It was on a freezing cold Canberra day, one that began with mist rather than blue skies, that Frank Moorhouse had the epiphany that would lead to the writing of one of his greatest works.
He would set the third instalment of his great trilogy in the fledgling capital, drawing on all the drama and intrigue of the post-war development push that would bring the city into its second great act.
The celebrated author, who died Sunday aged 83, had been struggling to find a narrative for the finale in his epic saga of Edith, a young woman moving through the world of diplomacy and the League of Nations from the 1920s onwards.
The first volume, Grand Days, was set in 1920s Europe and was ineligible for the Miles Franklin award in 1994 because it wasn't considered "Australian" enough by the judges. Moorhouse took legal action at the time.
The second, Dark Palace, detailing the grand days of the League of Nations, won the prize in 2001.
It was during the tour for this book that his publicist gently pointed out that Moorhouse was talking too much about the League of Nations, and not enough about the book's complex characters.
Months later, he was in Canberra, walking through the mist and thinking how fine the city looked. It occurred to him that the most ambitious publicly-funded project ever undertaken in Australia was, more or less, complete.
A distinctive city like no other, and it's so rich in its cultural resources, and so alive as a community ...- Frank Moorhouse on Canberra
"The new Parliament House was there, the High Court was there, all the major institutions were there, the National Gallery, the National Museum had been finished, and I thought ... it's a success story," he said.
"I thought, it is exactly as the Griffins wanted it to be - a distinctive city like no other, and it's so rich in its cultural resources, and so alive as a community, and I thought, 'Oh my god, this is where Edith comes after the collapse of the League! She comes back [after the war] and is involved in the planning of Canberra'."
The resulting book, Cold Light, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin in 2012.
Moorhouse, who was based in Sydney, spent much of the research process for Cold Light in Canberra, working his way through government files at the National Archives of Australia, a place he often described as a "huge castle of sleeping stories".
He even took the opportunity to correct the modern-day misnomer of Lake Burley Griffin - the inexplicable addition, that is, of the architect's middle name to Canberra's great decorative centrepiece.
When Canberra's Street Theatre commissioned playwright Alanna Valentine to adapt Cold Light for the stage, Moorhouse was there for one of the play's first rehearsals in 2018.
He said it was the first time he had ever seen one of his characters come to life in front of him.
Moorhouse was born in Nowra in 1938, and published his first short stories in the late 1960s.
He wrote 18 novels, as well as screenplays and essays, but it was Edith who stood out as one of his most vivid creations.
She was a flawed, complicated and fully-formed heroine who was also a vessel for analysis of the Australian identity.
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