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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.


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.



BOOK REVIEW


31st October 2016

A thoughtful review of Quiet City, written by Nicolette Stasko, appears in the current issue of Southerly, on pages 211-217. Here are some excerpts.

‘Part personal reflection, part speculative fiction, Quiet City is also history and biography, made up of many short sections and lyrical observations. Fortunately for readers, small publishers like Wakefield Press continue to publish these weird and wonderful hybrids. Similar to W.G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn (described in The Guardian as a 'strange and moving work') Carol Lefevre’s narrative is also built on spatial elements -- in this case the cemetery grounds itself.’

‘This is an incredibly rich book and it is difficult to give an account of all that it contains. It is to Lefevre’s credit that she has imbued it with respect and gravity. More so that it is entertaining and in spite of the subject matter, generally a pleasure to read.’

Southerly Journal









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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.


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.


NOTES FROM THE GARDEN


In the ferocious mid-summer heat, only the sunflowers ceaselessly follow the sun’s daily passage. Even on the hottest days, when both plants and humans wilt, their benign faces tilt skywards. Their stalks are thicker than my thumb; their heart-shaped leaves are arranged as if by a fan-dancer.

Resting on the verandah at dusk, I notice the heart shape made by two parrots sitting close together in the jacaranda tree. A blackbird wings in and perches above, unleashing wild trills in the failing light. Around me the garden thickens with shadow; edges blur and corners deepen, but the Queen Anne’s lace, six feet high this summer, shimmers in the space between the two quince trees.

Although this garden has been cultivated for more than a century, it has too often been made new and therefore lacks that element of beauty that old gardens accumulate over generations. I often wonder what it must be like to be the custodian of a place that remembers within its blossomy borders season after season of endeavour, and all the quiet joy that tending it has bestowed upon a succession of gardeners.

Old fruit trees, especially, wear their age with grace, and those with knobbly boughs so laden with fruit that they must be propped up are lovely almost beyond imagining. And yet these quince trees of mine grow sturdier each year and in this, their seventh summer, surge skywards with the boundless energy of sleek young dogs or prancing ponies.

I am proud to have been the one who planted those quinces. I will not see them when they are half a century old and much less supple. By then their stately trunks and limbs - so carefully tended in these important early years by the tree pruner - will be even more beautifully patinated.

The ripe fruit, so sharp and fragrant, when fresh from the tree can be cut into fine slices and eaten raw with cheese. April and May are the months when I make lamb and quince tagine, and when every cake is a quince cake. Baked in a slow oven for eight hours, quarted quinces turn the colour of rubies. Already, I am looking forward.


RESEARCH WORK



One of the most fascinating aspects of my recent research into the lives of those buried in Adelaide’s beautiful old West Terrace Cemetery was an investigation into early medical practices, including herbalism and homeopathy.

It started as a way to understand something of the panic and desperation of our earliest settlers when faced with medical emergencies, and resulted in wonderful snippets of information that related to my own garden. For example I learned that in the Middle Ages physicians attempted to ward off the plague with herb rue, the grey-green leaved plant with a modest yellow flower that grows unobtrusively underneath my roses.

This gave me an excuse to delve into my copy of Nicholas Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, first published in 1653, with its Shakespearean language and its intricate descriptions and illustrations of medicinal plants.

I have always loved this book, and thought its recipes quaint and charming. But this reading brought the realisation that cordials and decoctions and poultices were all these people had as a defence against fearful injury and illness.

While I loved knowing that the herbs I grow would have been recognised centuries ago by monks and nuns in their physic gardens, I ended with a sense of relief and gratitude that medical knowledge has moved on.








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