A book that tells of the free-spirited years when Australian writers Charmian Clift and George Johnston lived on the Greek island of Hydra has been shortlisted in the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards — a top Australian award for literature.
“Half the Perfect World” by Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell chronicles the lives of prominent artists, writers and musicians – including Leonard Cohen – who lived on the Aegean island in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
Genoni told the Sydney Morning Herald in an interview that Clift and Johnston were great Australian writers.
“There had been biographies written about them and they wrote about the island themselves, but we felt that there was a lot more to be said about that period,” the author said. “It’s a story about when Australia intersected with the rest of the world in unexpected ways.”
He said that they were the first foreigners to buy a house on the island and that many artists followed them.
“Leonard Cohen lived there as well, before he was famous, and that was another attractive part of the story.”
During their writing process, the authors received help when they discovered 1,500 photographs taken on Hydra by LIFE Magazine photographer James Burke — an old friend of Johnston. They also made use of New Zealand journalist Redmond Wallis, whose writing provided them with first-hand accounts of everyday life on the island.
“Half the Perfect World” has been optioned for film by Cascade Films. The script is being written by Andrew Knight and it will be directed Nadia Tass, who was “confident it would go ahead,” according to Genoni.
About the book
“Half the Perfect World” tells the story of the post-war international artist community that formed on the Greek island of Hydra. Most famously, it included renowned singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and his partner Marianne Ihlen, as well as many other artists and writers such as the Australian literary couple, Charmian Clift and George Johnston, who fostered this fabled colony.
Drawing on many previously unseen letters, manuscripts and diaries — and richly illustrated by the photographs of LIFE magazine photojournalist James Burke — “Half the Perfect World” reveals the private lives and relationships of the Hydra expatriates. It charts the promise of a creative life that drew many of them to the island, and documents the fracturing of the community as it came under pressure from personal ambitions and wider social changes.
For all the unrealized youthful ambitions, internal strife and personal tragedy that attends this story, the authors nonetheless find that the example of these writers, dreamers and drifters continues to resonate and inspire.
See a video trailer for the book
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