We lost a beloved and brilliant author when Gillian Mears died last week. We’re devastated by her loss, as are writers and readers across Australia. Her publisher, Jane Palfreyman, shares these thoughts on her dear friend:
Gillian grew up in the northern New South Wales town of Grafton. Her books include Ride a Cock Horse (1988); Fineflour (1991); The Mint Lawn (1991), winner of the 1990 Australian/Vogel Literary Award, and The Grass Sister (1995), which won a Commonwealth Prize. A Map of the Gardens (2002), won the 2003 Steele Rudd Award.
Gillian’s monumental third novel, Foal’s Bread, was published by us in 2011 and by A&U UK in 2013. It was shortlisted for many major awards in 2012, including the Miles Franklin Award, and won The Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction, The Age Book of the Year, the Victorian Premier’s Award for Fiction, the Colin Roderick Award and the ALS Gold Medal. Her children’s story, The Cat with the Coloured Tail, was published by Walker Books Australia in 2013.
Gillian died at home on Monday May 16 aged 51 and leaves behind a world of passionate readers and loving family and friends who are saddened beyond words.
She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of thirty and prevailed against its indignities and cruelties with extraordinary courage and forbearance. The physical act of writing her last novel Foal’s Bread caused her great pain, and yet love shines through every page of that great, luminous novel, one of this country’s enduring literary treasures.
Foal’s Bread is a truly heroic effort; not only a great book about horses, but an exceptional one about paralysis… you are unlikely to read a more courageous novel this year.
Gillian’s fan mail had to be seen to be believed. I know of no other Australian writer who inspired such rapture and intensely personal responses from readers: from an 85 year old woman writing her first ever fan letter to a writer, to people sending her heart-shaped river stones from all over the country, as well as photos of their horses and cats. I know Gillian tried to write back to as many as she could until hand-writing proved impossible. You can read a personal reflection in The Guardian on Mears’ work, and a recent reply Philippa Chandler had to the fan mail she’d sent Gillian.
Her famous admirers were legion: Helen Garner, Phillip Adams, Tim Winton, Charlotte Wood, Delia Falconer, Drusilla Modjeska, to name a few – she was a writer’s writer, and one who inspired a generation of writers like Tim, Charlotte and Delia.
Even in her darker moments Gillian maintained a sense of wonder and joy that could take your breath away. We will remember her as a true wild spirit with a deep connection to the natural world, a loving, generous and conscientious friend, and a writer of fierce talent and compassion who will be mourned, celebrated and read gratefully for generations to come. We were so lucky to publish her.
Thank you, dear Gillian, and rest in peace and love.
Further reading, viewing or listening
Gillian discussed life and living with Multiple Sclerosis, death, her work, and love of horses, with close friend Phillip Adams of Radio National’s Late Night Live in 2013 which you can watch or hear below with an extended audio version.
Her way with words in speaking is as thoughtful as it is in written form, but it is also worth reading this letter from Gillian to Phillip published by the ABC after the recording about things she wished she’d said differently, suspecting that it might become a ‘legacy’ interview.
For those new to Gillian’s work, you can read extracts of Foal’s Bread and The Mint Lawn, while The following pieces on the ABC, Meanjin and Kill Your Darlings websites also give fascinating insight into Gillian’s life and work:
Further reading about Gillian, her life and work can be found here, including her moving submission to the state hearings on euthanasia: