Michaela McGuire feels at home in Melbourne. The artistic director of the Melbourne Writers Festival grew up in Brisbane but, as she tells us in this Q&A, “weirdly felt homesick” for the Victorian city after a family trip when she was 12. Now living in Brunswick, she’s found her community. She shares her love of reading, cooking, buying more books than she should, and drinking Martinis in one of the city’s best bars. Plus, a book set in Melbourne that we should add to our reading lists this winter.

Hi Michaela, tell us a bit about yourself.
I live in the inner north with my partner and our cat, Zelda. My brother is my best friend, and he and his boyfriend live just around the corner. We’re both from Brisbane originally and most of our friends now live in Brunswick. I love bumping into mates on the street or arranging to go for a walk and inviting each other over for dinner.

What do you love most about Melbourne?
I first visited Melbourne when I was 12 on a family holiday, and weirdly felt homesick for it when we returned to Brisbane. Just after I finished uni, a couple of close friends decided to move here for work and further study. I had no plans and decided to follow, then more and more of us were afraid of being the last people in the group left in Brisbane, and 12 of us ended up moving down together in early 2008. I feel like myself here; my main interests are reading, eating, talking about reading, reading about eating, drinking wine while reading, and all of that is beautifully accommodated in Melbourne.

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Do you have a favourite restaurant?
Marion. I love the Off Menu podcast with Ed Gamble and James Acaster, where they invite each guest to pick their ideal starter, drinks, main and dessert – I could do all of that at Marion. Its bread with fromage blanc is better than it has any right to be, and I’d have that with a dry Martini, move onto this light and delicate raw tuna with soy dish, then a rib eye with fries and a fun gamay. I’m not really into dessert, but I’d nibble on some hard cheese with another glass of wine. Marion is so unfussy but it feels like an occasion every time.

Where do you like to drink?
The Melbourne Writers Festival office is in the basement/dungeon of the Wheeler Centre and only has one redeeming feature, which is that it’s next door to The Moat, so I often finish the day there with colleagues and friends before heading to dinner or going home. Gin Palace is a classic and a favourite. I can spend all evening in one of their booths eating chicken sandwiches and drinking Martinis.

What about live music?
The Forum is the best venue in the country.

Fave shop?
Readings Carlton. I can’t walk past it without popping in, saying hello to a few people, buying more books than I should. For clothes, Camilla and Marc.

Where do you go when you want to impress someone?
Either pull out all the stops and go to Gimlet, or cook at home and encourage my friends – all incredible, generous cooks – to bring something along. My partner is an amazing cook too, and we eat at home more than we do out.

Is there an essential book we should read about Melbourne?
A recent favourite of mine is Katherine Brabon’s Body Friend. Her cool, considered prose reminds me of Elena Ferrante. Or maybe it’s because the unnamed protagonist, who has a chronic illness and is recovering from surgery, spends so much time in the water, at the St Kilda Sea Baths and Carlton Baths.

Who makes Melbourne a better place?
Local writers who make us view and think about this city and country in different ways; Tony Birch, Maxine Beneba Clark, Helen Garner, Evelyn Araluen, Christos Tsiolkas, Alexis Wright, Ronnie Scott, Nam Le.

And what’s the most underrated place in Melbourne?
The Merri Creek. I’m a late, reluctant convert to Park Run, and a group of friends try and drag me to the Kirkdale Reserve one every Saturday morning (they succeed about one in four times). If I can force myself out of bed, it’s the best way to start a weekend.

Melbourne Writers Festival returns from May 6 to 12.


My Melbourne” is a regular column discovering the places and spaces that captivate and entice Melbourne’s well-known residents.