Debra Adelaide places her green handbag and green laptop at the side of the stage and gives the crowd a tentative smile. On first impression, along with having a preference for green, Adelaide exudes an air of quiet self-assurance. Once she begins to speak, that morphs into playful self-deprecation, as she deals with the technical challenges of the microphone.
Adelaide is speaking with Sydney academic Professor Maryanne Dever about her latest novel, The Women’s Pages, a story sparked by her passion for Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.
“It’s a book I’ve never been able to get out of my system, it keeps coming back to me,” said Adelaide.
Dove, the main character in The Women’s Pages, has the same preoccupation as Adelaide with Wuthering Heights, having read it to her dying mother. Adelaide says she felt she needed to address the fact that mothers are either absent or dysfunctional in Victorian literature, seeing her latest novel as “an opportunity to sort of correct the story.”
Debra Adelaide may be known for her writing, but her passion is clearly reading, and the conversation returns frequently to her obsession that began in childhood. “I do remember vividly feeling I was my best self when I was with a book,” she said. Adelaide hints (with delight) at a new subject devoted to reading she’s planning for students at the University of Technology, Sydney, where she is Associate Professor of the Creative Writing program. She believes it’s essential for writers to develop good critical reading skills. “Writing is not really writing, it’s reading. I read far more than I write and I always will,” she said.
At the book signing afterwards, Debra Adelaide continues the conversation, leaving the impression she is someone who has clearly found her calling. In my copy of The Women’s Pages, she writes (with a green felt pen), “Happy reading, and writing!”
Margaret Martin Library, Randwick
Review by Jane O’Connell, 18th May 2016