Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and the Prime Minister’s Prize for Literature
In this sweeping epic of friendship, toil, hope and failed promise, multi-award-winning author Roger McDonald follows the story of Kingsley Colts as he chases the ghost of himself through the decades, and in and out of the lives and affections of the citizens of 'The Isabel', a slice of Australia scattered with prospectors, artists, no-hopers and visionaries. Against this spacious backdrop of sheep stations, timeless landscapes and the Five Alls pub, men play out their fates, conduct their rivalries and hope for the best.
Major Dunc Buckler, 'misplaced genius and authentic ratbag', scours the country for machinery in a World War that will never find him. Wayne Hovell, slave to 'moral duty', carries the physical and emotional scars of Colts's early rebellion, but also finds himself the keeper of his redemption. Normie Powell, son of a rugby-playing minister, finds his own mysticism as a naturalist, while warm-hearted stock dealer Alan Hooke longs for understanding in a house full of women. They are men shaped by the obligations and expectations of a previous generation, all striving to define themselves in their own language, on their own terms.
'When Colts Ran', written in Roger McDonald's rich and piercingly observant style, in turns humorous and hard-bitten, charts the ebb and flow of human fortune, and our fraught desire to leave an indelible mark on society and those closest to us. It shows how loyalties shape us in the most unexpected ways. It is the story of how men 'strike at beauty' as they fall to the earth.
Reading Group Book Questions
About The Author
- While When Colts Ran opens and closes with Kingsley Colts, and he is clearly the main character, he often fades in and out of the storyline, sometimes on the periphery, rarely taking centre stage. Though not always physically present, discuss how he defines the book’s themes.
- There are many examples of mentors throughout the book – father to son, guardian to ward, one generation to the next. What are the main relationships in these categories and how do they change over the course of the novel? What are the inherent conflicts; how do they build community and identity?
- How are the themes of sin and redemption played out over the course of the novel? Discuss the role of the painting Goats in Colts’s redemption – is his redemption even complete? How might Colts survey his life at the end of the novel?
- While the central figures of the novel are all men, the women possess a strength that often defines the men and directs the course of events. Do these women make When Colts Ran a more satisfying novel?
- There was nothing more definite when it came to promise than the worn old earth’ By personalising the land – ‘the Isabel District’, ‘the Isabel River’ – Roger McDonald has endowed the environment with an almost human presence. How are landscape and the natural sciences used in the novel? Does the persistence of nature overrule the actions of men?
Roger McDonald was born at Young, New South Wales, and educated at country schools and in Sydney. He began his working life as a teacher, ABC producer, and book editor, wrote poetry for several years, but in his thirties turned to fiction, expressing the feeling that for him, at least, poetry was "unable to express a full range of characters and moods, the larger panorama of Australian life that I felt was there to portray". His first novel was 1915, a novel of Gallipoli, winner of the Age Book of the Year, and made into a highly successful eight-part ABC-TV mini-series (now on DVD). Slipstream, Rough Wallaby, Water Man and The Slap followed, each of these novels drawing intensively on imaginative, poetic takes on rural living. "The poetry of fiction is not a writing style but something in people's lives, where a place or a season, an occupation or an obsession transforms existence - where something powerful but not perhaps well understood by the participants creates the drama out of a handful of dust and a few drops of water." "I like the humour of observation,": he says. "Describe accurately, get a laugh, the sting of truth is always surprising. Trust the Australian accent and find connection to the rocks and dirt as swift as lightning." Since 1980 McDonald has lived on farms (no farm animals except poultry and a corrugated iron sheep, these days) outside Braidwood, south-eastern New South Wales, with intervals spent in Sydney and New Zealand. His account of travelling the outback with a team of New Zealand shearers, Shearers' Motel, won the National Book Council Banjo Award for non-fiction. His bestselling novel Mr Darwin's Shooter, was awarded the New South Wales, Victorian, and South Australian Premiers' Literary Awards, and the National Fiction Award at the 2000 Adelaide Writers' Week. The Ballad of Desmond Kale won the 2006 Miles Franklin Award and South Australian Festival Prize for Fiction. A long story that became part of When Colts Ran was awarded the O. Henry Prize (USA) in 2008.