Joint winner of the 1963 Miles Franklin Literary Award
Oh, aren’t you lucky, PS.’
‘Goodness, what a lucky boy.’
‘What a treat!’
‘Your Aunt Vanessa is coming.’
Vanessa was coming all the way from England back to Australia and she was coming on a piano boat.
It’s the Great Depression. Six-year-old PS is an orphan. He lives in Sydney with his Aunt Lila. But all that is about to change. Now his Aunt Vanessa has decided to take proper care of him.
Careful, He Might Hear You is one of the most extraordinary portraits of childhood in Australian fiction.
Sumner Locke Elliott was born in Sydney on 17 October 1917. His mother was the writer Helena Sumner Locke. She died of eclampsia the day after his birth, and the boy was raised by his aunts.
Elliott wrote his first play when he was twelve, and while he was still at school joined Sydney’s Independent Theatre. In 1942 he was drafted and served out much of the war as a typist in remote parts of Australia. But he was besotted with the theatre and with play writing. He found success after the war with plays including Rusty Bugles and Invisible Circus.
Elliott went to the United States in 1948. Three years later his play Buy Me Blue Ribbons premiered on Broadway. He launched a prominent career writing plays for the television networks, and based himself in New York. He became an American citizen in 1955 and did not visit Australia again until 1974.
Careful, He Might Hear You was Elliott’s debut novel. It won the Miles Franklin Award in 1963, was translated into a number of languages and became an international bestseller. In 1983 it was made into an outstanding film directed by Carl Schultz, starring Wendy Hughes, Robyn Nevin and Nicholas Gledhill.
Elliott wrote ten novels in all. He won the Patrick White Literary Award in 1977. After a lifetime of concealing his homosexuality, he spent his final years living with his partner Whitfield Cook. Sumner Locke Elliott died in New York City in 1991.