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Jacqueline Kent on falling in love with the man behind 'Wake in Fright'

Jacqueline Kent on falling in love with the man behind 'Wake in Fright'

The influence of Australian horror novel Wake in Fright has become so ubiquitous that it’s become something of a meme, says biographer and book editor Jacqueline Kent.

‘People say things like, “Oh, it’s pure Wake in Fright!”, which means someone’s stranded in a very nasty town in the outback,’ she says.

The debut novel by Kenneth Cook has continued to terrify readers around the world since its publication in 1961, and another adaption of the classic story took to screens in 2017. The novel follows the descent of a young teacher from Sydney into an ‘alcoholic, sexual and spiritual nightmare’ in the fictional outback town of Bundanyabba.

Wake in Fright was the powerful precursor to many other classic Aussie stories – including Wolf Creek – of menace in the outback.

Jacqueline’s new memoir, Beyond Words: A year with Kenneth Cook, charts her relationship and brief marriage to the man behind the book.

Cook wrote Wake in Fright, Jacqueline says, ‘out of an understanding of human frailty, a dislike of the cherished Aussie myth of mateship and a deep sense of pessimism.’

It might be somewhat surprising, then, that Jacqueline became acquinted with the author while working as an editor for a collection of humorous Aussie bush stories he wrote. Cook also, at one point, opened and operated a butterfly farm. 

He was a man of many paradoxes, Jacqueline reveals on the Good Reading Podcast. Jacqueline also talks about how writing a biography of Julia Gillard was far easier than turning the magnifying glass on herself and writing memoir, and shares her observations about the changes she’s watched unfold across Australian publishing world during her time in the industry.

Listen now on Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or any other app by searching for the ‘Good Reading Podcast’.