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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 each can be 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 enjoy.

The archive can be accessed via the Writing Life tab above, or to the left. Sometimes I write a piece that doesn’t seem to fit the website and these go to my blog. Because my love of images is almost as great as my love of words, I post whatever catches my eye to Instagram.

I can be contacted 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


15th November 2017

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 Quiet City alongside 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 Australia.

You can read the whole review: here.



WRITER IN RESIDENCE

"Young Woman Writing", Pierre Bonnard, 1908

19th January 2017

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.









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OTHER PLACES

I write a lot, and often end up with more words than I know what to do with. These blogs are the overspill.

Follow my blogs at:
thefountainoverflows
Longer posts on all things literary. thirtybeautifulbreakfasts
A month of mindfulness in the kitchen turned into this series of breakfast posts.


NOTES FROM THE GARDEN


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, Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Black Barlow’ is a stunning beauty when observed up close, with its frilly dark heads shyly hanging above the deeply divided grey-green leaves. Alchemilla mollis is 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 in his History of Plants, published in 1532, and Linnaeus adopted the common name.

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, Alkemelych, 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.


THE QUIET HOUR


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 to the much-loved memoir A Fortunate Life by Albert Facey, and the savage Bush Studies 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 Rock. 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 Rock was published, for in 2005, when Kate Grenville published The Secret River, 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 in a while, it is certainly a mesmerising read.





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