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A Bird in the Hand: Melissa Ashley

January 11, 2018

melissa-ashleyBorn: In 1973 in New Zealand, moved to Australia aged 8.

Childhood: After moving to Australia, Ashley went to three different schools in a single year, ‘a challenging experience.’

Best known for: The Birdman’s Wife, the fictional memoir of the extraordinary 19th century bird illustrator, Elizabeth Gould, the wife of the more famous ornithologist, John Gould and a woman overlooked by history. It won the University of Queensland Fiction Book Award and the 2017 Australian Booksellers Choice Award.

How many books published: 1

How she came to write: ‘When I was in grade 4, I had a story published in the Catholic Leader, about a visit to the circus, and still I remember the thrill I felt at seeing my name in print. My teacher and parents encouraged me, my father even buying me our commodore 64 computer to help me out. I always loved creative writing at school.’

Quotable quotes: ‘It all started when I fell in love with a poet, and with his poem about a bird. We became avid birdwatchers together. Writers, too. When he rescued a ringneck parrot and we adopted it as a pet, a friend gave me a book about birds and a biography about John Gould, the famous ‘father’ of Australian ornithology. That was how I discovered that Elizabeth created the beautiful images of birds he wrote about… I became enthralled with her.’

Past Time: Self-confessed twitcher or bird watcher.

Did you know? Inspired by Elizabeth Gould, Ashley learned to make taxidermied bird skins at the Queensland Museum. She is currently researching the scandalously audacious life of a 17th century fairy tale writer for a new novel. And has a good eye for a retro bargain.

Favourite Author: British writer, Rachel Cusk. ‘All her work is brilliant, inventive, reflective and layered with complexity,’ says Ashley. Other influences include A.S. Byatt, Jonathon Franzen’s essays, Angela Carter, Patrick White, Helen Garner, Samantha Hay and Samuel Beckett.


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