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Small Towns, Big Fiction: Holly Throsby on writing rural Australia

October 12, 2018

About the author:

Holly Throsby is a songwriter, musician and novelist from Sydney. She has released five solo albums, a collection of original children’s songs, an album as part of the band, Seeker Lover Keeper, and has been nominated for four ARIAs. Holly’s debut novel, Goodwood (2016), was a critically acclaimed bestseller, shortlisted for the Indie and ABIA awards as well as the Davitt and Ned Kelly awards.Cedar Valley is her second novel.

Purchase a copy of Cedar Valley here 

Read our review of Cedar Valley here 

The two novels I have written – Goodwood and Cedar Valley – are both set in small Australian fictional towns. This was a natural choice for me, even though I’ve lived in the city all my life. I’ve long been drawn to the atmosphere of small town life and I feel that such a setting adds a lot to the tone of fiction. For me, that’s a cosy tone. While there is a tradition in our literature of casting rural areas as desolate, scary outposts where awful things happen, in my books small town life is characteristed by a strong connection between townfolk, for better or for worse. They are places where human relationships can be readily explored. The town acts as a kind of microcosm of human interaction and kinship.

An early 1990s setting compounds the comparative slowness of the country ­­­– a time when technology was limited and face-to-face conversations were more necessary. Cedar Valley is largely propelled by direct communication between people, and I loved the opportunities this created in terms of character development. You see a lot of detail in a person when you talk to them face-to-face. It’s something you don’t get in a text message.

Australia has a certain type of laconic humour too, which shows itself best in the kind of vernacular expressions we hear in rural settings, particularly among older people. One of the most enjoyable parts of writing, for me, is the incorporation of this kind of humour, whether it be in dialogue, or in a certain attitude of the narrative voice.

On a less celebratory note, there can be a rigidity to small town life – a conservatism – which can be interesting to investigate. As is some of the more unappealing aspects of our cultural heritage – colonialism, a lack of ethnic diversity, the valorising of war, casual homophobia, the invisibility of our indigenous cultures (except in the odd street name). Many small towns in Australia are, or have been, evidence of these things, and such themes have weaved their way into my stories, albeit in subtle ways. As with anything, no place is perfect. There is strength and weakness everywhere, particularly in human beings. But, with all this in mind, I think small towns make a wonderful place to examine humanity, and hopefully to tell a ripping story.


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