When I was a child my parents didn’t try to limit or censor the books I read; so it was that The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough was the first grown-up novel I encountered. I didn’t understand some of it, but the parts I did understand stay with me still. In that book was a grand Australian story. There was landscape, there was drama, there was a heroine. It wasn’t like any other Australian book I’d read, and it gave me the sense that amidst all the books from the northern hemisphere that fill school curricula and best-of lists, there were stories for us, written by us.
In my teenage years other Australian books left a great impression: I remember lying in bed one moonless night on a Riverina farm, reading The Nargun and the Stars by Patricia Wrightson, convinced – and a little scared – that the nargun was about to roll up to the window; I was desperate to visit Harrington Street in The Rocks in Sydney, wondering if I would encounter Ruth Park’s Beatie Bow there.
Later, as an adult, I fell in love with Australian country music with its stories of landscape and work and friendship, and its acknowledgement of a broad spectrum of Australian experience. I might never have visited the Nullarbor plain but Kasey Chambers evoked it for me, just as Beccy Cole conjured the Adelaide Hills and The McClymonts their childhood in Grafton.
Through those books and songs I came to better understand Australia and Australians, but it wasn’t until my first trip to the Northern Territory in 2014 that I felt pieces coming together that I hadn’t even known were apart. I grew up close to the water in Sydney, with all the beauty that brings; there, in the Territory, I felt something else, something fundamental, click into place. This was landscape at once unfamiliar and comforting. The Territory held drama and change and challenge, and you could tell that just by driving down the road. If I had been thinking about a way to honour those Australian stories I’ve always loved by writing a novel, visiting the Territory – and returning twice since – showed me how and where I should set it.
The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club is my way of paying tribute to the Australian landscape, to the role that stories play in all of our lives and, most centrally, to the friendships that traverse time and distance which are also a feature of Australian life.
This is a big country, and the people we love may be scattered across it, but in sharing stories we stay connected.
With warmest wishes,
SOPHIE GREEN is the author of THE INAUGURAL MEETING OF THE FAIRVALE LADIES BOOK CLUB. She is a publisher who lives in Sydney. She has written several fiction and non-fiction books, some under other names. In her spare time she writes about country music on her blog, Jolene.