5 favourite works of art – on RN Books & Arts Top Shelf

Michael Cathcart and Radio National’s Books & Arts have a lovely section called Top Shelf. In this 10 minute edition I’ve shared a few cherished memories across art, film, music, novels and a Mary Oliver poem  http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandarts/top-shelf:-heather-rose/8075752

Why falling in love with great literature matters …

The Mercury published an edited version of a speech I recently gave to The Friends School. If you have a budding (or languishing) reader, this might prove useful. The whole speech appears in a previous blog below. Happy reading.  screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-5-07-53-pmThis lovely image with thanks: http://thats-normal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/book-623163_1280.jpg

A short essay on writing The Museum of Modern Love

The Age & The SMH published this article on the writing of The Museum of Modern Love.

The essay is here too (and without the ads!)


The writing of The Museum of Modern Love

As a writer you hear lots of stories about the writing process. How sometimes novels are written fast.  How novels come through like tuning into a radio frequency and all the writer has to do is simply transcribe them. William Faulkner, it is said, wrote As I Lay Dying in 6 weeks while he worked nights as an attendant in a parking garage. This is not one of those stories.

The Museum of Modern Love has had at least five titles as it emerged. It was initially written as a first person narrative, then from seven different first person perspectives, then in the third person, and now it’s back to a sort of first person narrative. (Read it, you’ll understand).  And it took eleven years.

It all started on a visit in 2005 to the NGV to see the Dutch Masters. I wandered into a side gallery and found a black and white photograph depicting a table set with some grey shadowy shapes. The small panel beside the photograph described a performance piece called Rhythm 0 by Marina Abramovic.  In Naples in 1974 Abramovic had laid a table with 72 items – these included a rose, a bottle of olive oil, a loaf of bread, a feather, chains, a whip, a knife, a gun and a single bullet. For six hours Abramovic was completely passive. The audience stripped her, cut her, wrote on her face, chained her to the table, and someone loaded the gun, put it to her head and attempted to make her pull the trigger. The descriptor continued with a short biography noting that Abramovic had also walked the Great Wall of China with her once-lover and performance partner Ulay as a symbolic gesture to end their relationship.

Reading that short panel I thought, ‘Now there’s a story.’ And it took hold. I had just written The Butterfly Man – a novel based on the disappearance of the infamous British peer, Lord Lucan. Another novel about water, fish and transformation was already underway. It was called The River Wife. The early writing of that novel won an international fellowship in 2006 with the Varuna Foundation that took me to Scotland for a month in Edinburgh as a guest of the UNESCO City of Literature. There I would write a first draft of The River Wife which was published by Allen & Unwin in 2009.

At the end of the time in Edinburgh I drove north and then out to the Isle of Skye, where I’d lived and worked through a long, wet summer in 1983. There, in a small hotel, on a quiet summer evening, a story really began to form in my mind of a character based on Marina Abramovic who had given her life, and her love, to art. I went upstairs around 10pm and wrote until 5am. At the time, I thought I was really onto it. That this would be a quick novel. That it would simply flow through me. How wrong I was!

When you’re a mother of three children, a wife, when you run a family business and have some interesting health challenges, life gets pretty full. So the novel had to fit in around the edges. This is often the lot of female artists. We do not get the focused, protracted, uninterrupted periods of thinking time that have often been the bastion of male artists. We must allow our minds to work while we’re ferrying children, doing washing at midnight and cooking pancakes at 7am. And I had to complete The River Wife for publication. It was the priority.

But while The River Wife was emerging, I also kept at the ‘Marina novel’, as I would come to refer to it. In those days there was very little on the internet about Abramovic. And much of what was there was written in Italian or Dutch. So in those first years I worked solely from my imagination. Then I happened upon the library of David Walsh, creator of Tasmania’s brilliant art gallery – The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). At that stage the museum was a large shed in the back blocks of Hobart and the library was a series of small partitioned spaces and a couple of cupboards stacked with boxes. The site for the Museum would soon be excavated, but like my book, it was still more an idea than reality.

One of the cupboards became my research space. Here was every book ever published about Marina Abramovic. It was like discovering my family history. I felt pieces of understanding falling into place. And then someone mentioned to me that Marina Abramovic was doing a show at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 2010 and I knew I had to be there.

I had been to New York before and despite believing myself to be a person much better suited to remote beaches, old forests and wide blue skies, I surprised myself by falling in love with that beautiful evocation of city. So going back felt easy. I took a room again at the Chelsea Hotel (complete with worn brocade velvet couch, Harlequin-tiled bathroom and upright piano).  It turned out to be one of the last months the Chelsea would still be the Chelsea before renovations would get underway that have no doubt removed the decades of creative emollient that so lubricated the place. From there, every day for several weeks, I went to MoMA to see Abramovic’s 75-day endurance performance The Artist is Present.

I sat opposite Abramovic, and met her gaze, four times. I interviewed her gallerist, Sean Kelly and her photographer Marco Anelli. I talked to people who were there watching and participating in the performance. And I wrote. I can never sleep in New York so there were long nights at my laptop, and long days sitting on the floor of MoMA waiting in the queue to sit, or simply observe.

You might think that from there, it would be easy. But it wasn’t. Because in seeing Abramovic, in visiting her Retrospective, I realised I could never create a character based on her. It would never do her justice. Any art I could think of was always going to be surpassed by her real story. So I requested of Marina that she be a character in the novel. She said yes. And it began to fall into place.

However it’s not easy to put an extremely powerful Serbian (who is still alive) at the heart of your story. For a long time I grappled with my fear. Writing is all about overcoming fear. But this felt like a PhD’s worth of fear. And there were the normal issues with structure, voice, dialogue… and the other characters who were not always forthcoming. Perhaps they were intimidated by Marina too. One enormous blessing was that with MONA built, David Walsh gave me a studio to write in, and I became the inaugural writer-in-residence in 2012-13. It was a sanctuary.

In 2010 I had also begun writing a children’s book with my friend Danielle Wood, under our pseudonym Angelica Banks. The first book led to a series that is published internationally.  So suddenly we had intense deadlines. But these books were exactly the sort of delightful literary reprieve required when you are dealing, on the other hand, with a novel about marriage, love and art.

The third book in the children’s series was published in May this year. It’s called Blueberry Pancakes Forever. And now at last after 11 years, The Museum of Modern Love will be published this month. It’s the story of a film composer, Arky Levin, whose marriage is facing an excruciating reality. He is drawn to MoMA to observe the woman in the red dress who is meeting the gaze of whoever sits in the chair opposite. And life unfolds.

Curiously, the world of imagination has begun to mirror the world of fact. While I was writing The Museum of Modern Love, I began a degree in Fine Art. But that’s another story.

Heather Rose

August 2016



The Museum of Modern Love is published this month by Allen & Unwin. Heather Rose is the author of seven novels. She writes for both adults and children and has been shortlisted, longlisted or won awards for crime writing, sci-fi/ fantasy and literary fiction. She lives by the sea in Tasmania. www.heatherrrose.com.au


The Wheeler Centre interview – on muses, dinner companions and why imagination needs to be taught.

Up now at The Wheeler Centre is this interview.

Heather Rose is a novelist, art student and businesswoman, who writes for both adults and young readers. Her seventh novel, The Museum of Modern Love, is out now. Heather chatted with us about Leo Tolstoy, Edith Wharton and her dream of founding a School of Imagination.

The Museum of Modern Love – almost published



To anyone who wonders how long novels take to write … well, sometimes they take a very long time. Here is the cover art of my new novel –  The Museum of Modern Love – about to be published in Australia September 2016. It’s taken 11 years. I did write 4 other novels in the meantime – but it’s been a lesson in endurance. As the cover suggests, it’s about art – and also marriage. And Marina Abramovic is a character in the novel. I hope you enjoy it.

Somerset Celebration of Literature 2016

Every year, in the hinterland of the Gold Coast, a most remarkable celebration of children’s literature takes place – the  Somerset Celebration of Literature –  at the Somerset College. Angelica Banks was lucky enough to be one of the thirty authors for 2016. It’s hard to express the scale of this festival. There are literally thousands of children streaming in from across Queensland to listen to authors and engage in sessions about books and words and writing.

One group of primary school students travelled 12 hours from Rockhampton by train for one day at the festival. Another had travelled 6 hours by bus.

From the extraordinary students who provide individual valets for each writer to ensure we can navigate the large campus and find our marquees, to the book shop team, the catering team, the green room team, the people who set up and put away everything it takes to create this festival, right through to the brilliant drivers who chauffeur us to various destinations, the school staff, and the teachers who make everything possible – bringing their students to experience and explore the love of literature – this is a festival that is full of heart.

Here we are about to start a workshop session wearing our Angelica Banks summer garb – having traded our long blue velvet coats etc for hats – given the 30 degree heat and 90% humidity.

Angelica Banks at Somerset Celebration of Literature 2016
Angelica Banks at Somerset Celebration of Literature 2016


Bel Canto by Anne Patchett

[vc_row fullwidth=”false” attached=”false” padding=”0″ visibility=”” animation=””][vc_column border_color=”” visibility=”” width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]From an occasional series of reviews in collaboration with the Islington Hotel to celebrate great writing and the discussion of literature.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

I have come to this book late in the scheme of things. Bel Canto won the Orange Prize and the Pen/ Faulkner Award in 2002. But somehow I missed it. 2002 was a busy year. My children were 2,7 and 13. Not much time for reading. I was also writing The Butterfly Man, being something of an activist, and running an advertising agency. It was a busy year. But having waited all this time to discover it, I suspect I have enjoyed Bel Canto more.

The story appears to be so simple that I found myself thinking that Patchett could never sustain a novel on such a premise. A world-famous opera singer is invited to sing at the lavish birthday dinner of a high profile Japanese business man. The setting is an unnamed and (possibly) Central American country and the dinner is the idea of the President of that unnamed country. The guests are a multi-cultural lot drawn from the international business community and diplomatic services. The food is beautiful. The flowers exquisite. The opera singer splendid. But things quickly go wrong.

Just as the last note of the diva is heard, the grand residence is invaded by a group of armed terrorists. It’s easy to call such people terrorists, now, in the 21st century. It’s become a favourite label. Yet in truth these people are protestors of the current government. They have seen children shot down in the street, and friends and relatives incarcerated. They want the people they love who are in jail to be released. They think that by kidnapping the President they will acquire a powerful bargaining chip.

Unfortunately the President has cancelled his attendance at the dinner at the last minute. Uncertain how to proceed, the small band take the guests hostage, hoping their demands will still be met.

And so the story ensues. Where we might imagine violence and hysteria, Patchett brings a tone of strange calm. The same sort of calm before a tornado hits. There is an electricity in the air borne of emotion. And those emotions grow and distil. From this most unusual and traumatic experience of being held captive at gun-point, and of being a captor, unusual relationships form based on a love of music, chess, literacy and language.

A young Japanese interpreter, Gen, becomes a central character in helping this disparate group understand one another. The terrorists slowly becomes individuals, not the faceless gun-toting bandits of the first night. The guests find commonality.

There is a sense of metaphor about this novel that alludes to the entire human condition. Being thrown into a single world with disparate needs and agendas, cultures and histories. What brings us together? The things we discover that we share in common. Food. Time. Fear. Intellect. And love.

This is a most unusual love story. Not only between individuals, but for life itself. In the splendor of nature. The fragile experience of being human. We know it will end – and badly for some of us. But still it is an experience of days. And in this evocation, Bel Canto is luminous and unforgettable.

This is an occasional series of reviews in collaboration with the Islington Hotel to celebrate great writing and the discussion of literature.

PS. The Islington is Hobart’s (and one of Australia’s) most beautiful and elegant places to stay. Perfect for couples wanting the ultimate retreat. For more about the luxurious accommodation at The Islington visit: www.islingtonhotel.com

And for the most beautiful place for groups to stay in Hobart (especially those who love to read) discover our own Library House – www.libraryhouse.com.au[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert


The Signature of All Things – by Elizabeth Gilbert – the second in an occasional series for the beautiful Islington Hotel, Hobart.

“From 19th century America to Tahiti and Europe, this is a novel of science and sensuality, intellect and exploration. It has all the grit and colour of Dickens, but the quiet control and social wisdom of George Eliot.”

Elizabeth Gilbert is famous for that bestselling memoir Eat Pray Love. But The Signature of All Things is a return to fiction for Gilbert – the first time in 12 years – and her ease with the form of the novel shows. This is an exquisite story so vivid and vibrant in its characters and plot that it does that wonderful thing very good novels do – it carried me away entirely.

The novel begins in Dickensian fashion with: “Alma Whittaker, born with the century, slid into our world on the fifth of January, 1800.” Alma Whittaker grows up in the midst of extraordinary wealth created by her maverick father through the legal and illegal procurement of rare plants from across the world.

The opening chapters relate her father’s extraordinary life “while we wait for the young girl to grow up…”. These include one of the most wonderful evocations of Cook’s third voyage that it should be required reading for all Australians.

And so young Alma does grow up. On the extensive estate of White Acre, with its gardens and hothouses, Alma finds herself drawn to the infinite wonder of botany. This will lead to a lifetime of enquiry and pursuit – and what a lifetime it is!

Alma is neither beautiful nor petite (always something of a relief in literature) and so her love life is fraught with significant challenges. Her true exploration is both physical and intellectual. Through her fascination with mosses, she develops a pioneering theory on transmutation, paralleling that of Darwin and his younger colleague Alfred Russell Wallace.

From 19th century America to Tahiti and Europe, this is a novel of science and sensuality, intellect and exploration. It has all the grit and colour of Dickens, but the quiet control and social wisdom of George Eliot.

Gilbert researched the novel painstakingly – using 19th century letters to inform the voice and vocabulary of the novel (Walt Whitman’s letters and Captain Cook’s journals were of particular interest.) Every page is imbued with a reverence for nature, science and exploration. And yet this is a novel of pace and great humour. I so loved Alma, and believed in her so entirely, that at one point I googled her to ensure she really wasn’t a person I had missed in history. No, she wasn’t. She, and her marvellous adventures through a century of human evolution, are completely the product of Gilbert’s rich and exciting imagination.

The Signature of All Things is an epic and satisfying journey of some 500 pages.  It is a beautiful book to read, and equally to listen to. The audio book (via Audible.com) has the unsurpassed Juliet Stevenson as narrator. Enjoy!


PS. The Islington is Hobart’s (and one of Australia’s) most beautiful and elegant places to stay. Perfect for couples wanting the ultimate retreat.  For more about the luxurious accommodation at The Islington visit: www.islingtonhotel.com

 And for the most beautiful place for groups to stay in Hobart (especially those who love to read) discover our own Library House – www.libraryhouse.com.au

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

The exquisite Islington Hotel in Hobart asked me if I’d like to write about books. So here is the first in a new monthly review of a book I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed. And stay tuned for more about books and writing at the Islington through winter …

The Burgess Boys – by Elizabeth Strout

My grandfather was a Burgess – the youngest of many brothers – so the title of this novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Elizabeth Strout – felt warmly familiar.

In the novel, the lives of the three Burgess children are shaped by a freak accident. Now grown-up, the Burgess boys have settled in New York – both are lawyers, one famous with a rich wife from Connecticut, the other divorced and working for Legal Aid. The brothers are called back home to Shirley Falls in Maine where their frosty sister, Susan, still lives. Their nephew has just committed a hate crime.

BURGESS BOYS 1This is a novel of its time – yet without a moment of preaching or misplaced passion. Strout has a crisp, vivid style and evokes a range of classes and political views in this extraordinary novel of connection and dislocation. Like J.K Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, Strout is fearless in her evocation of character, and it’s the characters that will hold you until the beautifully woven end. (How rare to find a satisfying end to a novel these days – but The Burgess Boys is flawless.)

Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Olive Kitteridge, a collection of connected short stories. One of these stories becomes a chapter in The Burgess Boys. I haven’t read Olive Kitteridge yet, but now it’s waiting on the To Read shelf.

Heather Rose

PS. The Islington is Hobart’s (and one of Australia’s) most beautiful and elegant places to stay. Perfect for couples wanting the ultimate retreat.  For more about the luxurious accommodation at The Islington visit: www.islingtonhotel.com

 And for the most beautiful place for groups to stay in Hobart (especially those who love to read) discover our own Library House – www.libraryhouse.com.au