Jillian Watkinson (1957 - )
‘Just then the city lights shone out: Each name shone forth as brightest gold; A strange, sweet perfume played about And in my heart crept peace, untold … I felt … warm hands … upon my own … My son … kept tryst … at the Grey Stone.’ ‘Anzac Eve’ Margaret Curran
Jillian Watkinson was born in Brisbane and grew up in rural Queensland.
She has worked as a registered nurse in hospital and community settings and has a degree in Communications and Sociology from the DDIAE (Now USQ). She is active within community groups and the professional development of regional writers.
Her first book The Architect (2000) won the inaugural Queensland Premier's Award for best emerging author. The novel opens with a motorbike accident in which the central character Jules Van Erp is seriously burnt. Van Erp is a multilingual Eurasian with an international artistic reputation and he represents a particular dream of cosmopolitanism as wealth, education, talent, taste, travel and distinction. The architect is also a brilliant photographer, painter, and musician and much of the early interest in the story is related to the challenges which his painful rehabilitation from serious burns poses for his sense of identity.
The gifted Van Erp's injuries are disfiguring and disabling and new friends and new colleagues become necessary in ways which test his emotional strength and force him to reexamine his sense of himself as artist, lover, father, and friend. Jillian Watkinson has a professional background in medical rehabilitation and Van Erp's psychic drama bears the conviction of this experience.
Her second novel, The Hanging Tree (2004) revisits some of the characters and places of her first novel and is the result of twenty years of story collecting and tracking oral family histories. In the novel, the young narrator moves between the past and the present day as he explores a century of social and political change through the stories of his ethnically mixed rural Queensland family.
This investigative family narrative works as the frame through which a long family history gradually gives up its secrets. A major theme is the effect of the two World Wars and Vietnam on successive generations of young men, the women who loved them and the children they bore. Jan Murray, a young doctor with deep emotional scars of her own is the key to the novel. She lost her own brother to the Vietnam conflict and she has history with a number of the Marsden men.This ideally places her to assist unravelling time, space and relationships in an effort to render a succession of enigmatic characters whole.
Watkinson's experience of the health profession is again put to use in this sprawling novel and a comparison with Dorothy Cottrel's work from earlier in the century allows an interesting measure of just how far the social position of women in this country has shifted.
Christopher Lee, 'Art, Disfigurement and the Pleasures of the Senses'. Rev. of The Architect by Jillian Watkinson, Coppertales 7 (2001): 108-09.
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