top of page

'A True History of the Hula Hoop'

[Picador 2009]

HIGHLY COMMEMDED - Dobbie Encouragement Award 2010

HIGHLY COMMENDED Barbara Jeffris Award 2010 Australian Society of Authors - 

The Age M - Best Summer Reads 2009

Australia Publishers Association  Best designed Book Award 2010. [Overall layout and all chapter ornaments and maps designed by Judith Lanigan]

Australian Society of Authors Mentorship Award 2007

Varuna Award 2007 (shortlisted but withdrawn due to Picador contract)


This engaging first novel provides a portrait of a wonderfully independent woman street performer who lives outside contemporary social norms with courage, success and a great deal of joie de vivre. Use of historical material concerning the history of the hula hoop is skilfully woven into the narrative and provides fascinating background and depth. The split narrative concerning the sixteenth-century street performers was less successful but reinforced the book’s theme of women pursuing their chosen careers in spite of the numerous obstacles placed in their way. Judith Lanigan delivers this message with all the wit, talent and skilful avoidance of cliché one would expect from a high-wire act. 

Judges Notes. Barbra Jeffris Award - Australian Society of Authors


“…an ingenious, idiosyncratic and enchanting book. Thanks to keenly observed particulars and lovely prose, Lanigan’s debut is eccentric, sensitive and touched with magic. It tells the twin stories of Catherine, an Australian burlesque artist whose speciality is the hula hoop, and Columbina, a 16th-century Italian female clown travelling through Europe. Pressed between the chapters is a fragmented history of the hula hoop, which, is it is argued, is an Australian invention. Both of these interconnected stories about female artistes are elegantly juggled, and are credible worlds in miniature, overflowing with desire and uncertainty. Surprisingly astute and captivating, Lanigan’s writing style is graceful and defined. Lanigan’s heroines unfurl their tales with the kind of expressiveness that draws the reader into their intense, unconventional lives. For readers who value both style and substance in their reading, A True History of the Hula Hoop, is an artistically well-dressed novel that shouldn’t be missed.”

Steve Davenport - The Independent Weekly


‘…The result is an expansive and exuberant novel mixing fiction, history and elements of Lanigan’s life in the streets and theatres of Europe and Britain.’

Lenny Ann Low – The Sydney Morning Herald Sept 2009



‘A good first novel…in the depictions of the tribulations and the pleasures of working  as a street performer this is perhaps an autobiographical account of a street clown’s life …It will be interesting to see this writers next book”

Sue Parson – ArtsHub



“A sophisticated polished first novel”

John McDonald Arts Reviewer (The Australian) and author of The  History of Australian Art 


“She knows her workplace and it’s colourful history well, yet imparts her knowledge with a light deft touch…When Lanigan departs from historical fact she has a rare gift of being fully convincing. An intriguing vivid novel.”

Lucy Sussex - M Magazine - The Age



“…Lanigan tells the story of Catherine, a street theatre performer, intertwined with a short flashback tale of a troupe of Commedia dell’Arte clowns in the sixteenth century, and as the name of the novel implies fragments of history of the hula hoop. Catherine travels, with hoops, balloons and flamboyant shoes, from festival to circus and then on to carnival. Possibly, in the depictions of the tribulations and the pleasures of working as a street performer this is an autobiographical account of a street clown’s life. Lanigan certainly puts a very clear differentiation between clowns and actors into the mouth of one of her characters: ’An actor acts and a clown is.’ At one time in her travels she almost traces the path of that earlier troupe of clowns. Although this story is about clowns it is not a comedy. Nor is it a tragedy. There are no monsters involved. We can trace elements of a quest as Catherine acquires skills and knowledge, she does not become rich, but she does make sufficient money, so that she can ignore the advice of those who tell her ‘to get a real job.’ She voyages and returns home more mature and skilful enough to be in demand on the festival circuit. Lanigan shows some of the parallels between the life of a modern street performer and sixteenth century world of Commedia dell’Arte….This is a good first novel. It will be interesting to see this writer’s next book.”

Sue Parsons – ArtsHub Australia


hula hoop, hula-hoop, Judith Lanigan
bottom of page