Features / Culture

‘It looks like I’ve bounced out of COVID back into the writing world’

Kevin Brophy struck a rich vein of creativity while held ‘captive’ during the pandemic

Mark Phillips
Monday, October 31, 2022

‘It looks like I’ve

bounced out of COVID

back into the

writing world’

Kevin Brophy struck a rich vein of creativity while held ‘captive’ during the pandemic

Mark Phillips
Monday, October 31, 2022


OST would-be writers dream of having just one book published in their lifetime; Brunswick poet, author and academic Kevin Brophy has had two hit the shops in the past month. 

Brophy’s 20th published work, a collection of short stories called The Lion In Love, was launched at Brunswick Bound bookstore in Sydney Road on October 7. That was followed a fortnight later by Rockpooling With Pup, the first children’s book in Brophy’s prolific career. 

Both books were largely written during Melbourne’s COVID lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, a period that proved productive for Brophy and provided the backdrop for several of the 17 stories contained within The Lion In Love. 

“It looks like I’ve bounced out of COVID back into the writing world,” Brophy says.  

Brophy, 73, is an acclaimed writer of poetry and fiction who received a Member of the Order of Australia award in last year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours for his services to creative writing and tertiary education. 

He has published 10 collections of poetry along with novels, short story collections and essays. 

As emeritus professor of creative writing at Melbourne University, he has also taught and supervised hundreds of writers over the years. 

COVID lockdowns gave Brophy the time and space to work in earnest on his latest piece of work. A third of the stories in his new collection were written during the pandemic. 

“When we first went into lockdown, like a lot of people I set myself a few projects at home, to just make use of the time and one of them was to read Albert Camus’ The Plague [originally published in 1947],” Brophy said. 

“One of my habits is to write down sentences that I like in books, so I began to write down sentences from The Plague. And then I used those sentences to write paragraphs about being locked down, about the anxieties and worries we had and the events that were happening over those first 12 months, which were maybe the scariest and the most unreal period of time for us.

“That first year, it seemed as if we were thrown into a new world, and it was almost a medieval world with the moats, the barriers went up, the walls were closed, and we were locked in with only walking the streets as our recourse. 

“Camus’ book resonated, so I wrote quite a long piece of work, using the sentences from Camus to build paragraphs about the experience. That didn’t get into this collection but the experience hovers around those stories.” 

COVID provides the setting for the title story in The Lion In Love, a surrealist love story between two people taking refuge behind their front fences during the pandemic. 

The title is actually drawn from one of Aesop’s fables, although that is where the similarities end, while Brophy was also inspired by the sounds of lions from the Melbourne Zoo, which he can sometimes hear from his home in Brunswick. 

“We hear the lions in the zoo every now and again from our street, and so captivity was on my mind during lockdown, and we were all in captivity behind our front fences. So really, it [the story] begins with the idea of people turning into captive creatures.” 

‘The Lion In Love’ is the most explicit story about the pandemic, but the theme of captivity is also a backdrop in ‘The Pet’, where Brophy imagines a family who keep their youngest child imprisoned in their basement. 

Some of the stories have been published elsewhere in literary journals and the oldest were first written a decade ago, including ‘Wild’, which explores Brophy’s fascination with the concept of humans being raised by wild animals, in this case a boy raised by wolves. 

Read more:

Brunswick’s Kevin Brophy has been honoured with an Order of Australia for his life’s work teaching and championing poetry and writing.

Camus along with the early-20th century Czech writer Franz Kafka were major influences on the stories in the collection. 

“Some of these stories are set in Europe and some are set here in Brunswick. Some of them are actually life events of my friends that they’ve described to me which seemed to me to work as stories, which are then fictionalised. And some of them are pure fantasy. 

“I write very simply, and try to write lucidly. I have a background in psychology and I tried to write as realistically as I can about the mental and emotional lives of characters, and I guess I’m interested in how people make sense of the world in an inner way.” 

The Lion In Love is published by Finlay Lloyd, a small Sydney imprint Brophy had long admired. The cover features a photo of Sydney Road, and the launch was in the suburb where Brophy has spent most of his adult life (he was born in Coburg). 

His teaching career came full circle when one of his former students, Emily Bitto, launched his newest book. About a decade ago, Brophy supervised her creative writing PhD, which produced the manuscript that became her Stella award winning debut novel, The Strays. 

Kevin Brophy with his two new books, Rockpooling With Pup and The Lion In Love

While working on The Lion In Love (a process he describes as constant revision, editing and reconsidering), Brophy also collaborated with photographer Jules Ober on Rockpooling With Pup. 

Ober pairs with authors to produce children’s books that feature vivid photos in real world settings populated by tiny figurines. 

The book tells the story of a day a girl and her dog spend exploring rockpools and is both entertaining and educational. Published by Ford Street Publishing, it was launched at Readings Kids in Carlton on October 20. 

“I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book, I’ve always wanted to be part of producing a children’s book,” Brophy says. 

“I love Jules’ photographs, and I love her ideas. And it feels like it’s the culmination of a long training period to at last be able to put a text into a children’s book.” 

Both books are available now online and in independent bookstores.