Five Great Reads: female fantasies, coping with grief and a nuanced take on a plagiarism scandal

Good morning, and happy Saturday. I saw mid-January described as “the 7am of the year”, which by my read makes this … 8am? 8.30? Somewhere in the morning, and still very much the summer, anyway. A nice time to make yourself a coffee and settle in somewhere (window seat, maligned beach cabana, elusive patch of floor free of Lego) for a good read. Five of them, in fact – Kris and I are nothing if not consistent. We’ve also added a must-listen special podcast at the end – Katharine Murphy’s one-on-one with the prime minister, Anthony Albanese.

1. The John Hughes take you should read

The already pretty gossipy world of Australian literature exploded last year when parts of novelist John Hughes’s Miles Franklin-longlisted novel were revealed to have been plagiarised. Many had white-hot and generally shouty opinions to share. But Sydney writer Joseph Earp’s piece this week on discovering Hughes – his former and beloved English teacher – had plagiarised him in another novel, is lyrical, self-aware and refreshingly nuanced.

Why should I care about this? At least three people separately asked me if I’d read this – the real-life version of going viral, I reckon.

The line: “It hurt, and I was angry for what had happened to me and other writers – the way our labour had been co-opted, and not appropriately cited. Lots of people can imagine that hurt, I assume. But I can’t imagine that many other people understand the way it felt good, too.”

How long will it take to read: a little less than seven minutes

2. Coping as ‘an everyday practice’

British poet and children’s author Michael Rosen (the man who brought you such hits as We’re Going on a Bear Hunt) lost his 18-year-old son Eddie to meningococcal septicaemia. He still dreams about him, frequently and vividly, as he tells Alex Moshakis in this completely lovely and heart-wrenching interview. “When I wake up there is a moment a bit like a sort of mini-bereavement.”

Soon after the death, Rosen and Eddie’s mother came across another mother, grieving in a Paris cemetery – a catalyst, he explains, that pushed him to find some way to keep going. “On the one hand, I felt terrible for her. On the other I was thinking, I don’t think I can live like that, I must find ways to be less incapacitated … It’s whether you succeed in doing it. It’s an effort. It’s quite a thing to do.”

How long will it take to read: a bit more than five minutes

Further reading: this extract, about the Paris encounter, from Getting Better

3. Inside a spiritual sanctuary

Sian Cain’s story on the Melbourne church led by a lesbian minister is something special. During last Sunday’s service at St Michael’s, she watched “two reverends offer a radical act of grace that [was] somehow both gentle and fierce: an apology for the pain religion has caused many in the room”.

Cain stayed back to meet some of the congregation, who shared their stories.

Who’s saying what? “We all need to feel safe and loved,” Laura – member of St Michael’s for 24 years and now chair of the church council – said. “We have our friends, we have our family – if they haven’t thrown you out – but this, this is a sacred community. Here, we love you for who you are. And I will come here for the rest of my days and one day, my ashes will be kept here.”

How long will it take to read: two or so minutes

4. Check in with your body

There’s Feb Fast, Sober October, Dry January and Dry July … and a pretty good case for gently suggesting, as one Guardian opinion writer did this week, that what we need is not more PR-branded abstinence but, maybe, a course in moderation. (Stoic or epicurean! Your call!) Still, this look at what happens to your body (and mind) when you don’t drink is helpful. Compelling even.

Food (or non-alcoholic drink) for thought: a month isn’t just an opportunity for a pithy slogan – it’s a decent enough amount of time to set new patterns – and evaluate old ones.

How long will it take to read: just two minutes

5. Send Gillian Anderson your fantasies (actually, though)

In the Netflix series Sex Education, Gillian Armstrong plays a “fabulously liberated and candid sex therapist”. To prepare for the role, she dove into My Secret Garden, Nancy Friday’s 1973 collection of women’s fantasies, yearnings and frustrations. It stunned her. And stayed on her mind as friends and journalists began to ask more and more if, since the show, people ever confide in her.

“Well, they don’t,” she says bluntly. “Which ultimately is what gave me the idea for a book.”

The actor is gathering material for her own modern version of the cult bestseller. She wants yours. I think it’s a cool idea.

As she writes: “We show characters who struggle with their sexual relations, and yet are brave enough to talk about it with their lovers and partners so that they can get what they need sexually … I am curious to know whether it’s something that people feel comfortable doing in real life.”

How long will it take to read: two and a half minutes

What to do next: get in touch with Anderson, until 28 February 2023, at

A special podcast with the PM

The PM will persist with the Indigenous voice to parliament referendum even if he suspects it will fail. The voice was just one of the items Albanese discussed with political editor Katharine Murphy in this special Australian Politics episode.

And one more thing

Don’t forget, this is far from our only email newsletter. It’s an embarrassment of riches out there, from our morning and afternoon news briefings to our weekly culture and lifestyle newsletter, Saved for Later. Sign up, why don’t you.

Meanwhile, I’d really like to know what you think about the stories here, the Michael Rosen one especially. Have you ever had a meeting that helped you through an especially hard time? I would love to hear about it – write to me at