Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 1, 2013

Meet an Aussie Author: Jessie Cole

Jessie Cole, photo by Danika Cottrell.

Jessie Cole, photo by Danika Cottrell.

Darkness on the Edge of TownIf anyone doubts the value of literary prizes to readers, this year’s ALS Gold Medal shortlist is an example of how it can introduce stylish new authors to the reading community.  Jessie Cole’s Darkness on the Edge of Town was released in July last year but it only came to my attention when I saw it among a very prestigious list of authors. For a debut novel to be included in the company of novels by notable authors like Michelle de Kretser,  Robert Drewe,  Christopher Koch and P. A. (Paddy) O’Reilly,  it must be rather special, and so it proved to be when I read it last week.  (Read my enthusiastic review here).

Jessie grew up in an isolated valley in Northern NSW, and lived a bush childhood of creek swimming and barefoot free-range adventuring.  As a child she travelled widely with her family, backpacking throughout Asia and Italy.  In 2009 she was awarded a HarperCollins Varuna Award for Manuscript Development, leading to the publication of her first novel Darkness on the Edge of Town, which has just been shortlisted for the 2013 ALS Gold Medal.  Her work has also appeared in Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, Island Magazine, Big Issue and Daily Life. She lives in her family home with her two sons, her mother, her soulful dog, two cats, and various carpet snakes.

Jessie Cole, photo by Danika Cottrell.

Jessie Cole, photo by Danika Cottrell.

You can imagine how delighted I was when Jessie responded to my request to tell us more about herself for Meet an Aussie Author.  Here are her answers to my questions:

I was born in Sydney into a little cottage on Snails Bay, but we moved up to Northern NSW when I was three months old.

When I was a child I wrote haphazardly. My dad was an artist, so the focus was on drawing, at which I had no skill.

The person who first encouraged me to write was my year 9 English teacher. I was very fragile at that age and her attention made me feel visible in a way I hadn’t before. I still think warmly of her forcefulness and generosity.

I don’t have wireless so I write in my bedroom, away from the lure of the internet. It is very small and very untidy, so it’s not the best arrangement.

Nothing much has changed, I still write haphazardly. In giant bursts when things are going well, or not at all. Not so much to a schedule.

Research is a kind of dreaming. I try to fill myself with interesting titbits and then let them percolate – wait a while – and see what comes out.

I keep my published work/s in bookshelves next to my computer, except for my novel which is always lying around somewhere. It’s a nice surprise to stumble upon it!

On the day my first book was published, I had a big party at my house and invited everyone I know. Everyone, even my mechanic and my dentist. It was an odd but enthusiastic crowd.

At the moment, I’ve just finished writing the first draft of a new novel. I’m in that stage where talking about it makes me feel a little queasy.

When I’m stuck for an idea/word/phrase, I move around. I like to walk from room to room – in the same way I do when I’ve lost my car keys. Or I head out into the garden.

Once again we see the influence of a discerning teacher, and we also see that sometimes authors – especially women – produce their work under difficult circumstances.  Even when you have ‘a room of your own’ as Virginia Woolf so famously said, it may not be ideal.  (I hope those carpet snakes are outside!)

It’s good to know that there’s another novel on the way and I certainly look forward to reading it when it comes out.


Darkness on the Edge of Town is published by Fourth Estate (ISBN: 9780732293192) and is available from

PS If you like the idea of supporting Australian writing in a practical way, a donation to the Varuna Writers House is a good way to do it.


  1. If only the bureaucrats could read how many of our Aussie authors are influenced by good teachers and let teachers get on with what they are capable of doing so well. I wonder who will encourage the next generation of writers.


  2. Oh good point Karen Lee … how many writers and other people we admire note the significance of a teacher. While I had a lovely supportive family, I date the beginning of the active intellectual life to a high school history teacher and librarian.

    I’m also glad you commented on the room issue Lisa. I made a comment to the editor of The invisible thread about that very point, that it seemed finding space and time is still a greater challenge for women, and that if they are going to write they are going to have to learn how to squeeze it between their womanly responsibilities. Kaaron Warren talks well about how she fits in writing in Irma Gold’s interview with her (available on You Tube).


    • I expect Karen as an author would probably agree with that too, but I think that – at rock bottom – it’s a question of attitude. What seems to make the crucial difference is not so much whether one has a space, but whether the writing seems the most important thing and that other things must wait. I think it may be harder for women to say that, mostly because of children but also sometimes because they feel they must ‘do the house’ first. Because writing takes a long time without anything to show for it until the book is published, it is too easy for it to be diminished in importance. It seems to me that it takes enormous courage and determination to be a writer…


  3. Time, space and no distractions -ah, the perfect world for a woman whether it’s for writing or something else. The challenge is make the most of any opportunity that arises and not giving in to other demands. I’m so glad that Lisa “discovered” Jessie’s, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and shared it with us. I think I’ll be checking out that review now and then dropping by a bookshop very soon.


    • Hello Patricia, how nice to meet you here:)
      I know how fortunate I am. I am sitting in my very own library with a lovely view of the jasmine vine and surrounded by my books. Except for the occasional light plane in the distance, there is absolute quiet, neither my husband nor I feel the need to have radio or TV on all the time, and we have considerate neighbours in our quiet street. I have a prudent lifestyle so I do not have to worry about paying bills.
      I could probably write War and Peace in here, except, alas, I do not have the talent.
      Just as well I have work to go back to after the holidays!


  4. Jessie, I love that you invited your mechanic and dentist to your ‘I am published’ party. I wish I’d thought of that! Love your answers to these questions.


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