Fiona McFarlane

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Australia | 2018

Fiona McFarlane’s first novel, The Night Guest (2013), was translated into 19 languages. It won the Voss Literary Prize, a New South Wales Premier’s Prize, and the Barbara Jefferis Award, and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, an LA Times Book Prize, and the Miles Franklin Literary Award, among others. In 2013, she was named a Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist. Her collection of short fiction, The High Places, was published in 2016 and in 2017 won the International Dylan Thomas Prize. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Zoetrope: All-StorySoutherly, and Best Australian Stories, among others. She has won an O. Henry Prize, and in September 2017 was included in Freeman’s magazine’s ‘The Future of New Writing’ issue. Fiona has received writing fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, St John’s College Cambridge, the Australia Council for the Arts, the Michener Center for Writers, and Phillips Exeter Academy. She lives in Sydney.


Call me Giamaica. I’m a curly white dog of small to medium size; I’m arranged something like a lamb, and have in fact been mistaken for a lamb while leaping through olive groves at dusk. Actually, I am secretly a pug, and this secret self is the source of my desire to be the devoted companion of one irreplaceable human, to whom I will dedicate every puggish, lambish aspect of myself. Fortunately for me, my home provides me with a limitless series of irreplaceable humans in the form of fellows, who come to Santa Maddalena specifically in order to play fetch with me, and also sometimes to write.

What more can I say about myself? I heard one of my irreplaceable humans, Fiona, discuss with another, Kaya, their plans to write a play starring my ego, superego, and id. They abandoned the project when they realised each character would simply repeat: “Ball. Love. Ball. Love. Ball.”

It’s true that I’m inexhaustible: I could spend every minute of the day chasing after small, round objects thrown by my irreplaceable human, walking in the woods with my irreplaceable human, and providing my irreplaceable human with constant updates about the current condition of my soft pink belly. But if that human insists, as Fiona did, on spending hours every day writing at her desk, I’m willing to settle by her feet, cross my front paws, and lower my head onto them with a resigned sigh. Truth be told, there’s something soothing about the happy hum of industry when a writer finds herself in a place of extraordinary beauty with sympathetic company, perfect quiet, an excellent library, delicious food, and enormous amounts of writing time. Apparently, there’s a way in which the generous soul of this place – which begins with the Baronessa, and extends out from her into every painting, rose, carpet, and stone – makes joyful work possible. Words are taken seriously here, and that makes a difference. Dogs are also taken seriously here, which makes a great deal of difference.

Fiona left, as my irreplaceable humans tend to do. She was sorry to go, and I was sorry to lose her. Fortunately, however, my capacity for love expands along with the bounty and kindness of Santa Maddalena, and I had already found my next human before she finished writing this report.