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Article  •  27 May 2022


How author unites people and place to create atmosphere in Stone Town

Margaret Hickey, prolific author, teacher, and playwright shares how her passion for landscape saturates her story development and characters in her new novel Stone Town.

Margaret Hickey is a household name among readers of all ages.

In addition to her 2021 crime thriller Cutters End, her collection of short stories Rural Dreams is being taught in English classes in select schools across Australia. But the buck doesn’t stop there: on top of her literary achievements, Hickey is also a playwright and teacher.

No matter the format of her work, however, Hickey has always had a keen interest in landscape – and it shows.

About Margaret Hickey

Now well-known for her crime debut, Cutters End, Hickey’s writing career began with a PhD in creative writing.

While completing her doctoral research degree, the author’s main focus was depictions of rural landscapes in Australian literature. Shaped by this understanding, Hickey has since infused her works with a strong sense of atmosphere, largely constructed by the landscapes she lays out.

Much of Hickey’s work is also influenced by her own experience living in rural areas and hitchhiking across Australia in her early 20s.

People and Place in Hickey’s Writing

While there are many stereotypes of rural people and places, it’s of paramount importance to Hickey that she provides fair depictions of life outside the city. ‘Sometimes people write about country people in a certain way that makes them seem stupid. . . and that’s simply not true,’ the author shares. Having lived in the country for many years, Hickey has first-hand experience of the strength and resilience of rural people and a genuine appreciation for the natural beauty of remote places.  

‘I’ve lived in small rural towns for 35 years of my life, and landscape is really important to me,’ says Hickey. ‘So when I write about small towns and landscapes, I make sure that I know what I’m talking about.’

Though both Stone Town and Cutters End are set in fictional towns, the settings were based on real places. Not wanting to besmirch any one place, Hickey tweaks the locations and names to craft fictional landscapes from real ones. ‘The landscapes are always real and authentic – I might shift the location, or I shift the area a bit. But the landscapes are something that I know well. And something that I really care about.’

In the same way that Hickey crafts a realistic sense of place, so too does she create her characters.

Breaking the mould of country-bumpkin typecasting, Hickey draws on her own experiences in rural Australia to accurately represent the lives of country people. ‘Small rural towns are microcosms of large cities, they’re a melting pot,’ she says. Especially in her playwriting, Hickey strives to highlight the ways landscape shapes people. ‘If I was writing someone from the Western District. It might be slightly different from how I write someone from central Victoria,’ she explains. ‘What they speak about, and their demeanour . . . I’m always conscious of that,’ Hickey outlines, highlighting how she injects setting into her characters’ personalities.

Stone Town

While place and people are always strong facets of all of Hickey’s work, Stone Town couldn’t be a better example of these factors at play.

Opening with an unusual rainstorm in remote bushland, Hickey immediately establishes an atmosphere of unease as a body is discovered by three children. In tandem with the rain, the dark night, remoteness, and wildlife make for a sense of mystery from the opening scene.

How long has the body been there? Would anyone have seen the culprit? Are those noises in the distance screams or owl calls?

Immediately following the discovery of a body that sets the story rolling, Hickey introduces a cast of women, establishing grandmothers, mothers, and daughters as central players in the plotline. Throughout the novel, the author continues to reflect on the matriarchal nature of the country town, exposing the way that women act behind the scenes to keep rural communities afloat by manipulating the course of events – for better or for worse.

With the setting and characters working in tandem, an eerie atmosphere looms large over Stone Town, saturating the book with a sense of unease. 'I enjoy the feeling of being deliciously scared,' shares Hickey – and if that sounds like you  too, this is definitely one to read. 

Can't wait to read it? Pre-order Stone Town, and prepare yourself for plenty of chills and thrills. 

Feature Title

Stone Town
Stone Town is another captivating rural crime drama from the author of the award-winning Cutters End.
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