OUR SHARED DES­TINY

Bris­bane au­thor Cory Tay­lor died ear­lier this month. Her pub­lisher, Michael Hey­ward, re­mem­bers a wise and com­pas­sion­ate writer who knew no fear

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

In the mid­dle of 2009, Cory Tay­lor sent us some pages from a novel she was writ­ing. We knew noth­ing about her but it was ob­vi­ous that she could write like an an­gel. Her work-in-progress was writ­ten from the point of view of a teenage girl grow­ing up in a re­gional town and em­bark­ing on an af­fair with an at­trac­tively fu­tile mar­ried man.

The di­a­logue was pre­cise and the ob­ser­va­tion flaw­less. The chap­ters we read were funny, sad, sar­donic. This was a story about the heady rush of break­ing the rules, the thrill of smash­ing bore­dom to bits. We read in a state of en­thral­ment and asked to see more.

A year later the com­pleted man­u­script reached us. It was called Me and Mr Booker. By now we knew that Cory was an award-win­ning screen­writer, was in her early 50s, was mar­ried to a Ja­panese artist, had two sons and, when she wasn’t liv­ing in Bris­bane, spent a lot of time in Ja­pan. We also knew that she had given us a crack­ing novel to pub­lish. Martha and Mr Booker are an in­deli­bly in­cor­rect cou­ple. Their vivid trans­gres­sions await the film­maker who can rise to the oc­ca­sion of the danger­ous land­scapes — phys­i­cal, moral, so­cial and sex­ual — in which they oc­cur.

Cory came to us late but fully formed. She had been writ­ing all her life. She was born in South­port, Queens­land, in 1955 and grew up mostly in Can­berra, apart from stints in Fiji and Kenya. She read his­tory at the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity, trav­elled to Europe like so many Aus­tralians of her gen­er­a­tion, but then she did some­thing less usual. In 1982 she went to Ja­pan, and there she met Shin Koyama, an artist who be­came her hus­band for 31 years. They set­tled in both Bris­bane and in Arita, and raised their two boys, Nat and Dan.

In 2005, Cory was di­ag­nosed with melanoma. Her ill­ness, un­der­stand­ably, shook her up. But it gal­vanised her too, and com­pelled her to get on with it, to write the nov­els she had been dream­ing about all her life.

We pub­lished Me and Mr Booker in 2011. It went on to win a Com­mon­wealth Writ­ers Prize. Cory was on her way. She wrote My Beau­ti­ful En­emy, a no less au­da­cious novel about a wartime in­tern­ment camp guard who falls in love with a Ja­panese pris­oner. Here she was again, ex­plor­ing the del­i­cate cor­ners of un­ex­pected ex­pe­ri­ence in an Aus­tralian con­text that was si­mul­ta­ne­ously iconic and a place we were see­ing for the first time. Again the crit­i­cal re­sponse was rap­tur­ous. “An al­most un­bear­ably beau­ti­ful story,” wrote Robert Des­saix, “about long­ing and secret lives in which grief and joy turn out to be much the same thing.” My Beau­ti­ful En­emy was short­listed for the Miles Franklin in 2014.

Cory was an in­stinc­tive writer who knew no fear, who took the reader into dark and danger­ous places that we be­lieve in be­cause she cre­ates an ef­fort­less ten­sion be­tween her com­pas­sion for her char­ac­ters and her drive to tell us the whole truth about them. She was end­lessly cu­ri­ous about peo­ple and she trans­lated this cu­rios­ity into her char­ac­ters. Her rest­less spirit and ap­petite for life in­formed the ea­gle-eyed hu­man­ity of her writ­ing.

We didn’t know about her ill­ness. We didn’t know that she had be­gun writ­ing fic­tion only af­ter her di­ag­no­sis. But by late 2014 we knew that Cory was very un­well. She told us she was about to have brain surgery. Her cheer­ful­ness and courage were undi­min­ished. “At the very least it’ll make a good story,” she wrote. “I just pray the knife doesn’t slip and I can keep scrib­bling away.” We have rea­son to be grate­ful to her sur­geon. I don’t think Cory imag­ined even then what an ex­tra­or­di­nary story she would make out of her ap­pre­hen­sion of death.

The surgery bought her some time. On Fe­bru­ary 1 this year, how­ever, Cory called her ed­i­tor at Text, Penny Hue­ston, to let her know that the game was up: she was aban­don­ing all treat­ment. There would be no more books. They talked for hours. Some­thing tremen­dous hap­pened in that con­ver­sa­tion. “So great to talk yes­ter­day,” Cory wrote to Penny the fol­low­ing day. “I’ve started writ­ing it all down in­stead of con­stantly blab­bing about it.”

What fol­lowed was as­ton­ish­ing. Over the next five weeks Cory wrote a new book in three per­fectly formed sec­tions that she sent to Penny at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals. It was a book about

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