Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 1, 2011

Meet an Aussie Author: Stephen Orr

See 2016 Update for additional news and reviews below.

Stephen Orr is the author of Time’s Long Ruin, which has been long-listed for the 2011 Miles Franklin Literary Award.  It’s his third novel, and it’s also been shortlisted for the South East Asia and Pacific Best Book Award in the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.  See my review here and a Sensational Snippet here.)

Stephen lives with his family in Adelaide where he is a teacher and freelance literary reviewer and columnist. He has worked as a writer-in-residence at secondary schools; given workshops on fiction-writing; judged writing awards; and was on the board of the SA Writers’ Centre 2004-2006.  In January 2009, he completed a Varuna Longlines residency where he worked on his forthcoming novel God’s Hill Road.

Here are Stephen’s answers to my ten questions:

1.   I was born in Adelaide, at Calvary (Catholic) Hospital, surrounded by nuns, guided into the world by Dr Beck, who always wore a tweed jacket, even (I’m told) when he delivered me. The nuns I blame for my subsequent atheism.

2.   When I was a child I wrote nothing creative at all.  I wrote a novel when I was in Year 12, and sent it to Penguin.  It was very long, and bad, and I burnt it in a sort of Viking funeral pyre a few years back.

3.  The people who inspired me to write were all the nut jobs who would ring and abuse me when I worked as a telephone betting clerk in my 20s. I became convinced the human psyche was the only thing really worth worrying about, so I’ve been working at it ever since.  My Year 11 English teacher told me I could write, and that’s where the Year 12 novel came from. I think we underestimate how little encouragement it takes to get a creative person started. Then, as the saying goes, we survive on very small rations (of praise).

4.   I write at The University of Adelaide library (the Barr Smith Library) and have done so for 15 years. I think the staff know who I am, or at least what I’m doing, and feel sorry for me.  Children, lawnmowers, and the like, make it difficult to work at home.

5.   I write twice a week, ten until four’ish. The rest of the time I teach at Modbury High School, or work on features for The Advertiser, The Adelaide Review, and other publications that haven’t seen through my act.

6.   Research is always over-estimated. Shakespeare, I’m sure, wasn’t too concerned that he’d never been to Verona. I’m no Shakespeare, but I do enjoy inventing, imagining, and so on, from articles, images, photos, desriptions. Anyway, I’ve never secured a grant from Arts SA (I gave up trying years ago) so I’ve never had the money, or time, to go to the places I write about. Having said all that, it’d be nice, and I’m open to offers.

7.   I keep my published works in boxes, and a few in my bookcase, so visitors will notice them and say things like, ‘My goodness, I had no idea you were so prolific!’

8.   On the day my first work was published I got my sons to move the books from the alphabetical section in Dymocks to the New Releases.  I think they noticed, as a few days later they’d put them back.

9.   At the moment I’m writing another outback novel (need to keep mum on that one).

10. When I’m stuck for an idea/word/phrase I just write the best thing I can think of.  There’s plenty of time later in the redrafting and editing to spend hours brooding over the small things. The inspiration thing is vastly overestimated.  Writing, I think, is more craft than art.

I hope your Year 11 teacher gets a chance to see this, Stephen – because you’ve done that teacher proud:)

Stephen’s other books are

  • Attempts to Draw Jesus  (runner-up in the 2000 Australian/Vogel Award)
  • Hill of Grace in 2004.

Wakefield Press have a special offer on his books at the moment, but you’ll need to be quick!

Thanks to Amy Whittaker for her help in preparing this post:)

Updated 9/4/16

Stephen’s latest novel The Hands, an Australian Pastoral has been longlisted for the Miles Franklin award, and for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and you can read my review here, and a Sensational Snippet here, and also a review on the French-based Book Around The Corner blog.

I have also reviewed




  1. I am inspired especially by the article in The Advertiser 04012012 re Words lead to thought…political manipulation always begins with a short, finely tuned sentence. As a regular writer of lettlers to the Editor this is food for thought.


  2. Stephen Orr is my oldest daughters godfather, over the years we have lost touch and I would like to reconnect. I can be found on Facebook.


    • Hello Peter, I’m sure if you write to his publishers, they will forward your letter on to Stephen. Best wishes, Lisa


  3. […] Review’s Novella Project has six contributors but it was to meet one of my favourite authors, Stephen Orr that I made a rare excursion to the CBD for the launch of Issue #54.  It was a great night, […]


  4. […] (ANZLitLovers) interviewed Orr in one of her early Meet an Australian Author Series of posts. Answering her question about who inspired him to write, he […]


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