Penguin publishing director Bob Sessions recalls the publishing life of his friend and mentor Ruth Park:
I was very saddened to hear that my dear friend Ruth Park has passed on. She held a very special place in my life, both as someone I held in immense respect, and also as a remarkable author and lovely human being. Ruth’s manners and thoughtfulness took these attributes to new heights. Ruth was a beautiful woman for all of her long life.
I am writing this in Vietnam, without being able to check dates and details. But I think my close relationship with Ruth Park goes back to her Miles Franklin Award-winning novel, Swords, and Crowns and Rings, which I published in 1977 when I was at Nelson. My colleague (she was actually my mentor although she ostensibly worked for me) was the great editor Beatrice Davis. They were two of the best mannered people I have ever known, but both with wills of steel. ‘My Dear Beatrice … editing is one thing, but wholesale cuts is something else entirely…’ and so on. I watched with awe.
I like to think I persuaded Ruth to write her autobiography–although of course no one persuaded Ruth to do anything. When she finally did, I will never forget reading the first few pages of the first volume, A Fence Around the Cuckoo, which, with a nod to the novelist she was, she started in the third person, as reader watched (with her) a young girl moving down the upstairs corridor of her house in New Zealand, and of course the young girl was Ruth. What a wonderful way of introducing the subject of an autobiography!
The hugely successful Playing Beattie Bow I published when at Nelson and then the paperback came out when I moved back to Penguin. The book was never off the reprint list, as child after child devoured the magical tale of those children in early Sydney.
Most of Ruth’s books are in print in Penguin, and as we all know, generations of Australians will remember her for her marvelous Muddle Headed Wombat series.
I never met her writer husband, Darcy Niland, but Ruth often spoke of him and it was quite obvious that theirs was a love that endured. I had the pleasure of being involved in the publication of books featuring the work of her daughters, Kilmeny and Deborah. During my many years at Penguin I have been responsible for reprinting The Harp in the South and Poor Man’s Orange at least annually.
She was included in The Bulletin’s list of ‘The 100 Most Influential Australians in 2006, and was made a member of the Order of Australia in 1987. She was extremely modest and often chose not to attend awards ceremonies and official events.
There have been three hugely influential Australian women of a certain age in my literary life: Beatrice Davis; Thea Astley–and Ruth Park. I miss them all very much.
RS, 17 December 2010.