I am thrilled to be able to announce that my book
will be available to share with readers in the coming weeks.
Following the publication of two novels, no one could be more surprised than I
am to have written a history book. But sometimes a subject chooses a writer
rather than the other way around, and so it was on this occasion.
I had been reading the diaries of author and printmaker Barbara Hanrahan, and
in them she remarked that West Terrace Cemetery was the most poetic place she
knew in Adelaide. On walking through it that first time, I agreed with all my
heart. To my novelist's eye it was crammed with characters, and their life
stories were as fascinating as any fiction. Many of the headstones hinted at
adventures and misadventures that would not ring true in a novel, and I saw
that this populous yet profoundly quiet city deserved its own book.
One of the first memorials to catch my eye belonged to a nine-year-old child
who, in 1916, had been accidentally shot while playing soldiers. From the
inscription I learned that the boy's father had been killed the year before at
Gallipoli. The angel that watches over this grave is one of the loveliest in
the cemetery, its beauty enhanced by the delicate mottling that has settled on
it over almost a century of South Australian weather. I fell to wondering how
such a shocking accident could have happened, and almost before I knew it I was
at State Records in Leigh Street with the coroner's report for that year open
in front of me.
The heavy pale-blue paper was filled with the elegant copperplate handwriting
of the investigating police officer, Constable McCabe. On duty in the City
Watch House, equipped with inkwell and dip pen, I imagined him sitting on a
hard chair to methodically record the painful details. And somewhere between
the perfect slope and loops of Constable McCabe's letters and the barely muted
grief of the memorial inscriptions on the boy's grave, a moment from the past
in this city I call home opened up to me. I understood what had happened – the
when, the where, and even something of the why of it – and I saw that stories
like this one would eventually be lost unless they were written down.
That first visit was back in 2011, and in all the years of walking and
researching I have not run short of stories, indeed, there are so many more I
would have liked to be able to tell. But it is time to write of other things,
at least for a while, and although I will miss my daily walks there I will
often return to seek a few moments of respite from the busyness of daily life.
is published by Wakefield Press. You can read an extract here.