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QUIET CITY


3rd February 2016

I am thrilled to be able to announce that my book Quiet City 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.

Quiet City is published by Wakefield Press. You can read an extract here.



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