A Wuthering Heights inspired tale: Debra Adelaide, author of The Women’s Pages answers Six Sharp Questions

Debra AdelaideThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Debra Adelaide

author of The Women’s Pages

Six Sharp Questions


1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?

My novel The Women’s Pages is based on a short story of mine that introduced two characters in a multilayered story about loss, silences, relationships between mothers and daughters, and above all about the power of the written word.

It’s based loosely on Wuthering Heights, which presents numerous themes big and small, but particularly for me is very much about storytelling, given the novel’s many intriguing narrative layers. I’ve not rewritten that extraordinary novel by any means, but simply responded to its elements and especially leapt into some of its most compelling imagined spaces, such as the unspoken, untold, age-old story of the mother and daughter dynamic. Wuthering Heights features only absent, silent, missing, dead or dying mothers: The Women’s Pages is partly about finding or restoring mothers to a narrative.

2. Time passes. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you have experienced in the past year or so?

In the past year I have had two books published and as a writer with a full time job (at a university) I can’t hope for better than that. My last book was the collection The Simple Act of Reading, which was done in collaboration and for the Sydney Story Factory. Being able to present essays by authors on the topic of what reading means to them, and with the support of organisations like CA’s cultural fund and Random House publishers, all for the cause of fostering reading and writing in children, was a total pleasure and privilege. It’s been a very satisfying moment of my wDebra Adelaideriting life in every way.

Having a novel come next, especially one that’s so much about the act of reading – I must have a bit of a theme or obsession here! – only consolidates this pleasure. The day your publisher rings and says she loves your manuscript, the one you wrote in desperation, for yourself alone, and wants to publish it, is a unique joy, one you cherish forever.

The worst moments in recent times have involved the serious illness of two friends and the terrible swift death of one and the ongoing illness of one of my closest family members: not being able to help or heal someone you love is just devastating. But on that note, love always offers the very best moments, and I am blessed with an abundance of that in my life.

3. Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us? It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.

My home email address signature includes this quotation from Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary: ‘Human language is like a cracked kettledrum on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when what we long to do is make music that will move the stars to pity.’

I love this quotation because it reminds me almost every day what my job as a writer is, and how big the challenge is, that is, to take language that is tired and worn out, or lowly, cliched and undistinguished in every way, and turn it into something moving and beautiful and uniquely mine. I don’t achieve this all the time of course, but at least I am reminded to aspire to it.

MB quote

4. Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.

My writing life itself is messy, ad hoc, organic and irregular in every way. However once I am engaged in a writing project, a story, or a novel, once I am ‘in the zone’ I become very disciplined and write to a schedule that I set myself (and deadlines that I always meet).

Despite this I think I am supremely easy to live with! At least, I still do the household tasks and meet my family obligations and certainly never disappear into my study with bottles of whisky or boxes of chocolate biscuits, muttering or ranting when I do emerge. However I know I become distracted when I’m in the zone, and am really thinking deeply only about the work, so perhaps those I live with would differ on this.

5. Some writers claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!).

The only time I have tried to think about and respond to the marketplace the writing has failed. The marketplace is a terrible distraction: if I were a genre writer, say of crime or speculative fiction, this probably wouldn’t be the case. But for me I have learned I cannot hope to second guess the market or my readers. I write for myself first: everything I write I have assumed no one else in the world would want to read (but of course at the same time have secretly hoped that millions would). the-household-guide-to-dying

When I completed my last novel, The Household Guide to Dying, I gave the manuscript to my agent and without a trace of irony told her that if she didn’t like it I would just go away and bury it because I had another novel underway. Perhaps I am always preparing myself for rejection: that might imply some bleakness in my background, but in fact I think this is healthy for a writer. You need rejection, and you need failure, so confronting it yourself right from the start is helpful.

The market is far too protean and slippery to grasp with confidence: it can make you unconsciously censor the work, or stop you from concentrating on what the story might need.

6. Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?

Wuthering Heights, of course: this is a no-brainer given the context of my new book, but also because it is one of those novels that can bear endless re-readings, and one that for all its mysteries and even frustrations, has the capacity to speak across the generations. And then the characters are so bold and wild and wilful and out there, which I imagine might strike a chord. And finally because it can and should be read aloud, so I imagine sitting down reading this novel to commence the civilising process with some sense of community and even ritual.

The Little PrinWuthering Heightsce, because it is exquisitely beautiful and wise and clever and delightful, and would remind adolescents, who are always pretending to be so much more grown up than they are, of the importance of child-like wonder and imagination.

If the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy is cheating (three novels) then definitely The Hobbit, mainly because I loved it when I was a child but have loved it and re-read it forever since; but also because it was a real breakthrough for so-called children’s literature, coming from that vast and intricate and complete fantasy world that Tolkien created.

Thea Astley’s A Descant for Gossips, which I have recently re-read, because it demonstrates the terrible consequences of prejudice and alienation in the way a vulnerable schoolgirl is picked on and ostracised. I think it would touch these readers in sensitive emotional spots. And because readers always learn a new word or two reading an Astley novel.

Definitely cheating, but The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, which of course would be read aloud and performed with plenty of roles for the 20 adolescents; it would be marvellously civilising in every way. And they would also learn many new words.

Debra, thank you for playing!

Grab your copy of The Women’s Pages here!

The Women’s Pages

Debra Adelaide

Debra AdelaideEllis, an ordinary suburban young woman of the 1960s, is troubled by secrets and gaps in her past that become more puzzling as her creator, Dove, writes her story fifty years later. Having read Wuthering Heights to her dying mother, Dove finds she cannot shake off the influence of that singular novel: it has infected her like a disease. Instead of returning to her normal life she follows the story it has inspired to discover more about Ellis, who has emerged from the pages of fiction herself – or has she? – to become a modern successful career woman.

The Women’s Pages is about the choices and compromises women must make, their griefs and losses, and their need to fill in the absent spaces where other women … Read More.

Grab your copy of The Women’s Pages here!


The 2014 Stella Prize Longlist announced

The longlist for the 2014 Stella Prize has just been announced, containing a great mix of exciting new talents and familiar faces.

Named after one of Australia’s most important female authors, Stella Maria Miles Franklin, The Stella Prize celebrates Australian women’s contribution to literature and was awarded for the first time last year to Carrie Tiffany for Mateship with Birds. The prize is worth $50,000, and both fiction and nonfiction books are eligible for entry.

Don’t miss the chance to grab a copy of these fantastic books and judge them for yourself with the help of Booktopia.


Letter to George Clooney

by Debra Adelaide

Debra Adelaide’s new collection of short stories intricately maps both the sublime and the mundane landscape of ordinary lives, with her trademark dark wit and luminous intelligence.

In Glory in the Flower, distinguished but disillusioned British poet, Bill, crosses the world on the promise of a prestigious literary festival only to find himself roughing it with an unlikely group of amateur poets, with surprising results. One man’s attempt to negotiate the Australian taxation system reads like a noir thriller in The Pirate Map, and the minefield of internet dating in Chance artfully balances the absurd and dark side of the human psyche. Harder Than Your Husband follows a serious-minded administrator as he attempts to navigate the induction of a new, and rather perplexing, employee. And the final eclipsing story, Letter to George Clooney, opens a door into a world of terror and deprivation: searing in its devastating restraint, it demonstrates why Adelaide is one of the finest Australian writers of her generation.

DebraAdelaide01-239x300About the Author

Debra Adelaide is the author of several novels, including The Household Guide to Dying (2008), which was sold around the world, Serpent Dust (1998) and The Hotel Albatross (1995). She is also the editor of several themed collections of fiction and memoirs, including Acts of Dog (2003) and the bestselling Motherlove series (1996-1998). As well as a creative writer she has also been a freelance researcher, editor, book reviewer and literary award judge, and is now associate professor at the University of Technology, Sydney where she teaches creative writing.

Grab a copy of Letter to George Clooney here

9780702249921Moving Among Strangers

by Gabrielle Carey

Two literary lives defined by storytelling and secrets.

As her mother Joan lies dying, Gabrielle Carey writes a letter to Joan’s childhood friend, the reclusive novelist Randolph Stow. This letter sets in motion a literary pilgrimage that reveals long-buried family secrets. Like her mother, Stow had grown up in Western Australia. After early literary success and a Miles Franklin Award win in 1958 for his novel To the Islands, he left for England and a life of self-imposed exile.

Living most of her life on the east coast, Gabrielle was also estranged from her family’s west Australian roots, but never questioned why. A devoted fan of Stow’s writing, she becomes fascinated by his connection with her mother, but before she can meet him he dies. With only a few pieces of correspondence to guide her, Gabrielle embarks on a journey from the red-dirt landscape of Western Australia to the English seaside town of Harwich to understand her family’s past and Stow’s place in it. Moving Among Strangers is a celebration of one of Australia’s most enigmatic and visionary writers.

Gabrielle CareyAbout the Author

Gabrielle Carey lives in Sydney, writes books occasionally, and may or may not be related to Peter Carey.

Grab a copy of Moving Among Strangers here

burial-ritesBurial Rites

by Hannah Kent

In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men.

Agnes is sent to wait out the time leading to her execution on the farm of District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoids speaking with Agnes. Only Toti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes’ spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her, as he attempts to salvage her soul. As the summer months fall away to winter and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’ ill-fated tale of longing and betrayal begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn’t she?

Based on a true story, Burial Rites is a deeply moving novel about personal freedom: who we are seen to be versus who we believe ourselves to be, and the ways in which we will risk everything for love. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, where every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

HK-Draft-Author-Image-v2About the Author

Hannah Kent was born in Adelaide in 1985. As a teenager she travelled to Iceland on a Rotary Exchange, where she first heard the story of Agnes Magnusdottir. Hannah is the co-founder and deputy editor of Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings, and is completing her PhD at Flinders University. In 2011 she won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. Burial Rites is her first novel.

Grab a copy of Burial Rites here

night-gamesNight Games

by Anna Krien

‘The Pies beat the Saints and the city of Melbourne was still cloaked in black and white crepe paper when the rumour of a pack rape by celebrating footballers began to surface. By morning, the head of the sexual crimes squad confirmed to journalists that they were preparing to question two Collingwood players … And so, as police were confiscating bed sheets from a townhouse in Dorcas Street, South Melbourne, the trial by media began.’

In the tradition of Helen Garner’s The First Stone comes another closely observed, controversial book about sex, consent and power. At the centre of it is Anna Krien’s account of the rape trial of a footballer.

Krien offers a balanced and fearless look at the dark side of footy culture – the world of Sam Newman, Ricky Nixon, Matty Johns, the Cronulla Sharks and more. What does a young footballer do to cut loose? At night, some play what they think of as pranks, or games. Night games involving women. These games sometimes involve consensual sex, but sometimes they don’t, and sometimes they fall into a grey area.

Both a courtroom drama and a riveting piece of first-person narrative journalism, this is a breakthrough book from one of the young leading lights of Australian writing.

annakrienAbout the Author

Anna Krien is the author of Into the Woods: The Battle for Tasmania’s Forests and Us and Them: On the Importance of Animals (Quarterly Essay 45).

Grab a copy of Night Games here


by Melissa Lucashenko

When Jo Breen uses her divorce settlement to buy a neglected property in the Byron Bay hinterland, she is hoping for a tree change, and a blossoming connection to the land of her Aboriginal ancestors. What she discovers instead is sharp dissent from her teenage daughter Ellen, trouble brewing from unimpressed white neighbours, and a looming Native Title war among the local Bundjalung families. When Jo stumbles into love on one side of the Native Title divide she quickly learns that living on country is only part of the recipe for the Good Life.

Told with humour and a sharp satirical eye, Mullumbimby is a modern novel set against an ancient land.

indexAbout the Author

Melissa Lucashenko is an Australian writer of mixed European and Murri (Aboriginal) heritage. She was born in Brisbane in 1967, and attended public primary and secondary schools there. Melissa received an honours degree in public policy from Griffith University, graduating in 1990. She lives between Brisbane and the Bundjalung nation.

Grab a copy of Mullumbimby here

the-night-guestThe Night Guest

by Fiona McFarlane

One morning Ruth wakes thinking a tiger has been in her seaside house. Later that day a formidable woman called Frida arrives, looking as if she’s blown in from the sea. In fact she’s come to care for Ruth. Frida and the tiger: both are here to stay, and neither is what they seem.

Which of them can Ruth trust? And as memories of her childhood in Fiji press upon her with increasing urgency, can she even trust herself?

The Night Guest is mesmerising novel about love, dependence, and the fear that the things you know best can become the things you’re least certain about. It introduces a writer who comes to us fully formed, working wonders with language, renewing our faith in the power of fiction to tap the mysterious workings of our minds, and keeping us spellbound

0000007167About the Author

Fiona McFarlane was born in Sydney, and has degrees in English from Sydney University and Cambridge University, and an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a Michener Fellow. Her work has been published in Zoetrope: All-Story, Southerly, the Best Australian Stories and the New Yorker, and she has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Phillips Exeter Academy and the Australia Council for the Arts. The Night Guest, her debut novel, has sold into fifteen territories around the world. She lives in Sydney.

Grab a copy of The Night Guest here

boy-lostBoy, Lost

by Kristina Olsson

Kristina Olsson’s mother lost her infant son, Peter, when he was snatched from her arms as she boarded a train in the hot summer of 1950. Yvonne was young and frightened, trying to escape a brutal marriage, but despite the violence and cruelty she’d endured, she was not prepared for this final blow, this breathtaking punishment. Yvonne would not see her son again for nearly forty years.

Kristina was the first child of her mother’s subsequent, much gentler marriage and, like her siblings, grew up unaware of the reasons behind her mother’s sorrow, though Peter’s absence resounded through the family, marking each one. Yvonne dreamt of her son by day and by night, while Peter grew up a thousand miles and a lifetime away, dreaming of his missing mother.

Boy, Lost tells how their lives proceeded from that shattering moment, the grief and shame that stalked them, what they lost and what they salvaged. But it is also the story of a family, the cascade of grief and guilt through generations, and the endurance of memory and faith

kristina-olssonAbout the Author

Kristina was born in 1956 and raised in Brisbane of Swedish and Australian heritage. She studied journalism at the University of Queensland and went on to write for The Australian, The Courier-Mail and Sunday Mail, the Sydney Sunday Telegraph and Griffith Review.

She has also worked as an advisor to government and as a teacher of creative writing and journalism
at tertiary and community level. She supervises and mentors several post-graduate writing students and also works as a manuscript assessor and editor.

University of Queensland Press published her first novel, In One Skin, in 2001. This was  followed by Kilroy Was Here (Random) in 2005 and The China Garden in 2009. Boy, Lost, a family memoir, was published by UQP in March 2013.

Kristina has two adult children, as well as three grandchildren. She lives in Brisbane.

Grab a copy of Boy, Lost here


The Misogyny Factor

by Anne Summers

In 2012, Anne Summers gave two landmark speeches about women in Australia, attracting more than 120,000 visits to her website. Within weeks of their delivery Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s own speech about misogyny and sexism went viral and was celebrated around the world. Summers makes the case that Australia, the land of the fair go, still hasn’t figured out how to make equality between men and women work. She shows how uncomfortable we are with the idea of women with political and financial power, let alone the reality. Summers dismisses the idea that we should celebrate progress for women as opposed to outright success. She shows what success will look like.

annesummersAbout the Author

Anne Summers PhD AO (born 12 March 1945) is a writer and columnist, is best known as a leading feminist, editor and publisher. She was formerly Australia’s First Assistant Secretary of the Office of the Status of Women. Her long-term partner is Chip Rolley, the 2010 Creative Director of the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

Grab a copy of The Misogyny Factor here

madeleineMadeleine: A Life of Madeleine St John

by Helen Trinca

At the age of fifteen Madeleine saw herself as a painter and pianist, but Ms Medway peered down at Madeleine during her entrance interview in 1957 and announced: ‘You know dear, I think you might write.’

Madeleine would write. But not for some time. The Women in Black, a sparkling gem that belied the difficulties that had dogged her own life, was published when Madeleine St John was in her fifties. Her third novel, The Essence of the Thing, was shortlisted for the 1997 Booker Prize, and she continued to write until her death in 2006.

Helen Trinca has captured the troubled life of Madeleine St John in this moving account of a remarkable writer. After the death of her mother when Madeleine was just twelve, she struggled to find her place in the world. Estranging herself from her family, and from Australia, she lived for a time in the US before moving to London where Robert Hughes, Germaine Greer, Bruce Beresford, Barry Humphries and Clive James were making their mark. In 1993, when The Women in Black was published, it became clear what a marvellous writer Madeleine St John was.

HelenTrinca_20credit_20NickCubbin_regularAbout the Author

Helen Trinca has co-written two previous books: Waterfront: The Battle that Changed Australia and Better than Sex: How a Whole Generation Got Hooked on Work. She has held senior reporting and editing roles in Australian journalism, including a stint as the Australian’s London correspondent, and is currently Managing Editor of the Australian.

Grab a copy of Madeleine: A Life of Madeleine St John here

the-swan-bookThe Swan Book

by Alexis Wright

The new novel by Alexis Wright, whose previous novel Carpentaria won the Miles Franklin Award and four other major prizes including the ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year Award. The Swan Book is set in the future, with Aboriginals still living under the Intervention in the north, in an environment fundamentally altered by climate change. It follows the life of a mute teenager called Oblivia, the victim of gang-rape by petrol-sniffing youths, from the displaced community where she lives in a hulk, in a swamp filled with rusting boats, and thousands of black swans driven from other parts of the country, to her marriage to Warren Finch, the first Aboriginal president of Australia, and her elevation to the position of First Lady, confined to a tower in a flooded and lawless southern city. The Swan Book has all the qualities which made Wright’s previous novel, Carpentaria, a prize-winning best-seller. It offers an intimate awareness of the realities facing Aboriginal people; the wild energy and humour in her writing finds hope in the bleakest situations; and the remarkable combination of storytelling elements, drawn from myth and legend and fairy tale.
art-wright-620x349About the Author

Alexis Wright (born 25 November 1950) is an Indigenous Australian writer best known for winning the Miles Franklin Award for her 2006 novel Carpentaria.

Grab a copy of The Swan Book here

the-forgotten-rebels-of-eurekaThe Forgotten Rebels of Eureka

by Clare Wright

The Eureka Stockade. The story is one of Australia’s foundation legends, but until now it has been told as though only half the participants were there.

What if the hot-tempered, free-wheeling gold miners we learnt about in school were actually husbands and fathers, brothers and sons? And what if there were women and children inside the Eureka Stockade, defending their rights while defending themselves against a barrage of bullets?

As Clare Wright reveals, there were thousands of women on the goldfields and many of them were active in pivotal roles. The stories of how they arrived there, why they came and how they sustained themselves make for fascinating reading in their own right. But it is in the rebellion itself that the unbiddable women of Ballarat come into their own.

Groundbreaking, absorbing, crucially important—The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka is the uncut story of the day the Australian people found their voice.

About the Author

Clare Wright is an historian who has worked as a political speechwriter, university lecturer, historical consultant and radio and television broadcaster. Her first book, Beyond the Ladies Lounge: Australia’s Female Publicans, garnered both critical and popular acclaim. She researched, wrote and presented the ABC television documentary Utopia Girls and is currently writing a four-part series to commemorate the centenary of WWI for ABC1. She lives in Melbourne with her husband and three children.


Grab a copy of The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka here

all-the-birds-singingAll the Birds, Singing

by Evie Wyld

Who or what is watching Jake Whyte from the woods?

Jake Whyte is the sole resident of an old farmhouse on an unnamed island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. It’s just her, her untamed companion, Dog, and a flock of sheep. Which is how she wanted it to be. But something is coming for the sheep – every few nights it picks one off, leaves it in rags.

It could be anything. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumours of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is Jake’s unknown past, perhaps breaking into the present, a story hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, in a landscape of different colour and sound, a story held in the scars that stripe her back.

Set between Australia and a remote English island, All the Birds, Singing is the story of one how one woman’s present comes from a terrible past. It is the second novel from the award-winning author of After the Fire, A Still Small Voice.

evie-wyldAbout the Author

Evie Wyld runs Review, a small independent bookshop London. Her first novel, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and a Betty Trask Award. In 2011 she was listed as one of the Culture Show’s Best New British Novelists. She was also shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Grab a copy of All the Birds, Singing here


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 15,891 other followers

%d bloggers like this: