Q & A with Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan

Q & A with Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan
Authors at the National Library
9 November 2015

Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan are coming to the National Library on Tuesday 17 November 2015 to discuss Modern Love, an intimate biography of the unconventional marriage of Heide founders John and Sunday Reed. In the book, Harding and Morgan explore the Reeds’ relationships with some of Australia’s most celebrated artists; below, we asked them some of our own exploratory questions.

Much has already been said and written about the Reeds and Sidney Nolan. What is different about this story? What new information will readers find out?

There are quite a few revelations about life behind the scenes at Heide in the Nolan days—it was even more bohemian and alternative than previous books have indicated. Some of the more surprising details came from interviews with the Reeds’ associates conducted by our friend the art historian Richard Haese thirty-five years ago, and left languishing in his attic ever since. We discovered, for example, that Sunday’s relationship with Nolan wasn’t exclusive, nor was it the Reeds’ first experiment with a ménage a trois.

Sunday Reed and Sidney Nolan with Sweeney on beach

Sunday, Nolan and Sweeney  1944, Heide Museum of Modern Art

How would you describe your latest book?

The true story of an unconventional marriage, encompassing rebellion, love, loss, visionary endeavoud and remarkable art.

What was the hardest part of writing your latest book?

Definitely the relentless 5am starts, writing for two precious hours before family life takes over and it's time to go to work. The accompanying late nights weren't so fun either!

What was the best part of writing your latest book?

The generosity of our interview subjects, who trusted us with personal information and insights, in the interests of telling the full story of John and Sunday's lives. Many warm friendships have resulted—an unanticipated but rewarding benefit of some six years of research.

Cover of Modern Love

Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan, Modern Love: The Lives of John & Sunday Reed book cover

Why do you write?

We both really love telling stories, and in the art world there is no shortage of good source material. Our books so far have largely been an extension of our work as curators at Heide Museum of Modern Art. And now we seem to be hooked—the more you write the more you want to write.

What are you reading right now?

After reading many biographies, art texts and cultural histories in preparation for writing Modern Love, it is lovely to return to reading for pleasure rather than as homework. That said, we haven't moved too far off topic yet! Kendrah is reading Emily Bitto's The Strays, which is loosely based on the Heide story and Melbourne art scene of the 1930s and 40s. Lesley is reading Bill Gammage's The Biggest Estate on Earth—we met him at the Writing the Australian Landscape conference at the Library in 2013. We are also both making our way through Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem at the moment—reading and cooking at the same time—an ideal combination of pursuits.

What three titles should always be on the shelves of any self-respecting book shop?

Where to start? Off the top of our heads, some favourites include:

Peter Carey, The True History of the Kelly Gang—a creative triumph and a must-read for lovers of Australian history.

Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries—an extraordinary novel by a very young New Zealand writer.

Martin Gayford, The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles—a beautifully written and meticulously researched biographical account of a fascinating episode in the history of art.

What do you love about libraries?

The treasures they hold.

Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan are curators at Heide Museum of Modern Art. They have previously written Sunday's Kitchen and Sunday's Garden.