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Ford, Catherine 1961-

FORD, Catherine 1961-

PERSONAL:

Born 1961, in Geelong, Victoria, Australia; married Jean-Jacques Portail; children: Louis, Nina. Education: Attended Presbyterian Ladies College, 1977-79; attended La Trobe University, 1980-82.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Melbourne, Australia; France. Agent—The Text Publishing Company, 171 La Trobe St., Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia.

CAREER:

Fitzroy Legal Services, assistant, 1985-87; Radio National, researcher, 1988-92; freelance journalist.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Steele Rudd Australian Short Fiction Award, 1997, for Dirt and Other Stories.

WRITINGS:

Dirt and Other Stories, Text Publishing Company (Melbourne, Australia), 1996.

NYC (novel), Text Publishing Company (Melbourne, Australia), 2000.

SIDELIGHTS:

Australian writer Catherine Ford has made a name for herself as the author of the award-winning Dirt and Other Stories as well as NYC, a novel. Dirt and Other Stories, a collection of ten pieces, launched Ford's career in 1996. It garnered praise from critics and won the prestigious Steele Rudd Australian Fiction Award the following year. Writing in Time International, Michael Fitzgerald commented on how Ford finds poetry in the mundane in her "striking and mysterious debut." In her appraisal for Australian Book Review, Katharine England also commented favorably, noting the "solid, earthy feel which is suggested by the title and borne out by the stories themselves. These are stories of earth, of the body weighed by its mortality, stories of no great lustre but of solid craftsmanship and shrewd understanding." England cited "The Remover of Obstacles" as the most memorable of the collection's stories and wrote that "in the main, Dirt impresses as a powerful and mature collection from an interesting new voice."

An off-shoot of one of the stories in Dirt, "July Four," became the novel NYC, the tale of an adopted Australian woman, Astrid, in search of her American biological mother and father. The plot deals with Astrid's meeting with her mother in New York City, a locale with which Ford was familiar after having studied acting there. Ford explained to Jason Steger in The Age online, "The kernel of both stories ['July Four' and NYC ] was about a decision to have children or not to have children, about how does one make such a decision. And how do you make a leap from being a single person into someone who's responsible for another." She continued, "The idea I had was a girl on the verge of womanhood who is quite privileged, good parents who care for her and love her but she's not actually theirs. And I suppose I just wanted to write about what happens when you know in every other aspect of her life she's a happy loved girl but at some critical fundamental level she feels that she has been abandoned." This theme has been explored by a number of Australian writers; Jan McKemmish, writing at the Vicnet Web site, asserted that "Ford's NYC is part of this literary movement."

Reviewers gave the novel qualified praise. "Ford writes as well as ever, and her feeling for regret and solitude has a salutary combination of depth and equanimity," wrote Owen Richardson in The Age. "But NYC isn't, I think, a successful novel, though it is full of fine things." Richardson cited Ford's portrayal of Astrid's estrangement; yet he wished that the characters, Astrid included, were more vividly portrayed. Astrid "is intentionally underarticulated, but she's not blocked in enough for her absence, as a literary theorist might say, to have enough presence." Likewise, McKemmish found strong points and weaknesses. "The novel is an exposition of what it is like to be in shock," the reviewer remarked, adding, "The writing and the story are perfect fits; they are spare, almost sub-realist." Even so, in McKemmish's view, the plot is a "little predictable and uncertain, meandering" yet "clever at times and measured" and takes "a while to hit its stride." Despite any perceived weakness, Fitzgerald found the work to be successful over all. "Ford's literary journey is as courageous as Astrid's," Fitzgerald concluded, "and her ability to find surprising flecks of realism and humor keeps cliché at bay.… NYC marks Ford as a novelist of distinction."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Australian Book Review, April, 1996, Katharine England, review of Dirt and Other Stories, p. 30.

Time International, May 15, 2000, Michael Fitzgerald, review of NYC, p. 66.

ONLINE

Age,http://theage.com.au/ (May 5, 2000), Jason Steger, "Manhattan Revelations" (interview); (May 15, 2000) Owen Richardson, review of NYC.

Vicnet,http://home.vicnet.net.au/ (December 19, 2001), Jan McKemmish, review of NYC. *

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