2 hours ago
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Maggie Hamilton - An Introduction
One very important element of self-help writing that I will be exploring in my thesis is the influence of what is commonly known as the "New Age." Anyone who has had anything to do with books in the last 20 years will know that this segment of the publishing industry has had an explosion in popularity. Though this popularity has died down somewhat, it is still a very important section of the market, and most publishers have an imprint (or two) devoted especially to New Age titles.
Indeed, at some point in the 80s the literature of self-help and the New Age became blended in the minds of publishers, retailers and book buyers, and these days the distinctions between them are hard to define.
The central author I'll be concentrating on in my chapter on the New Age is Maggie Hamilton. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure I must mention that Maggie is not only a personal friend, but also my publisher. This leaves me in the unenviable position of analysing closely and critiquing the work of a friend! But the thrust of my thesis is not to in any way tear down or dismiss the genre of self-help. On the contrary, the fundamental idea of my thesis is that these books represent important cultural artefacts, and document a popular literary history of Australia. Nonetheless, I am reading them closely for patterns and intertextuality, for derivations and similarities - no author could be comfortable with that kind of analysis!
Like that other great icon of Australian self-help, Stephanie Dowrick, Maggie emerged from the publishing industry. They also both hark from New Zealand, which is another fascinating coincidence - and quite possibly material for an entire journal article. But I digress.
Having achieved some success as a children's author, Maggie published her first book spiritual self-help book, Coming Home, in 2002. Very much a book of its time, it combined a whole host of spiritual influences in describing a spiritual journey "Home" to the soul. Elegantly written and beautifully produced in its first edition (complete with Pre-Raphaelite detail on the cover), Coming Home represented the fruits of Maggie's own spiritual journey, with Shamanic, Spiritualist and New Age Christian ideas peppered throughout.
Maggie later branched out into a more practical (and to some, more accessible) format of writing books of more specifically focused (and less overtly spiritual) advice. The first was Love Your Work in 2004, followed by What Men Don't Talk About in 2007. This excursion into the problems of gender prompted Maggie to continue to tease out these questions, and she has produced two highly successful books specifically addressing the problems of parenting: What's Happening to Our Girls (2008) and What's Happening to Our Boys (2010). In the interim she has also continued to write in the areas of spirituality and self-help, producing a small book of inspirations in 2004, Magic of the Moment, and a wonderfully eclectic and wide-ranging collection of essays and encounters with the sacred, A Soft Place to Land (2007).
Importantly, Maggie's influence on the world of New Age publishing continues behind the scenes. She is the director of the New Age imprint at Allen & Unwin, Inspired Living, and in that capacity has published a number of important Australian books in the area.
She also excels as a speaker and teacher, and is much sought after in that capacity.
I look forward to reading her books more carefully as I attempt to identify their influences and place them more exactly on the continuum of self-help literature in Australia. The breadth of her influences and the widespread success of her work make her a perfect case study for my thesis.