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Episode 589: The Animals in That Country ft. Laura Jean McKay

By Jasmin and Mariann — April 24, 2021

Laura Jean McKay joins us on the podcast this week for a riveting, literary conversation. Author of the award-winning novel The Animals in that Country, Laura discusses the challenge of writing dialogue for animals, why she rewrote her novel more than once, and shares her thoughts on anthropomorphism in literature. Laura reads a captivating passage and reflects on a chance encounter with a lone male kangaroo in the Australian bush that influenced her decision to do away with the communication barrier between humans and non-human animals in her book. Laura and Mariann also discuss how The Animals in that Country unknowingly predicted a pandemic and how it affected the book’s reception.

Laura is a creative writing lecturer at Massey University of New Zealand and holds a Ph.D. focusing on literary animal studies from the University of Melbourne. Her book, Holiday in Cambodia, was shortlisted for three national book awards in Australia. She is an animal expert presenter on ABC’s Listen Animal Sound Safari, and her work appears in Meanjin, Overland, Best Australian Stories, The Saturday Paper, and The North American Review.

“In literature and art, animals are seen as cute, stuttery, and stumbly, or very prophetic or poetic—they are here in this world to tell humans great truths about ourselves. But of course, they’re not here for us, they have their own lives that they’re living out. Sometimes we get in the way and prevent those lives from happening purposefully.” – Laura Jean McKay

Interview Highlights:

  • Why the language of The Animals in That Country feels so poetic, why it may seem confusing at first, and how the reader gains clarity
  • Why it’s difficult to recognize who the novel’s hero, and what we eventually come to realize about their journey
  • The storyline of the human and animal protagonists meeting the pigs who escaped a truck and why it’s so fascinating
  • Whether Laura Jean felt presumptuous representing the role that animals have in humans’ lives

Connect with Laura Jean McKay:

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This episode is brought to you in part through the generosity of A Well-Fed World. A Well-Fed World provides the means for change by empowering individuals, social justice organizations, and political decision makers to embrace the benefits of plant-based foods and farming. Learn more at


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Don’t forget to tune into Our Hen House’s other two podcasts: The Teaching Jasmin How to Cook Vegan Podcast, and The Animal Law Podcast.

The Our Hen House theme song is written and performed by Michael Harren.

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