Diana Lawrenson

— Writer —

Diana Lawrenson Pages to Places Blog

Welcome to my blog that takes you from pages to places. Come and discover some quirky, little-known, or loose-but-relevant links from books to places around the world. You might even like to add a book suggestion of your own to the topic.

30 December 2015 | Australia, Melbourne


Abbotsford Convent CloistersNot far from some of the busiest roads in Melbourne, yet in a strangely quiet position by the Yarra River, is the Abbotsford Convent, formerly known as the Convent of the Good Shepherd. Despite its name, the bluestone chapel, three stories of rendered grey walls and a high front fence, it’s no longer a religious institution nor the laundry once staffed by girls under the watchful eyes of nuns.

Today the Abbotsford Convent is home to an arts community where nuns’ cells are now leased to painters and writers, and the smell of coffee wafts from cafes. A community classical music station as well as a Rudolf Steiner school also operate within the precinct.

In the one-time Mother Superior’s Chamber, a name far grander than the size of the room, a book group meets. Not a conventional book group, but one where children’s books are discussed. Once a month sixteen of us squash around a large table for an often feisty talk about a picture book, middle grade and young adult work each selected for a common theme that can be anything from bullying to paranormal to fire to slavery. The range of themes is vast and those of particular interest can be re-used again with a completely different choice of titles.

When The Convent by Maureen McCarthy was published it was a ‘must read’ for us. Book Cover of The Convent by Maureen McCarthyAlthough fiction, it’s based on part of the author’s family history, and brought the old and severe days of the Abbotsford Convent to life, tempered by a modern story of discovery intertwined with it. Furthermore, it was written at the convent which gave us genuine rather than imagined pictures of much of the narrative.

Author Claire Saxby (My Name is Lizzy Flynn, Emu, Meet the ANZACS, Meet Weary Dunlop, and many other titles) began the book group in 2010. It continues to flourish with a fairly stable membership ranging from young mothers to grandmothers whose children and grandchildren are de facto members through their comments on the books we read.

Although many members are writers, it’s not a writing group and no members’ books are ever discussed. Rather it’s a group where camaraderie has developed and useful information about writing is absorbed, rounded off by lunch afterwards at one of the cafés.



  • The Convent by Maureen McCarthy
  • Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel
  • Family Romance by John Lanchester

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