National Year of Reading 2012

Featured Ambassadors

Feature Week 4: Adelaide Festival; Writers' Week
Peter Goldsworthy

In week four, we feature Peter Goldsworthy and Phil Cummings, National Year of Reading ambassadors who both hail from South Australia and will feature in the 2012 Adelaide Festival.

Author talk at Mosman Library
Author talk at Mosman Library
Meet the readers at Mosman Library
Meet the readers at Mosman Library
Meet the staff at Mt Gambier Library
Meet the staff at Mt Gambier Library
Peter Goldsworthy
Peter Goldsworthy
Signing books at Mt Gambier Library
Signing books at Mt Gambier Library
Working with help from Poky
Working with help from Poky

About Peter

Peter Goldsworthy was born in South Australia and grew up in various country towns, finishing his schooling in Darwin in the Northern Territory. After graduating in medicine from the University of Adelaide he worked for several years in alcohol and drug rehabilitation, but since then has divided his working time between general practice and writing. He has won literary awards across a range of genres: novels, short stories, poetry, opera and theatre. In 2010 he was awarded a Medal of Australia for services to literature.

Peter shares his thoughts on reading

Almost all the complex information we learn, and need to learn, comes to us from reading. Parents and teachers can guide us and inspire us, film and photographs can seduce us - but finally we are alone with our eyes and a text. This is not to say that reading is all hard study - on the contrary it is usually an adventure, a joyous or entertaining or awe inspiring journey, and the lessons often come sideways, or subconsciously, ambushing us, as when we read fiction. I started reading when I was three - a book called 'Ant and bee' by Angela Banner - and haven't stopped since. My iPad has only put afterburners on that reading journey; almost every word ever written is now, or soon will be, available to read at the touch of a screen.

Peter's Reading Habits

  • What's the book you've read most often? The late Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert's 'Selected poems. I first read it at 19; it changed my life.
  • Which book is by your bedside right now? My e-reader, with a fully loaded magazine, needing just an itchy trigger finger.
  • What's your perfect holiday read? Elmore Leonard. The economy of the dialogue, the characters, and the narrative spell he weaves are perfect for lazy times.
  • What was the last book you borrowed from your public library? The novel 'Berlin Alexanderplatz', by Alfred Doblin. I was giving a talk in Berlin last year on doctor writers, and thought I'd start with a Berliner.
  • What was the last book you bought from a bookshop? Clive James 'A point of view'. I bought a ridiculous number of copies and gave them away as gifts. This was less generosity than vanity: the book is dedicated to me, and I wanted to boast.
  • What was the last/first e-book you downloaded? Charles Dickens, 'Little Dorrit'. I've been reading through Dickens as a personal celebration of his 200th birthday. I'd forgotten how magical he can be.
  • Do you skim the boring bits or read every word? I often skim the disguised essays in the big nineteenth century novels, for example, Tolstoy. Dickens is usually too funny to want to skim.
  • At what point do you give up on a book? It can be the first paragraph with some novels. Or the second-last. There's an argument that you should always finish a Dickens novel 50 pages before the end, before all those improbable coincidences that tie everything up.
  • Do you remember learning to read? Yes, on my father's knee at age three, with 'Ant and bee'. I never stopped after that.
  • Do you have a favourite book from your childhood? Too many. Louise Fatio's 'The happy lion' at six. Mark Twain's 'Huckleberry Finn' at 10. Rudyard Kipling's 'Kim' at 13.

Writing that has influenced Peter

  • Zbigniew Herbert's ironic, allusive poems I mentioned above.
  • Chekhov's short stories - another doctor writer. I like the shortest ones best, such as the early 'Anya'.
  • As for getting longer: Saul Bellow's novel 'Herzog' first showed me a way of glueing together the clutter of a novel using the sheer force and driving poetry of a first-person voice.

Peter's Work


Peter's seven novels have sold more than 400,000 copies in Australia and been translated into many languages. His first novel, 'Maestro', was published in 1999 and was included in a list of the top 40 Australian books of all time produced by the Australian Society of Authors.


'Gravel' is Peter's latest short story compilation. It was launched at the Adelaide Writers' Week in 2010. Take a look at the following clip of Peter talking about 'Gravel' during Writers' Week.


Peter's first collection of poetry won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, the SA Premier's Prize, and the Anne Elder Award. His second won the Australian Bicentennial Literary Prize for poetry in 1988.

You can hear some of Peter's poems read on The Poetry Archive.



Peter wrote the libretti for the Richard Mills operas, Batavia and Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Batavia was commissioned by Opera Australia and has won a number of awards. It is based on the historical events surrounding the sinking of Batavia, a Dutch sailing ship.


Several of Peter's novels, including 'Honk if you are Jesus', 'Three dog night', 'Maestro' and 'Wish' have been adapted for the stage.

As part of the 10th Australian Performing Arts Market, an adaptation of Peter's novel Wish will be performed. Night Train Productions, a chamber theatre company with a focus on the art of storytelling, will perform the play that tells of a love story between a man and a gorilla. See the festival website for more details.


Adelaide Festival Writers' Week

Since its inception in 1960, the Adelaide Festival has featured thousands of Australian and international artists in the fields of theatre, music, dance, visual arts, writing and film. The 2012 festival runs from the 2nd - 18th March, with Saturday 3rd - Thursday 8th designated as the Adelaide Writers' Week.

Peter Goldsworthy is the Chair of the Writers' Week advisory committee and in this capacity is very much involved in the Adelaide Festival. He will chair a conversation with four poets, talking about the use of place in their poetry and an evening of poetry reading with a number of international and local poets.

  • For more information about Peter's involvement in the 2012 Adelaide Festival Writers' Week:

    Click here

  • To find out more about the Adelaide Festival and Writers' Week, take a look at the festival website.


  • Other National Year of Reading ambassadors and friends are also appearing during Writers' Week, including:

    Phil Cummings; Festival Website

    Boori Monty Pryor; Festival Website

    Alice Phung; Festival Website

  • Want to know more?

    • For more information about Peter and his work, take a look at his website.

      Peter's website

    • Take a look at Phil Cummings, our other featured ambassador during the fourth week of the National Year of Reading.

      Click here

    • If you want to find out about all the National Year of Reading ambassadors, go to our ambassadors page.

      Click here

    • Other featured ambassadors can be found on the ambassador feature week listing.

      Click here

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