Gillian’S Many Stories

Gillian Mears’ story, both her personal history and her latest novel, are beset by tough tragedy and instances of beauty. Her work may soon be scrawled on the Miles Franklin shortlist.

The story of Gillian Mears might seem the equal to her novel. She is one of seven female authors on this year’s Miles Franklin longlist, and stands a chance to see her name on the shortlist, to be released this Thursday, May 3.

Gillian Mears’ personal story is not without wretched adversity. When only 31, the author, who had already released many lauded works in her twenties such as The Mint Lawn, was struck down with multiple sclerosis.

Gillian, now in her late 40s, is wheelchair bound. Yet she has not meekly departed from the pleasures of life.

Laura Kroetsch (see video), director of the recent Adelaide Writers’ Week, has spoken of Gillian, calling her both one of the country's finest novelists and also "one of the brave people."

Her friend, and fellow writer, Susan Johnson recently wrote of her with kindness in The Advertiser saying: "What can I tell you about her? That she was easy in her body and that I thought she was fearless."

Susan wrote of Gillian’s ability, even in the shrunken world of illness, to savour the charming moments that are seemingly banal.

"I found the stricken Mears describing the making of a cup of coffee, the foaming of the milk, the exquisite sensation in the mouth of water infused with the flavor of roasted coffee beans," Susan wrote.

Then there is her latest work, Foal’s Bread. It is her first novel in 16 years and it finds itself on the longlist for the Miles Franklin award.

The novel is set in the towns and farms of northern New South Wales. The narrative begins in the period just preceding World War Two, and it follows the travails of 14-year-old Noah. She is pregnant to her uncle, Nipper.

The tale, tough and rough and beautiful, arcs from this initial point over a two-generation period, with the heyday of the Australian showjumping circuit an ever-present element.

"It was Mears' love for older Australian horsemen in particular, as well as for horses, that led to the wondrous creation of Foal's Bread and its brilliant capturing of a lost Australian vernacular. Ever since she was a small girl she loved sitting around listening to old horsemen talking," Susan said of Gillian’s inspiration.

Stephanie Cross, writing for The Guardian, said of the novel that it is "dappled with fast-moving light and shade, occasionally swelling with romance."

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