Joan London is an award-winning author whose critically acclaimed works focus on the uniqueness of the human story, journeys taken to find truth, and the complexities of relationships between generations, families and lovers.
Joan grew up the youngest of four sisters in Perth. She was surrounded by “amazing” literature as a child, with novels dating from the early 1900s in the family bookcase. A dedicated reader, Joan “found new worlds” within books, spending hours re-creating stories in her backyard as a child. Children’s novels from the early 20th century like Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians and Pioneer Shack by Dora Birtles struck Joan’s imagination. For as far back as she can remember, Joan wanted to be a writer.
Though the recreations of novels stopped when she hit her teenage years, Joan remained encouraged by literature throughout her schooling. After high school, she completed a degree in English and French at The University of Western Australia; but it would be almost a decade before she wrote a story. Joan’s twenties were spent travelling the world, finding love, having children, attempting to live in the country and building a life. It was not until 1978, soon after she had her second child that she had enough distance from early experience to be able to write.
Joan wrote of her life and her generation: their identities as travellers, idealists and romantics; a generation always searching for something; young people who rebelled against the values of their parents’ generation, sojourned in India and attempted communal living in the country. She discovered the stories of the Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, who had explored the universality of her own experiences a generation earlier. Joan’s first book of short stories, Sister Ships, was published by the Fremantle Arts Centre Press in 1986. Her second book, another collection of short stories called Letter to Constantine, followed in 1993. Both books were later published together as The New Dark Age in 2004.
Joan achieved considerable success with her first two books, winning The Age Book of the Year Award for Sister Ships, the Western Australian Premier’s Award for Fiction and the Steele Rudd Award for Letter to Constantine.
But the pressure of feeling obligated to create something new bought on a stagnant period for Joan. She grew fearful that she did not have any more stories to tell, until one night, she had a vivid dream that would one day become a novel.
She dreamt of a young woman with a baby travelling in foreign lands, looking for a place surrounded by mountains, a place that was not quite Eastern or Western that would be her home. The dream had a title ‘Gilgamesh.’ She began to research and discovered the Epic of Gilgamesh, the world’s first-known work of poetry. Joan spent years researching and took a trip to Armenia, which she identified as the country surrounded by mountains between the East and West. “I felt that I’d been sent that dream, I felt lucky to have had it.” Joan’s first full-length novel, Gilgamesh, was published in 2001. It was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and won The Age Fiction Book of the Year Award.
Seven years later, her second novel was published, The Good Parents, in which Joan again explored the ideals of her generation. The story centres on the rebellious journey of a young woman, away from her parents who have attempted ‘the good life’ in the country. It examines what so many generations have in common – the desire to “be better than our own parents,” and the relationships forged and sometimes broken within families. The Good Parents won the 2009 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.
In 2014, Joan’s third and most recent novel, The Golden Age, was published by Random House. Sparked by a desire to write about the 1950s and an interest in hospitals dating back to a brief hospital stay in Joan’s own childhood, the novel delves into the Australian polio epidemic. Set in Perth, it follows a forbidden love story between two young polio sufferers. The Golden Age won the 2015 NSW Premier’s People’s Choice Award, was shortlisted for a number of other honours, and won the national Kibble Literary Award in 2015.
Joan’s work is created and defined by a deep connection to her characters, a constant desire to explore human nature, and a yearning for authenticity within herself and the worlds she builds.
Joan lives in Fremantle with her husband and is currently writing a new novel.