10 female Australian short story writers you should read

Rescue reading for troubled times Part 2

Last week’s post was all about rescue reading, my suggestions for short reading to keep you in a world of words when your concentration is shot and you’re too distracted to stick around for long. Here are my Rescue Reading suggestions for female Australian short story writers that would be perfect for this.

Josephine Rowe – Here until August

Beautiful stories scattered across the globe. It’s an art to be able to furnish your characters and narrative so fully while using such spare prose. She places you as firmly in Western Australia as she does in a Montreal winter. A collection that will definitely take you away if you need to not be here right now.

Melanie Cheng – Australia Day

All these doctors who also write (Vincent Lam, Chekov, Peter Goldsworthy), how do they do it? Melanie Cheng is one of them as well.

These stories capture that rare cross-section of Australia in its more realistic diversity. A place where everyone is trying to find how and where they can belong. More recently, not a short story but well worth a read, she’s written an essay on her experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic as a doctor for the Guardian.

Cate Kennedy – Dark Roots & Like a House on Fire

For a while in the noughties Cate Kennedy was constantly referred to as Australia’s ‘Queen of Short Stories’. She’s been off the radar in recent years and is writing poetry now instead. But when you go back to her two collections, you’ll realise that human dynamics are timeless in her hands.

Listen to her on Conversations with Richard Fidler. It’s a great interview about the time she and her family spent living and working in Vanuatu. If you’re time-poor though, skip right to the end and listen to her reading one of her poems. The Midas touch with all forms it seems.

Julie Koh – Portable Curiosities

These stories are the wild love-child of satire and surrealism. As a taster, in the story Sight, our narrator, China Doll, has regular conversations with the enigmatic Tattoo Man. China Doll has a third eye located in her stomach (her sister used to have one on her left shoulder). Her mum arranges for it to be surgically removed but not before China Doll has a chance to meet the brother who never came home from hospital…in lizard form.

Emily Paull – Well-behaved women

This collection is perfect if you want to dip into a little nostalgia for adolescence and its sense of longing or feel the heat of endless summers, fractured friendships and family ties both tight and loose. A good read for sand between your toes in the middle of winter.

Alice Bishop – A Constant Hum

This collection of stories is written in the aftermath of the Victorian Black Saturday fires of 2009. So, this is what happens when big news moves from the front page. People live with it, the loss of it, the trauma of it and the seedlings of hope that sometimes still grow. Stories from one paragraph to many pages to suit your current abilities of concentration.

Maxine Beneba Clarke – Foreign Soil

This debut collection won quite a few literary prizes back in 2015. It was definitely a win for readers who got to hear from voices and read about lives that don’t always make their way onto the shelves from Sudanese migrants to asylum seekers and Chinese students. She was a performance poet first and the rhythm and cadence of language and speech is also something that’s noticeable in these voices.

Tegan Bennet Daylight – 6 Bedrooms

I love a good collection of inter-linked short stories like Tim Winton’s The Turning or Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge books. This isn’t a whole collection of linked stories but there are enough for you to chart the lives of a few characters. This is another collection to go to for coming-of-age first times and the longing, humiliation and triumph of youth.

She writes beautifully and if you’re more in the mood for non-fiction, The Details, her recently released book of essays, is another excellent option to dip in and out of.

Margo Lanagan – Singing My sister Down and Other stories

Margo Lanagan has that Margaret Atwood sense of disquiet to her stories where frightening things happen in a world that is similar but not-quite ours. The title story Singing my sister down has stayed with me like no other story since Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.

I get goose bumps just reading the first line. We all went down to the tar-pit, with mats to spread our weight. Read it. I think it might be one of the best short stories I’ve ever read.

Fiona McFarlane – The High Places

Fiona MacFarlane is best known for her novel The night guest but for me, this book of shorts was a much better read. There’s something very classic in the style of these stories that made them feel more like a 20th Century read, and I mean that in a good way. The subjects suit the style.

You can also read her story Demolition from the May 2020 New Yorker.

Do you love your Australian shorts? Let me know any other suggestions you have for collections by female Australian short story writers.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be posting more suggested anthologies and collections for short reading. Keep an eye out on Twitter @ninakcullen or subscribe to my newsletter below for updates.  

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