biography

Sara’s Bio: 2005

Sara Douglass not my birth name – I’m actually Sara Warneke, but if I’d been a boy I would have been called Douglass … so when my first publisher HarperCollins Australia insisted I choose a different surname to get me off the lowest shelves in bookshops, I went with ‘Douglass’ with the double ‘ss’ to feminize it.

I was born in 1957 in Penola, a small town in the south-east of South Australia. My parents, two older sisters and older brother lived on a farm called Gundealga (look out for the name in the Axis books) where Dad and Mum farmed sheep and a lot of hope. I loved the farm, and hated leaving it to go to school and, eventually, to move to the capital city of South Australia, Adelaide, when I was about seven. We moved to Fisher Street in Malvern, a southern suburb, living in an old and gently decaying bluestone Victorian house (which I still dream of regularly … it was the house where I did most of my growing up). I was packed off to school, Methodist Ladies College, which was gentle, gentile and caring, and totally oblivious to the social revolutions of the ‘sixties.

I loved school, adored it (probably because it was a wonderful escape from family life). I had a terrific group of friends there as well – hello to Robyn, Trish, Ingrid and Cathy. I had a mad, insane crush on Cat Stevens. I developed a mad, insane passion for horse riding. And I did a little writing – not much, but a little … coming second in a national essay competition on the life of horses in the circus, the rodeo and racing (I am convinced I would have won if my essay had been more politically sound). And eventually I finished school, and passed into the great wide open world.

My father Bob, and my stepmum Joan, had been gently insisting for many years that I take up the female family tradition of nursing. Oh God, I loathed it. I loathed it, and yet it took me 17 years to escape. I loathed the stress, the anxious watching of patients in bed lest they do something silly like burst an aneurysm or have a cardiac arrest, the hours. I finished my training when I was 20, and took off with a friend to Europe for about 6 months. This trip was another of the great milestones of my life. Never had I felt so free – free from family expectations, free to be myself. It was brilliant, liberating, eye-opening. When I came home I managed to find a position as a Registered Nurse (‘Sister’ here in Australia); I was Sister Sara for many, many years in a small, bizarre private hospital on East Terrace in Adelaide. While I was there I started a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Adelaide.

This BA changed my life (again!). I was amazed that people actually took my thoughts seriously, and I adored the study. To cut a long story short I completed the BA, and then did a PhD in early modern (16th century) English history. I loved and still love the University of Adelaide, not only for the people, but for its remarkable library – the Barr-Smith library. Many of my manuscripts reside there in their special collection, if you ever want to see them (and if they’ll let you). The staff club of the university remains, I swear, my spiritual home. All this time I was still working the odd weekend as a nurse to supplement my scholarships and grants, but in 1992, a year after I’d completed my PhD, I finally abandoned nursing and took a position as lecturer in medieval history in La Trobe University, Bendigo, which is in central Victoria, Australia.

I’d jumped from the frying pan into the fire. This job was the most stressful I have ever held. The interdepartmental politics, the teaching, the emphasis on research even though you never had enough time or the facilities to do it. And the house I lived in … awful. So in an effort to find a way out of that job I began writing again, seriously (very seriously, this was the only thing I could think of to save me), wrote several really awful novels, a couple of not bad ones, and then one day, sat down to begin BattleAxe. I knew by the time I was about 100 pages in that this was the novel that was going to do it for me, if any novel was. So when I was done I wrapped it up in brown paper, picked out a literary agent’s name from the Yellow Pages (Australian Literary Management), and dropped it off into the nearby postbox. Instantly I knew I had made a terrible mistake. This novel was laughable! No one would ever take it up! And the agency took 6 months of umming and ahhing before they decided to accept me. Within 6 weeks HarperCollins had picked me up … and Sara Douglass was born and the land of Tencendor took off into the stratosphere.

Since then, as of early 2005, I have written 15 novels. I have moved from Bendigo in Victoria to the house of Nonsuch in Cornelian Bay in Tasmania. I have discovered a passion or gardening, and seem to collect a few too many cats. Occasionally I write, often I haunt ebay, many days you can find me in some online forum or another, but mostly I am engaged in some fruitless endeavour to stop Nonsuch crumbling away completely into the water. What can I say? It keeps me happy.

©2005 Sara Douglass Enterprises

Sara’s Bio: 2001

Sara Douglass is not my birth name – I’m actually Sara Warneke, but if I’d been a boy I would have been called Douglass … so when my first publisher HarperCollins Australia insisted I choose a different surname to get me off the lowest shelves in bookshops, I went with ‘Douglass’ with the double ‘ss’ to feminise it.

I was born on the 2nd June 1957 in Penola, a small town in the south-east of South Australia. My parents, two older sisters and older brother lived on a farm called Gundealga (look out for the name in the Axis books) where Dad and Mum farmed sheep and a lot of hope. I loved the farm, and hated leaving it to go to school and, eventually, to move to the capital city of South Australia , Adelaide, when I was about seven. We moved to Fisher Street in Malvern, a southern suburb, living in an old and gently decaying bluestone Victorian house (which I still dream of regularly … it was the house where I did most of my growing up). I was packed off to school, Methodist Ladies College, which was gentle, gentile and caring, and totally oblivious to the social revolutions of the ‘sixties.

I came home one day to find Mum complaining of stomach cramps, saying she was off to the doctor. I can still remember that day, and even the dress Mum wore. It was the start of the bleakest 3 years of my life as Mum unsuccessfully battle ovarian cancer. Watching her die, and watching a family disintegrate under the strain (while grimly clinging to that old Victorian value of there being no strain, and nothing is wrong dear, it is just your imagination). When I wrote Enchanter, and did the scene where Azhure finally relives the horror of her mother’s death, it was, for me, a cathartic experience. Immediately after that scene Axis, in order to save Azhure from whatever bleak hell she’d gone into, has to apologise to her on behalf of the entire world for all the wrongs of the world. For me, that was even more cathartic: I’d needed someone to apologise for the living hell that my childhood had been – even though there was no one to blame, and no one who should have been blamed. Immediately after writing those two scenes I went and lay down on my bed and cried for 3 hours. Even though so many years have passed, Mum’s sickness and eventual death remains one of the pivotal experiences of my life (although I carry no chip on my shoulder over it … I’ve only talked about it here because a very insightful journalist probed me about those two scenes, and eventually their genesis made it into national print here in Australia).

Back to school and growing up. I loved school, adored it (probably because it was a wonderful escape from family life). I had a terrific group of friends there as well – hello to Robyn, Trish, Ingrid and Cathy. I had a mad, insane crush on Cat Stevens. I developed a mad, insane passion for horse riding. And I did a little writing – not much, but a little … coming second in a national essay competition on the life of horses in the circus, the rodeo and racing (I am convinced I would have won if my essay had been more politically sound). And eventually I finished school, and passed into the great wide open world.

My father Bob, and my stepmum Joan, had been gently insisting for many years that I take up the female family tradition of nursing. Oh God, I loathed it. I loathed it, and yet it took me 17 years to escape. I loathed the stress, the anxious watching of patients in bed lest they do something silly like burst an aneurysm or have a cardiac arrest, the arrogance of the doctors (as the bio in front of so many of my books attest – and yes, I’ve had arrogant emails from doctors about that, as well!). I finished my training when I was 20, and took off with a friend to Europe for about 6 months. This trip was another of the great milestones of my life. Never had I felt so free – free from family expectations, free to be myself. It was brilliant, liberating, eye-opening. When I came home I managed to find a position as a registered Nurse (‘sister’ here in Australia … I was Sister Sara for many, many years … wasn’t that Clint Eastwood film as well??) in a small, bizarre private hospital on East Terrace in Adelaide. When I say bizarre, I mean bizarre. This was a place which hadn’t evolved since the 1920s – all us sisters had to wear long starched veils – this in the ’80s and 90s! This was a place where the housekeeper carefully collected blood from the operating theatres and poured it over the garden at night (“It helps the camellias, dear.”) And this was the place where a manic possum stole the keys to the dangerous drugs cabinet (please don’t ask me how the possum got the keys, that is SO bizarre you would never believe me) and ran off with them to the highest gum tree it could find – it took the military might of the SA police’s Star Force (the elite anti-terrorist squad … it was a slow night when the sister in charge rang the police to help in apprehending the possum, and they police sent the anti-terrorist squad!) to get those keys back. I don’t think the possum survived. (Can you imagine? The search lights, the guys in their bulletproof jackets and helmets, the guns, all trained on this gum tree and the little possum’s face, blinking way up high with the blue velvet ribbon of the dangerous drugs keys in his cute little paws.) I think I’ve said enough about this hospital for you to get the picture … anyway, while I was there I started a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Adelaide.

This BA changed my life (again!). I was amazed that people actually took my thoughts seriously, and I adored the study. To cut a long story short I completed the BA, and then did a PhD in early modern (16th century) English history. I loved and still love the University of Adelaide, not only for the people, but for its remarkable library – the Barr-Smith library. All my manuscripts reside there in their special collection, if you ever want to see them (and if they’ll let you). The staff club of the university remains, I swear, my spiritual home. All this time I was still working the odd weekend as a nurse to supplement my scholarships and grants, but in 1992, a year after I’d completed my PhD, I finally abandoned nursing and took a position as lecturer in medieval history in La Trobe University, Bendigo, which is in central Victoria, Australia.

I’d jumped from the frying pan into the fire. This job was the most stressful I have ever held. The interdepartmental politics, the teaching, the emphasis on research even though you never had enough time or the facilities to do it. And the house I lived in … (see the first house link). So in an effort to find a way out of that job I began writing again, seriously (very seriously, this was the only thing I could think of to save me), wrote several really awful novels, a couple of not bad ones, and then one day, sat down to begin BattleAxe. I knew by the time I was about 100 pages in that this was the novel that was going to do it for me, if any novel was. So when I was done I wrapped it up in brown paper, picked out a literary agent’s name from the Yellow Pages (Australian Literary Management), and dropped it off into the nearby postbox. Instantly I knew I had made a terrible mistake. This novel was laughable! No one would ever take it up! And the agency took 6 months of umming and ahhing before they decided to accept me. Within 6 weeks HarperCollins had picked me up … and Sara Douglass was born and the land of Tencendor took off into the stratosphere.

Finally I saved enough to buy my beloved Ashcotte (which ties me to Bendigo … I mean, if I wanted to sell the prospective new owners would have to be interviewed by the ghost) and to leave academia to concentrate on … well … on my gardening and maintaining of web pages … and a bit of writing!

And here I lie still.

Sara’s Bio: 2000 (Harper Collins)

I can’t remember learning to read, or picking up my first book. I have always read, and I have always loved books. I was born on a small farm some twenty-five miles out of Penola in South Australia. It was called Gundealga, ‘peaceful watering hole’, and its names, and its woods and deer, are remembered in The Axis Trilogy. The farm had no electricity, so I remember reading my first books by the gentle glow of kerosene lamps, hiding behind the living room couch so my parents would think me already in bed.

When I was about seven we moved to Adelaide, and somehow the household books bred in the process. Our house was stuffed with books — even the toilet lobby had bookcases, and I remember my father nonchalantly propping up a bucket to catch the drips from a leaking roof with seventeenth-century volumes that he said were so mouldy anyway they wouldn’t mind a bit of extra dampness (I was horrified. I rescued them and carefully dried them out and now they rest, splotched and blotched but still readable, on the mantelpiece above the fire in my writing room). I read night and day, anything I could get my hands on. I started writing as soon as I felt competent, about nine or ten, and produced a small novelette about the discovery of the eighth sea of the world which my teachers and parents regarded indulgently, looking over my head and nodding as if to say, “She’ll grow out of it”.

But I didn’t. I kept writing. When I was about fourteen I received second prize in a nation wide essay competition on the treatment of horses in circuses (I missed out on first, I am convinced, because my views were not politically correct). When I left school my writing ceased for some six to seven years as I got involved in the world of work during the day and, I hate to admit it, the flashing nights of discos at night. My first career was as a nurse, something my father thought fitting for a girl. I loathed it … but it took me many years to escape.

An escape finally presented itself when I applied to do a Bachelor of Arts at Adelaide University. Suddenly I found myself back in a world that encouraged creative thinking and processes. I was enthralled. I started writing again by keeping a detailed diary (great fat volumes that cover about six years and that I will burn before letting anyone else read them) and then by writing my first novel, The Judgement of Jerusalem. I was thrilled. So thrilled, I did it all wrong, sent it off cold to several publishers, and received polite rejection letters: “We wish you all the best in your future endeavours.”

I wiped away my tears and resolved never to write again. And for another six or seven years that was it as far as my writing was concerned. In the meantime I found myself a new career as an academic, teaching medieval history at La Trobe University, Bendigo. This new job I found incredibly stressful, and so, just for myself, no-one else, I began to write in the evening and weekends. I loved it! Writing became for me the perfect way to relax and escape the stressful world of academia. I wrote and wrote and wrote-probably about eight or nine novels, some of which are truly awful. But I didn’t care. I was learning with each novel, and enjoying each one more. None of these are fantasy; they are adventure stories, thrillers, romances, horror. I did try to send several to Mills and Boon, but their initial rejection letters finally became stern letters imploring me to never contact them again as my writing was so ‘dark’. Well, that was no surprise, I have a very dark mind.

I never thought of writing fantasy until one day … one day when I just sat down and started writing BattleAxe. I knew almost immediately that this was going to be my best chance at getting published. I wrote virtually the entire trilogy, thought about it, and then sent BattleAxe off one day — this time to an agent, because I thought I would try to do it properly and I knew that I would have my best chance with an agent. I picked up the Melbourne Yellow Pages, and looked under agents. My face fell — there were modelling agencies, bloodstock agencies, agencies for toothbrush inventors … but where were the literary agencies? Aha! There! Just one — Australian Literary Management, picked because they had the magical word ‘literary’ in their name (and, as fate would have it, one of the only literary agencies in Australia who would even consent to read fantasy). And so off it went and here I am, all due to the intervention of a tiny iron axe that gave me the idea for BattleAxe and the help of the Melbourne Yellow Pages.

Sara’s Bio: 2000 (MUP)

sara-2000-bioThis is an updated biography taken from The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Sara Douglass is the pseudonym of Sara (Mary) Warneke (1957 – ). Warneke was born in Penola, South Australia, of a farming family, but was mostly raised in Adelaide. She was educated at Methodist Ladies College (now Annesley College), and matriculated in 1974. She entered nursing school at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, graduating in 1978 as a registered nurse, and in 1982 began a BA degree at the University of Adelaide. In 1986 she obtained an Honours Degree (majoring in history), and in 1987, having been awarded a Commonwealth postgraduate scholarship, began a PhD in the Department of History. In 1988 she bcame a tutor and research officer in history at the University of Adelaide and worked there until late 1991. She was awarded her doctorate in 1991.

Warneke says she owes most of her writing skills to her time at Adelaide University; her ten years spent there were the most formative period of her life and her ‘spiritual home remains the University of Adelaide Club’. In 1992 she obtained a position as senior lecturer in Medieval European history at La Trobe University, Bendigo; in 1999 she left academia to concentrate on her garden and writing.

Currently Sara lives in Bendigo, in the state of Victoria, Australia.

©2000 Sara Douglass Enterprises

Sara’s Bio: 1999

Let me see. I was born in Penola District Hospital, last child of four. My parents were farmers, and for the first seven years of my life I lived on their property outside Penola – Gundealga. We had sheep, lots of scrub, and a fairly carefree existence.

When I was school age we moved to Adelaide, South Australia, where I commenced some eleven years of education at Methodist Ladies College. Post education, lacking any clear direction in life, I became a nurse …..

There are some years here best forgotten. I toiled away on the wards, hating every moment of it. although there is one amusing story I can tell. I worked for many years at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, eventually becoming what was then known as The Ward Sister (actually, I was filling in, but I did fill that exalted position for some months). I was working on an orthopaedic ward, and orthopaedic wards were always half full of old ladies who had fallen over and broken their hips, and half full of young bikers, who had fallen off their bikes and broken one, or two, legs (the nurses could never work out which half was worse). There was one young man who annoyed me incessantly about a pain in his belly. He was constipated, but did Sr Warneke tell him that? No! Her creative imagination remembered a horror story she’d read many years ago, and from that, she ‘rearranged’ the poor chap’s diagnosis:

“Well,” she said, sitting on the side of his bed and staring sympathetically at both his legs in plaster, and privately wondering how in the world he would manage to balance on a bedpan while all his leather-clad cronies waited just beyond the curtain, “I hear you’ve just come back from a holiday in northern Queensland.” He nodded. “Yes.”

“Hmm. Well, ” Sr Warneke leaned conspiratorially closer, as if she had something of great import to impart. Actually, she didn’t want any of the other staff to overhead. She did have her reputation as The Ward Sister to protect, after all. “A pain running about your abdomen, you say?”

“Yes, Sister! It shifts all the time!”

“Ah …”

“What is it?”

“Well …”

“Tell me!”

“Well … I was reading this medical journal the other day, and it reported a strange diagnosis made on the west coast of America.”

“Yes?”

“It appears a young man, much like yourself, was swimming in tropical waters –”

“– I went swimming in Queensland!”

“– and it appears he unwittingly swallowed the eggs of an octopus.”

At this the poor man had nothing to say, and merely stared at the Revered Ward Sister, whom he trusted implicitly.

Sr Warneke continued, her voice now the merest whisper. “The eggs hatched! Inside his bowel!”

“Oh!” The man laid his hands over his stomach: they clenched compulsively, rumpling the bedsheet into horrible creases.

“Then,” Sr Warneke continued, now thoroughly enjoying herself, “the tiny octopusses — or octopii, I’m not sure of the correct –”

“Get on with it!”

“Well, then the tiny octopussies started to swim about his abdominal spaces, growing larger on the fluids there. The poor man complained incessently of pains, always shifting direction, and although the doctors did X-rays, nothing showed up.”

“An octopus has no bones, or cartilage.”

“Quite right. So … eventually the poor chap died, and it was only when they were doing the autopsy, and they opened his belly, and all these octopussies swept out over the cold stone floor that they realised what had happened.”

“Oh my God!”

“But I’m sure that’s not what’s wrong with you,” Sr Warneke said soothingly, and then left the poor sod and went home. She thought no more of the matter, because what kind of fool could have believed that?

Two days later was the Grand Ward Round. Only if you have ever seen Doctor in the House can you imagine the Grand Ward Round. I always enjoyed them immensely, because all the sirs and professors where kind and charming to the ward sister, while they were hateful and horrible to all the interns and registrars, who drove Ward Sisters crazy.

And Sr Warneke loved to see those interns and registrars squirm.

And didn’t those interns and registrars know it.

So, to cut a long story short, the Grand Ward Round progressed in its stately fashion about the ward with about 25 young interns and registrars, the Ward Sister, and six or seven assorted sirs and professors (always known as the Gods). Whenever it got to a bed. the assorted six or seven Gods stood about the inner row of the patients’ bed, the Ward Sister among them, the rabble of hateful young doctors squeezed about in a circle some five or six deep.

As you can guess, eventually we get to the young broken-legged and horribly constipated man. Sr Warneke had forgotten all about the tale she’d spun the man 2 days earlier. For a while the discussion ranged about the issue of the broken legs, and then one of the Gods asked the man if there was anything he’d like to ask.

So the chappie mentioned these roving pains and, just as one of the Gods was about to cheerfully diagnose constipation, the man hurried on and, word for word, told the story that Sr Warneke had spun him. He did it excellently, quoting the medical references she’d made up and all.

Sr Warneke was horrified. Worse, she was mortified. Even worse, she knew that any moment she was about to be exposed. She started to fidget and wriggle about as if she had just realised she’d forgotten to order the cream cakes for the Gods’ Grand Morning Tea in half an hour.

The hateful rabble of young doctors realised there was something wrong, and closed in for the kill. She couldn’t escape. Then …

“And where did you learn all this, young man?” asked one of the Gods.

“She told me!” the man said, a finger stabbing in my direction.

As one every eye turned towards Sr Warneke. Sister heard one of the hateful young doctors snigger. She started to compose her resignation letter in her head. Then one of the Gods spoke.

“Well,” he said, “We shall all have to read those journals, won’t we? In the meantime, perhaps Ward Sister can ask one of her probationers to give the patient an enema and see what comes out.”

And he smiled at Sr Warneke, then waved over to the next bed. “Shall we move on?”

As one the hateful young doctors hissed in frustration, Sr Warneke collapsed in relief, and the Ward Round continued in its stately fashion through to the cream cakes and a very relieved Sister serving the Gods tea in the isolation of her office.

“You owe us one, Sister,” said the God who had saved me, and Sister nodded gratefully.

Gods, I’ve never forgotten that day, and that patient stabbing his finger in my direction. “She told me!”

I punctuated my nursing career with a trip abroad, spending time in England and Europe … best time of my younger life (I avoided tropical waters!). Then, back in Adelaide, I became more and more bored and frustrated with nursing, and eventually commenced a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Adelaide. I liked it so much I stayed to do a PhD, then the only place offering a job in history and an escape from nursing was Bendigo, so I grabbed it and ran.

In early 1999 I abandoned my academic career and all my fussing academic colleagues to concentrate on tending my garden and developing my writing. And so here I am at Ashcotte, full of hopes for the future, at least 6 books whizzing about my head, a garden pond to dig out and three garden beds to dig and lay out for spring (how shall I do it?), and now it’s time for a hot bath and a glass of wine, and so I shall have to leave you. As I think of more amusing stories from my varied past I shall put them up.


Editors note: This bio was taken from Sara’s website circa 1999.

Sara’s Bio: 1998

Let me see. I was born in Penola District Hospital, last child of four. My parents were farmers, and for the first seven years of my life I lived on their property outside Penola – Gundealga. We had sheep, lots of scrub, and a fairly carefree existence.

When I was school age we moved to Adelaide, South Australia, where I commenced some eleven years of education at Methodist Ladies College. Post education, lacking any clear direction in life, I became a nurse …..

There are some years here best forgotten. I toiled away on the wards, hating every moment of it. I punctuated my nursing career with a trip abroad, spending time in England and Europe … best time of my younger life. Then, back in Adelaide, I became more and more bored and frustrated with nursing, and eventually commenced a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Adelaide. I liked it so much I stayed to do a PhD, then the only place offering a job in history and an escape from nursing was Bendigo, so I grabbed it and ran.

I’ve been in Bendigo some five years now, and am slowly learning to call it home. I’m fortunate, not only to have finally achieved some publishing success, but to be working in an incredible programme at La Trobe University here in Bendigo called Western Traditions. If you like the mystery and romance of a bygone era, then check this programme out. It’s unique in Australia and one of only a handful in the world. You can also check out my ‘other life’ as a lecturer at my Alter Ego’s Home Site. (used to link to La Trobe University in Bendigo web site)

I’ve just purchased a house (very definitely ‘The House That Axis Bought’) and so I guess I’ll be here a while longer yet …. writing assiduously to pay the thing off!


Editors note: This bio was taken from Sara’s website circa 1998. The house that Sara is referring to above is Ashcotte.