Robyn Davidson

The women that Robyn Davidson had a powerful effect on, Richard Cooke tells us, include author Anna Krien, adventurer Esther Nunn, and his wife. ‘I watched as the power of this book and its author, their energy and weight, worked an entrainment across cultures and generations,’ writes Cooke. In some ways his essay charts his struggle with that power. How not to fall into the trap that others who have tackled Davidson have fallen into? ‘I lagged decades of writers and pilgrims, interlopers and fans. Reading interviews to try to chicane through the questions already asked was pointless. They most often sought answers about the same thing – her first book, now published forty years ago.’

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Aged twenty-two, I set out for Mexico, with, like Rousseau in Italy, a ‘heart full of young desires, alluring hopes and brilliant prospects’. I was determined to leave the confines of the sleepy metropolis that is Canberra, much as Isabella Bird, though infinitely more adventurous and literate, desired to escape her cloistered Victorian world. This ‘inner compulsion’, as Robyn Davidson describes it in her introduction to The Picador Book of Journeys (something her own books attest to powerfully), is a factor which gives travelogues ‘the power to reconnect us with the essential’. And if, by essential, one means illuminating the human condition in the way that any literature worth the name achieves, Davidson’s anthology gives us a sizeable sample.

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Publishers are like invisible ink. Their imprint is in the mysterious appearance of books on shelves. This explains their obsession with crime novels.

To some authors they appear as good fairies, to others the Brothers Grimm. Publishers can be blamed for pages that fall out (Look ma, a self-exploding paperback!), for a book’s non-appearance at a country town called Ulmere. For appearing too early or too late for review. For a book being reviewed badly, and thus its non-appearance – in shops, newspapers and prized shortlistings.

As an author, it’s good therapy to blame someone and there’s nothing more cleansing than to blame a publisher. I know, because I’ve done it myself. A literary absolution feels good the whole day through.

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