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January 21, 2020


#AWW2020 Fiona McFarlane

by N@ncy



  1. Fiona McFarlane is the winner of  £30,000 Dylan Thomas Prize 2017.
  2. The prize is open to writers in the English language aged 39 and under.
  3. NOTE: Longlist for Dylan Thomas Prize 2020 will be announced
  4. at the Jaipur Literature Festival  @JaipurLitFest
  5. 24 Jan 2020   0800 GMT (0900 CET) 1900 Sydney Australia



  1. Here are a few more stories  I tried to summarize.
  2. Short stories are a joy to read….
  3. …but a chore to review!
  4. I’m always searching for the right template for a
  5. short story collection blogpost.
  6. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
  7. Everyone will have their own favorites stories
  8. …but mine are:
  9. Mycenae (Janet….I loved her!)
  10. Man and Bird ( …shortest story in collection…but packs a punch!)
  11. Violet, Violet (enchanting, had to laugh out-loud!)
  12. The High Places (reveals the meaning of the title!)
  13. #MustRead  Fiona McFarlane



Exotic Animal Medicine

  1. POV:  3rd-person narrative focused on one character Sarah.
  2. Plot: Sarah: animal veterinarian who specializes in exotic animal medicine.
  3. On her wedding day the newly-weds are involved in a car crash
  4. on their way to her surgery job…an accident on a dark country road.
  5. My Question:  Sarah cares for victim of car accident
  6. ..but had Sarah had too much to drink?
  7. Conflict: Sarah’s inner struggle accident, no witnesses, old man dies.
  8. Theme: Burden of guilt is heavy….hard feeling to handle. What should I do?
  9. Ending: is satisfying but not a neatly tied up conclusion.


First reading:

I read the story too quickly. I formed an ‘ending’ in my thoughts before I even  finished the story. I was taking the easy way out and assumed this would be a cut and dry story about the burden of guilt. I missed the essential role played by  the cat Queen of Sheba!

Second reading:

I knew this story had more to offer than meets the eye. It won a very prestigious literary prize in 2009 at th school where McFarlane was studying: University of Texas in Austin. Also having read an article by Joe Morgan in The Guardian about reflection and quiet absorption…the art of slow reading. I decided to take it slowly.

The story took on a whole new dimension.

….the parallel between the cat Sheba and Mr. Ronald!  It felt that Sarah the main character had a telepathic connection with the cat in the surgery.

Mr. Ronald….dying in the car moaned as did the cat in its cage many miles away.

This gave the story a ‘spooky’ feeling.




  1. POV: First Person Janet tells the story and interacts in the story as well.
  2. Plot: 2 couples (60+) (college friends) on a reunion holiday in Greece
  3. Characters: Janet – Murray (live in AUS)  Amy – Eric (live in USA)
  4. Theme: marriage
  5. Timeline: 1 week
  6. Clever play on words: Cornwall is south westernmost point of England
    It is where the couples as young students spent a holiday.
    Relationships were tested.
    “Marriage is like that, isn’t it, …It reaches a point.”
  7. Strong point: Feeling of pathos
    I can relate to Janet because I understand what it feels like to have a girlfriend
    who runs the show, steals the spotlight with no care of what others may feel!


Art Appreciation:

  1. POV: Third Person narrator is in a “god-like” position
    in which he can see into the minds of the characters.
  2. Plot:  Henry is a gambling man. He likes to weigh his odds and options
  3. He likes a little profit…a little loss.
  4. But what happens when he discovers  love does not work this way!
  5. Characters: Henry (28 yr) – Ellie (fiancé)  Kath (mistress)
  6. Theme: marriage; loneliness
  7. Timeline: 1,5 year
  8. Strong point: Character development (Henry)
    Henry utilizes the emotions of others to his own ends.
    Machiavellian…he is motivated out of pure, calculating self-interest.


Man and Bird:

  1. POV: 3rd person
  2. Plot: fall of a local preacher when he doubts his faith
  3. Characters: preacher and white parrot
  4. Theme: faith
  5. Timeline: unspecified in story
  6. Strong point: symbol of a parrot seen as a messenger from God
    …but the preacher feels he is “mindlessly mimicking” God’s message
    …as a parrot mimics speech!
  7. Strong point: McFarlane ‘bookends’ her story.
    The imagery that introduced the story…ends the story.
    This gives the reader a feeling that loose ends are tis up
    …. of coming full circle.
  8. NOTE: story contains no dialogue an is shortest story in the collection


Unnecessary Gifts

  1. POV: First Person Philip (father)  tells the story and interacts in the story as well
  2. Plot:
  3. Grandparents provide Phil and Glenda state-of-the are devices….see
  4. Title:  “Unnecessary Gifts” to  attach to James and Greg to track their movements.
  5. …to keep their grandchildren safe. But the parents did not keep up the surveillance.
  6. Boys disappear from neighbourhood….where are they?
  7. Characters:
  8. Philip – Glenda – Greg – James ( father/mother/sons)
  9. Tony (playmate of James and Greg)
  10. Tony’s brother (security guard in store at the mall)
  11. Theme:  parenting
  12. ….grandparents are savvy of dangers that their own children do not see!
  13. Timeline: 1 day (…with flashbacks to provide background family info)
  14. Strong point: tension…mention of police report,
  15. security tapes and Tony’s brother’s statement on
  16. …2nd page is foreshadowing that something is going to go wrong!
  17. Weak point:  the aforementioned ‘tension …where did it go?
  18. The story fizzles out completely! Deflates like a cold soufflé!
  19. I’m very disappointed with this selection…it had so much potential.
  20. It feels like Mcfalrlane’s heart and concentration are not really in
  21. this story: “she phoned it in.”


Those Americans Falling From the Sky

  1. POV: First Person Jeanie tells the story and interacts in the story as well
  2. Plot: pastoral description of life @home for Jeanie en Nora
  3. ….and the impact of US airmen in the town of Merrigool.
  4. But the story enters around 8 dead airmen whose
  5. plane crashed behind their farm and one missing parachutist.
  6. Their souls began to cause trouble in the area.
  7. Characters:
  8. Edith (60+) neighbor
  9. Nora – Jeanie (sisters)
  10. Maggie (mother) – Frank (stepfather of sisters)
  11. Theme: nostalgia
  12. Weak point: the story felt a bit pointless
  13. Memories of life on a farm during WW II in Australia
  14. …nothing else.
  15. “Their souls began to cause trouble in the area”
  16. …sounded like an excellent opportunity to write some great
  17. …subplots but McFarlane did not flesh this out.
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