Snapshot 2014: Philippa (Pip) Maddern, in memorium

Image via History of Emotions



By Lucy Sussex 

I became a writer because of the Australian SF writing workshops. Ursula Le Guin’s name on the cover of the 1975 workshop proceedings, The Altered Eye, was sufficient for me to buy the book. Then I got entranced by the descriptions of the workshop process. I bought The View from the Edge, too.  Although they featured various talented young writers, some of whom would publish books, the absolute standout was one Philippa C. Maddern.

It was some years till I met Pip (as people called her), at a restaurant meal around Aussiecon II.  I noticed first the mop of black hair, the wide, warm smile. At the time I was considerably in awe.  Viv Albertine’s recent memoir describes the effect of seeing the cover of Patti Smith’s Horses; and then the Sex Pistols live. Smith looked like an ‘ordinary girl’, the Pistols like Viv and her friends:  young outsiders. When I started out the stars of the Oz SF scene were almost to a man hoary old blokes, tending to the deeply sexist. The women of SF were unattainable goddesses, and overseas. Pip was older than me, but otherwise young, acclaimed and an Aussie girl. I found her inspirational. Moreover, she was a strong feminist.

Not that I could get all fangirl over Pip and a story I adored—“Ignorant of Magic”—because she did not stand upon ceremony. If she liked you, then you knew it. Neither did she hide a razor-sharp intelligence. Her obituary photograph in the Australian was pure Pip: hands on hip, the background cluttered bookcases, feistiness in repose.

In the years following the workshops, she pursued a PhD in medieval history at Oxford, and attended Milford three times. Lisa Tuttle posted on Facebook a photo of Pip at Milford, resplendent in red overalls.  Pip’s problem was finding time to write, as a young academic. I can’t remember who suggested an informal series of workshops, which took place over the next few years in our various houses. Pip hosted at her College rooms at Melbourne University, and also at the Champion’s, with whom she had formed a long-lasting Christian community.  Although she was deeply religious, she never bothered others about God. She had her worldly pleasures too: she cooked well, and played in a medieval music ensemble.

I knew her best in these few workshop years, and then not well. She was looking for an academic niche, then beginning to be fiendishly difficult, and at one stage got fed up and got an ordinary job. Had she not got a permanent position at the University of West Australia, she might have written more. I heard (not from Pip) of an unpublished novel, and at the workshops she presented extracts from another novel, a human repetends, a love triangle repeating the same mistakes through time.  It was very good, but I suspect she never finished it. I did, however, manage to get a story from her for She’s Fantastical.

At various parties I met people from the original workshops, who had a persistent bond. One was Ted Mundie, older, part-Chinese, a charmer in person and prose, with a very relaxed style.  One time I saw Pip she mentioned she was ‘having a fling’ with Ted. Next thing they got married—some 25 years after meeting at the Le Guin workshop. I visited them at their Bayswater home, he enjoying looking after her; she cherishing him. Sadly Ted died of a heart attack after 5 years of marriage. The last email I had from Pip, we were both bereaved, and she mentioned publishing his memoir.  It was one of those things that she never got around to, but such is the state of academe, the grind of lectures, committees, publications, research etc, etc.

She had ovarian cancer as a young woman. The disease returned, this time fatally. I was told by her fellow medievalists that she was gravely ill, and was able to send a card. In it, I said how inspirational she had been, and that I hoped she would get back to writing. Later I was one of six people who contributed to her obituary in the Australian, which is how her SF got mentioned. Some academics had never heard of it before.

Her memorial service in Melbourne filled a small church on a cold day.  I sat gazing at the stained glass window, through which the leaves of trees, rendered bright green by sunlight and the tinting, could be seen tossing.  As the minister spoke of the Redeemer and the Light, and how her last meal had been the Sacrament, I recalled “Ignorant of Magic”. In it she used the words “Kaleidoscopic precision”, a good image of how her mind, and by extension her prose worked.

What she leaves, beside a memory of an excellent woman, talented historian and teacher, is her stories. ‘The Ins and Outs of the Hadya City State” was her submission to the 1975 workshop, and it remains a startling debut.  It was written under the influence of Le Guin (like we all were!), as was “Ignorant of Magic”, this time mixed with medievalism. In retrospect, the best is “Inhabiting the Interstices”, a scary but utterly prescient story of the future of cities, the future of work.  What was sitting in her bottom drawer or hard drive is unknown, but what was published was extraordinary.

Ursula Le Guin gave me permission to quote her words about Pip:

It grieves me very much to know Philippa is dead, yet it gives me joy to remember her in life.  Teaching workshops you meet a few people like her,  you smile when you think about them,  you always are grateful to them for being who they were, for writing what they wrote, for believing that you could teach them anything.

I still have a tiny box Philippa gave me. I had told her that when I saw Blue Wattle acacias flowering in Australia they made me feel at home, because they grew at our place in California, and in the box is a sprig of those blossoms, still yellow after all the years.

SnaphotLogo2014This post is part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

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