To celebrate this year's Stella Prize for women's writing, prominent Australians share their #StellaSpark, their favourite book by an Australian woman.
Singer and radio broadcaster
"Peggy Frew's Hope Farm. Reading it made me feel as though I'd lived it. So darn clever."
"Carmel Bird was enormously inspiring to me both as a writer of dazzlingly original and darkly humorous fiction, and also as a writing teacher. In her short story collection, The Woodpecker Toy Fact, she writes, 'I want to feel the anguish and exhilaration of the fiction writer's power to create and destroy' – and by the end of the book, you are left in no doubt as to just how creative, destructive and exhilarating she can be."
"When I was 10, my dad bought the whole collection of Ethel Turner first editions. I pored over those books. They took me to another world, a different Sydney 80 years past, and I fantasised about living in those times. I later read her diaries and her biography and marvelled at how a woman in those times had turned her childhood passion of writing into a career."
Radio broadcaster, journalist
"Great journalists go to where it happened, speak to those involved and put you in the midst of the events and emotions that tell a story. That's what Anna Funder did when she wrote Stasiland, about the horrendous impact of the East German regime on its citizens. And Chloe Hooper's The Tall Man relates one of the most fascinating modern flashpoints between black Australia and the rest of us. Stellar writing."
"Helen Garner's work has always resonated, beginning with Monkey Grip 15 years ago – her blunt, lucid, beautiful telling of this doomed urban romance got under my skin. This House of Grief did the same. I know of no other author who entwines and examines the narrative of their own life as they sit and observe an often devastating event unravel in society."
Writer, Sunday Life columnist
"Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. I found it completely absorbing and, as a historical novelist myself, I was impressed by her ability to evoke not just a different time, but a different place and culture."
"Kate Grenville's The Secret River sparked in me a visceral understanding of the anything but black and white nature of black and white Australian history. I found myself on the banks of the Hawkesbury River two centuries ago, under those silent gums and in unfamiliar heat, wondering if I would have been a Thornhill or a Blackwood. Kate's deeply researched, beautifully evocative writing was a reminder to always look deeper, deeper..."
Comedian and writer
"Melina Marchetta, author of Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca, is my Stella Spark. I encountered her work at a time when nearly everything I read, aside from Harry Potter, felt like homework. So to tumble into her world of strong, intelligent and passionate female characters was a revelation, and I've been searching for similarly compelling characters ever since. "
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner
"Clare Wright's The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka – a wonderful account of the Eureka Stockade but this time including the stories of women and children."
"The Secret River shook me to the core and led me to seek out Searching for the Secret River, Kate Grenville's memoir about the writing of the novel. Perhaps, as a balm to the brutal realities of the book, I wanted to celebrate the craft behind it. I will treasure the image of Kate, as revealed in her memoir, writing The Secret River in the back seat of her parked car, resting her computer on a boogie board that was her desk and eating sandwiches made by her mother."
"Chloe Hooper's The Tall Man, an account of the death of Cameron Doomadgee, is one of the finest works of Australian non-fiction ever written. When friends from abroad are looking for a read with insights into Australia, I hand them this. It isn't pretty, but neither are many aspects of Australia."
"All of Helen Garner's non-fiction writing, but particularly Joe Cinque's Consolation, has shown me the power of narrative and the importance of intense observation. She reminds me that one devastating 'right' word is so much better than a string of less suitable ones."
Broadcaster, Sunday Life columnist
"I devoured Anna Funder's All That I Am, because of its acute character sketches and exquisite prose. It speaks to the courage and decency of ordinary people in the face of extraordinary horror."
2015 Stella Prize Winner
"Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children is a book I revere, a book that made me want to write. Stead's ability to conjure characters who are complex, idiosyncratic and utterly compelling is dazzling, as is her use of language and depth of psychological insight."
"I read Jessica Anderson's Tirra Lirra by the River at school 30 years ago. Its effect on my life has been profound – I cannot remember a 'self' before this book was part of it. It describes the struggle of a woman in the early 20th century to have both a personal life and an artistic one, and every time I read it I wonder: what is the price to be paid for straining at the socially acceptable edges of happiness? A novel – this novel – might show you."
I love all Joan London's books, but The Good Parents is my favourite. London writes – seemingly effortlessly – of the complicated bonds between parents and children, lovers and siblings. More than any other novelist, she makes me want to become a better writer."
"When I read Geraldine Brooks's Year of Wonders, it taught me that an Australian author can set their novel in another place and time (England, 1666) but that the character, Anna Frith, can still have an Australian sentiment."
"My Stella Sparks moment is cemented forever – I read it in my last year of school. It's Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children."
Actor and writer
"Ruth Park's Harp trilogy. From Missus to The Harp in the South to Poor Man's Orange – such brilliant storytelling. It's funny, heartbreaking, and decades ahead of its time in relation to racial issues and feminism. As soon as I finish the trilogy, I always want to start it all over again." •