Masters Series: Bernadette Brennan

Bernadette Brennan is a literary critic, academic and researcher in contemporary Australian writing. She is the author of a number of publications and her literary criticism is published widely. In 2017 she published her award-winning literary biography A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work (Text). Her most recent book is Leaping Into Waterfalls: The Enigmatic Gillian Mears (A&U, 2021) which has been shortlisted for the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2022. In November 2018 she was the recipient of the inaugural Fellowship for Non-Fiction awarded by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund. Bernadette is also a judge for the prestigious Miles Franklin Award.

The conversation covers:

  • Brennan’s PhD and studies of absence and silences in Australian literature
  • Brenda Niall’s My Accidental Career
  • Reading for the Miles Franklin Award and reading for pleasure (especially writers in translation)
  • Reading and note taking for reviews and analysis
  • Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears
  • The contradictions within Mears and her writing, explored in Leaping into Waterfalls
  • Developing a friendship with Helen Garner (listen to our interview with Garner in 2021)
  • The practicalities of working with an archive
  • Brennan’s research process and routines
  • Hazel Rowley – ‘there’s no such thing as a boring life’
  • Interviews as both ‘a privilege and so much fun’
  • Brennan’s relationships with her subjects and the difference between them
  • Garner’s insistence that Brennan find someone to say ‘something bad about her’
  • Establishing boundaries when reading through difficult material for research
  • Future archives and how correspondence might be recorded (or not!)
  • The logistics of pitching and selling non fiction works
  • On women’s wanting: Television adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter, Drusilla Modjeska’s Stravinsky’s lunch
  • Panel on criticism with Declan Fry and Catriona Menzies Pike
  • Why Brennan wants to see literary prize long lists celebrated more


‘The delete button is often your best friend.’

‘Trust your reader. Less is more.

Debut recommendation: Mandy Beaumont’s The Furies (also recommended by Tony Birch in his conversation with us)

Find Bernadette Brennan and her work on her website and on twitter.

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