Gillian Mears, author of Foal’s Bread, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |November 4, 2011

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Gillian Mears

author of Foal’s Bread

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Lismore Base Hospital, northern NSW. One of my earliest memories is of being taken to see the Richmond in flood. When my family moved south to nearby Grafton, the Clarence River floods of the 1970s remain etched in my mind because we lived in the old ferryman’s house in Miller St. Although dux of Grafton High School, more important lessons took place on the river. Firstly, jumping my sister’s horses on the levee bank in an eccentric paddock that from a distance looked strung up with string.

Later, my first kiss when the moon was full over the river was an interesting lesson of a different kind.

Then went to Sydney where I completed a Communications degree at UTS.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

After a first reading of C W Ceram’s Gods, Graves and Scholars I knew that I wanted to be an archaeologist. One of my most precious items as a twelve year old was a tiny but apparently authentic figurine of the Egyptian God Horus.

I hadn’t quite turned 18 though before I’d resigned from the Women’s College and an Archaeology degree at Sydney University.

By thirty I was well established as a writer, an occupation not without some similarities to archaeology as I sift through the experiences and people of my life, seeking the answers to many mysteries.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That I would have four children before I turned thirty. I left it too late and eventually for a variety of reasons realised I was never going to experience motherhood – great big twangs of disbelief and grief even now about this lack.

4. What were three works of art, a book or painting or piece of music, etc you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

The head of Rameses II on the stairwell of the British Museum.

Any story or novel by Carson McCullers.

Beethoven’s late string quartets.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

Only something with a sustained and internally elegant structure could adequately carry the story of the Nancarrows. Although an earlier short story “The Third Triplet” hinted at Uncle Nipper truths, it was only a beginning.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel

I see that for all the doom and darkness it explores, that Foal’s Bread is above anything else a thrilling celebration of all the things beloved to me on the earth. These include horses, salt of the earth farmers, floods, rivers and the old round showgrounds of northern NSW.

(BBGuru: from the publishers…

The long-awaited new novel from the award-winning author of The Grass Sister tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and the high-jumping horse circuit prior to the Second World War. A love story of impossible beauty and sadness, it is also a chronicle of dreams ‘turned inside out’, and miracles that never last, framed against a world both tender and unspeakably hard.

The sound of horses’ hooves turns hollow on the farms west of Wirri. If a man can still ride, if he hasn’t totally lost the use of his legs, if he hasn’t died to the part of his heart that understands such things, then he should go for a gallop. At the very least he should stand at the road by the river imagining that he’s pushing a horse up the steep hill that leads to the house on the farm once known as One Tree.

Set in hardscrabble farming country and around the country show high-jumping circuit that prevailed in rural New South Wales prior to the Second World War, Foal’s Bread tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and their fortunes as dictated by the vicissitudes of the land.

It is a love story of impossible beauty and sadness, a chronicle of dreams ‘turned inside out’, and miracles that never last, framed against a world both tender and unspeakably hard. Written in luminous prose and with an aching affinity for the landscape the book describes, Foal’s Bread is the work of a born writer at the height of her considerable powers. It is a stunning work of remarkable originality and power, one that confirms Gillian Mears’ reputation as one of our most exciting and acclaimed writers.)

Click here to order your copy of Foal’s Bread from Booktopia, Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

A paradoxical feeling of longing and completion. Possibly an intention to go to a show ring when it isn’t show day there to breathe in the stately magnificence of the shade trees planted such a long time ago.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Cormac McCarthy for his unflinching depiction of human beauty and human suffering. Actually impossible to answer this question with one name so can I also say that any poem written by Clarence River born Geoff Page almost invariably fills me with delight of one kind of another. I envy his ability with rhythm, humour and his way of writing rural Australia with all the flow and tension of a superb jazz riff.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To finish quite a few new short stories. I think there might also be two more novels.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Follow your heart but also listen carefully to editorial tips from somebody you trust.

Gillian, thank you for playing.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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