Tasmania – creative paradise


Apple Isle
Apple Isle


So this is edition #151 of Island Magazine!

Managing Editor Vern Field thought it was time to concentrate on the wealth of Tasmanian writing talent – and came up with the apple idea. So together with the wonderful Island General Manager Kate Harrison and photographer Jack Robert-Tissot we trucked off to the apple orchards of the Huon to Willie Smith’s great venue. The brilliant Sophia Pafitis helped me look glamorous, and Jack did the rest. There was also some brilliant post-production work done by Malcolm Proctor. (Thank you Mal!).

But it’s what’s within the pages of this edition that surpasses the cover entirely! So many great words, ideas and writers – James Dryburgh, Melanie Tait, Carmel Bird and many more – and there’s also the transcript of the conversation the gorgeous Benjamin Law and I had in Hobart following the Stella Prize.

If you’re not a subscriber, it’s time you were! And at the very least, run out and get a copy and support Tasmania’s brilliant literary journal and all it’s writers and creators.



The Christina Stead Prize 2017!

“I cannot express how wonderful it is to bring such an award home to Tasmania.”

Writing is a long game. Or at least it has been in my case. To those who have read my Stella Prize speech, you’ll know I’ve been writing since I was a very small child. Since before I even had words but simply knew I wanted to put pen to paper and express things. And this year, 2017, Year of Writing Miracles, has somehow emerged as a year where all that hard work has come to fruition. On May 23rd, as part of the New South Wales Premier’s Prizes, The Museum of Modern Love won the Christina Stead Prize for fiction.

The Christina Stead prize commemorates the brilliant Australian author Christina Stead. It has previously been won by the most incredible list of authors – and I am humbled and awed by finding my book among them. They include Helen Garner, Elizabeth Jolley, Beverley Farmer, Kate Grenville, Alex Miller, Robert Drewe,  J.M.Coetzee, Joan London, Merlinda Bobis, Carrie Tiffany, Michelle De Kretser, Thea Astley,  Tim Winton, David Malouf, Peter Carey …

Most excitingly, it has only once before been won by a Tasmaniam. That was back in 1989 for Helen Hodgman’s novel Broken Words. Helen was actually born in England and only spent a few teenage years in Tasmania, so this is the first time it’s gone to a born and bred Tasmanian. I’m particularly proud of that for all my fellow Tasmanian writers and the rich reading community that has so generously supported my writing over the past 20 years.

I cannot express how wonderful it is to bring such an award home to Tasmania. I hope this inspires many other writers not only in Tasmania but in all the remote parts of Australia, who often work with a sense of increased isolation from the literary centres of Melbourne and Sydney, and all writers who work long and hard at their craft in the hope of a breakthrough moment in their careers, that sometimes  – sometimes – it happens. I do hope it happens for you.

Here’s a little background from the State Library of NSW  about the award and the judges comments on The Museum of Modern Love.

About Christina Stead

The award commemorates Christina Ellen Stead (1902-1983), Australian novelist and short-story writer. Stead was born in Rockdale, New South Wales. She published fifteen novels beginning with The Salzburg Tales and Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934). Her most well-known novel The Man Who Loved Children (1940) was based on her childhood in Sydney. Stead lived most of her life overseas, in Europe and the U.S., but retained a strong sense of national identity, reviewing Australian novels for the New York Times Book Review and keeping up with news from Australia through family correspondence. Her work, including several volumes of short stories, is acclaimed for her satirical wit. Stead’s literary popularity in Australia increased significantly after her return in 1974. The same year she received the inaugural Patrick White Literary Award to recognise her lifetime achievement.

Judges’ Comments

In a now semi-famous aphorism, mid-century French philosopher Simone Weil called attention ‘the rarest and purest form of generosity’, and more than the spirit of that observation inhabits Heather Rose’s deeply striking seventh novel. Initially centred on Arky, a composer for film, The Museum of Modern Love deftly orchestrates a range of characters including the US-Serbian artist Marina Abramović. In Abramović’s 2010 work The Artist Is Present, people were invited to sit silently in a chair directly across from her in order to share each other’s gaze. This is pivotal for a novel deeply concerned with the expansiveness of attention and the limits of responsibility.

The narrator’s voice gives the novel a quiet power, as if the universe was filled with a non-meddling benevolence. There’s a cinematic quality too, with even minor figures sketched in with sure and affecting touches. The Museum of Modern Love is alive with the surprise and challenge of presence in many of its forms — it is a very generous book indeed.

Images and storytelling have been intertwined since the first human beings gathered by a painted wall to tell tales in the firelight. Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love works with these ancient ghosts with exquisite care and intelligence. Positing grief and art as deep echoes that corroborate the transitory nature of our lives, Rose brings the reader to a place of acceptance despite the inevitable darkness. With rare subtlety and humanity, this novel relocates the difficult path to wonder in us all.


This lovely picture is NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian handing me the prize. I love the delight in both of us!

Christina Stead Prize - Gladys Berejiklian NSW Premier

Australian Literary Society Medal longlist 2017

‘The Museum of Modern Love’ has been included on this extraordinary longlist of Australian literature. Thank you Association for the Study of Australian Literature! The Medal has a distinguished history and previous winners include Michelle de Krester, Gillian Mears, David Malouf and Christos Tsiolkas.

The ALS Gold Medal is presented annually by the Association for the Study of Australian Literature (ASAL) for a ‘work of outstanding literary merit’ published in the previous calendar year. Last year’s winner was Brenda Niall’s Mannix (Text).

  • 2017 Long list announced for the ALS Gold Medal

    Adam Aitken One Hundred Letters Home (Vagabond)

    Steven Amsterdam The Easy Way Out (Hachette)

    Georgia Blain Between a Wolf and a Dog (Scribe)

    Peter Boyle, Ghostspeaking (Vagabond)

    Michelle Cahill Letters to Pessoa (Giramondo)

    Tina Giannoukous Bull Days (Arcadia)

    Dennis Haskell Ahead of Us (Fremantle)

    Fiona McFarlane The High Places (Penguin/Hamish Hamilton)

    Zoe Morrison Music and Freedom (Vintage)

    Sean Rabin Wood Green (Giramondo)

    Heather Rose The Museum of Modern Love (Allen & Unwin)

    Rajith Savandasa, Ruins (Hachette)


Australian Literary Society medal

The ALS Gold Medal is awarded annually for an outstanding literary work in the preceding calendar year. The Medal was inaugurated by the Australian literary Society, which was founded in Melbourne in 1899 and incorporated into the Association for the Study of Australian Literature(ASAL) in 1982.

The medal was originally awarded for the best novel published in the previous year but, since 1937, other literary forms have been eligible for consideration. The medal has sometimes been called the Crouch Gold Medal after its principal benefactor, Colonel R.A. Crouch

No nominations are required, though ASAL members are invited to propose potential winners to the judging panel.



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.

Marina Abramovic, David Walsh and a reading from my next novel

Back in 2005 I was fascinated by a photograph at the National Gallery in Melbourne. It depicted 72 items on a table – a rose, a bottle of oil, a chain, razor blades, bread, grapes, a gun, a bullet. It was from a performance piece in Milan in 1972 where the visitor to the gallery was invited to use any of the items in their interaction with the performance artist in the room.  The artist was Marina Abramovic and the short bio at the side of the photograph intrigued me. Ever since then I’ve been pursuing a novel that captures both Marina’s history, but also the impact her work has on the people who see it. In 2010 Marina gave me permission to use her as a character in the novel.

The pursuit of this story has taken me to New York for The Artist is Present at MoMA in 2010 – and lately to Sydney with John Kaldor to discuss the new novel but also to participate in the Marina Abramovic In Residence experience. Later in 2016 Jane Palfreyman at Allen & Unwin will be publishing the new novel.

In June this year I had the opportunity to meet Marina for the first time, in rather unlikely circumstances. At the invitation of David Walsh, I read an extract of the novel to her during her conversation with David in Hobart at The Odeon. David has been the most extraordinary supporter of this novel. I found back in 2008, by a little stroke of serendipity, that Marina’s work was collected by David – and his personal library housed every book published about Marina. For a few months I read those books in a cupboard at the back of the warehouse that then housed the MoNA collection. After MoNA was built, David gave me a room at MoNA to work through 2012 – 13. (My thanks also to two wonderful women of MoNA – Mary Linzjad and Delia Nichols for being pivotal in making this happen).

David has read drafts and given insightful and generous feedback. For a long while he was the only person who had read the final draft. So while I may not yet have decided on the novel’s title yet – I do know to whom it is dedicated.

This video shows the complete (and fascinating) interview with David and Marina in Hobart as part of Dark MOFO. At about the 44 minute mark David segues to the reading. But enjoy the interview!