It is with great sadness that I write this tribute to a wonderful man and one of our most loved authors, Julian Leatherdale. Julian died early in the morning of Wednesday, 22 April, with his beloved family around him after an illness of less than twelve months.
Allen & Unwin is fortunate to have been Julian’s home for his three historical novels for adults and, as his publisher at A&U, I was very much looking forward to a long association with Julian and his writing. His research is impeccable and his imagination creative and clever. He was a complete delight to work with in all aspects of publishing, and was warm and witty company at any time.
Julian was truly a man of many talents. He loved theatre and in his early years wrote lyrics for four comedy cabarets and a musical. In 2017, he wrote the short play A Life in Ten Meals for the theatre project Breaking Bread, and in 2018 the black comedy The Man Who Became Santa.
Julian discovered a passion for popular history as a staff writer, researcher and photo editor for Time-Life’s Australians At War series. He later researched and co-wrote two Film Australia-ABC documentaries, Return to Sandakan and The Forgotten Force, and was an image researcher at the State Library of New South Wales.
This love of history and the amazing stories his research uncovered led Julian to write his first bestselling novel, Palace of Tears, which was published by Allen & Unwin in 2015 and HarperCollins Germany in 2016. He quickly became an authority on the extraordinary history of the opulent Blue Mountains hotel, the Hydro Majestic on which the hotel in his novel was based, and his essay on the Hydro Majestic and Mark Foy was published on the Dictionary of Sydney website for the 2015 Blue Mountains Icons project.
Julian’s second novel, The Opal Dragonfly, was published in 2018 with a thoughtful and fascinating mix of Sydney’s colonial history and fiction. The Historical Novel Society’s perceptive review said: ‘…an ambitious undertaking that presents all of the class bigotry and narrow-mindedness of the era. Its characters and awkward coming-of-age scenes are reminiscent of Austen. That, combined with Dickensian social realism, has resulted in Leatherdale creating a memorable, epic work that is destined to become an Australian literary classic.’
Death in the Ladies’ Goddess Club is Julian’s third adult novel set within the dark underbelly of 1930s Kings Cross and its glamorous fringe. This novel was recently published in March 2020 and as ill as Julian was, he was also as enthusiastic, engaged, courteous and erudite as ever in the publicity he managed to complete for this book. A&U’s Publicity Director, Peri Wilson, says: ‘Working alongside Julian was an utter delight. What a charming, interesting, kind man he was – and a brilliant writer to boot. I will always remember him with great fondness.’
A long-held goal of Julian’s was to publish a novel for younger readers and his debut YA fantasy adventure novel, The Phantasmic Detective Agency, is published by Eagle Books.
We will miss Julian so much and send our sincere condolences to his wife, his children, family and friends.
Annette Barlow, Publisher