Interviews with Amazing Authors: Simon Butters

In early October, work experience student Guthrow interviewed author Simon Butters. Simon’s book The Hounded was longlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2017 Book of the Year for Older Readers, and shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards 2017 Griffith University Young Adult Book Award. The Hounded is a book about depression and working out who you really are, from one of Australia’s most prolific children’s television writers.

Simon Butters, Author of ‘The Hounded’ and screenwriter for ‘Wicked Science’ and ‘H2O Just Add Water’


Guthrow: Why did you go from screenwriting to novel writing, and where did the idea of The Hounded come from?
Simon: Before writing The Hounded, I worked in television screenwriting in live-action drama and animation for children’s television for many years. The industry in Australia is supported by a quota system for the free-to air networks that requires them to produce a certain amount of new shows each year. I won’t bore you with the details, but the upshot is that the industry is not able to produce as much local drama as it used to.

Published by Wakefield Press in 2016, I wrote The Hounded between writing television projects as a way to further my creative writing. I did not write it for the financial rewards, it was a purely creative decision. As far as the idea, I had always been fascinated by perception, and the grey area between the supernatural, faith and psychoanalysis. So, is the dog real, or just his imagination …? That is open for each reader to decide.


I was also inspired by images of the dog at night in my youth. Your mind can play tricks on you when you see a shadow, and for a while you think it might be a dog, or a person, but when you walk closer, it just turns out to be a rubbish bin. Turns out, our brains evolved that way to look for danger. So I guess Monty is hyper-aware of danger, and his dog is the result.

G: How did your idea of the novel evolve or was the idea fully formed before you started?
S: When I started the book, I went the other way to my screenwriting training – which is to plan everything relentlessly before you begin. I wanted to go back to a freer way of writing and so I only wrote a short two or three line brief for each chapter – so I only had a rough outline of plot at the start (however I did know what the ending was going to be).

G: Were there any characters influenced by real people?
S: Most of them were influenced by real people – but I cannot tell you who … (but all characters have been heavily fictionalised).

The Hounded’s cover

G: Was the book originally about Monty or the Black Dog?
S: The novel was always going to be focused on Monty, and the dog only ever a passing influence, like a shadow that comes and goes.

G: What inspired you to write a novel that is so upfront and honest about mental health?
S: I guess to be honest, I wrote the novel out of a personal struggle. Being an artist is always a struggle to find that elusive sweet point between making enough money out of it to survive and to also satisfy your creative side. I have been an actor, director, writer, and all of these are tough. The ‘middle way’, where you work and be creative, is what I am trying to achieve in life.

Apart from the obvious analogy of mental health, Monty suffers from an unstated personality disorder, which I researched during development. After being left alone – which is a form of abuse – as a young child, Monty struggles to connect with the reality around him: other people, objects, and even his own body. This is where in the novel, he describes his body as going on autopilot.


In writing the ending, I was very concerned that it would be a step too far for young readers. If I went back to write it again, there is one line I would cut, but other than that I really tried to get the balance right between an honest portrayal, within the confines of the world, and not doing anyone harm in reading it. 

G: For a debut novel, The Hounded was very successful. Did you ever doubt your chances of success and how important was it for this novel to succeed?
S: When writing, I certainly didn’t think about success in any way, it was just about getting the job done and something that I enjoyed reading myself.

G: What did you learn from writing this novel?
S: I learnt that you need honesty in writing. You lay yourself bare as a writer like no other creative expression. Your words are your thoughts. That’s confronting …

G: What do you want your readers to learn when reading this novel?
S: I wanted a reader to ponder their own existence and what their purpose is. I believe, like the existentialists (like Silas and his ball, or Sisyphus and his rock) that you find your own purpose in life, and even if that seems insignificant, your actions provide you with purpose. That’s what Monty needs to learn, and that’s what I guess I need to learn. That’s what I think our whole world needs to learn.

Written by Guthrow Taylor Johnson. Many thanks to Simon Butters for his time and generosity, and for his wonderful book!

Want a copy of The Hounded? Visit Wakefield Press at 16 Rose Street, Mile End SA 5031 or shop the book online.


Author Profiles – Stephen Orr

We decided it was time to bring back our popular author profiles, and who better to start with than Stephen Orr.

Stephen Orr is the award-winning author of six novels, including Time’s Long Ruin, The Hands, Hill of Grace and Dissonance. Peter Goers has called him South-Australia’s finest novelist. A fascination with the dynamics of families and small communities pervades his fiction and non-fiction. He contributes essays and features to several magazines, journals and newspapers. Stephen’s short fiction has been published widely over the last ten years, and a selection has gathered for the first time in his new release, Datsunland. His website is
What did you want to be when you grew up?

I did write a novel when I was sixteen. It was called A Drop in the Ocean. Terrible, I guess, and I later burned it, like some sort of Nazi book-burning to rid the world of undesirable reading matter. Then forgot fiction until I was in my late twenties. I worry that Australian culture is adept at removing the dream gland from kids, when they start out at their most creative, enthusiastic. That’s how I remember it. Like writing in a void. And it still feels this way. I never liked sport. I hated sport. I detested sport. All of my protagonists hate it too (strangely enough). So you become a boilermaker, or sell things, or know someone who gets you a job in the public service. But god, you never waste time writing books. I’ve taught, which is the noblest of professions, and I try to get in the ear of the writer kids, and tell them to keep at it, because although they’ll never get a Best and Fairest trophy, they’ll have a hundred little worlds of their own making (note italics).

Do you have a writing routine? Why/why not?

Whenever I can. Mornings are good, the brain’s clearer. I like quiet, but my street is full of lawnmower-obsessed people (oh, and the metal grinder guy), so when that starts I have to stop for an hour, start again, then someone’s dog starts. So it goes. I’d like to make some sort of writing pod. My dog, Molly, sits with me while I work, and farts, and I growl at her and she looks at me like, Is there a problem here? Then I wonder what the hell I’m doing making up stories when everyone else I know is out earning lots of money, buying holiday houses, skiing.

What do you like about short stories (both writing and reading them)? 

I think short stories are a good way into reading and writing longer fiction. Peter Carey seemed to hone his art with The Fat Man in History. Borges’s Collected Fictions are the first and last word (along with Juan Rulfo perhaps) in short fiction. And Robert Walser’s micrograms, which led to Kafka. The list goes on, especially Joyce’s Dubliners, Chekov’s short stories, Thomas Mann. Each writer found a way to compress the world, find a moment that represents many, pick up on a dilemma, problem, disaster, ecstasy that says much more than it seems to say (on the surface). Leaving the reader anxious, but unable to know more. Then having to rely upon their own sense of ending, or non-ending, to complete the experience. Flannery O’Connor’s stories, too. Dark, unsettling, violent, from this very Catholic and catholic writer.

Can you tell us about what you’re working on next?

Just finished a book about Ethel Malley (Ern’s sister). Yes, I know she was made up, but I wrote a novel about her life, loves, relationship with Max Harris. It’s a strange piece, but that’s just how it comes out. I seem to write stranger books as I get older, and the market seems to want more predictable, clichéd, pointless s*** to feed the groaning shelves of Big W and K Mart. If one of my books ever ended up there I’d know I am, at last, a failure. Where does this leave us? I predict there will soon be a reality show with writers churning out a book, with the prize being a big contract. We can watch them melt down, cook stuff, date in the nudie, try to sing like Celeste (or whatever her name is). And then people can switch over. Hear that ring in your ears? It’s the sound of cells dying. And you’ll never hear that frequency again.

If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?

If I were Buddhist, this would be a problematic question, because it would suggest I’m moving down through the realms, instead of up. And if that were the case, and assuming I had any say in it (which I think is reasonable, but optimistic) then I’d be a seagull. Spend my days scabbing chips at Semaphore and flying to Adelaide Oval to poop on footballers.

What are your favourite Wakefield Press titles, aside from your own, and why?

I love that Wakefield publishes so many art books: Drysdale, Dobell, and contemporary artists. Steidl, an excellent German publisher, does the same, and has many similarities to Wakefield: quality books, excellent editing, discerning titles. Wakefield is in one of group of publishers like Transit Lounge, Black Inc, that still stand for what publishing was years ago. As far as I know, big Mick Bollen doesn’t have a numbers-man with a degree in finance or marketing telling him what to publish. Without getting too political, I just wish the SA government would recognise that this type of work needs some support (no, not half a billion, stadium-style, but just a bit). That if Wakefield wasn’t publishing local stories there wouldn’t be anything to remember, wonder about, be moved by. Just the government’s view of the past, present and future. Which is a pretty grim thought.

Author Profiles – Bruce Munday

In 1974 Bruce and Kristin Munday bought a farm in the Adelaide Hills where they raised sheep, cattle and three children, and planted many trees. When the kids left home Bruce established his own business as a communications consultant in natural resource management and discovered how much he enjoyed sharing stories with people living on the land – particularly those who love the land and want to conserve it. Those Dry-Stone Walls documents the beauty of South Australia’s dry-stone walls, many of which have defied gravity – without mortar – since early settlement.

We asked Bruce a few questions about his interest in dry-stone walls and the process of making the book.

Those Dry-stone Walls coverWhen did you first become interested in dry-stone walls, and how? 

I have always admired the stone architecture in SA and we have several old dry-stone walls near our property at Tungkillo. Some are in good condition while others are tumbling down, but they all said something about early settlement in the district. What really got me going was visiting Peru about 10 years ago and seeing the remarkable dry-stone structures about which so little is known as the Incas had no written language. That prompted me to investigate if there had been any research into the dry-stone walls in SA.

What was your favourite moment during the writing of the book?

Favourite was the comment from Marcus Beresford (Nat Trust SA) who, after reviewing the first draft wrote that ‘this is a compelling story, delightfully told. I will certainly buy the book’. At that moment I knew I had a book.

Those Dry-stone Walls has become very popular. Have you received any interesting feedback from readers? 

I have been lucky. The book launch was a great success and that set the scene for a positive reaction to the book. I have received many favourable comments from people who took the time to write or email and several invitations to speak to local history groups, etc. Perhaps the most encouraging comments came from serious history buffs who expressed pleasure that someone had undertaken this work. The most moving came from a letter I received from Liz Mitchell, the widow of Kim to whom I dedicated the book. Liz wrote: The book was passed around the family, and inspired many discussions about stone walls and Kim. The children asked what it meant to ‘dedicate’ a book to someone, and grew prouder of their Dad as I explained as best I could. I found that, and indeed her whole letter, very moving.

If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be? 

My power would be to recover all the stone that has been pillaged from old stone walls, remove them from their present location in private gardens, etc, and return them to from whence they came. I would leave behind a note saying ‘shame on you’ signed ‘History Superhero’.

What are your favourite Wakefield Press titles, aside from your own, and why? 

Your Brick Oven – just what I needed to build my own

The Adelaide Parklands – there is nothing else like it


Author Profiles – Valerie Volk

Another day, another profile of one of Wakefield Press’s amazing authors!

Valerie Volk is a former secondary teacher, tertiary lecturer, and director of an international education program. She has won awards for poetry and short fiction and has published widely in journals, anthologies and magazines. Her first book, In Due Season, won the Omega Writers CALEB Poetry Prize in 2010, and there have been enthusiastic reviews of both her verse novel A Promise of Peaches and her sardonic modern versions of Grimms’ Tales, Even Grimmer Tales. Her fourth book, Passion Play: The Oberammergau Tales, reflects both a love of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales that was born during a Year 12 English course many decades ago and also her fascination with the infinite variety of human beings.

We caught up with Valerie to ask a few questions about Passion Play, which is a verse novel based around the Oberammergau Passion Play, performed every ten years in a tradition dating back to the 17th century.

Passion Play coverHave you ever attended the Passion Play at Oberammergau?

Yes, three times, in 1990, 2000, 2010 – but I first discovered Oberammergau when driving through southern Germany in 1973 (a non-Passion Play year) and became fascinated by the place and the ten-yearly event.

How did you develop the structure and characters for your verse novel Passion Play?

I’ve always wanted to do a modern parallel to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, so this four day bus trip and its group of varied characters travelling  to the Passion Play provided me with the perfect structure for such a creation. Except that these people do not copy Chaucer’s and tell stories to entertain each other; instead they reveal their own lives in monologues or discussions that are often painfully honest. As for the characters? Most of them are today’s equivalents of the Chaucerian group – even to Chaucer’s Cook becoming a modern TV cooking contest winner …

What is you favourite line or two of verse in the book?

This is so hard – it’s difficult to extract lines from a novel, which is basically a narrative. Perhaps the journalist, as she returns and sits in Changi airport, waiting her last stage flight home :

How that word sums it up.
I am in transit.

Around me all the buzz of airport lounge.
The crowds of travellers,
arrivals weary as they trudge
to baggage claims,
then out into the humid dark
of Singapore, its tropic night,
its frangipani air.

If you weren’t a poet, what do you think your occupation would be?

I’d be properly retired, sitting in the sun, reading a crime novel  …  instead of feeling compelled to write!

What are your favourite Wakefield Press titles, aside from your own, and why?

A long way back favourite, Peter Goldsworthy’s Bleak Rooms, for its brilliant vignettes of life in a short story collection, and his amazing understanding of people.
Lolo Houbein’s One Magic Square, for its vision of sustainable life, which almost sent me out to plant my own small plot of ground.
John Neylon’s Robert Hannaford, for the insight it gave into this great South Australian artist, and the wonderful reproductions of his work – I’ll never be able to afford an original, but I can enjoy them in the book.
Jude Aquilina’s poetry, especially in the witty and sardonic WomanSpeak.

Author Profiles – Jude Aquilina

Jude Aquilina’s poetry and short stories have been published in newspapers, anthologies and literary journals in Australia and abroad. Jude has been a guest speaker at numerous writers’ festivals, including Adelaide Writers’ Week, Canberra Spring Poetry Festival and Penola Arts Festival. She has published two collections of her own poetry: Knifing the Ice (Friendly Street Poets/Wakefield Press 2000) and On a Moon Spiced Night (Wakefield Press 2004). She has also published one coauthored collection, WomanSpeak (Wakefield Press, 2009), co-written with Louise Nicholas, and one edited collection, Tadpoles in the Torrens (Wakefield Press, 2013). Many of her poems have won awards.

We asked Jude a few questions about being a poet, and Tadpoles in the Torrens.

Jude AquilinaCan you tell us a bit about the process for putting together Tadpoles in the Torrens? Did you have a favourite moment as editor?

A few years ago, I was looking for collections of poetry for children, by South Australian writers. I soon realized it was over 20 years since one had been published. When I told Michael Bollen, he said he’d be interested in such a book. I was excited and set about gathering the poems. It was a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle, but it didn’t matter if pieces of the sky ended up in the river – I just chose the pieces I liked the shape, feel or colour of!  I had over 300 poems from children’s poets and authors to choose from. I called for submissions from the writing group ‘The Echidnas’ who are all published SA children’s writers, and I looked through past issues of The School Magazine (NSW Education Dept), to find SA poets who were being published at present.  I was amazed to find so many wonderful poets and poems, hiding like frogs in the state’s backyard!
Some of the best moments, as editor, were talking on the phone to the late and great Max Fatchen. He was thrilled with the idea of Tadpoles in the Torrens and would call me from time to time; he was always full of encouragement and loved to talk about poetry and words.  He told me he thought ‘Seagulls on the Oval’ was the best poem he’d ever written. I was thrilled to include it in Tadpoles in the Torrens, along with other Max Fatchen gems.  I loved Max’s sense of humour and the way he wrote about everyday things, yet made them special – and he never said a bad word about anyone. He will always be my writing role-model.

Do you have a writing routine? Why/why not?

No, I do not have a routine and never have.  As a freelance writer/mentor and TAFE teacher, my working hours are haphazard, so there is not much point in a strict routine. I prioritise. This means some projects on the back-burner take longer, but I believe writing and publishing books happens from a cumulative effect. Eventually everything you do comes in handy!

Is there one poem that has inspired you more than any other? If so, what is it and why?

Throughout my childhood, my father read poetry to me from little suede-covered books.  I loved all the English poets, but the poem I thought about the most was a poem called ‘The Sands of Dee’ by Charles Kingsley. It was about Mary, who went to bring the cattle home, but a high tide came and drowned her. I’d lay awake in bed, thinking of Mary and all those bloated cows … And never home came she … for the cruel, foaming sea, the cruel, hungry sea, had taken her away! Later, I discovered contemporary women poets like Gwen Harwood and Judith Wright whose poetry  inspired me to write my own poetry.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

If I die, I’d like to come back as a pelican … a large bird that other birds can’t pick on; liked by humans and not considered edible, that lives near water, fishes and flies around all day and fills its bill with nibblies for later on.

What are your favourite Wakefield Press titles, aside from your own, and why?

An all-time favourite WP book is The River Kings by Max Fatchen.  I think every South Australian should read this book. Max was a master story-teller and captures the SA landscape and its people so accurately. A recent favourite novel is Margaret Merrilees’ The First Week.  I couldn’t put this beautifully-written book down. No wonder it won the WP Unpublished Manuscript Award. The story is told through the eyes of a country mum (like me) in such a way that the reader becomes that character as she finds out about a tragedy that will change her life.  Another favourite is The Colour of Kerosene by Cameron Raynes. I’ve always loved reading short stories and this collection of stunning contemporary stories continues to resonate. And of course there are many poetry books I love, including Miriel Lenore’s In the Garden, and Mike Ladd’s Karrawirra Parri. It’s great to see WP supporting genres like poetry and short stories, when they are not considered fashionable (goodness knows why!).

Author Profiles – Sharon Kernot

Sharon Kernot worked as a community support worker in a child protection agency in the northern suburbs of Adelaide for eleven years. She has a masters in Creative Writing from the University of Adelaide and a PhD from Flinders University. Underground Road is Sharon Kernot’s first novel. It was shortlisted in the Unpublished Manuscript category of the Adelaide Festival Awards in 2010. Sharon is also the author of a collection of short stories, In the Shadows of the Garden, and one of poetry, Washday Pockets. You can find her website at

We asked Sharon a few questions about Underground Road.

Sharon KernotWould you be able to identify a high point during the writing of Underground Road? And a low point?

When I was writing the Underground Road I had no idea how it was going to end because I’m not a plotter or planner and my writing practice is a bit chaotic so I don’t always write scenes (or chapters) in chronological order. I didn’t know if all the threads from each character would tie together. This wasn’t a low point as such but it did provide quite a bit of anxiety along the way. The high point came in the end when everything fit together neatly despite my concerns. I’ve just finished a draft of a new novel and while I was writing I had to keep reminding myself to keep writing because even though I had no idea where it was going, it’d all work out in the end.

Can you tell us about what you’re working on next?
As mentioned above, I’ve just finished the draft of another novel; it’s tentatively called Remembering Faith. The story revolves around Faith who has issues with her memory due to a serious accident when she was younger. Throughout the course of the novel she tries to uncover her past and discovers that her life was nothing like she thought. The story is set in two different time periods – the mid-2000s and the 1960s – the 1960s scenes are written from a child’s perspective. It’s really quite different from Underground Road but there’s still a lot of tension and suspense.

Who is your favourite Australian author?
I don’t have a favourite as such but I do love Tim Winton’s books and I’m currently reading his latest, Eyrie. I went to listen to him read at Elder Hall recently along with about 600 others. I love the fact that he’s so down to earth and unpretentious. Chris Tsiolkas’ new novel, Barracuda, is next in line. I enjoyed The Slap particularly for its multiple viewpoints and structure, so I thought I give this one a go too.
I admire Helen Garner’s writing for her brevity and precision, and her courage to write about difficult issues as in The Spare Room and Joe Cinque’s Consolation. I also love Sonya Hartnett’s novels – Sleeping Dogs, Of a Boy and Butterfly; the late Dorothy Porter’s verse novels particularly The Monkey’s Mask and What a Piece of Work, and Cate Kennedy’s short stories.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you choose and why?
When I was in my early twenties I lived on the Greek island Hydra for a short time. I loved it and have always wanted to go back. It’s quite a famous island in the sense that a lot of writers, artists and musicians have lived there over the years – George Johnson, Charmian Clift, Sidney Nolan and Brett Whiteley to name a few. I think Leonard Cohen still has a house there. Ironically, at the time of staying, I had no idea who might have been living there. It clearly had a vibrant artistic community but what I loved most, apart from the stunning views, was the fact that there were no cars only donkeys, bicycles and boats for transport. I’d love to go back and live there for a while, perhaps a year … and if Leonard Cohen’s there – all the better!

What are your favourite Wakefield Press titles, aside from your own, and why?
I’ve just finished reading Margaret Merrilees The First Week which I really enjoyed. I could empathise with the main character, Marian, as she struggled to understand why her son has done something horrific. Mothers, I think, tend to blame themselves when things go wrong for their children, and Mag captured this beautifully. She also writes evocatively of the Western Australian landscape and how it has been ruined by farming. Jude Aquilina and Louise Nicholas’s poetry collection Woman Speak is an old favourite – it’s funny and rude and obviously quite different from The First Week but I love these two talented South Australian poets. I also have a copy of the Tadpoles anthology of poetry which was edited by Jude; it’s full of wonderful children’s poems by South Australian poets including the late Max Fatchen. I’d recommend it to teachers or anyone who has children or grandchildren

Author Profiles – Rodney Fox

In the summer of 1963, Rodney Fox became famous when he survived a brutal shark attack off a suburban beach. Gathering his courage he returned to the sea, determined to make his living there. He fished for abalone and built the first shark cage. Hollywood came calling. Over five decades Rodney Fox has led hundreds of expeditions to introduce filmmakers, scientists, shark researchers and tourists to one of the world’s great adventures — each endeavour adding grand stories to an exciting life.

We asked Rodney a few questions about this extraordinary life, and his experiences with the great beasts of the deep.

Do you have a favourite memory from your years of interacting with sharks?
My favourite memory would be when I scratched the back of a 10m whale shark and watched it wobble and shake in pleasure.

Can you share any bizarre or little known facts about sharks?
When I witnessed two young adult dolphins harass a 4.5m great white shark whilst other dolphins in the family group ushered their baby dolphins away.

Who’s the most famous person your work has led you to meet?
I’ve spent a few hours in a shark cage with a Miss Universe and made films with Jean Michel Cousteau and also Fred Gwynn from The Addams Family.

If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?
I would be a tall, elegant and colourful giraffe.

Can you tell us about some of your favourite books, and why you like them so much?
Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey series, starting with Master and Commander, is a favourite of mine because of the books’ sense of adventure and camaraderie, as well as the way that O’Brian brings early history to life.

Rodney Fox

Author Profiles – Derek Pedley

Derek Pedley is a journalist with more than 25 years’ experience at Australian newspapers. He is now engaged in the dark art of daily news production at the Advertiser and His work has been shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award for Best True Crime twice, with Australian Outlaw – The True Story of Postcard Bandit Brenden Abbott shortlisted in 2007, and Dead by Friday shortlisted in 2013. Pedley lives in Adelaide’s far northern suburbs, on the wrong side of the Mullet-Proof Fence.

We asked Derek a few questions about his career as a crime writer, and the fascinating story behind his latest book, Dead by Friday.

Derek PedleyWhat was it that drew you to write about this particular crime?

Michelle Burgess and her thoroughly deranged behaviour and personality. She is a remorseless sexual predator and I wanted to find out what made her tick. There was also the fact that the hitman ate one of the murder contracts in a sandwich. For me, that really summed up the bizarre nature of this case.

As a journalist with more than 25 years of experience, can you tell us what the most interesting story you’ve worked on is?
The exploits of bank robber and fugitive Brenden Abbott were sufficiently fascinating – and elusive – to keep me occupied for ten years and two books.

What will you be looking at in your next book?
I have an idea for another book involving unsolved major crimes. But I’m taking an extended break because since 1998, I’ve been constantly planning, researching or writing a book. It’s time to recharge the batteries and I’m enjoying spending a lot more time with my family.

Which living person do you most admire?
That’s a dead heat between American writer David Simon and singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen

What are your favourite Wakefield Press titles, aside from your own, and why?
It’s hard to narrow it down. What I like most about the Wakefield catalogue is the amazing breadth of Australian stories, whether it’s landscapes, histories, people, or infrastructure. It is absolutely essential that readers support a publisher like Wakefield, because no one else in SA – and perhaps even Australia – gives a voice to Australian stories the way Wakefield does. Their motto is “We love good stories and publish beautiful books” and I think that’s exactly what readers want.

Author Profiles – Mag Merrilees

Margaret Merrilees was born and bred in Western Australia but now lives in Adelaide. Her idiosyncratic essays, which combine fiction, history and social commentary, have appeared in Meanjin, Island, Wet Ink and Griffith Review. Margaret is also author of the online serial ‘Adelaide Days’. The First Week won the SA Festival Award for an Unpublished Manuscript at Adelaide Writers’ Week in 2012. Her website is at

We asked Mag a few questions about her new book, The First Week.

Margaret Merrilees by Kate StropinWhat’s been the best reaction you’ve had so far to the book? And the worst?

Best reaction from my sister who immediately set out to try and sell the book in country WA. No bad reactions – though one woman said very cheerfully that she wasn’t going to buy it because she never reads books. Fair enough!

The First Week deals with some large and occasionally uncomfortable topics – was it difficult to write?
Writing The First Week certainly brought me up against some painful memories of my own. Telling them as someone else’s story, distancing them, is one way of making sense of things.

Who is your favourite author?
I have many favourite authors but if I had to name a single one it would be Jane Austen, my first and enduring love.

What’s the greatest trip you’ve been on?
Going alone to the Stirling Range in WA and climbing Toolbrunup (it’s in the book).

What are your favourite Wakefield Press titles, aside from your own, and why?
My all-time Wakefield favourites are Miriel Lenore’s In the Garden (not to mention Drums and Bonnets and The Dog Rock) and Jill Golden’s Inventing Beatrice. Jill and Miriel are writing buddies of mine so I’ve watched the process from first rough idea to final polished work. That’s satisfying and inspiring.

Author Profiles – Janis Sheldrick

Janis Sheldrick is a lifelong resident of Melbourne who has always been strongly attracted to the landscapes of South Australia. She studied philosophy at the University of Melbourne, has a Graduate Diploma in Librarianship, and was awarded a PhD by Deakin University in 2000 for work on George Goyder and Goyder’s Line. Working as an independent scholar, she completed the rest of Goyder’s biography in the years that followed. Nature’s Line: George Goyder, surveyor, environmentalist, visionary is due for release from Wakefield Press this month.

We asked Janis a few questions about Goyder and the process of writing the book.

Janis SheldrickCan you tell us a little known fact about George Goyder?

Just about everyone who knows of him would be aware of his reputation for hard work, determination, and mental and physical toughness, but few would now know that according to those who knew him, in private life he was a different person. He had a wide circle of friends and was described as charming and as entertaining company – the ideal person to have as a companion on a long and tiresome journey – and as possessing a ‘magnetic’ personality. He also had a pleasant speaking voice and liked to sing Italian arias (when travelling), so he probably had a better than average singing voice as well. This large personal presence must have been a useful compensation for a diminutive physical one – he was only about 160 centimetres tall (a bit less than five feet four inches, according to a descendant).

What prompted you to write Nature’s Line?
I’ve been an intermittent visitor to South Australia from childhood and the ruined houses beyond the Mid-North made a powerful early impression on me, but I had no idea of the story behind them. When I finally heard about Goyder’s Line I was literally enthralled – I was full of questions and couldn’t wait to learn more. At the outset it struck me as an important story, and the more I investigated, the more certain of this I became. It was clearly not just about where not to grow wheat in South Australia, but about European settlers encountering a climate, the key characteristic of which – rainfall variability – they were entirely unprepared even to recognise and name, let alone to adapt to. What impressed me so much about Goyder was his unblinkered ability to see what was going on around him in the natural environment, to pay close attention to the natural world and to learn.

Do you know what project you would like to take on next?
At the moment I am working on something very different, although it is still about human awareness and perception of the natural world (among other things), with the working title Here and Hereabouts.

There are also two small things that I am working on. One of the characters in Goyder’s story is Eustace Reveley Mitford, a great-grand uncle of the Mitford sisters. The family resemblances, in literary style, social and political outlook, and physical appearance, are startling, especially given that the relationship is not that close, and I think he merits making a tiny contribution to the Mitford Industry. I have also been investigating Victoria’s Chinese dragons, the oldest of which go back to the nineteenth century.

After that, I’d like to return to a bigger project.

What’s your favourite type of ice cream?
Green tea – but I haven’t had any since the Japanese store that sold it closed. Perhaps Christmas pudding ice cream (my sister’s or from Fritz Gelato) is a more realistic choice – at least there’s an opportunity to enjoy it once a year.

What are your favourite Wakefield Press titles, aside from your own, and why?
Philip Jones’s Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and encounters on Australian frontiers is the first that comes to mind. Its approach to the telling of history, working from particular objects, sidesteps the usual frameworks. And the book is a lovely object itself: good to look at and to handle.

The other two are about the work of Australian painters and both are connected to exhibitions at Tarrawarra Museum of Art (in Victoria). The first is Master of Stillness: Jeffrey Smart paintings 1940-2011 by Barry Pearce. I particularly liked the inclusion of his early work in Adelaide.

The second, Russell Drysdale: defining the modern Australian landscape, by Christopher Heathcote, isn’t a favourite – I haven’t read it yet – but I am looking forward to doing so. The exhibition started as Tarrawarra in October and will be on until February 2014. I haven’t been yet, and I want to see the paintings before I read the book.