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Tolstoy tells us happy families are all alike. Raymond Chandler’s prescription for a good story includes a man with a gun. And writing teachers everywhere will tell you that conflict is the essential ingredient of plot.

But does that mean good writing has to be depressing and difficult?

Literature shelves are predictably packed with dysfunctional families, suicides, murders and anxiety. But surely it doesn’t have to be that way. Where’s the laughter, the levity and the light side of life in the pages of our books?

Celebrations of beloved books and characters are often dominated by the doomed Anna Karenina, cursed Cathy and Heathcliff, and other characters who seriously suffer. But we should equally celebrate unlikely romantic hero Don Tillman, unlucky (but laugh-a-minute) Candide, and other fictional characters who you don’t need to recover from after reading.

Chris Flynn chats to Toni Jordan, Debra Oswald and Shane Maloney about how and why good writing can (and even should) make us smile.


Chris Flynn

Chris Flynn is the author of The Glass Kingdom and A Tiger in Eden, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in the Age, the Australian, Griffith Review, Meanjin, Australian Book Review, the Saturday Paper, Smith Journal, the Big Issue, Monster... Read more

Toni Jordan

Toni Jordan is the author of six novels including the international best-seller Addition, Nine Days, which was awarded Best Fiction at the 2012 Indie Awards, and Our Tiny, Useless Hearts (2016), which was longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award and for the Voss Literary Award. Toni ho... Read more

Shane Maloney

Born in Hamilton in western Victoria in 1953, Shane Maloney is one of Australia’s most popular novelists. His award-winning and much-loved Murray Whelan series – Stiff, The Brush-Off, Nice Try, The Big Ask, Something Fishy and Sucked In – has been published around the world.  In 1996, The B... Read more

Debra Oswald

Debra Oswald is a two-time winner of the NSW Premier’s Literary Award and the creator of the TV series Offspring. Her stage plays include Gary’s House, Mr Bailey’s Minder and Dags. She has written TV scripts, nine children’s books and three adult novels. Her new novel is The Family Doct... Read more


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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.