Before the pandemic hit, Australian children’s author and illustrator Sophie Blackall spent an unforgettable day at the Library with an intriguing collection of diaries that belonged to literary legend Miles Franklin.
While in isolation, Sophie shared her experiences at the Library on Instagram. Here's what she had to say:
I have wandered into a fog recently, and the only way out is to find the sun, but as the weather has been relentlessly dreary here, it has to be something sunny in my head.
I have been returning again and again to a day three months ago, which made me almost deliriously happy. It was my first day in Sydney after a long time away and I had an appointment in the archives at the Mitchell Library to look at the Miles Franklin diaries.
It was one of those Sydney mornings when the sky is so blue it feels brand new, and the sun hits the Harbour like diamonds-in-yer-eyes, and you can’t step over the giant roots of the Moreton Bay Fig without stopping to lay a hand on the cool bark and say hello. At least you could, but you’d be wrong.
And there was the Library, full of treasures and patient librarians willing to bring me those treasures, most particularly the tiny diaries Miles Franklin kept between 1909 and 1954, the year she died. The irony is, this sunny day I keep returning to in my head, this joyous day of research and reunion (with country, city, writer, friend) this day of discovery and rediscovery, was mostly spent reading diary entries like:
May 19 Damnably unhappy.
May 20 Dreary and miserable.
May 21 Miserable beyond words.
May 22 Miserable! Miserable!
But when I think of it, some of my favourite writers endured miserable days — I’m thinking of Virginia Woolf, Edward Lear, Mark Twain — yet their work makes me so happy.
I loved paging through Franklin’s diaries, even the ones in shorthand I couldn’t decipher, and then looking at her laughing face in the photos and then reading lines from her bold, funny, surprising stories in the original manuscripts.
I don’t know about you, but reliving such days helps the fog clear. That afternoon three months and a lifetime ago, I walked out of the Library in a grateful daze and stepped onto a ferry at Circular Quay and met a dear friend across the bay and thought ain’t life grand? It still is of course, and there’ll be sunny days, and library days, again. Won’t there?