This worried world: why anxiety memoirs are filling our shelves

As society shifts towards talking more openly about mental illness, readers are hungry for answers and authenticity

Publishing trends reflect the age we are living in. It’s not just about the sort of stories people want to write, but the stories that people want to read.

In 1987, London advertising executive Peter Mayle took a second home in the south of France intending to spend a year writing his novel, A Year in Provence. Instead he sparked a mini-industry of blockbuster aspirational travel memoirs which lasted for two decades.

Continue reading...

Bob Ellis: what do you do when a literary hero is accused of sexual abuse? | Brigid Delaney

Rozanna and Kate Lilley’s account of childhood sexual abuse by famous guests prompts a rethink of the era of ‘free love’

Those seeking to cure themselves of the romanticism about the free love era should read Philip Roth’s The Dying Animal and the two books just out this week by the daughters of Australian playwright Dorothy Hewett: Tilt by Kate Lilley and Do Oysters Get Bored? by Rozanna Lilley.

Last weekend, speaking to the Australian, sisters Rozanna and Kate Lilley talked about how their Sydney bohemian childhood was marked by “wild parties” and lack of “moral boundaries” which resulted in the teenage girls being sexually abused by a variety of famous male houseguests.

Continue reading...

Bob Ellis: what do you do when a literary hero is accused of sexual abuse? | Brigid Delaney

Rozanna and Kate Lilley’s account of childhood sexual abuse by famous guests prompts a rethink of the era of ‘free love’

Those seeking to cure themselves of the romanticism about the free love era should read Philip Roth’s The Dying Animal and the two books just out this week by the daughters of Australian playwright Dorothy Hewett: Tilt by Kate Lilley and Do Oysters Get Bored? by Rozanna Lilley.

Last weekend, speaking to the Australian, sisters Rozanna and Kate Lilley talked about how their Sydney bohemian childhood was marked by “wild parties” and lack of “moral boundaries” which resulted in the teenage girls being sexually abused by a variety of famous male houseguests.

Continue reading...

Alex Miller evokes lost Melbourne and past loves in ‘private and personal’ novel

Award-winning Australian author on the inspiration for The Passage of Love and the challenges of autobiographical fiction


We are in a golden age of autofiction – that is, memoir written in the style of a novel – with powerful recent works in the genre by writers such as Karl Ove Knausgaard, Rachel Cusk, Sheila Heti and Helen Garner. Now, two-time Miles Franklin award-winner Alex Miller has turned his talents to the genre.

Miller, aged 80, appears via Skype from his home in Castlemaine, in regional Victoria, to discuss his latest book, The Passage of Love. With his first novel published in 1988, Miller’s a veteran of the publicity circuit but he can become quite sharp when he doesn’t like a question or observation – and The Passage of Love sits close to the bone.

Continue reading...

‘We are not very caring’: Michelle de Kretser on Australian society

In her new novel The Life to Come, the Miles Franklin-winning author critiques Australia’s character, and the boom that made us bad

Children of Australia’s long boom – who travel the world only to complain about lack of good coffee, who signal virtue by retweeting an asylum seeker story, who couldn’t imagine living in a house with only one bathroom, who are “really into food” – may find Michelle de Kretser’s new book an uncomfortable read.

The Life to Come is a novel in five sections that focuses, in part, on the lives of Australia’s upper middle-class progressives. We meet Celeste, an Australian now living in Paris; Ash, a Sri Lankan academic in Sydney; and Pippa, a moderately successful novelist.

Continue reading...

There’s a reason Joan Didion’s work endures: she changed the way we wrote | Brigid Delaney

The master of the personal essay taught us it’s not enough to ask ‘what happened?’ if you neglect ‘how did it feel?’

When Griffin Dunne announced he had the go-ahead to film a documentary about Joan Didion, the great writer – and, as it happens, his aunt – he crowdfunded the money needed in a day. Netflix kicked in with the rest and the result is The Center Will Not Hold, streaming now.

Didion has been the master of holding readers back while appearing – in her prose at least – to let you in. So fans, of which there are many, have been hoping for an unguarded moment – something that unwraps the enigma.

Continue reading...

Robert Manne on having cancer: ‘I am interested in why I felt no fear’

The prolific writer and commentator talks about his second cancer diagnosis and rethinking his relationship with hospitals and his own body

Robert Manne is one of Australia’s most distinguished intellectuals and a frequent participant in public debate. He has written on everything from asylum seekers to the Holocaust to Wikileaks to the Stolen Generation. Manne’s politics also famously shifted in the mid 1990s from the right wing to the left.

But one form Manne hasn’t explored yet is the personal essay. A throat cancer diagnosis – first in 2008, then again last year – has given him reams of new material and experiences to chew over. In an operation late last year, he lost his ability to smell and to talk without the aid of a device.

Continue reading...

Closing Down: debut novelist Sally Abbott’s haunting vision of Australia’s future

The Richell prize winner, whose book is out this month, fears for a future blighted by environmental catastrophe
Speculative fiction usually starts with a “what if”: what if there was an environmental reckoning? What if we didn’t have enough water? What if the world was running out of food? What if that was coupled with a catastrophic global financial crisis? What would Australia look like? And how would its citizens cope? Debut novelist Sally Abbott, 57, didn’t start with the dystopian scenario, although her novel is certainly dystopian; she began with her characters. Continue reading...

Nikki Gemmell tells of the turmoil of losing her mother to suicide

The Australian author’s new memoir, After, explores her mother’s death, which forced her to confront the issue of euthanasia It’s October 2015 when the Sydney journalist Nikki Gemmell gets a call from the police. Her mother has died under suspicious circumstances. Can she come down to the morgue and identify her body? In the shock of grief, there is another reckoning. Did her mother take her own life? And if so, why? Continue reading...

Nikki Gemmell tells of the turmoil of losing her mother to suicide

The Australian author’s new memoir, After, explores her mother’s death, which forced her to confront the issue of euthanasia It’s October 2015 when the Sydney journalist Nikki Gemmell gets a call from the police. Her mother has died under suspicious circumstances. Can she come down to the morgue and identify her body? In the shock of grief, there is another reckoning. Did her mother take her own life? And if so, why? Continue reading...

Sarah Wilson on living with anxiety: there’s no sugarcoating mental illness

Her cookbook I Quit Sugar made her the face of health and wellness, but Wilson’s memoir, First, We Make the Beast Beautiful, traverses much darker terrain If you’ve visited a bookshop in the last few years, you would have found it hard to avoid a tanned and lean Sarah Wilson beaming out at you from the covers on the front shelves. Her cookbooks, I Quit Sugar and Simplicious, have been bestsellers, and her name is synonymous with terms such as “clean living” and “vitality”.
Wilson’s latest book couldn’t be more different. The cover is dark blue, with an illustration of a gloomy octopus – even the title itself seems like something from a poetry collection with a small print run. Continue reading...

Jessa Crispin: the woman at war with lifestyle feminism

Before her Australian tour the Why I Am Not a Feminist author hits out at romance, self-care and women who claim to be radical without doing the work
I admit I picked up Why I Am Not a Feminist, a new polemic by the US writer Jessa Crispin, thinking she was some sort of female men’s rights activist and the book was arguing for a winding back of women’s rights. I was wrong. Continue reading...

Don’t feed the trolls: a survival guide for teen girl writers

Clementine Ford, Nakkiah Lui and other writers sit down with school-aged girls to share what they know about persevering, handling harrassment, and empathy When my first piece was published in 1998, my stories appeared on paper that was the size of a pillow case. There was no button the reader could click on to tell me what they thought of me after they’d read the headline. If people didn’t like my stories, I may – a week later – have gotten a letter in the mail. The letter would usually be written either in large CAPS or tiny spidery handwriting that slanted left and was hard to read. Sometimes a biblical bookmark would be included in the envelope. I wrote for the paper most days, on all sorts of topics. I would receive, on average, two letters a year. Continue reading...

Emerging writers seek out room to shine amid the gloom of arts cuts

New voices look to peers – not publishers – for support amid a return to the do-it-yourself zine culture of the 1990s What is it like to be emerging writer in an age of a thousand cuts? Being an unknown writer is a slog and a labour of love at the best of times but this year, when grants to individual writers are being cut by 70%, the decision to devote yourself a writing a book is both intrepid and wildly optimistic. While no one was taking the microphone and screaming out “what a time to be alive!” – the mood on opening night of the Emerging writers’ festival in Melbourne last week was upbeat. Continue reading...

‘I am not a fetishist’: John Faulkner rebuttal surprises Sarah Ferguson

Journalist says former Labor senator makes ‘a fetish of his discretion’ during a writers’ festival event on The Killing Season – while Faulkner is in the audience You know that awkward thing where you are talking about someone, and they happen to be standing behind you? At Sunday’s sell-out session at the Sydney writers’ festival, ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson described former Labor senator John Faulkner as a “fetishist” – only to have him pop up in the audience during question time. Continue reading...

Empathy expert Roman Krznaric on shifting away from 20th century individualism

Australian philosopher says by first stepping outside yourself, virtue and action follow, and that workplace wellness has replaced work-life balance Roman Krznaric is a philosopher and writer whose books include Empathy, The Wonderbox and How to Find Fulfilling Work. He believes that we need to cultivate empathy to create change: both politically and in our relationships. He considers himself a “late developer” philosopher. Although he attended Oxford to study philosophy, his time there as a young student “was a disaster”, he says. “It was all logic and analytical philosophy. The Plato stuff – how to be good, how to lead a good life – is not taught so much any more. Academic philosophy has been a failure for the last century.” Continue reading...









Book Depository is coming to Australia – but there’s nothing like a local bookshop

While the Amazon-owned online retailer’s first major step into Australia means more competition, it’s not all doom and gloom for independent booksellers Head down Brunswick Street in Fitzroy and walk towards the neon lights until you see the words “Totally Weird Shit” on an awning. Walk through the doors and you enter one of the most subversive and strangely delightful bookshops in Australia. Since 1985, Polyester has sold books with a punk sensibility, including a wide range of bizarro Manga comics. But as Brunswick Street goes alternative-lite, making room for artificially distressed cafes and expensive ‘vintage’ clothing stores, Polyester announced this week that it is turning off its neon lights for good. Continue reading...









A Little Life: why everyone should read this modern-day classic

It may be dark and traumatic, but Hanya Yanagihara’s second novel offers a refreshingly modern take on friendship in the age of anxiety It’s early in the morning when my brother rings me, exhausted and strung out. He didn’t get much sleep the night before; he was up reading Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, speeding towards the book’s devastating conclusion. Related: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara review – relentless suffering Continue reading...









Literati cities: just the spot for networking, less so for writing a great novel

If you believe writing a really good book requires joining the insular literati cliques of Melbourne, Tokyo, Brooklyn and Hackney, think again

What happens when all the culture capital is concentrated in one place? Take Brooklyn, which the New York Observer called “a zone of infestation, not only of novelists but reporters, pundits, poets, and those often closeted scribblers who call themselves editors and agents”.

Out of this scene came the phenomenon of the Brooklyn novel. This genre, rising in ubiquity at the same rate as hipsters and house prices, goes something like this:

Continue reading...