Looking back, which personality trait do you think has really helped you? Curiousity – an essential quality in any writer. I want to know everything about everybody and find myself endlessly fascinated by humanity’s creative ingenuity.
What inspired you to start writing? My mother tells me I taught myself to read when I was four. I’m not sure I believe that but I have been writing for as long as I can remember.
What was the best thing about writing each of these books? Having the opportunity to investigate every aspect of the life and work of the powerful architect Harry Seidler and the murdered wallpaper designer Florence Broadhurst. They were remarkable people whose stories are full of surprises, and whose creative legacies continue to challenge and amaze.
Do you have a favourite Harry Seidler building? There are many award-winning Harry Seidler buildings, and selecting just one favourite is difficult indeed. I love the spectacular, art-infused atriums of his towers, such as Sydney’s Australia Square, and the dramatic modern homes he created for his own family – Rose Seidler House in Wahroonga, built for his parents in 1950, and Seidler House in Killara, which he co-designed in 1967 with his architect wife Penelope.
What do you love most about Florence Broadhurst’s work? That Florence Broadhurst designs have an endless capacity to surprise and amuse. There are around 530 images in styles that range from florals, tapestries and Chinoiserie to quirky one-offs such as Splashes and Horses Stampede. And like the enigmatic Florence there is much, much more to them than first meets the eye.
Were there any particular ‘aha!’ moments when writing these books when you found a vital piece of information? Yes but far too many to discuss in just a few words. Have a look at my books to get the full picture!
What was one of the best things that happened because of each of these books? Having the opportunity to work with excellent book designers to create a visual narrative as well as a verbal one. Both A Singular Vision: Harry Seidler and Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret and Extraordinary Lives are very beautiful, well-designed objects and seeing the impact these biographies have on people reminds me that books are powerful things.
Do you have a favourite museum? Pitt Rivers Museum, an eccentric Oxford University collection of anthropological and archaeological objects from around the world. It is a magical place containing everything from shrunken heads to jewellery, musical instruments and weapons. I grew up nearby and spent much of my childhood here.
What is something that most people might be surprised to know about you? That I used to do a lot of trampolining.
What are you working on next? A new book for HarperCollins, the publisher who realised A Singular Vision: Harry Seidler so beautifully. Can’t say too much at the moment but I am very excited about it. Keep an eye on my website for updates!
Visit Helen O’Neill’s website here.