May 30, 2023 - #allenandunwin | Esther's Children |

Walking in Esther’s Footsteps

Walking in Esther’s footsteps

April included a busy trip to the UK and a side trip to Vienna to walk in Esther’s footsteps. It was great to finally visit the settings that I’d written about in the novel, ones that I had researched online and could now visit in person. Even though the sights and sounds and the smells would have been different in the 1930s, the beauty and scale of the city is unchanged and I could imagine the people who populated the streets then. I have already posted some reels and images on instagram and Facebook but here are a few of the main locations and why they were so important.

Esther visited Vienna University to get references for the academics that the Society were trying to bring to safety in Britain. And importantly, it is where Harry went, the Austrian musician and scientist that she fell in love with and wanted to save…

“Roger followed her into the Feststiege, where imposing marble columns towered above the grand stone staircase. They moved silently through to the library, passing busts of the university’s eminent alumni on the way to the wing that housed the rector’s office, while Esther’s nerves grew more frayed.” Page 48

Vienna University


Palais Albert Rothschild was a really important location in the city where Harry had to go and try to secure safe passage from Austria:

“It was just before dawn as he walked to the fourth district and joined the line that snaked past the gardens bordering the Plößlgasse, the street where the Palais stood. The scene at the Palais Albert Rothschild was more desperate than it had been the day before, with far longer queues and even more guards flanking the marble entrances as well as each of the doorways to the ballrooms and salons. He had performed at the Palais long before it was stolen from the Rothschild family and requisitioned by Eichmann as the Central Agency for Jewish Emigration. Harry had seen the neo-Renaissance building in its prime, when the parquet floors had been home to Louis XVI furniture, and the chords and notes of the Vienna Philharmonic had rung out instead of the orchestrion that the Nazis now insisted on playing. The notes that came from the machine reproducing the sound of an orchestra were juxtaposed ominously with the new inhabitants of the Palais; the inspiring and joyful music incongruous with the fear that now resided there. The faces of the people in the queue were stricken and terrified. It usually took several days, sometimes weeks, to process the paperwork needed to depart the country, but Hans had given Harry documents that would speed up the process, and now all he needed was his exit permit.” Page 165

Palais Albert Rothschild, Vienna


The Musikverein is a stunning Renaissance building and important music venue for concerts and orchestras so we couldn’t resist a concert by the Vienna Mozart Orchestra who perform in traditional costume; luckily it was only the musicians that had to dress up and not us!

“The linden trees along the Ringstrasse were beginning to turn, their lime-green leaves transforming to a flaxen yellow, the cream-hued spring flowers a faded memory, together with the perfumed night air. Esther thought they still looked beautiful, a lush frame through which to view the exuberant rococo and neoclassical buildings that stood behind them. It had been nearly eighteen months since she’d walked through her favourite city, and over five hundred days since she had last seen Harry. She had been supposed to meet him after his rehearsal but had grown too fidgety waiting in her room, and so she’d sent a message to let him know she would wait for him outside the Musikverein. But once she reached the concert building and heard the rising pitch of the violins reverberate around the Golden Hall, she couldn’t resist making her way inside just as they began to tremolo before the horn signalled the beginning of the waltz. The Musikverein was a triumph of high Renaissance architecture, with caryatids, Greek columns and a temple roof. But Esther wasn’t looking at the crystal chandeliers and gilded mouldings: she was casting around for Harry— and there he was, at the edge of the string section, the sharp line of his jawbone visible as he tilted his   head, violin nestled under his chin.” Page 117


Musikverein, Vienna


And on day three we did all the things that keep the rest of the family happy, which included a visit to the Wiener Riesenrad, the giant ferris wheel that has been there since the 1940s, the Belvedere Palace, the Palm House, and eating plenty of schnitzel!


Sydney Writers Festival

Work on my fifth novel went slowly in May as a second round of Covid knocked me about; luckily I recovered enough to make it to Sydney Writers Festival last week where there were some fantastic sessions. My highlights were:

BRINGING THE PAST TO LIFE – Geraldine Brooks, Pip Williams and Sally Colin-James, each with their own fascinating story to tell on the origins of their story and great insights into their writing process:

Geraldine spoke about “the implausible truth from the past where you can know something but not everything.“ And to “research only as far as the story lets you go.”

Pip talked about how she stuck to known facts from history and used archives to elaborate ideas in her writing, and how maintaining a sense of curiosity while exploring questions felt like an extreme privilege.

Sally’s observations included how women have already been part of the past just not always part of history, in terms of how their stories are not recorded in the same way as men’s.

Geraldine Brooks, Pip Williams and Sally Colin-James on stage at Carriageworks with Kate Evans


JULIA GILLARD at Sydney Town Hall on that speech! What can I say; brilliant. She was warm, funny and such an inspiration.


ELEANOR CATTON in conversation with Beejay Wilcox about her new book, Birnam Wood. This was an incredibly open discussion about writing her new novel, putting on different mantles, the influence of Jane Austen, how she’s motivated to write by her fear of social media and the fact that our communications are mediated by algorithms that flatter and confirm us, and what this means for the future. Fascinating to hear about what influences and shapes her characters, her research into psychopaths and the difference between writing fiction and screenplays.

Eleanor Catton in conversation with Beejay Wilcox


IN PRAISE OF DIFFICULT WOMEN – Anne Casey-Hardy and Fiona Kelly McGregor with Sophie Cunningham on creating the ‘difficult women’ that populate their books 

MARKUS ZUSAK: BRINGING THE MESSENGER TO THE SCREEN – really insightful discussion with Markus Zusak and executive producer/writer, Sally Lambert, on the joys and challenges of adapting from book to screen and the importance of relationships, and leaving your ego at the door.

But of course the real highlight of these occasions is sharing it with friends; thanks for coming Dianne, Maria, Belinda, Sarah, Michelle and Jane!


Happy reading and writing until next time,

Warmest wishes,

Caroline x

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