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The Nest isn’t Always Safe: the topic of home with Jessie Cole and Inga Simpson

Jessie Cole (centre) and; Inga Simpson (right) discuss the second novels. Photo: Cath Piltz

Jessie Cole (centre) and; Inga Simpson (right) discuss the second novels. Photo: Cath Piltz

Authors Jessie Cole and Inga Simpson have a few things in common. The second novels, of both writers, hit Australian shelves two days ago. But the similarities don’t stop there.

According to session chair Lisa Walker, both novels explore the liminality of leaving or returning home, and although the stories feature starkly different protagonists, they share thematic qualities.

A small crowd of die-hard book lovers endured polar winds, looming mud, and darkening skies on the festival’s chilly final afternoon, to hear Cole and Simpson read at the last session of the Byron Bay Writers Festival. It was well worth the wait!

Imagine, in a world void of men, being home-schooled in an isolated valley, the only one of five siblings still left at home, with a deafening silence building between you and the only other human contact you have – your mother. This is Mema’s life, that is until a strange young man, Hamish, literally “washes into” her life.

Until Hamish arrives, Cole’s protagonist, Mema, has never experienced sexual objectification. Her utilitarian mother has no mirrors in the house and, until now, Mema has never considered her own physicality or sexuality.

Cole’s novel Deeper Water explores the dynamics of the male gaze, the shattering of innocence, and the nuances of relationships with humans, landscapes, and nature, and is set in the hinterland of Northern New South Wales.

Simpson’s novel, Nest,  also has a strong sense of place, and her protagonist Jen has an intimate and familial relationship with the landscape and nature. Jen is a teacher, wildlife artist, passionate bird watcher, and is in the throes of a mid-life crisis.

Trauma has featured heavily in Jen’s life. As a child both her father and her best friend suddenly disappeared, never to be found. After the death of her mother, and still recovering from a failed relationship, Jen decides to return to the place that she grew up.

Set in the sub-tropics of South East Queensland, Simpson’s novel artistically and philosophically examines the building, destruction, safety, danger, fullness, and the emptiness of nests.

Intricately woven into the Australian landscape, Cole and Simpson’s stories direct our attention to the lives of two females existing on the margins of dominant culture. Cole and Simpson took turns in reading excerpts from their novels, and each reading left the audience wanting more.

Stevi-Lee Alver studies creative writing at Southern Cross University. 


  1. Pingback: Byron Bay Writers’ Festival 2014 | jessie cole

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