Second Half First

Sydney, Random House, 2015

" The night before my fortieth birthday I told him I couldn't go on. I can't go on, I said, Not like this, not over the line to another decade. I hadn't intended to say it though it was long overdue and I'd been thinking it all day, and the day before. When he opened the door and walked up the hall into the room with the table, the words arrived - and there they were, brittle in the air around us. That's ironic, he said, as I've just told Elena that I owe it to you, a time of monogamy. A time of monogamy, what does that mean, I thought, but beyond that it didn't register; the tears had started again, and we were due at dinner. I don't remember much about the dinner, though it was for my birthday. We came home, and sometime during the night he left and I slept, and woke alone in the house. He came back again, I don't remember how often, and I wept, and hoped, and wanted him, and didn't, and then he left for good. Gone."

So begins Second Half First, a memoir that came into being one night in December 2013, and that Drusilla Modjeska had not expected, or intended to write. But that night when she couldn’t sleep, there were these words, as clear as if they were already on paper, waiting to be written.

Beginning at the low point of her fortieth birthday, Second Half First tells the story – the complex stories – of becoming the woman and writer she now is. It encompasses friends, love affairs, reading, hoping, losing, as well as journeys internal and external. We read of her father’s death in England; her visits to the stone house above the Lane Cove River; her return to Papua New Guinea in 2004, a journey that began with a shakedown in the form of an arrest, and continues to this day with SEAM, the literacy project she has founded to work with remote communities in that rich, surprising country.

In this memoir, Drusilla Modjeska returns to familiar themes of love and independence: the pull of the heart and the demands of a writing life. Has she managed the dilemmas she has written about in the lives of other women? What has she made of the conundrum that love propounds (as the poet Elizabeth Bishop calls it)? Or is the challenge not so much to solve the conundrum as to live the question? It is Robert Dessaix who reminds her of this quotation from Rilke in October 2014, shortly after the death of a long-term companion and once cherished lover. This death, and the brief return to Sydney of the man who brought her to tears some thirty years earlier, give a strange shape to a book that began that night in December 2013, when she could not sleep and could not have predicted what was to come.


  • Shortlisted for the Kibble Award, 2016.
  • Shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Awards, 2016.
Second Half First, by Drusilla Modjeska


Bernadette Brennan
Australian Book Review
November 2015

Second Half First is a deeply crafted narrative, not only in its weave and structure, but also in the ways in which Modjeska invokes the visual arts to articulate her concerns...

Second Half First has a soul. It is both solid and expansive. Modjeska assembles her stanzas masterfully to create a poem of great insight, intelligence, and beauty.

Sally Blakeney
The Sydney Morning Herald
31 October 2015

In exploring how her determination to write has affected her life, Modjeska is frank about the stumbles and failures. Second Half First is on my shelf near the poet Elizabeth Bishop, who also wrote despite tragedy and liked travelling in remote, unmapped regions. For this reader, Modjeska's work, with its unanswered questions, is a beacon. I look forward to what comes next.

Sophia Barnes
Sydney Reviw of Books
October 2015

The form of Second Half First is in its own way a celebration of ambiguity, contradiction and inconsistency. Modjeska moves back and forth across decades and continents – from her much loved ‘house on the corner’ in Enmore to the mountainous villages of the Ömie tribe in Papua New Guinea, and back to the New South Wales South Coast – blending stream-of-consciousness with passionate argument and astute self-reflection, as it slips throughout between a kind of extended essay and memoir.

Other Titles

  • The Mountain
  • Timepieces
  • Stravinsky's Lunch
  • Poppy
  • The Orchard
  • Secrets
  • Sisters
  • Inner Cities
  • Exiles At Home