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Beyond Words: A Year with Kenneth Cook

2020 - Shortlisted


Judges' Comments 

Jacqueline Kent’s understated, beautifully rendered portrait of her relationship with writer Kenneth Cook flows effortlessly onto the page. In February 1986 Kent became Cook’s editor and by January 1987, she had become his wife. At first glance, it seemed an improbable love. Cook – estranged from his family, dependent on alcohol, insolvent and unable to surpass the brilliance of his first novel Wake in Fright – was almost twenty years older. But they were drawn together by their different literary sensibilities as much as their shared love of writing. For both, words were almost equal to life itself.

Kent’s memoir is vividly written at the same time as it exercises restraint and resists sentimentality. Her moving tale of love and grief resonates long afterwards and reveals how the time with Cook left an emotional imprint that lasted a lifetime. Like the best memoirs, Kent’s writing illuminates not only her subject but every character in the book, as well as the 14 heady months through which the couple lived. Kent’s nostalgia for the literary and publishing culture of the 1980s – a ‘lunatic, passionate industry’ – walks hand in hand with her undying affection for Cook, who gave his life to writing.

About the author

Jacqueline Kent author photo

Jacqueline Kent

Jacqueline Kent was born in Sydney and grew up there and in Adelaide. Primarily known as a writer of biography, she has also written young adult fiction and social history. A Certain Style, Beatrice Davis, A Literary Life, (2001) was shortlisted for the NSW Premiers Award and won the 2002 National Biography Award and the Nita B. Kibble Award; An Exacting Heart, The Story of Hephzibah Menuhin (2008) won the Nita B. Kibble Award. The Making of Julia Gillard, (2009) is still the only biography of Australia’s first woman Prime Minister. Beyond Words, a Year with Kenneth Cook was published in 2019; Vida: A Woman For Our Time, the story of pioneer suffragist Vida Goldstein, will be published in September 2020. Jacqueline holds a Doctorate of Creative Arts from the University of Technology, Sydney.