Shortlisted for the 2023 Stella Prize

Bad Art Mother – Edwina Preston

Fiction · Wakefield Press

About the Book

Good mothers are expected to be selfless. Artists are seen as selfish. So what does this mean for a mother with artistic ambitions?

Enter: frustrated poet Veda Gray, who is offered a Faustian bargain when a wealthy childless couple, the Parishes, invite her to exchange her young son Owen for time to write.

Veda’s story unfolds as an adult Owen reflects on his boyhood in the suburbs of Melbourne, and in the vibrant bohemian inner-city art world where his restaurateur father was a king. Meanwhile, the talented women in his orbit – Veda, Mrs Parish, the wife of an influential poet, muralist and restaurant worker Rosa – push against gender expectations to be recognised as legitimate artists, by their intimates and the wider world. Almost-aunt Ornella, who declares herself without an artistic bone in her body, is perhaps the closest thing Owen has to a traditional mother. As Owen is encouraged to ‘be a man’, he loses something of himself, too.

Blending wit and pathos, love and fury, ambition and loss, this is an extraordinary novel of love and art, set in the Melbourne milieu of Georges and Mirka Mora, Joy Hester, and John and Sunday Reed.

“Veda’s letters and the memories of her conflicted son Owen combine, complement and contradict each other, in a clever, warm, and very moving novel about motherhood, sacrifice, and the claims of art.”

– 2023 Stella Prize Judges

Edwina Preston - Bad Art Mother

About the Author

Edwina Preston

Edwina Preston is a Melbourne-based writer and musician. Preston is the author of a biography of Australian artist Howard Arkley, Not Just a Suburban Boy (Duffy & Snellgrove, 2002), the novel The Inheritance of Ivorie Hammer (University of Queensland Press, 2012), and the novel Bad Art Mother (Wakefield Press, 2022). Her writing and reviews have appeared in The AgeThe AustralianThe Sydney Morning HeraldHeatIslandGriffith Review and The Conversation.

Preston plays alongside her partner, musician Harry Howard, in Melbourne bands ATOM, Harry Howard and the NDE, and Duet. She has performed alongside Lydia Lunch, Mick Harvey, JP Shilo, Kid Congo, Bobby Gillespie and others, in Australia and overseas.

Further Reading


‘Her prose crackles with fresh metaphors and acute poetic observations…’ Annette Hughes, Newtown Review of Books

‘Preston writes with great tenderness for every character and, while real-life comparisons are easily made, Veda Gray is a magnificent creation in her own right.’ Rachel Power, The Saturday Paper

‘The triumph of this engaging novel is the voice of Owen, the boy narrator … His innocent observation makes for an original, poignant, and often hilarious take on the dilemmas of creative women and the roles that the patriarchy expects them to perform.’ Jane Sullivan, Australian Book Review


Judges’ Report

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