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Katharine Boland: Hippy Days, Arabian Nights

HerCanberra Team

‘I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life—and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.’ – Georgia O’Keeffe.

Taking such inspiration, Katharine Boland has lived a full life, facing her fears and following her heart. Dubbed an Australian Eat, Pray, Love, Katharine’s memoir, Hippy Days, Arabian Nights satisfies the adventurer, the lover, the friend, the activist, the dreamer and yes, the hippy, in us all. We caught up with her ahead of the Canberra launch of Hippy Days, Arabian Nights at Muse on Wednesday 13 September.

Your memoir, Hippy Days, Arabian Nights begins with a quote by American artist Georgia O’Keeffe. Why did you choose that particular quote?

Georgia O’Keeffe was one of the first female painters to achieve universal acclaim from critics and the public. She also said: “to create one’s world in any of the arts takes courage”. She wasn’t fearless but she faced her fears. For me, she’s an inspiration.

As a professional artist and now a published author, I’m familiar with the self-doubt and fear that comes with the territory in those vocations. O’Keeffe’s quote encapsulates a recurring theme in my memoir. It speaks, not only to the challenge of forging a career in the arts, but also to living outside the mainstream; to pursuing your passion and following your heart’s desire.

How did you come to write your story?

In 2010 I won a scholarship for an artist residency in New York, and whilst there I began to keep a journal; to document my experiences and art practice during my stay. Later that year, I undertook a residency in the south of France and continued to write in my journal. On the eve of the Egyptian Revolution, I was invited by the Egyptian government to participate in an international artist’s symposium in Luxor. It was there I met and fell in love with a young Egyptian journalist and when we began a long distance relationship, our love affair played out against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, I kept writing…and writing. What began as a perfunctory task became a joyful obsession and I turned to writing about my earlier life as a hippy on the Far South Coast of New South Wales.


What are the similarities and differences between the process of writing and painting?

The minimalist painter Agnes Martin believed that when you empty your mind, you can see things when they come into it. I paint intuitively and find, as did Agnes, that thinking can get in the way. But that’s not the case with writing. When you’re writing your memoir you need to let everything in. You need to remember, analyse, reflect, unpack and deconstruct; to drag up some pretty painful experiences—really go there and relive them—in graphic detail.

Visual artists know when a painting is finished. Don’t ask me how. They just do. But a writer will continue to refine their manuscript until it’s ripped from their clutch by their publisher. Every word has a veritable multiverse of alternatives. Whether to use ‘run’ or ‘race’, ‘dash’ or ‘dart’, ‘scoot’ or ‘scamper’, ‘hurry’ or ‘hasten’—that is the mind-frying question!

What’s more, painting and writing tend to be solitary pursuits, with both being equally absorbing.

Why do you think this book resonates with women of your generation?

Hippy Days, Arabian Nights is as much a tale of cultures and community—of family, friends and lovers as it is of the evolution of a young girl to a mature aged woman. In that respect, I think my story will resonate with my women my age. I write with candour about issues that affect women; about childbirth and motherhood, family life, divorce and domestic violence.

The first part of Hippy Days, Arabian Nights documents, in a hilarious fashion, a relatively undocumented period in Australian modern history—the alternative lifestyle movement of the 70s and 80s. Many Australian women lived that lifestyle, some dabbled in it and others dreamed of living it, making their ‘tree/sea change’ later in life.

Katharine Boland

Katharine Boland

The second part of my memoir is a story of impossible love; of a relationship between an older women and a young Egyptian Muslim man. It provides a fascinating, behind closed doors insight into Egyptian family life, contemporary Egyptian culture and cross-cultural relationships.

Although I envisaged my readership to be women of my generation, I’ve been delighted with the positive feedback I’ve received from the young women and men who have read my book.

What’s on your bedside table/reading pile?

I tend to gravitate towards female writers and have just finished reading everything by Donna Tartt and Elena Ferrante’s four part Neapolitan series. I thought I better give the blokes a go and am currently reading Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.

Katharine Boland will be appearing at Muse Canberra on Wednesday 13 September from 5.30pm-7pm. This is a free event so register for your spot here


Her Canberra

Sometimes a story is bigger than one person...that's when the HerCanberra Team puts its collective head together to come up with the goods. Enjoy! More about the Author

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