Heroines Recommended Reads: Catherine McKinnon

While we were preparing for The Heroines Festival 2018, we asked our panellists to prepare to share some recommended reads: novels written by women and focused on women’s stories.

This is the first in our series of Heroines Recommended Reads with recommendations from Storyland author Catherine McKinnon.

Catherine McKinnon is an award-winning writer of novels, plays, and short stories. Her novel, Storyland, published by Harper Collins in 2017, was voted one of the 5 most popular books for 2017 on Jennifer Byrne's ABC Bookclub. It was been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin prize and is presently on the shortlist for the 2018 Barbara Jefferis Award.

Catherine McKinnons

Catherine McKinnons


In Storyland five stories set in the Illawarra are woven together to tell a story about who we are: our past, present and future, and our connection to this land. 

In 1796, a young cabin boy, Will Martin, goes on a voyage of discovery in the Tom Thumb with Matthew Flinders and Mr Bass: two men and a boy in a tiny boat on an exploratory journey south from Sydney Cove to the Illawarra, full of hope and dreams, daring and fearfulness.

Set on the banks of Lake Illawarra and spanning four centuries, Storyland is a unique and compelling novel of people and place - which tells in essence the story of Australia.

Told in an unfurling narrative of interlinking stories, in a style reminiscent of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, McKinnon weaves together the stories of Will Martin together with the stories of four others: a desperate ex-convict, Hawker, who commits an act of terrible brutality; Lola, who in 1900 runs a dairy farm on the Illawarra with her brother and sister, when they come under suspicion for a crime they did not commit; Bel, a young girl who goes on a rafting adventure with her friends in 1998 and is unexpectedly caught up in violent events; and in 2033, Nada, who sees her world start to crumble apart. Intriguingly, all these characters are all connected - not only through the same land and water they inhabit over the decades, but also by tendrils of blood, history, memory and property.

Catherine McKinnon recommends

No More Boats by Felicity Castagna

“A multiperspective / multiprotagonist work of Contemporary fiction” C.McK.

It is 2001. 438 refugees sit in a boat called Tampa off the shoreline of Australia, while the TV and radio scream out that the country is being flooded, inundated, overrun by migrants.

Antonio Martone, once a migrant himself, has been forced to retire, his wife has moved in with the woman next door, his daughter runs off with strange men, his deadbeat son is hiding in the garden smoking marijuana. Amid his growing paranoia, the ghost of his dead friend shows up and commands him to paint ‘No More Boats’ in giant letters across his front yard.

The Prime Minister of Australia keeps telling Antonio that ‘we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come’. Antonio’s not sure he wants to think about all the things that led him to get on a boat and come to Australia in the first place. A man and a nation unravel together.


From The Wreck

From the Wreck by Jane Rawson

“A work of Speculative Fiction from the perspective of an alien creature - who is sometimes female” C.McK.

From the Wreck tells the remarkable story of George Hills, who survived the sinking of the steamship Admella off the South Australian coast in 1859. Haunted by his memories and the disappearance of a fellow survivor, George’s fractured life is intertwined with that of a woman from another dimension, seeking refuge on Earth. This is a novel imbued with beauty and feeling, filled both with existential loneliness and a deep awareness that all life is interdependent.

The Lace Weaver

The Lace Weaver by Lauren Chater

“Told through POV of two female protagonists. A work of Historical Fiction.” C.McK.

“Each lace shawl begins and ends the same way – with a circle. Everything is connected with a thread as fine as gossamer, each life affected by what has come before it and what will come after. “

1941, Estonia. As Stalin’s brutal Red Army crushes everything in its path, Katarina and her family survive only because their precious farm produce is needed to feed the occupying forces.

Fiercely partisan, Katarina battles to protect her grandmother’s precious legacy – the weaving of gossamer lace shawls stitched with intricate patterns that tell the stories passed down through generations.

Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman

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“A multiperspective / multiprotagonist work of Speculative Fiction” C.McK.

“Jacky was running. There was no thought in his head, only an intense drive to run. There was no sense he was getting anywhere, no plan, no destination, no future. All he had was a sense of what was behind, what he was running from. Jacky was running.”

The Natives of the Colony are restless. The Settlers are eager to have a nation of peace, and to bring the savages into line. Families are torn apart, reeducation is enforced. This rich land will provide for all.

This is not Australia as we know it. This is not the Australia of our history. This TERRA NULLIUS is something new, but all too familiar.

Do you have a recommendation? We’d love you to share it with us. 

Sarah NicholsonComment