Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 19, 2016

Vale Gillian Mears (1964-2016)

It is with sadness that I am passing on news of the death of Gillian Mears.

Born in 1964, Gillian Mears became known to the Australian literary community when she won the Vogel in 1990 with the publication of her first novel, The Mint Lawn  (1991).  (See Kim’s review at Reading Matters and Charlotte’s at Booklog for Charlotte). She went on to write The Grass Sister in 1995, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1996. and then there was a very long wait for Foal’s Bread in 2011.  (See my review).  The novel was shortlisted for the 2012 Mles Franklin Award, and won the Australian Literature Society’s Gold Medal and the Fiction Award in the 2012 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.  She also wrote short stories, including Ride a Cock Horse  (1988) which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize; Fineflour (1990); Collected stories, 1997, and A map of the gardens: stories, 2002, which won the Steel Rudd award in 2o03.

Not a prodigious output, but a memorable one.  No one who has read her books will ever forget her powerful prose and uncompromising depiction of dysfunctional human relationships.   What most of us did not know was that Mears was living with multiple sclerosis, a disease diagnosed when she was thirty and that compromised her quality of life and finally claimed her life this week on Monday.  It makes her achievements even more extraordinary.   She has left a remarkable legacy.

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  1. From her 2012 Meanjin essay: “In different writing rooms of different houses over many years, I pinned the sketch of the girl jumping her dappled grey gelding. This was as much for the magnetic presence of the horse as for words I’d scrawled beneath the horse and rider landing. I loved the beauty of my rough sketch but loved the words and their meanings even more. The words are:

    Saltare, Latin for leap
    Saliens, a leaping forth with a dancing quality.
    Saillir, meaning an outrush, in French.”


    • Thanks for sharing this, it’s so special.


  2. Oh my, I am catching my breath here. Heartbroken. Despite her MS, I thought she would be here for many years to come. A wonderful talent, gone too soon.
    I have no other outlet so I will say here, my condolences to her family and friends. I, like so many others, held her in very high esteem.


    • All these years we’ve been supporting the MS Readathon, and still we have no cure. It’s tragic.


  3. […] Vale Gillian Mears […]


  4. I didn’t know. Loved Foal’s Bread. Too young, so sad.


    • I’ve written a few obituaries on this blog, but none has affected me as much as this one. I can’t reconcile myself to the thought that her voice is stilled.


  5. This news makes me so sad. What a powerhouse of a writer, taken too young. I never knew about the MS; it makes me reflect on the husband’s degenerative ailment in Foal’s Bread. We inhabit all our character to varying degrees. The loss of a brave and gifted author.


    • Yes, I’ve been thinking about that husband’s illness too.
      I cannot imagine what courage it took to write that into Foal’s Bread.


  6. Such a loss. I will never forget the ovation she received at the Sydney Writers’ Festival a few years back at the end of the session in which she discussed the fabulous Foal’s Bread. It was such a monumental effort for her to even be there. And that applause was like a goodbye even then for me because I knew I would not see her again. I teared up, a lump in my throat. And I feel that again now.


    • What a privilege that would have been. The thing is, that when we read an author’s books, it’s like we are in her world, sharing the experiences and insights that have been distilled into the book. Damon Young put it so much better in his book The Art of Reading, but what it means is that in a sense we ‘know’ the author, and so we feel a loss at a time like this. It’s not a loss like that experienced by family and friends, but it’s profound all the same.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So sad when I heard this news today, such a loss. Foal’s Bread remains one of the most extraordinary books I’ve read – there are a handful of scenes in that book that will never leave me.


  8. I’d like to read The Mint Lawn. Have you read it? I see that she was diagnosed w/ MS right around or right before the time some new therapies were on the market. Today the mantra is disease management rather than a cure per se.


  9. She was a literary genius: such unique and poetic prose, AND a great story-teller to boot. She was one of a kind—no one else like her springs to mind, certainly not in Australia.
    As someone with a medical background, I must say I recognised the husband’s illness in Foal’s Bread. I’m glad she incorporated her illness into her fiction—I’m sure it’s a major reason why she was so good and spoke to so many.


  10. […] Mears (1964–2016), as you see from her obituary here, was a notable award-winning Australian author.  I read The Mint Lawn when it was released in […]


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