5 minute read

Marion Halligan Biography

Marion Halligan comments:

Nationality: Australian. Born: Marion Mildred Crothall, Newcastle, New South Wales, 1940. Education: University College, 1957-62, B.A.(honours) in education 1962. Career: Teacher, Canberra High School, Australian Capital Territory, 1963-65, Canberra Church of England Girls' Grammar School, 1974-86. Since 1993, chair of literature, Board of Australia Council. Writer-in-residence, Charles Stuart University, Riverina, 1990. Awards: Patricia Hackett prize for best creative contribution to Westerly, 1985; Butterly/Earla Hooper award, for short story; Steele Rudd award, 1989, and Braille book of the year, 1989, for The Living Hothouse; Geraldine Pascall award, 1990, for critical writing; Australia/New Zealand Exchange, 1991; Keesing Studio Cite Internationale des Arts, Paris, 1991; Award for Gastronomic writing, 1991, for Eat My Words; Age book of the year, 1992, ACT book of the year, 1993, 3M talking book of the year, 1993, and Nita B. Kibble award, 1994, for Lovers' Knots; The Newton-John award, 1994. Agent: Margaret Connolly, 37 Ormond Street, Paddington, New South Wales 2021, Australia.



Self Possession. Brisbane, University of Queensland Press, 1987.

The Hanged Man in the Garden. Melbourne, Penguin, 1989.

Spider Cup. Melbourne, Penguin, 1990.

Lovers' Knots. Melbourne, Heinemann, 1992; London, Minerva, 1995.

Wishbone. Melbourne, Heinemann, 1994.

Cockles of the Heart. Port Melbourne, Australia, Minerva, 1996.

The Golden Dress. Ringwood, Victoria, Penguin, 1999.

Short Stories

The Living Hothouse. Brisbane, University of Queensland Press, 1988.

The Worry Box. Melbourne, Heinemann, 1993.

Collected Stories. St. Lucia, Queensland, University of QueenslandPress, 1997.


Gastronomica (produced Melbourne Festival, 1994).


Out of the Picture. Canberra, National Library of Australia, 1990.

Eat My Words. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1990.

Editor, with Rosanne Fitzgibbon, The Gift of Story: Three Decades of UQP Short Stories. St. Lucia, Queensland, University of Queensland Press, 1998; Portland, Oregon, International Specialized Book Services, 1998.


Manuscript Collections:

National Library of Australia, Canberra.

I am interested in words and stories. I think that when you find the words you find out what it is you want to say. Stories are what people are good at, both telling them and listening to them. In both fiction and non-fiction story-telling is important, though it may not always be simple; sometimes narratives are hidden.

Looking back over my writing I realise it is often about choice and chance, though I don't start with these notions. And I write about ordinary lives, and how amazing they are.

* * *

Marion Halligan's fiction moves through daily life to its structuring fantasies, personal and cultural. Her narratives of "what if" interrupt routine: Beyond the ordinary, other worlds beckon. At the beginning of "The Orangery," found in her third collection of short stories, The Worry Box, a woman sits on a train reading. From the seat opposite a stranger breaks into her containment. Lift your eyes, he admonishes her. The world is there to see. Get off at the next stop and visit the stationmaster's orangery. When the train halts, she looks out the window at orange trees covered with flower and fruit and, yielding to a sudden desire to breathe the sharp scented air of orange blossom, she puts down her book and follows the man. Suddenly the narrative, moving along a trajectory of erotic seduction, veers off into death. Anticipating elegance and artifice, the woman encounters explosion, a bomb blast, bodies in bits. What was she doing there? Did she choose, or was she lured? Where were the meanings for this violent intrusion?

Questions like these have disturbed Halligan's writing since she began publishing seriously in 1981. She is a writer of unease and yet a celebrator of story and the senses. In less than ten years she has become one of Australia's best-known writers, highly regarded for her work across an unusual range of forms. Her short stories, which have won many prizes, appear in literary and mainstream magazines, are read on national radio, and are frequently anthologized. The first collection, The Living Hothouse, with its stories set in Australia, New Zealand, and France, won the Steele Rudd Award and the Braille Book of the Year Award. Since that initial book, she has published over six years two more collections of short fiction, four novels, and a work of nonfiction. Her most ambitious novel to date, Lovers' Knots, won the Age Book of the Year Award. Set in the coastal town of Newcastle, where Halligan grew up and went to university, the novel begins as if it were a family saga covering the century 1911-2011, but its narrative denies the conventional chronology evoked and shatters into the fragments caught by photographs.

Halligan is fascinated by story and, refusing as she does the borders of telling, her narratives surface in unexpected places. She has written the libretto for a children's opera, a trilogy of plays for the Melbourne Theater Company, and the narratives to accompany photographs in Out of the Picture, commissioned by the National Library of Australia. Above all, however, she is admired for writing food. Food and story, she has said, are the most important things in life. Together they are irresistibly seductive. We cannot live without them. Probably her work of widest appeal is Eat My Words (winner of the Prize for Gastronomic Writing), a book of food and story set largely in France and loosely structured as autobiography. Its sequel, A Second Helping (forthcoming) will within a framework of travel through France offer readers another helping of words. Metaphor and reality took a new twist in Halligan's œuvre during 1994 when the patrons dining in five opulent 19th-century restaurants in Melbourne ate their way through menus specially devised as accompaniments for theater pieces performed between courses. Each of Halligan's five "Gastronomicas," commissioned by the Melbourne International Festival, was created for the particular eating space and drew for its stories on writers like Dickens and Wilde selected as fitting that restaurant. Diners ate the highest of cuisine amid the best of story.

Such pampering of desire takes strange twists in Halligan's most recent novel, Wishbone. Like the fairy tales where wishes come true to the considerable consternation of those careless with words, the wealthy characters in this fable of contemporary Australia find themselves swept up in narratives of murder, sex, and intrigue they never anticipated in their wishing. In the materialistic culture imagined, the opportunities for pleasures and indulgence abound, but no narrative of desire is genuinely to be wished. This novel has received little of the critical praise accorded Lovers' Knots. Perhaps those who delighted in the humor, warmth, and poignancy of the preceding novel are uncomfortable with the wicked wit and uncompromising satire of Wishbone. Gender may play its part. Although women writers in Australia have incorporated the satiric moment into their fiction, the sustained narratives of satire have belonged predominantly to men (such as Patrick White, Frank Moorhouse, and Morris Lurie). Marion Halligan is praised for writing the meals set on Australian tables; making a meal of Australia may be another matter, may be unbecoming in a woman writer. If the cultural cringe is gone from Australian readers, the gender cringe still seems to linger.

—Lucy Frost

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Bob Graham (1942-) Biography - Awards to Francis Hendy Biography - Born to Sew