Excerpt from author interview with Daphne Guiness, Sydney Morning Herald


Art historian Susanna de Vries, AM is on a roll. She has won the Australia Council’s Tyrone Guthrie Fellowship to write in Ireland, where her Blue Ribbons Bitter Bread: The Life of Joyce Nankivell Loch, Australia’s Most Decorated Woman (short listed for the Queensland Premier’s non-fiction award) won the Sligo Award. Last year her first volume of the series Great Australian Women ‑ From Federation to Freedom had six reprints. A second volume is just out and a third volume, Australian Women At War, is next. Her publishers, HarperCollins, say “We love Susanna — readers love her books and she sells and sells.”

Susanna’s first agent, Jill Hickson, [Wrann] concentrated on Australian literati… When Hickson sold her agency to Curtis Brown, Susanna switched to mainstream agent, Selwa Anthony, [who had enjoyed a very successful career in bookselling} It was the dynamic Selwa Anthony who brokered the three-book HarperCollins deal which established Susanna’s name as a popular historian specialising in Australian women of the past.

The $64,000 question facing Susanna is how many great Australian women are there left to write about?

She whizzes back, “There are heaps more women to explore and research.’"

For years De Vries had this dream of writing a series of illustrated biographies on various aspects of Australian women. In 1987 a male publisher, who shall be nameless (“I have enough enemies without making any more”), told Susanna “a book about great Australian women would be very small indeed”. Susanna quoted the famous psychiatrist Henry Maudsley that women’s brains were half the size of men’s and had great fun proving him wrong.”

Dame Nellie Melba, [the star of Volume Two] sang for free at financier Alfred de Rothschild’s parties in return for his financial advice. Susanna adds, “Don’t you love the bit in the book about the Prince of Wales and his sex trapeze? Like his stallions, in old age the Prince wore stirrups to perform. I couldn’t resist adding that to the Melba story. “

That’s what readers love about de Vries, her witty asides sparkle, which means her books are never dull.