All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Melbourne Writers Fest – Sunday 26th August {Part 2}

on August 28, 2012

The third session I ended up attending on Sunday was an In Conversation event with Gillian Mears, author of Foal’s Bread. I read Foal’s Bread recently and really loved it – it’s not an easy book to read, nor is it a cheerful book. It’s full of a lot of really sad moments and some disturbing themes but the lyrical writing and vivid imagery was second to none. I was very interested in seeing Gillian Mears, as I don’t know anything about her other than Foal’s Bread was her first novel published for 16 years. Marg also came along to this session and before it started we were able to very briefly say hi to Michelle from Book To The Future and Kylie Ladd, Australian author of After The Fall and Last Summer. I’ve met Kylie before, but it was some time ago now! The line for this event was already huge so Marg and I hurried to go join the queue and we were briefly separated due to us having different types of passes – I was shuffled along to a different line and found myself behind Jason Steger from The First Tuesday Bookclub show on ABC. I know my face did that ‘hey I recognise you!’ expression because he smiled politely but I was too shy to actually say anything! Anyway, moving on!

Gillian Mears was being interviewed by Romona Koval, who used to host The Book Show on ABC radio. The session began with Gillian reading from Foal’s Bread, a section of the book that I feel was a showcase for Noah’s personality as well as their lives on the land and the passion that drove them.

Mears said that the origin of Foal’s Bread came from a sketch that her elder sister did for her at her bequest. The sketch was of a pie-bald horse mucking up for a farrier – that sketch became the scene that Mears read to open this session. She said she didn’t realise for a little while that the hero of the book was going to be this sort of ugly, spirited pie-bald mare. She says that she still writes her novels longhand, with a pencil and doesn’t use a laptop. She feels that there is a grace and beauty in sketching.

The novel is a story of “love and luck” – the Foal’s Bread of the title is something she has experienced. Mears said that it’s almost like a ‘gift from the mare’s placenta’ and is often found in the mouth of a foal just born. It’s sort of like a spongy piece of liver and you can put it in salt and dry it out – apparently they’re said to bring luck so people would often keep them when they found them. Her sister gave her a piece that she dried out and it did form a heart shape, something else that was woven into the story of Foal’s Bread.

Mears said that recently she has been re-reading some of her earlier novels and she sees that some of them were like a sketch for this book. She has a love affair with the period of time between the World Wars that encompasses the names, the manners and mannerisms, the life. Quite often she and her first husband would go to cemeteries and look at names on headstones from era’s gone by. She loves the songs and dances of that time as well and something in her longs to have been born back then.

Foal’s Bread has led to her receiving incredible letters from readers, more so than any of her other books.

She said that “the horse is between the father and the lover, in a girls life”. Riding was obviously something she was very, very passionate about growing up, she had numerous horses, worked with racehorses (she grew up in Grafton in north-eastern NSW and they are well-entrenched in country racing circles and have a racing carnival that co-incides with the Jacaranda Festival. She called the town “almost embarrassingly purple”, referring to when the jacarandas all flower). Riding taught her gentle hands and patience and how to be courageous. Then she talked of no longer being able to ride – this happens to Roley in Foal’s Bread and some of the emotion was so raw it had to be personal. Mears suffers from MS and as you can see in the pic above, is in a wheelchair. She confessed that it was such a “terrible grief” that she can no longer ride, a “sorrow so great that she dare not even smell the coat of a horse for fear of weeping”.  She wishes she was hardier about the illness and is slightly ashamed that she just can’t “get over it”. I sort of wanted to hug her when she said that, because I don’t see how that is something that you can just “get over”. Her love of horses, of riding, was so obvious, so clear and for her to have something that she feels so strongly for taken away from her, must be devastating. There is no real getting over that.

Ramona then brought up the incest story line in Foal’s Bread – it was discussed how Noah wasn’t portrayed as a victim and that she viewed her old uncle with love and affection. However when an older uncle has designs on her own daughter, her reaction is entirely different! She talked of some older ‘horse men’ from her youth, men who she loved talking to, who imparted knowledge and wisdom about horses. One of them was falsely gossiped about for having gotten a young girl pregnant (apparently it was a schoolboy who assaulted her) and she said that “the love for an old horseman runs thick and sweet”. Also on the topic of Foal’s Bread, Koval brought up the aunts and their cooking. Mears said that the aunts were a genuine sweet thread in the book, a balancing of the dark.

At first Mears was reluctant to publish Foal’s Bread as her sister had written a book on the high jump circuit and there was a feeling of impinging on her. She kept the book on the backburner for many years and kept working on other books – but the Nancarre family just kept bursting to life and demanding her attention and eventually she felt that she had to honour them. She admitted her sister has mixed feelings about the book – familial pride mixed with a bit of feeling that Gillian is naturally “luckier”, a hurt that stems from their old showjumping days.

She’s now working on a novel entitled The Cat With The Coloured Tail, which has been accepted for publication by Walker Books. She described it as “very little and light”.

Gillian Mears feels she hasn’t emerged as a writer who is in a wheelchair. She greatly relied on walking as a part of her writing life and it was very much a part of her “rituals” of writing. She feels trapped now, with no real idea of how to proceed even though she has books in her that she’d love to write. She is yet to test her physical process and said that until you are in a wheelchair you don’t understand that it turns you into a pretzel.

That pretty much ended the session – there were some questions from the audience and then Gillian was going to be doing a signing. Unfortunately I missed the signing as it was past lunch time and I hadn’t eaten all day so Marg and I ended up leaving in order to get something to eat. I set out to write up this session thinking that I didn’t really have much in the way of notes but I seem to have more information than I realised!

Foal’s Bread is published by Allen & Unwin and is the winner of the 2012 Prime Minister’s Literary Award For Fiction and The Age Fiction Book of the Year. It was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin 2012.



One response to “Melbourne Writers Fest – Sunday 26th August {Part 2}

  1. Tony says:

    This is one I’d like to read at some stage – it sounds like one of the better books of last year 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: