The many forms of Christmas

Here’s a wonderful little view of the many forms of Christmas from Margaret Merrilees’s Fables Queer and Familiar, complete with illustrations by Chia Moan. Every little vignette in this novel is equal parts touching and hilarious. Read on and you’ll see what I mean …

Fables Queer and Familiar many forms of Christmas, illus. by Chia Moan

Mr Stretton, Victoria’s Reception teacher, has reached that pinnacle of school life – the end-of-year concert. Traditionally Reception and Year One open the show with a segment based around the manger.

Since his first year of teaching, Mr Stretton has become used to parental contributions. These generally peak at the time of the concert. This year he has done his best to satisfy everyone.

He stands in the wings on one side of the stage and sends the kids across in small groups. They are received on the other side by Year Seven recruits. Downstage, close enough for Mr Stretton to prompt them, sit three children with a pile of signs to hold up.

The first group crosses the stage banging clap sticks together. KAURNA LAND reads the sign, in wobbly letters. WE RESPECT THE ELDERS AND TRADITIONAL OWNERS.

The audience claps.

The second group is chosen from among the most responsible five-year-olds. Their leader carries a multi-branched Hanukkah menorah. As a result of much discussion, it is unlit. Her companions carry lighted candles in paper cups. Mr Stretton clutches a fire extinguisher, but the children reach the other side without disaster. He wipes his brow.

The third group, in turbans and robes, is announced by two signs. One is a tinsel crescent moon, and the other says MECCA under a large arrow.

The fourth group consists of Mary and Joseph with a swaddled doll and a donkey. TO BETHLEHEM reads the sign. Victoria is the back half of the donkey. Her spirit is bitter. Like everyone else in the class she had passionately wanted to carry a Hanukkah candle.

The audience claps. They like it. So cute, so all-embracing.

But there is more. Fingers crossed, Mr Stretton sends out his fifth group. A donkey, a swaddled doll, but this time, instead of Mary and Joseph, there are two Marys.

The audience is silent, and then there is muted applause, accompanied by some muttering.

At present Mr Stretton is a single man, but he dreams of family, a particular sort of family. He had hoped for a sixth group tonight. Two Josephs with baby. Sadly he tucks his dream away again. The school community is obviously not yet ready.

Marie Symes, who works in the office, slumps in her seat. Mr Stretton has done it again. She can see tomorrow disappearing in a flood of phone calls. They’ll be equally divided, she predicts, between those parents who deplore fire risk and those who deplore gay parenthood.

During the interval Dr Singh approaches Mr Stretton. They have met before. Dr Singh has a little boy starting in Mr Stretton’s class next year.

‘Great work,’ Dr Singh says with enthusiasm. ‘I liked the procession very much.’


‘I did feel that there was a certain Mosaic bias,’ Dr Singh continues. ‘Judaeo-Christian-Islamic. Perhaps next year you could include …’

Mr Stretton squares his shoulders. What is life without a challenge?

To read more or buy the book, click here

Fables Queer and Familiar by Margaret Merrilees

The Stella Count 2014

The Stella Count for 2014 is in!

This wonderful little study, conducted by the same people behind the Stella Prize, looks at gender (im)balance in book reviews across Australia. You can see the full results here.

What’s the take-home message? Most of the regionals seem to be getting things right. There are fairly equal numbers of male and female reviewers, ditto for the gender of authors reviewed.

The nationals – the Australian, the Financial Review and the Monthly – all have significantly higher numbers of male reviewers, and significantly higher numbers of male authors reviewed.

AND there’s a bias towards men reviewing men and women reviewing women across the board, with men showing this preference more strongly.

So, what to do? Well, on a personal level, if you tend to reach for books by men, maybe it’s time to try something by a woman. We at Wakefield Press have suggestions (of course!).

<em>Hunger Town<em> by Wendy Scarfe

1. Hunger Town by Wendy Scarfe

Shortlisted for one of Australia’s premier writing prizes, lauded by reviewer after reviewer (of all genders), this ripping tale of a political cartoonist caught between idealism and reality is a great read.

<em>Nature's Line<em> by Janis Sheldrick

2. Nature’s Line by Janis Sheldrick

This is the definitive biography of George Goyder, whose understanding of rainfall and arability was miles ahead of many in his time. Sheldrick’s biography is meticulously researched and well written, making it a real pleasure to read.

<em>Silver Lies, Golden Truths<em> by Christine Ellis

3. Silver Lies, Golden Truths by Christine Ellis

The tale of an illegal German immigrant caught between two world wars and part of the only enemy attack to take place on Australian soil in World War I – at Broken Hill.

<em>Sweet Boy Dear Wife<em> by Heather Rossiter

4. Sweet Boy Dear Wife by Heather Rossiter

Hot off the press! A fascinating story about Jane Dieulafoy, an archaeologist who worked on sites throughout the Middle East in the nineteenth century, often dressing as a boy to work unhindered. Rossiter makes Jane’s world come alive.

<em>Fables Queer and Familiar<em> by Margaret Merrilees

5. Fables Queer and Familiar by Margaret Merrilees

Yes, it’s about lesbian grandmas, no, that doesn’t mean you have to be a lesbian grandma to enjoy it. In fact, every single person I’ve met who’s picked up this book has loved it. Hilarious, is the word that comes up over and over again.


We heart Radio Adelaide

Just a reminder (on this lovely, not-too-hot Monday) of how great Radio Adelaide is.

Diana Chessell, author of Adelaide’s Dissenting Headmaster, was interviewed by the very well-spoken and engaging Ewart Shaw on Sunday. Listen to their fascinating conversation on John Lorenzo Young here.

<em>Adelaide's Dissenting Headmaster<em> launch

Meanwhile, Mag Merrilees continues her instalments of Fables Queer and Familiar at Radio Adelaide, all of which are available here.

And then there have been interviews with Kate Strohm, Dino Hodge, Janis Sheldrick and Phil Butterss – just in the last year!

Radio Adelaide was Australia’s first ever community radio station, founded by the University of Adelaide in 1972. With over 400 volunteers helping them run the show, they have numerous awards to their name and keep the conversation about art, politics and current events going with some damn fine music in between.

Keep up the good work, guys. It’s very much appreciated. Read more about Radio Adelaide here, and have a browse through their podcasts here.

Fables Queer and Familiar launch …

What’s hilariously funny and poignantly tender, written by an award-winning Wakefieldian, and about to be a big Christmas seller?

<em>Memoirs of Mixed Fortunes<em> launch

This guy! Launching as part of Feast Festival next Tuesday, with music by Triptick and wines by our very favourite sponsors, Fox Creek, Fables Queer and Familiar is one of our big (little) books for this summer. Written by the always-wonderful Margaret Merrilees, who’s been shortlisted left, right and centre for The First Week, and adapted from her online serial Adelaide Days (which has already got an enormous following), Fables is pitch-perfect. Read more here (and put your name down to grab a copy when they come in!), and we’ll see you all on Tuesday!

Another accolade for The First Week

<em>The First Week<em> launchMargaret Merrilees can add another feather to her cap*. Her debut novel The First Week has been shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Award, a very cool award that celebrates work that depicts ‘women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society’.

Read an extract of The First Week here or skip that and buy a copy here.You can read more about the award here and see the full (and awesome) shortlist here.

One of the judges, Dorothy Johnston, has written about the judging process here, and pointed out that:

Another interesting point to note is that, out of seven shortlisted titles, four were published by small (or small to medium-sized) publishers, although by far the greatest number of entries were submitted by the ‘big names’ – Penguin, Random House, Allen & Unwin and so on.

Tiny but mighty, over here. And we couldn’t be prouder.

*Is that the right saying? What does it even mean?

Our authors are the best authors

Am I repeating myself? Because they’re ace. We’ve always known it, but it’s nice when they get the recognition they deserve, as is happening at the moment —
Hard on the heels of Margaret Merrilees’s shortlisting for the Glenda Adams Prize for New Writing, we now have not one but two longlistings from the Nita B. Kibble Awards as well!

The first is Rachel Hennessy, whose novel The Heaven I Swallowed was runner-up for the Australian/Vogel award before it was even published. Now it has been longlisted for the Kibble Literary Award for an established Australian female author. This is a HUGE deal, but then again The Heaven I Swallowed deserves every word of praise it gets.

Heaven I Swallowed cover First Week cover












The second is Margaret again! The First Week has now been longlisted for the Dobbie Literary Award, awarded each year for a first published work from an Australian woman writer.

These are two powerful books, written by two of the most talented authors working in Australia today. Today, us Wakefieldians are feeling pretty bloody proud.

(Also a bit sick. Celebratory Easter chocolate is getting out of hand over here. Is it wine time yet? HAPPY EASTER, KIDS!!)


Guess who has just been shortlisted for the Glenda Adams Prize for New Fiction?

The First Week cover














CONGRATULATIONS MARGARET! Not that anyone here at Wakefield HQ is surprised. The First Week is gripping, beautifully written, and stays with you for a long time after you’ve finished reading. Click here to read an extract.

Book Fair Success!

What a weekend it was!

Don Pyatt Hall looked incredible, thanks to Liz, who spent hours sewing bunting (so cool, right?) and finding the perfect decorations.

Then, the books themselves, all marked down and arranged neatly due to the enormous efforts of Trevor, our sales rep extraordinaire, and Jonny, warehouse manager and backbone of all WP’s operations.

But the best part of the whole weekend was the authors! We kicked the weekend off with Rodney Fox’s launch, and that guy can tell a yarn. The hall was in stitches for his speech, then they queued up for ages to get their books signed by the man himself.

Other highlights included Lisa Fabry’s talk on the guilt-free benefits of vegan desserts, which had us all drooling, and Derek Pedley’s explanation of the process behind Dead by Friday — an amazing book and an amazing author. Valerie Volk’s fascinating writing processes were explained, and Jude Aquilina treated us to a couple of readings. Bruce Munday explained all things stone walls and Margaret Merrilees gave an excellent overview of her work, The First Week, while Sharon Kernot explained the processes behind the creation of the world in Underground Road.

And, of course, we left Don Pyatt Hall on Sunday night with a lot less books than we’d arrived with on Friday, already talking about how we’ll do it all next year.

Thanks all for coming, enjoying, giving talks or just sipping wine. It’s lovely to have such a great bunch of people reading and interested in Wakefield titles, and it warms the cockles of our Wakefieldian hearts to know that more than a few of you will be reading our books over the break!

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.