I grew up in a small town in rural Victoria – Eildon Weir, as it was known when I lived there. The town nestled under the weir, and I spent a fair bit of time as a child contemplating the thrilling prospect of the wall’s collapse. I imagined the opportunities the flood would provide for the rescue of old people and small children. The newspaper headlines would read: “Eildon Boy Saves Hundreds.” Fashioning these fantasies of triumph was the beginning of my life as a writer. Whenever a new word came my way, I found a home for it in my ongoing narrative, always awkwardly: “Indefatigable Eildon Boy Saves Hundreds,” and, “Indefatigable Eildon Boy Saves Hundreds From Catastrophic Calamity.” It took me many years of writing before I got back to,“Eildon Boy Saves Hundreds”.
The Bride of Almond Tree – July publication, Text.
The novel tells the story of twenty-one year old Wes Cunningham, who has returned from the Pacific War in 1946, and of Beth Hardy, the youngest of a family of four daughters. The setting of the tale is principally the Victorian town of Almond Tree. Wes is a Quaker, one of a small community of Quakers established in the town in the late nineteenth century. Wes had volunteered for a non-combative role in the Pacific War, was severely wounded but made a full recovery. When he returns to Almond Tree, he catches sight of Beth Hardy, now eighteen, a girl he has known since they were both children. She is now a young woman and Wes is captivated. He hopes to court her, but Beth is now an avid young communist, influenced by one of her teachers at secondary school, and she laughs off Wes’s attempts to woo her, with kindness rather than contempt. She is about to leave for university in Melbourne, and intends, as she says, never to marry. Wes honours her wishes, but remains devoted to Beth, all through her university years. When Beth, after graduation, takes a job with a famously communist-dominated trade union, Wes’s loyalty to his love for her remains undiminished even when Beth is snared in an MI6 sting and jailed. It is while Wes is visiting Beth each fortnight in Pentridge that Beth finds herself more and more attracted to him.
Another story unfolds in tandem with the story of Wes and Beth; that of Wes’s sister Patty, a Quaker like her brother, and just as Wes took on a non-combative role in the Australian army, so Patty signs up as a nurse and works with the survivors of the American atomic bomb exploded above Hiroshima; ‘America’s Auschwitz’, as described by Patty.
The settings of the story switch between Almond Tree, Moscow, New Guinea, Hiroshima and Melbourne. The story’s argument is that loyalty and commitment are crucial in overcoming the impediments to love.
Hillman (The Boy in the Green Suit) offers an uplifting exploration of how people rise above tragedy to find joy. It’s 1968 in an Australian backwater town, and Tom Hope’s wife, Trudy, has disappeared, only to return a year later, pregnant with another man’s child. Tom grows to love the boy, Peter, but then Trudy abandons both when Peter is almost three, returning two years later to take her son from Tom and, shortly thereafter, send him divorce papers. After Hannah Babel—who survived Auschwitz but lost her entire family, including her husband and young son, to the concentration camps—comes to town, she hires Tom to fix up the bookstore she’s set on running, and the two of them—he, a calm workman, she an older, feisty intellectual—each with their separate anguish, find common ground and marry. Then Peter, still a child, reappears in Tom’s life, forcing Hannah to question whether she could allow herself to love another child, and Tom to potentially have to choose between his marriage and his love for the boy he considers a son. Hillman’s novel is an impressive, riveting tale of how two disparate and well-drawn people recover from soul-wrenching grief and allow themselves to truly love again. Agent: David Forrer, InkWell Management. (Apr.)
Reviewed on 02/22/2019
Barnes and Noble
The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted’ Published by Text in April, 2018.
‘It’s the early 1960s. Tom Hope is a young farmer in central Victoria, struggling with the misfortune of a failed marriage. Left with a child to rear, not his own, Tom develops a loving bond with the boy, only to have him reclaimed by his mother. On the point of abandoning all prospect of finding love in his life, Tom meets Hannah, a Jewish woman of some sophistication, thirteen years older than him, who has come to Australia from Budapest. Hannah, the survivor of a German death camp, has her own reasons for giving up on love. And yet, against all odds, Tom and Hannah thrive together and marry. But Hannah harbours a sorrow so profound that it threatens to destroy her and Tom. This is a story of love, its impediments, and the courage required to imagine a destination.’
“A novel of great spirit and tenderness.” Carrie Tiffany.
Joyful Text Publishing April 2014
Tess Wachowicz is a woman of great beauty and accomplishment. Her second marriage at the age of forty to Leon Joyce, a privately wealthy dealer in fine and rare books, puzzles her friends and admirerers. Tess is famously libidinous; Leon is asexual. The assumption is that Tess has made an ‘arrangement’ with Leon, but the arrangement is stranger than anyone imagines. When Tess falls fatally ill and dies after months of struggle, her husband’s grief drives him to the brink of madness. He retreats to Joyful, an old property in rural Victoria, once the site of an utopian community run by his great-aunt. There, Leon faces harrowing secrets kept from him by Tess, and also uncovers the hidden life of the long-ago utopian community.
Leon’s grief and sense of betrayal is mirrored in the concurrent story of Emmanuel Delli and his wife Daanya, Kurds who adopted Australia after the Gulf War to escape the nightmare of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Emmanuel arrived in Australia with an international reputation in Mesopotamian studies; Daanya is a pediatrician. Their daughter Sofia, a musical protégé of Tess Wachowicz, takes her own life in a Melbourne hotel after the failure of an ill-advised relationship with her father’s closest friend. Emmanuel experiences his daughter’s death as a betrayal of his love for her, and like Leon, he is driven close to madness.
Circumstances eventually bring Leon and Emmanuel face-to-face at Joyful, where their separate struggles to overcome grief and betrayal merge, and find resolution.
“Hillman’s writing has a rococo grandness and sweep. His confidence encompasses high fashion, the lives of an educated upper-class Iraqi family, the eccentricity of country towns, the glory and terror of the Australian countryside and the hilarity, as well as the anguish, of being mad. And he writes about sex with an earthiness reminiscent of D.H. Lawrence.” Helen Elliot, The Saturday Age
“Hillman’s prose is a pleasure to read, elegantly alert to the paradox of strong feeling, full of poetry…” Geordie Williamson, The Weekend Australian