Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 15, 2017

Meet an Aussie Author: Portland Jones

Last year when I discovered  Portland Jones’ debut novel Seeing the Elephant, I was really impressed, as you can see in my review  and in the Sensational Snippet that I posted too.  So this year, when I was chatting about something else with Caroline from Margaret River Press in an email, I asked if Portland would be interested in participating in Meet an Aussie Author

Well, yes she was, and here she is!

Portland has never been able to decide if she is a writer or a horse trainer – so she is both.   She has a PhD in comparative literature and creative writing from Murdoch University, but her novel Seeing the Elephant derives not only from her research into the experiences of Vietnam War veterans, but also her interest in war trauma after hearing about the experiences of her Dutch grandmother in WW2.

Seeing the Elephant was snapped up by Margaret River Press when it was shortlisted for the TAG Hungerford award and was published in 2016, attracting the notice of Fairfax critics who chose it as ‘pick of the week’ in both the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Newspaper.

Portland has also co-authored a book about horse training called Horses Hate Surprise Parties: Equitation Science for Young Riders and has worked as an editor and copy writer. She has taught creative writing at university level and says one of the highlights of publishing a novel was performing excerpts of her work accompanied by classical guitarist, William Yeoman.

Portland also runs a horse training facility in Western Australia’s Swan Valley with her partner, Sophie. Together they train horses and riders, working in particular with young and problem horses. They also run clinics, camps and lectures and travel interstate to teach. Portland lectures in equine behaviour at Murdoch University and blogs about all kinds of things including food, travel, writing and the science of horse training at Sustainable Equitation.

Portland has three children. She is in the process of writing her second novel and another horse training book.   So it’s kind-of amazing that she found time to answer my questions, but here they are!

  1. I was born in 1970 – the offspring of an architect and an opera singer.
  2. When I was a child I wrote poetry. I love the rhythm and the linguistic economy of verse. I don’t write poetry anymore but I’d like to think that there are some poetic elements in my current writing.
  3. The people who encouraged/inspired/mentored me to write are my parents. They filled our house with books, music and not many rules. It’s a parenting tradition that I hope very much that I am upholding! Also, Professor Richard Rossiter edited Seeing the Elephant and is a wonderful mentor – not only to me but to lots of other Western Australian writers as well. My partner Sophie also encourages me every day and helps out by shouldering the bulk of the horrible but necessary small business administrative stuff – like tax and BAS. If someone says the words “accounting” or “finance” to me I feel like crying. She’s also the only person I would read unfinished work to.
  4. I write mostly at my desk ­ – it looks out into some grapevines and I love to watch the colour of the vines change with the seasons. But I will write pretty much anywhere that’s quiet including on a card table in the back of the horse truck.
  5. I write for a couple of hours in the middle of the day if I’m really lucky. We start training the horses early in the morning and we have a period of time for inside work between about 1.30 and 3.30. So, I try and write then. I average about 3 days a week as there are often events, interruptions or university lectures to contend with. I dream of hours of uninterrupted time but the truth is I have a short attention span so, while not ideal, it’s not a bad system for me.
  6. Research is the best part of writing. Closely followed by planning, then editing. Writing is only the fourth best thing about writing. It’s too much like hard work!
  7. I keep my published work (all 2 books) in our office. I use my copy of Seeing the Elephant for readings so it’s scribbled in and fairly dog eared now – which is just fine by me, it looks loved.
  8. On the day my first book was published, I drank champagne in the car on the way to the launch, changed my mind about the reading that I was going to do at the very last minute and almost couldn’t continue when I saw my Dad in the front row crying.
  9. At the moment, I’m writing my second novel which is very loosely based on my great-grandfather’s time as a prisoner of war in Indonesia. We recently went on a research trip to Sumatra, following the path of a railway line built by prisoners. It was a very humbling experience and fascinating too. At the site of one of the camps we found railway spikes and shards of Japanese pottery on the ground – it was history made very real.
  10. When I’m stuck for an idea/word/phrase, I make a cup of tea and talk to myself. I make so much sense! But if I’m really stuck, I like to wander out to the vegetable garden and graze on some rocket and look up at the sky. Place is where it’s all at for me.

I’m intrigued by the work-in-progress.  I admit it, I’m always impatient for a new novel from authors whose work I really like!

You can also read more about Portland in this interview at The West Australian and you can buy Seeing The Elephant: A Novel at Fishpond or any good bookshop.


  1. Equitation. How am I going to fit that in a sentence? But I’m wary of yet more POW books, be interested to see how it turns out – I await your review.


    • Yup, I’d never heard of it either. But then, my experience of horses is restricted to reading a book in the car while The Offspring had riding lessons…


  2. An interesting first name…


    • Yes, it reminds me of the C19th custom of naming children after the place they were born in.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The Sport of Kings by C E Morgan is very much about horses, and race horses in particular. I have no real interest in horses and even less in racing yet I read every word of this fine novel that is of course about so much more.(race, dynasty, geology, to name a few). I loved it and thought it deserved its place on the Booker long list earlier year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • *chuckle* Like me with cricket. I have no interest in it but I loved Steven Amsterdam’s The Gift of Speed and also Ron Elliot’s Spinner. Oh, and there was also Chinaman… I’ll have to look up who that was by…


  4. I love that one of her readings had musical accompaniment.


    • People do such creative things at book launch events these days!


  5. Lovely interview Lisa. Fascinating that she loves research the most and writing only fourth.

    The last answer reminded me about our recent trip to the USA. I was telling my friend with whom we were staying about a recipe I like to make when time is short, using fish, potatoes and rocket. She looked at me in a confused way, and then I realised it’s not rocket in the US but arugula. And now I’m off on a tangent because we started discussing food vocabulary and realised that while there are quite a few differences in terminologies for vegetables (courgette, aubergine, rutabaga, over there for example), there doesn’t seem to be for fruits. Why is that, we wondered.


    • The only one I can think of is cantaloupe/rockmelon…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah yes, I’d forgotten that one. Thanks! I’m (weirdly) glad there’s one.


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