Maggie is a British-born writer who has had four novels published, the first, The Past and Other Lies, was published to critical acclaim in Australia in 2009 and in the US by Felony & Mayhem Press in 2013 and was chosen as the Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Pick of the Week’. Her second novel, The Second-Last Woman in England, was published in Australia in 2010, in the US in 2011 and in the UK by Constable & Robinson in 2013. This book was also selected as the Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Pick of the Week’ and was awarded the 2011 Fellowship of Australian Writers’ Christina Stead Award for Fiction. Maggie’s third novel, Half the World in Winter, was published by Allen & Unwin in Australia in 2014 and in the UK in November 2015. Her fourth novel, The Safest Place in London, has just been published by Allen & Unwin in 2016. Maggie lives in Sydney and works as the operations manager at a federal government agency.
My Favourite Bookshop, by Sydney author Maggie Joel
On my third day in Australia I took a bus from the centre of Sydney to what seemed to me, having spent those first three days hugging Circular Quay, the city, Kings Cross – to be placed so far out into the vast unknown wastelands of a city I doubted my ability to find my way back.
The bus brought me – after barely ten minutes on Broadway and City Road – to Newtown.
That first visit – undertaken at the behest of a Berlitz guide promising cafes, cheap beer and student dives – was made on a rainy June evening in 1991. I arrived here then, five years before the bookshop, I now think of my local.
Better Read Than Dead sits at the heart of Newtown, on the gentle curve of King Street that houses the Dendy Cinema and offers views south towards Newtown station and the junction with Enmore Road and Lower King Street where the suburb sloughs off its hipster veneer and assumes the more comfortable mantle of Nineties scruffiness.
We are both here now – Better Read Than Read arrived in 1996, I finally moved here in 2014 after two decades in the wilderness of Outer Inner West apartment living. I have four, almost five, books to my name, Better Read Than Read has a cornucopia of glittering titles as diverse as its customers. Its location, in that sweet spot between the local IGA supermarket, my bank and a café I habitually frequent, means I visit, on average, once a fortnight, sometimes weekly. True, I do sometimes feel the need to shuffle the books around a bit on the ‘J’ shelf, simply to ensure my own works get their due prominence, but no one seems to mind.
My new novel, The Unforgiving City, is my homage to my adopted home. Its opening scene is set right here in Newtown at a boisterous pro-Federation rally on a rainy night in June of 1899 and the feelings that ran high amongst the local populace that night is hard to find in the gently milling customers who browse the latest releases at Better Read Than Dead on a Saturday afternoon in 2019. But perhaps it is merely a different sort of passion, a passion for books.