Anyone who has driven any distance in Australia will be familiar with the roadside shrines that adorn the country’s roads and highways. Attached to power poles in the cities or trees in the country, the white crosses – often decorated with flowers or other mementos – are both a memorial to the victims of road accidents and a grim warning for those driving past. It is around one of these shrines, at the edge of a forest on the south coast of Western Australia, that the drama of Australian novelist and playwright Tim Winton’s Shrineswirls.

“I live a long way from anywhere really,” Winton tells me. “I’m 14 or 15 hours from Perth by road, so whenever I go anywhere I spend a fair bit of time on the road. I’ve just noticed the last 10, 15, 20 years – and it’s certainly different to my youth – the proliferation of roadside shrines. These little white crosses that people put up at the point where their friend or loved one has died.”

“Just seeing the way that they’re put up and tended to and decorated with garlands or memorabilia,” he says. “They’re things that people associate with their friend or...