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Shortlisted, Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, 2014
Shortlisted, The Nib: Waverley Library Award for Literature, 2013
Longlisted, Stella Prize, 2014

This is the first, and the definitive, biography of one of Australia's most significant writers.

At the age of fifteen Madeleine saw herself as a painter and pianist, but Ms Medway peered down at Madeleine during her entrance interview in 1957 and announced: ‘You know dear, I think you might write.’

Madeleine would write. But not for some time. The Women in Black, a sparkling gem that belied the difficulties that had dogged her own life, was published when Madeleine St John was in her fifties. Her third novel, The Essence of the Thing, was shortlisted for the 1997 Booker Prize, and she continued to write until her death in 2006.

Helen Trinca has captured the troubled life of Madeleine St John in this moving account of a remarkable writer. After the death of her mother when Madeleine was just twelve, she struggled to find her place in the world. Estranging herself from her family, and from Australia, she lived for a time in the US before moving to London where Robert Hughes, Germaine Greer, Bruce Beresford, Barry Humphries and Clive James were making their mark. In 1993, when The Women in Black was published, it became clear what a marvellous writer Madeleine St John was.

View Madeleine St John’s books:
The Women in Black
The Essence of the Thing
A Stairway to Paradise

Media highlights:
Review, Spectator UK

Interview, ABC Sydney Drive
Interview, ABC Radio National Late Night Live
Interview, The Wheeler Centre
Interview, ABC Classic FM Midday
Interview, 4ZZZ FM
Review, Sydney Review of Books
Review, ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

At the launch of Madeleine, Richard Walsh spoke about his own experience of the St John family. Read the speech in full, here.


At the UK launch of Madeleine, L&R Bookshop, Notting Hill: Bruce Beresford, Sarah Lutyens and Helen Trinca

Praise for Helen Trinca and Madeleine:

‘The only lasting fame for any of the rest of us will reside in the fact that we once knew her.’

Clive James

‘[A] brilliant biography.’

Australian Women's Weekly

‘…a compassionate understanding of St John’s development and eventual deterioration. This biography enriches our appreciation of St John’s four novels, and Trinca is a thorough detective but not a judge.’

Good Reading

‘Moving, frustrating, fascinating: Madeleine is a wonderful book. One thinks St John might have appreciated its elegance, at least. Though she would have hated it, of course; which is to say Trinca has told her story scrupulously, and well.’

Delia Falconer, Weekend Australian

‘Expertly researched and fair in its portrayal…[Trinca’s prose] is able to masterfully conjure the affluence of 1950s Sydney, its lonely housewives and lost migrants, as well as the shabby chic of 60s London and its bohemian share houses, head with casual sex and marijuana.’

Readings Monthly

‘[Madeleine] isn’t merely a history of a singular writer, it is also a trenchant interrogation of a period and a country.’

The Monthly

‘a rich and moving account of a difficult life redeemed by art.’


Helen Trinca


Helen Trinca has co-written two previous books: Waterfront: The Battle that Changed Australia and Better than Sex: How a Whole Generation Got Hooked on Work. She has held senior reporting and editing roles in Australian journalism, including a stint as the… »

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  • RRP: $15.95
  • Pub date: 20/03/2013
  • ISBN: 9781921961137
  • Buy: Ebook retailers