On this website’s earliest iteration, the introduction noted that I had lived
more than half my life away from Australia and that its dusty outback towns
crept into almost everything I wrote. Now, after a decade of living back in
Adelaide, the home-away balance has tipped in Australia's favour, although the
wild landscapes of childhood continue to influence my writing. Or if not the
landscapes, then the light, for that was what I
missed most fiercely when I lived away. That and family, and the
broad sweep of the sky, and the bluestone houses battened
down against summer’s
heat. I guess I will be fascinated to the end of time by the idea of home,
what it means to me and to others.
Over the years, the website has accumulated an archive of short pieces, and
read in the time it takes to drink a cup of tea. Most deal with the art and
craft of writing, though some wander away up side paths. There are pages
devoted to my novels and occasional journalism, and even a few old photographs.
I update the home page as often as I can, and I hope you find something to
The archive can be accessed via the
tab above, or to the left. Sometimes I write a piece that doesn’t seem to fit
the website and these go to
Because my love of images is almost as great as my love of words, I
post whatever catches my eye to
I can be
direct or through my literary agent and if you have any
comments about the website or my writing, please
email, and I'll be happy to get back to you.
SYDNEY REVIEW OF BOOKS
It is a literary landmark, of sorts, to find your book well reviewed in the
Sydney Review of Books.
Roslyn Jolly did the honours for
Sydney Cemeteries: A Field Guide,
by Lisa Murray.
I loved her suggestion that
my book ‘belongs to the genre of the walking memoir, very prevalent these days
in nature writing’, for the tradition of nature writing, so rich and well
established in Britain and North America, is unaccountably absent in
You can read the whole review:
WRITER IN RESIDENCE
"Young Woman Writing", Pierre Bonnard, 1908
It is an exceptional honour to have been awarded a Copyright Agency fellowship
to become the second Writer in Residence at the J.M. Coetzee Centre for
Creative Practice at the University of Adelaide. Generously funded by the
Copyright Agency's Cultural Fund, I will be based at the Centre for the six
months of my residency. This is a wonderful opportunity to concentrate
exclusively on my work-in-progress, and I am grateful beyond measure for this
affirmation and support.
Towards the end of my residency I will be giving a masterclass at the Centre,
with further details to follow.
I write a lot, and often end up with more words than I know what to do with.
These blogs are the overspill.
NOTES FROM THE GARDEN
Follow my blogs at:
Longer posts on all things literary.
A month of mindfulness in the kitchen turned into this series of breakfast
After the relentless dead-heading of roses in late spring, the garden moves
into a new phase - greener, less showy - in which more modest plants have the
opportunity to shine. The little double columbine,
Barlow’ is a stunning beauty when observed up close, with its frilly dark heads
shyly hanging above the deeply divided grey-green leaves.
flowering madly, its tiny, airy chartreuse-coloured blooms coming into their
own now that the first flush of roses has passed. Its lovely common name,
Lady's Mantle, was bestowed by the 16th century botanist Jerome Bock, who was
always known by the Latinized version of his name: Tragus. The plant is listed
History of Plants,
published in 1532, and Linnaeus adopted the common
THE QUIET HOUR
In the Middle Ages, Lady’s Mantle was associated with the Virgin Mary; Tragus
thought the lobes of the leaves resembled the scalloped edges of a mantle. The
plant’s generic name Alchemilla is derived from the Arabic word,
meaning alchemy, and its special magic lies in the way that water will bead and
sparkle on the leaves. These jewel-like drops were considered by alchemists to
be the purest form of water, and they collected them for use in their quest to
turn base metal into gold.
My work-in-progress is a novel set in Australia in the 1890s, and I have
spent much time these last months reading
Australian classics, from Miles Franklin's
My Brilliant Career
the much-loved memoir
A Fortunate Life
by Albert Facey, and the savage
of Barbara Baynton.
But the book that continues to intrigue me, as it has intrigued many other
readers since it was published in 1967 is Joan Lindsay's
Picnic at Hanging
Its plot centres on a group of young women boarders at the exclusive
Appleyard College, who in the year 1900 inexplicably vanish while on a
Valentine's Day picnic. Lindsay is said to have written the
novel in a feverish four-week period at her home, Mulberry Hill.
It is surprising that more has not been made of Joan Lindsay's foreword to the
book, which seems bent on creating the impression that the events at Hanging
Rock might actually have happened: "Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or
fiction, my readers must decide for themselves. As the fateful picnic took
place in the year nineteen hundred, and all the characters who appear in this
book are long since dead, it hardly seems important."
Australian historians must have been otherwise engaged when
Picnic at Hanging
was published, for in 2005, when Kate Grenville published
Australian academic Mark McKenna published an article in which he
criticized novelists, in particular Grenville, for meddling with history.
Historian Inga Clendinnen
published an even stronger criticism in the Quarterly Essay (Issue 23) and Kate
Grenville, under attack from all sides, in particular for having transposed
facts from one setting to another, felt compelled to justify her
position at length on her website.
But there is much more to
Picnic at Hanging Rock
than the possibility of the kind of academic
squabbles that erupted over
The Secret River.
For a start there is the famous
'Chapter Eighteen' to be puzzled over: firmly removed by Lindsay's editor
before the novel was published, the missing final chapter
offers a solution, if a peculiar one, to the mystery of the vanished
schoolgirls, although the novel is unquestionably more haunting without it.
I suppose that one way of persuading
readers to accept the lack of a solution was to hint that the girls'
disappearance might have been based on true events --
for as we know, life does contain baffling mysteries whereas fiction tends to
resolve them. I would love to know whether that ambiguous foreword
was inserted before or after the final chapter was cut. The answer may well lie
in Joan Lindsay's papers.
There is more that I want to explore around this novel, from the 1875 painting
"At the Hanging Rock" by William Ford, to the
book's persistent image of the missing Miranda as a swan. I do not have the
space here to elaborate, but if you haven't read
Picnic at Hanging Rock
while, it is certainly a mesmerising read.
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