One Illumined Thread, debut fiction by Sally Colin-James

28 February 2023

One Illumined Thread, by Sally Colin-James, book cover

The stories of three women, living millennia apart, form a single, though not immediately obvious, thread that runs through One Illumined Thread, published by HarperCollins, March 2023, the debut novel of Australian author Sally Colin-James.

A young woman living two thousand years ago in Judea, an ancient kingdom in parts of what are today Palestine and Israel, is cast out of her home after failing to become pregnant. She longs to have a child, and as a way of keeping the hope of motherhood in her sights, takes the unusual step of learning the craft of glassblowing.

Fifteen hundred years later, in the Italian city of Florence, a woman is left without any money after being betrayed by her husband. The Renaissance is at its height, but with a son to look after also, she battles to make ends meet. The third thread of the story plays out in latter day Australia. Here a woman, devastated by a loss, working as a textile conservator, faces danger that puts her life at risk.

While the challenges confronting each woman seem insurmountable, the three share a link, even though they are separated by vast periods of time and distance.

The premise of One Illumined Thread brought to mind The Bass Rock, written in 2020 by Anglo-Australian author Evie Wyld. Wyld’s novel, winner of the 2021 Stella Prize, recounts the story of three woman who lived in the North Berwick area of Scotland at various times. Two women, Ruth and Viv, have a family connection, step grandmother and granddaughter, while the third, Sarah, lived several centuries earlier.

But where the ties between the three main characters in The Bass Rock are more apparent, the links in One Illumined Thread are far less so. Here is a story shrouded in mystery.

Before she took up writing, Colin-James worked in events management, and communications, both in Australia, and internationally. In 2020 she won the inaugural Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) Colleen McCullough Writing Residency in the aspiring writer category. The residency, named in memory of late Australian author Colleen McCullough, awards recipients a week on Norfolk Island, where McCullough spent the latter part of her life.

Colin-James has also won the Varuna PIP Fellowship Award, and the Byron Bay Writers Festival Mentorship Award in 2020. In addition, she was also shortlisted in the First Pages Prize for writers who do not have agents, in 2021.


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