it’s been a while between posts, and it will probably be a little while between this and the next. But I have been working.
I’ve a draft of a new novel – set in the same world as Day Boy with a few tangential characters appearing, and mostly female characters, because I always wanted to address that in whatever I wrote next in that world.
I’ve a stack of new short stories just waiting for polishing. I got all whimsical and these stories are about dragons, giants and vampires.
And, finally, next to my bed is a draft of the next Death Works novel (that’ll be number 5) – it’s a short novel, but it is definitely a novel – and it kind of works. As soon as it more than kind of, and if it’s up to scratch, and if certain editors will ever forgive me for taking so long – I’ll let you know.
A writing career is noisy and quiet, and right now it’s quiet. Which means, in theory, work will get done, which makes me happy. I’m enjoying that steady, incremental work that is drafting and rewriting. It’s slow but it gets results.
A couple of months back, one of my dearest friends, Krissy Kneen told me she was going to be reading poetry naked at the Qld Poetry Festival. Diana told her that we were definitely going to come along. I was a bit… uncomfortable, I think I’ve been nude in front of a handful of people in my entire adult life.
It was a nude open mike event. The wonderful David Stavanger was hosting – I was happy enough (sorta) to be nude – but, at the door he said to Diana and I: You’re both reading, right?
Diana nodded enthusiastically, and I answered: No chance in hell.
We stripped in a room full of poets, all of us, quietly and at the same time.
And within a few breaths it was wonderful, discomfort fell away, and we waited to hear the poems. Still, when the call went out for readers there was a slight hesitation. Diana looked at me, took a deep breath, and got up to read. First.
She read about the source of her scar, the Intensive Care Unit where she lived (so close to death) for weeks after her liver transplant, and she made me cry: even though I had heard the poem several times before. I have never felt so proud. There was my wife reading in front of an audience for the third time in her life and she was doing it nude.
So, I thought what the hell. I got up and had a go too. Might have been better if I had prepared something – the two poems I recited I managed to forget lines even though they were brief pieces, which really seems to prove that reading in public is more nerve-wracking than nudity.* But I was so nicely heckled that I didn’t mind.
Regardless, it was a fabulous event, at a wonderful poetry festival, and one I will remember for the rest of my life.Fill a room full of nude poets and writers and readers and what you get is supportive and gentle and far more lovely than I would have believed. Angela Meyer described it as an Unforgettable Festival Moment and I completely agree.
Thank you Krissy, and David and everyone else involved in giving us the chance to do something really wonderful and frightening, and to discover it really isn’t (nor should be) that frightening at all. We gave each other the gift of our vulnerability and it was a powerful and fabulous thing.
*Also, proves the first law of readings. If there is a chance you might read HAVE SOMETHING READY!
(AND BECAUSE I AM VAIN HERE ARE THE POEMS AS THEY SHOULD HAVE BEEN READ
When I finish a book, it can take me a while to return to the routine of writing. My routine has always been a bit irregular, and for most of my adult life (including now) shared with my day job. Most days I write a little (novels are based on writing a little over a long time for me) but I’ve started to fall back into the stories that are waiting for me in their disorderly queue, which means I am writing more, which makes me happy.
I’ve also fallen back into reading (which is just as important). If I’m not reading or writing – preferably both – with some frequency I’m a miserable lad. And decades of experience have taught me something I always forget and then remember. If I chip away things get finished. So the rest of the year is devoted to chipping. And reading.
Talking of both these things – the Brisbane Writers Festival is coming up.
It’s the first week of September and I’ll be there talking vampires and Day Boys and writing.
So I’ve been more than spoilt by this Festival. Please come along if that’s your kind of thing.
And if you want a taste of me talking things book. Here’s me chatting to Mary-Lou Stephens on the ABC Sunshine Coast.
Finally, thanks are in order for the lovely reviewsthathave been coming in. Anyone that takes the time to write a review good or bad is appreciated. Books are arguments. They’re not so much proclamations as conversations. It’s always confronting and wonderful and humbling to hear the other side of the conversation.
I really don’t write to numb the reader, believe it or not. If I’ve inspired someone to write about the book, well that’s a fine thing.
I’ve let this book go (and that was very hard thing this time) but I’d like it to live a while.
Talking of which – if you’ve not read the Death Works Stories you can currently get the Omnibus Edition for $8.99 at Itunes
That’s a pretty good price for a big chunk of book.
Never is a book more loved than on its launch in the author’s home town surrounded by friends and family. And Day Boy was well loved. And never is an author reminded more that writing is rarely a solitary endeavour but something buoyed by friends and family and those dearest to their heart.
I’ve never a had a drink named after a book before, but the people at my favourite bar the End (and my wonderful workmates at Avid) organised this beauty. I had two of them before my launch – which calmed the nerves, let me tell you.
Isobelle Carmody’s send off for my book was wonderful. Not only did I feel honoured that she’d said yes in the first place (particularly with Red Queen so close to release) but she spoke so beautifully and eloquently about the book and about launches in general.
Krissy Kneen was the host and she was wonderful (and her new book – the second for the year – Eating My Grandmother is absolutely divine).
And then I got to thank all the people I could remember to thank, and to read a chapter from my book that I have been dreaming about reading for nearly three years. I signed for about an hour catching up (all too briefly) with so many dear friends, students, and readers.
My friend and colleague, the fabulous Kylie Chan once said that the cliched television version of a book launch doesn’t exist – except at Avid Reader. And it’s true. I was so happy to share that launch with so many people I love – and so pleased that Mum and Dad, and Dad’s partner Lee could make it. You get to my age and you realise that your parents aren’t getting any younger.
Thank you to everyone that could make it. Thank you to my second home and second family Avid Reader. Books and writing are my life. But so are my friends and family.
I’m just going to post the launch speech here – sans the rather large amount of ad libbing.
You know I was a bit nervous about this launch. It’s been a while between drinks. (not literally). But then I got a check in the mail today from my bank for $13.00 refunded on a credit card I closed years ago, and I thought, well, that is a good omen.
Also, author Gary Kemble (check out his new novel Skin Deep!) sent me this from Scotland in his stead. It is haunted, and it is also very appropriate for the piece I will be reading. Actually, I think it’s revenge for me forgetting his name when I did my first ever signing (and I’ve known Gary for years – Gary, I’m sorry, I was absolutely horrified at the time, and I’m horrified now. I’m also sorry if I forget anyone’s name at the signing: really I am)
But, let’s start at the beginning.
Book Launches are like rocket launches. Not real rocket launches more like the one in Armageddon – without the singing – they’re a goodbye. You know that Bruce Willis is never going to see Liv Tyler again, but he’s going to save the world because he’s the best damn driller there is – and while, at that stage, there might be doubt because it’s Bruce Willis not Sean Bean and Bruce Willis doesn’t always die in his movies: it’s a definite farewell.
I am not overly fond of farewells. I hate them, in fact, if I could I’d save all the farewells up and do them all at once, maybe on my deathbed, and that would be that.
(Actually, I thought that was good idea for a story so I stopped this and went and started that, then came back to this.)
But you can’t save them up (and the horse has kind of bolted on this book) so before I say goodbye to something that has taken up a considerable part of my mental life for a considerable number of years (between other books) I would like to thank people.
Firstly to Isobelle Carmody for agreeing to launch the book.
And thank you all for coming.
This book or any of the others wouldn’t have been written without Diana who gave me the space to write. Who convinced me to take time off work and chase those books for a while. And this book started as a short story that I wrote in that time. Thank you, my love.
It wouldn’t have been written without Sophie Hamley my then agent, who convinced me it was worth finishing when I was full of doubt.
It wouldn’t have been written without Fiona Stager and Kev Guy, who let me have a job that means I can pay my bills, and still have some time to write.
And it wouldn’t have been written without the writers that I work with and who inspire me. Particularly Krissy Kneen and Chris Currie. Or the rest of the staff here who are wonderful. I’ve worked with some great booksellers over the years but the guys feel like family – and not one of those bickering families – there’s a reason why there’s such a low staff turnover. Honestly, these guys are the giants of bookselling and one day I will look back and think of my time here and think I can’t believe I got to work with such talented, wonderful people.
This book is about fathers and sons, thanks Dad for your faith in me, and your pride, and for being a good man. And thanks to my family, and Diana’s family too, who put up with the vague writer who works Sundays.
And thanks to all the people who’ve supported me, listened to me, nodded over the years as I rambled on, or critiqued my work.
Finally, thanks to everyone at Text and in particular Mandy Brett who was my editor and who had faith in this book and me, and who let me find the logic in the fever dream that was the first draft I sent her.
Now, for one last moment, sorta, kinda, this book and I are still connected — Think of the Odd Couple (I’m Jack Lemon, of course) — We’ve bickered and fought, we’ve shaped each other a bit, but it’s time that we let each other go.
So I’ve written it a letter. Not a very formal one. But still, letters have a formality, I guess, like book launches.
I loved you heartily, and made you a little in my image, and what flaws you have you may set at my feet.
Please don’t be bitter.
I hope you find your readers, and that they find you, and that you get to hang out and do stuff.
I also hope that you send me the occasional picture. I know that you don’t like selfies all that much, and you contain the odd hard word about social media, but I would appreciate it if you indulged me. I am fond of pictures from buses, or of cranes (mechanical or animal), and the odd cityscape, and I don’t mind artfully framed shots of beer … or the other alcohols.
So, farewell, dear book.
I will miss you.
But I guess we’re both a little sick of each other.
And yes, I will be seeing other books. But you will be seeing other readers (some of whom might write sternly in your margins).
Look after yourself. Go and be read and delighted in, and despised and all the things that books endure because they are much harder and sleeker than their writers and they can handle it.
Dear book, I loved you, really, unambiguously, and without irony. Think of me sometimes.
Most people don’t like to think of themselves as vain. Not really.
But when half your face stops moving and just sits there slack over the bones, and your right eye won’t close – and you’ve had forty years of everything working fine – its lack hits you.
And you realise how vain you are.
It’s your face, but it isn’t any more.
It’s not just how you look, but how you sound. Your words slur (two and a half years later they still do when I am tired). And it’s not just how you sound but how you feel. Bell’s is painful: and it’s a constant pain. There’s a knot of pain behind your ear – where the nerve that controls that half of your face has been killed – your eye burns because it can’t produce tears. And then all the tendons and muscles ache on that side of your face, and, in my case, your teeth ache too. Half your face becomes dominant, and the muscles twist and pull to accommodate that. You stop smiling because it feels weird and looks weirder. (I still hate getting my picture taken because people inevitably ask you to smile and you end up looking all crooked.) And you cry when you eat – that one never seems to go, I go through a lot of napkins.
Seriously, there are so many things that are far, far worse than Bells (a stroke for instance). But it hits you all at once. And it takes a long time to recover and it never quite does (I still feel pain in that side, the vision of my right eye is slightly impaired, and my bite’s all over the place). It messes with your head.
I was back at work the day after it happened. And I was kind of OK with it until I could see the worry in my friends’ and customers’ faces (It doesn’t help that it is impossible to pronounce Bell’s Palsy when you have it, and everyone wants to know what’s wrong). Several times I quietly walked into the staff storeroom and cried. I had a bad case it was pretty obvious within a week that I was going to be stuck with this for some time.
But there was nothing to do but get on with it. Other than my face I was hale and hearty. The semester started a few weeks later and I was lecturing and tutoring (well, mumbling. Oh my poor students! I don’t know if they could understand a word) on novel writing. And, more importantly, I was writing Day Boy.
And here’s the thing – writing that novel, finishing that novel was such a glorious escape. My face may have been all over the place, but I still had my fingers, and a book that I could fall into.
That year was an exhausting one for so many reasons – I wasn’t the only one who got sick, but that’s not my story to tell. But it was a wild and wonderful year too. I learned a lot about myself, and my limits, and the comfort of words.
And I learned about friendship too, and love – well, was reminded of it. And we always need to be reminded of the primacy of those things in everything we do. I wrote Day Boy because of the people around me, not in spite of them. And you can see their names in the acknowledgements of the book. This book wouldn’t have been written without Diana – who went through her own kind of hell, that year, but, again, not my story – and my dearest friends and workmates.
I finished the first draft on Day Boy in April. Sophie Hamley sold it to Text Publishing in August, and here nearly two years afterwards I’m holding the book in my hand. There was a good deal of slog between then and now – Mandy Brett is a fabulous and patient editor (who’d probably tighten up this post considerably, but here you have me: warts, errant commas, and all).
I don’t know how Day Boy’s going to go. I don’t know if people are going to like it.
It’s a book that exists because of success and failure. I wrote Day Boy like every author* writes a book, while they are living and working and experiencing all the exhaustion, agony and delight that their life provides. There was nothing inevitable about it. There never really is.
*every author lucky enough to have the space and time to do so. Not everyone has those things: not even close.
In a period of about three years after never selling a novel – I had five books simultaneously published here and in the UK, and the US by two of my favorite publishers. Things were a bit busy. And it wasn’t like I wasn’t working at the same time – usually two jobs. I don’t think I really stopped from 2009 to 2012. I worked, wrote, worked and made books, but not a lot of money. I was living the dream, but as dreams often go, I never really had time to appreciate it.
I love those books (if you’re not familiar with them and fancy buying one – or all 😉 – there’s links to the left) and some of them had existed in partial form for years before this (just as I have around seven novels in various states of development now) but those years were me putting the pedal to the metal. Sadly none of them did particularly well – despite generally positive reviews, and a few stinkers – and me doing my best to promote them.
To say I fell into a bit of funk is putting it mildly. The books’ relative failure (and I don’t really see them as failures, every one of them fed my creativity, every one of them gave me at least some pleasure, and taught me something) and me working so hard at everything, hurt badly. It was no-one’s fault. I still think they’re great.
Part of it was the slump in publishing at the time (Borders collapsing didn’t help, but people were still selling ok). Part of it was me so focused on getting the next book written I perhaps didn’t work hard enough to selling the ones I had out (but there are only so many hours in the day). And part of it was, despite all the working, I never really had any money to go to cons or travel and push the books. Honestly, maybe none of these things contributed much. It’s a lottery. Books find an audience, or they don’t. And I feel honored that these books have found an audience at all.
As much as we’re encouraged as artists to make mistakes, and to fail. Few like to admit failure, not really. And I felt like a big old failure. I’d had my shot. And there are often few chances to have another. And there’s nothing like writing books that you’re contracted to write and seeing them fail despite your best efforts and the best effort of those around you, while you’re still writing them.
Throughout my short story writing career I had never felt a failure (sure, I’d occasionally feel a bit jealous of those fancy novelists) but every sale to any market, no matter how big or small felt like a win, like I was connecting with a readership. Novel writing was different. For the first time I felt that I’d stuffed up that the mere act of producing something wasn’t enough, unless it found a big enough audience. And I’d failed at that, and in doing so I’d let a lot of people down.
I don’t feel that way now. I am happy with those books and worlds created. Maybe it took a bloody nose or two to make me grow up. You do your best, and you move on.
But it took me a while to get there. And while I was thrashing around (see those seven partial manuscripts all waiting there turn) I really had no idea what to write next. But one of those manuscripts was biting into me more than the others.
I showed Day Boy to my then agent Sophie Hamley along with a bunch of other partials, and it was Day Boy that Sophie responded most to. Actually she responded this way.
I love Day Boy! Can’t wait to read the rest.
That is all.
And she did read the rest. I think sometimes you just need someone to tell you it’s ok to write, and that you’re onto a good thing.
Sophie pulled that novel from me. I sent it to her chapter by chapter. And I can’t tell you what a privilege it was to have someone there (who wasn’t family, whose relationship was mainly a work one) enthusiastically demanding the next bit of the book.
I was back on the writing horse. Putting word after word, scene after scene. I didn’t feel like such a failure.
And then I turned forty. A week or so later*, I started to get a terrible ear ache, oh such horrible, hideous pain – all while Diana and I were on holidays. Then, one morning, I woke up and half my faced was paralyzed.
We live in a culture that shapes lives into narratives, and those narratives become an inevitability. As though there could only be one way forward, our lives as precise and obvious as Newtonian Physics. We live in a culture built on the idea of hard work, of endless trackable progress, of failure just being a pit stop to success, but that success or fulfillment is also an unreachable horizon, tracking away from us as fast as we move towards it. We don’t let ourselves pause because there is always onwards and upwards, even as our bodies tell us otherwise (and they always do late or early in our lives, but they always do).
We tell ourselves these stories even if we don’t quite believe them. We exist inside our aphorisms because they possess a certainty that life doesn’t. We know, deep down, that life is much more nebulous, uncertain, painful, and given to fits and starts and all the unreasoning assaults of the world.
But we do it to stay sane, I guess, to quiet the world. Or maybe we don’t; maybe it’s just me.
Every book I write is written in that uncertainty.
Looking back there seems a certain inevitability to Day Boy’s publication, but, really, there was nothing of the sort. My hard-drive, the many, many notebooks I have lying around, attest to the brevity of my literary enthusiasms (though I do tend to finish things, that finishing can take a long, long time – I reckon seven years for most books, though that’s spread amongst many projects so it never seems that long)
In 2006 I quit my job to write full time. To be honest, I was in part talked into it by Diana – because she is ridiculously supportive (and was probably tired of my whining). I’d published a lot of short stories, written a couple of novels, won an Aurealis award, edited a magazine and a novel (both of which won awards, well, the magazine’s stories did and that novel was a sublime thing that I really think was beyond my abilities to do anything but limit the amount of harm I did to it) but felt like I wasn’t making any progress. I’d decided after about ten years of short story writing that what I really wanted to write were novels, and not just write them but convince someone to publish them.
I thought I was pretty good at it (that writing thing), but I’d let my career aspirations slide. If you’re going to be a novelist, you should really try and make a decent fist of it. (Now, this is me looking back seven years: memory really is a dodgy recorder of motives, it loves to rewrite everything. Maybe I just liked the idea of napping in the afternoons).
In that first flush of free-time I finished yet another draft of Roil, a bit of what was to become Death Most Definite, but was then called Walking Talking (what a horrible name, but I could never get the title quite right on that one) and (predictably enough a bunch of short stories one of which was Day Boy). So that is roughly nine years ago.
Day Boy began as that short story, part of which is a bit of a scene in one of the later chapters of the book. I was also working on a short story called Cracks. Both Day Boy and Cracks were me playing with a particular sort of voice, and both (believe it or not) are set in the same world. Day Boy had hints of a father son relationship (but it wasn’t all that developed) and Cracks was about mothers and daughters. Both were about very dysfunctional relationships of course (functional holds less narrative promise). And both were published in 2008. Cracks in that wonderful and early to the party YA E-magazine Shiny – and it won an Aurealis Award. And Day Boy in the magazine Murky Depths – and it was shortlisted for an AA as well, though it didn’t win.
Both shorts felt pretty self-contained and like they could be built into novels. Day Boy was the least developed of the two, which is part of the reason I felt so attracted to it as a novel – I’d left myself room to immediately move (Ha! Look at the above date, NOTHING immediate about it).
I wrote a first chapter for Day Boy (which is now about the third or fourth chapter) and started dreaming about the world which made me think I was onto a good thing – not that I needed to think it, I knew it in my gut, in that strong and extremely fragile way writers know things about their books, but which none-the-less sustains them for the weeks, months, and years it takes to finish a book.
But then I sold Death Most Definite to Orbit, and I sold it as three books. Which meant I had to work on rewrites of DMD, and produce the other two. About a year later I sold Roil and Night’s Engines to Angry Robot and I was writing and planning and so on three books at the same time set in different worlds, I was also working at Avid Reader Bookstore (more about that wonderful place later) and teaching at QUT. We moved house as well at this time. And then my wonderful, supportive wife got very ill – that’s another story altogether, and one central to this as well – but lets stick to keeping a relatively simple through line. What it came down to was this – it was crazy.
But you do what you can to pay the bills – or as many as you can pay.
What it meant was I’d achieved a major dream, but Day Boy was put on the back burner.