furlonger in Linsmore, New South Wales, Australia, in June 1921, the third daughter of Charles Radcliff Furlonger, a solicitor, and Alice Dyer Furlonger . She spent the first four years of her life on a farm before her parents relocated to Sydney. After selling most of their furniture and making the week-long journey to the city, the family remained for only a year, their experiment with city life being unsuccessful. In this short time, however, Wrightson had a new brother, and their father began reading Charles Dickens to them in the evening. This nighttime tradition persisted through her teens. The next three years brought a series of transfers as the Furlongers prepared to move into a newly built house in a larger Australian town of the river-country.

Wrightson entered grammar school as a dutiful student and developed a love for composition. Before she was 12, her family again moved from the river planes to the hills, a place absent of such conveniences as electricity. Although she was originally jealous of her sisters' continued residence in the city, she eventually learned to love this Australian land and began to develop an Aboriginal consciousness. "I'm glad it happened like that," she wrote: "that I came abruptly from city and town into this country and learnt to love it." After a year spent homesick in boarding school, she returned home to complete

her high school diploma in 1939 by correspondence from the New South Wales Correspondence School. At the outbreak of World War II, she moved to Sydney and worked in a munitions factory. She married in 1943 and had two children, but divorced her husband in 1953.

It was while living with her children and parents and managing the Bonalbo District Hospital that Wrightson began to write seriously. None of the stories she had read as a child had been set in Australia, and only as an adult was Wrightson able to appreciate and value her own experiences as an Australian native; she hoped to teach her children to value their heritage and homeland through her stories. Set in the Australian landscapes of her childhood, Wrightson's stories show her young readers that Australia is a beautiful, exciting country, and try to help them develop a sense of pride in being Australian. Her first attempt at a full-length novel was published in 1955 as The Crooked Snake, to immediate popular and critical acclaim. It was named Australia's Book of the Year by the Children's Book Council; Wrightson would later win this award in 1974, 1978, and 1984 as well.

When her children were old enough to enter high school, Wrightson moved with them to Sydney in 1960. There she joined the staff of the Sydney District Nursing Association. Four years later she accepted a position as assistant editor of Sydney's School Magazine, a publication for elementary school students, moving up to serve as editor from 1970 to 1975. Despite holding full-time jobs, Wrightson published a new book every year or two between 1955 and 1997. She has been consistently popular with young readers, who respond to her imaginative settings and characters and the lack of condescension in her stories.

Although she is best known for her realistic children's books, Wrightson has also published science fiction and fantasy novels for children, including several series, most notably the "Wirrun" trilogy: The Ice is Coming (1977), The Dark Bright Water (1979), and Behind the Wind (1981). She has written numerous fantasy novels for adults as well, and edited two collections of juvenile stories, Beneath the Sun (1972) and Emu Stew (1976).

Wrightson's fantasy works are in large part the result of her involvement with Australian Aboriginal culture and traditions. She has researched the folklore of native Australians and uses elements of their stories to structure her books and add depth to her Australian settings. She sees native folk magic as integral to Australian culture, and as a part of the Australian landscape: as she has written, "Magic belongs to simple people, and is shaped by the things that simple people know: the places where they live and the lives they lead. It fits the scene where it was made."

Wrightson has received many awards for her work. In 1978, she was awarded the Order of the British Empire for her contributions to children's literature. The following year, she received the New South Wales Premier's Award for ethnic literature. Other prizes include the Boston Globe-Horn Book award (1984) and the Young Observer Prize (1984). She was honored with the Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1986, and with the New South Wales Premier's Special Occasion Award in 1988.


St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers. NY: St. James Press, 1996.

Something About the Author Autobiography Series. Vol. 4. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1987.

Wilde, William H., et al., eds. The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California