A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work

By Bernadette Brennan Text Publishing

Helen Garner is one of Australia’s most important and most admired writers. She is revered for her fearless honesty in the pursuit of her craft.

But Garner also courts controversy, not least because she refuses to be constrained by the rules of literary form. She has never been afraid to write herself into her nonfiction, and many of her own experiences help to shape her fiction. But who is the ‘I’ in Helen Garner’s work?

Bernadette Brennan’s A Writing Life is the first full-length study of Garner’s forty years of work, a literary portrait that maps all of her books against the different stages of her life.

Brennan has had access to previously unavailable papers in Garner’s archive, and she provides a lively and rigorous reading of the books, journals and correspondence of one of Australia’s most beloved women of letters.


Bernadette Brennan

Dr Bernadette Brennan is an academic and researcher in contemporary Australian writing, literature and ethics. She is the author of a number of publications, including a monograph on Brian Castro and two edited collections: Just Words? Australian Authors Writing for Justice and Ethical Investigations: Essays on Australian Literature and Poetics. She lives in Sydney.

Judges' report


This is a literary portrait of one our most important living writers. Bernadette Brennan has had access to previously unavailable papers, as well as to Helen Garner’s journals and correspondence. Various family, friends and colleagues shared their insights with Bernadette to create a vibrant picture of a woman working and struggling to be a writer and, more importantly, to be true to herself. It is a companion to the great and varied body of Garner’s work encompassing as it does forty years of fiction, nonfiction, short stories and essays. A Writing Life is also a history of our time, and an invitation to discover the works of this sometimes-controversial author. Neither literary criticism nor biography it’s a compassionate but honest exploration of the many internal and external forces that have influenced Garner’s oeuvre; an author who seeks to understand herself and her relationships primarily through her work. In this book the reader is invited into Helen Garner’s world of writing, reading and ideas. With a style that is clear and elegant, Bernadette Brennan has crafted an immensely thought-provoking and enjoyable book.