Norma Monkton’s rise to fame was swift. Her cheeky girlish memoir Adieu Gruyere had been an unexpected hit, becoming Australia’s second highest non-fiction seller after only six months on the book store shelves. Critics agreed the tale of Norma’s misspent youth in the cheese markets of Provence had tapped into an undercurrent of foodie melancholy that was sweeping through the nation’s bloated middle class as it adjusted to life in recession. At the age of 52, Norma suddenly found herself in the giddy celebrity world of the best selling author.
Norma’s memoir had originally been a therapeutic project ordered by her long-time psychologist, Dr Otto von Schrenk. After twenty three years of unsuccessful therapy, Dr Otto finally announced he could do no more and Norma’s fate now lay in her own shaky hands. Loaded up with medication and writing materials, she was sent home to creatively re-engage with her troubled past as the only way to unlocking any future happiness.
Despite an initial reluctance, Norma soon found the recall of her time in Provence was effortless and compelling. The tangy aroma of ageing Cheddars, the ooze of the double Bries and the skillful way Cedric and his father had nurtured their cheeses from a cool stone farm cellar to the bustling market where Norma worked, all came flooding back to her. The memories of breathless moments in the cellar with Cedric and his father also returned, often as affecting as the encounters themselves and leaving Norma in an alarmingly heightened physical state more than once.
Norma did not hold back. Her pen began to flow across the page as she relived her provincial odyssey; at the farmhouse, in the fields, on the back of the cheese cart. How alive she had been; awakened amongst the whey, enabled by curiosity and curd. Her story came to life in vivid erotic colour.
Norma got an agent and started doing media. Radio National ran an in-depth interview with her about the relationship between food and sensuality. Sunrise did a ten minute slot with her and RALPH Magazine Editor, Brad Trolley, playing quoits with plastic cheese rings and vibrators.
But beneath the glamorous media engagements and the invigorating journey back to her youth, Norma felt a growing sense of unease. In truth, France had not been kind to her, taking far more than it had given. When she found herself suddenly cast out one day, left alone to deal with the consequences of her actions, Norma realised for the first time that she was in a foreign land that had no regard or responsibility for her well-being. Madame de Brique had come to her rescue it was true but in the crude and cruel way of the Paris streets. Adieu Gruyere had glossed over those desperate final weeks in France, ending instead with Norma’s return to Australia and the start of a new life farming goats in Gippsland.
After only three weeks on the celebrity circuit, Norma disappeared. She sacked her agent, cancelled all engagements and retreated into her farmhouse to correct the record. Her triumphant return eight months later with The Cheese Stands Alone established Norma Monkton as one of Australia’s most versatile writers. Her second book marked a radical departure from the flippant, risque style of Adieu, employing an anarcho-seperatist-feminist framework to trace the emergence of dairy products as a primary source of protein in the Middle Ages.