An Australian paper is under fire for it’s reportedly sexist obituary of one of the country’s most famous, celebrated and successful authors, Colleen McCullough, who passed away on January 29th after a long illness.
A teacher, librarian and journalist, McCullough was also a neuroscientist, establishing the department of neurophysiology at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney before working as a researcher at Yale Medical School for ten years. While at Yale, McCullough wrote her best-selling novel, The Thorn Birds, which many of us remember as a very popular TV mini-series. An interesting anecdote I came across while researching McCullough is one in which McCullough’s Yale colleague, Erich Segal, found considerable success after publishing Love Story, a novel that he wrote while teaching in Yale’s Classics Department. Encouraged by Segal’s success, McCullough interviewed students to discover what they loved about his novel, namely, romance, characters and plot, and these answers led to her writing The Thorn Birds.
This tickles me to no end! Writers are everywhere, finding encouragement from each other in the writing community that transcends place, working day jobs until we can support ourselves with our craft, perhaps even continuing to keep one foot in each world for the sheer pleasure of it. I’ve never read McCullough’s novels, but from what I’ve read here and here about her life, she was a smart, determined woman, who was brimming with self-confidence and candor.
But how the obituary described her? “Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth.” Really?? Despite her size and looks she was witty and warm? This woman was a best-selling author! A neuroscientist! A woman who suffered horrible abuse in a childhood devoid of parental love, who managed to survive with an incredibly positive outlook and determination. An author who churned out a 600+ page best-seller written on a typewriter while working as a neuroscientist. Her true self had very little to do with her outward appearance, and everything to do with her accomplishments achieved because of her strength of character. It’s what’s inside that counts, folks.
That’s the kind of woman and writer I admire. Her story shows me that there’s really no excuse to not follow your dreams. Ignore the nay-sayers during the process from the first scribblings to publication to reviews. Ignore the nay-sayer that might whisper negatives in your own head. Keep at it. I read a quote recently that made me laugh – “Our true selves are fearless. We were born screaming just who we are without giving a flying rat’s a** what anyone thinks of us. That moment is the beginning of our true self-expression.” I have a photo of myself at about 5 or 6 years old – a sassy little girl standing with feet apart, her belly sticking out from under a T shirt, hands on hips. When I first came across it, the confident stance of this child surprised me. At the time, I was not – and could not remember ever being – that confident. But I liked it, and I took it as evidence that there was a stronger person somewhere inside me, and over the years I’ve tried to peel back the layers of negatives and self-doubt to again reveal that confident girl. Writing helps me do that.
For more on McCullough’s books, visit her Simon & Schuster page.