Aphra Behn for tea

Off on Sunday to The Katherine Susannah Pritchard Writers’ Centre housed in a fine weatherboard house in the hills east of Perth. Someone who should have known better had asked me to introduce and launch the latest anthology of the WriteFree Women’s Writing Group called, GUMTREES AND OLD CATS. On the principle that there’s no such thing as a bad short speech I spoke for less than ten minutes and after praising the fine writing in the anthology, I got onto the subject of women writers and one of my favourites – Aphra Behn.

I discovered Behn when I was still at school and didn’t realise for ages that she was a woman. She wrote poetry, short stories, Restoration comedies, and a few novels, one of which was called Oroonoko, supposedly based on a journey Behn  made to South America in about the middle of the seventeenth century: not an easy task back then, especially for a woman.  But Aphra was a game girl. Sent to Holland to act as a spy of King Charles II, she seduced a member of the Dutch Royal Family and sent back a lot of secrets though when she returned to England the King refused to pay her (the rich pay late- if they pay at all) and, for a while, she was thrown into a debtors’ prison.   She also had a pretty full dance-card when it came to lovers and was said to prefer women to men. She appeared to have had a lot of both.

Anyway, after talking about Aphra Behn’s feisty character and fine writing I formally introduced the anthology before a few of the contributors read their short stories and poetry.  After half an hour or so the proceedings concluded and everybody – there were about 50 of us – moved into another room where a huge table was loaded with home baked cakes and cookies and scones and… well, you get the picture. Asking myself what would Aphra Behn have done, I sampled at least one of everything before I set off, driving down the western escarpment of the hills towards the city.

This is a beautiful part of the world, golden in the sunlight and filled with flowers. Immediately outside the room in Katherine’s house where we launched the anthology there’s a huge bougainvillea, bursting with purple flowers while beyond it is a huge sloping field: what in England they’d call a meadow and in Australia they call a paddock.