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My new novel, MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING, has now been out in the world for 10 days, which, of course, has gone by in a flash. Even though this is my third novel (and eighth title) I still find it hard to let go.

As soon as a book is published it is no longer the author’s; it is the reader’s. We can wish the book well. We can hope it finds people who will love it as much as we have loved making it, though it is a complicated love, isn’t it – it has not always been easy, which perhaps only serves to make the love deeper, more profound. We can want for the book to be treated with kindness, and with an open-mind. At the very least, we do not want the book to gather dust at the back of a bookshop.

But how the book is received is largely out of an author’s hands. We just have to trust the work we have put into it.

I have heard composer-comedian Tim Minchin say (and this quote is based on my memory of an interview with him on ABC TV a couple of years ago, but I think it is reasonably accurate), ‘A piece of art is simply the result of how much time the artist had and how much energy they put into it.’ Minchin went on to suggest that if an artist proceeds along those lines, how people respond to a work – negative, positive, or otherwise – is largely irrelevant. It is helpful advice. However, it does not stop some artists, including myself, worrying about how an object like a novel is received. There are those who say that an artist is not their art, but where does one begin and the other end?

Best I stop rambling.

All I really wanted to do with this post is give a brief summary of the public life so far of MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING.

There has been a warm and engaged cover story in the Canberra Times; it is rare for a novelist to receive this kind of attention, so I am most grateful. And in all my years as a writer I have never imagined that I would appear on the cover of the newspaper’s weekend magazine with a water dragon on my head.

There has also been a review in the Newtown Review of Books, which concludes:

A rich story, elegantly written. I loved this delightful novel and the journey it took me on. Patrick’s character is finely observed, and his growth, sexual liberation and preparedness to come out as he hits 50 are beautifully scrutinised. A remarkable look at Australian masculinity and its meaning.

The New Daily listed MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING as being one of ‘ten standout books to read in May.’

Booktopia did a Q&A with me, which was lovely. Such interesting and engaged questions, which I had to think about carefully before setting down my answers.

And I have also had the pleasure of being interviewed by a number of hard-working podcasters, two of which have already appeared online: a chat for the relaunched Queer Writes Sessions, which is an initiative of RWR McDonald, author of THE NANCYS and NANCY BUSINESS; and a wide-ranging conversation with Barbie Robinson for Living Arts Canberra, who concludes, ‘Here is a truly astute writer utterly in control of his art.’ Perhaps needless to say, I enjoyed both conversations very much.

Thank you to all those who have engaged with MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING so far, whether it be by posting the book on social media or emailing me to share their experience of reading the story – I do appreciate it, no doubt more than this post suggests. I feel sure that Patrick would appreciate it too, though he might also be just a little overwhelmed. He might need to head back to Jimenbuen on the Monaro and bunker down in the steading, making meals, drinking wine, going for walks. Perhaps he might even go so far as to head up into the Cambalongs and spend a night or two in the hide.

Maybe I’ll see him there.

You too, even.

This week my new novel, MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING, is published by Ultimo Press, an imprint of Hardie Grant. Perhaps it is the case with all novels, but this story has had quite a journey to the page.

As mentioned in a previous diary entry (no. 3), this novel has been with me since 2007 – at least, that is when I first had the idea of someone who is deeply troubled by something unexpressed in his life, so, after he momentarily loses control, he takes himself back to a place that was very important to him as a child. There he sees a strange animal, which leads him to meet someone who will change his life.

Over the subsequent years, I tried to ‘get in‘ to the story through different characters and scenarios and places, though it was not until I spent time down on Ngarigo Country, which is also called the Monaro, an expansive high plain between the Far South Coast of New south Wales and the Snowy Mountains, that the true story emerged.

The final version of the novel was written in a mad, almost delirious rush that lasted 14 days. Of course, there were then quite a few more drafts, before it went through Ultimo’s rigorous editing process.

And now here we are.

More about the novel can be found over at Ultimo. There is also a short video in which I talk about why I wrote it and what I hope readers will get out of it.

There were four things – moments, incidents, events? – that were critical in the development of MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING.

The first: that week at Bobundara on Ngarigo Country. Down there, my very kind host, Trisha, put me up in her heritage-listed stone steading, which is a Scottish word for barn; although it remains much a working building, it contains a small apartment, in which farm workers used to reside. I had gone to Bobundara to work on the manuscript, but almost immediately I knew that I would not pursue that particular version of the story. In that moment of clarity and clear air, Patrick came into my mind almost full formed (as some novelists like to say).

So did his predicament and a rough idea of the journey of the story.

The second: over the last few years I have been writing for the theatre, and during one particularly memorable discussion my director, Caroline Stacey, said to me, ‘Remember what Chekhov liked to do. He didn’t start with the bad thing. He started after the bad thing happened.’

The third: the eminent Australian poet Melinda Smith introduced me to the concept of duende, which, as was described by the Spanish poet Lorca, is the devil mule, the goblin muse, the one that is all about mischief. Tracy K. Smith has written a terrifically illuminating essay about duende; it can be found here. Although writing abut poetry, what Smith says about duende I find fascinating:

‘…we write poems in order to engage in the perilous yet necessary struggle to inhabit ourselves—our real selves, the ones we barely recognize—more completely. It is then that the duende beckons, promising to impart “something newly created, like a miracle,” then it winks inscrutably and begins its game of feint and dodge, lunge and parry, goad and shirk; turning its back, nearly disappearing altogether, then materializing again with a bear-hug that drops you to the ground and knocks your wind out. You’ll get your miracle, but only if you can decipher the music of the battle, only if you’re willing to take risk after risk.’ 

The fourth: my mother died. Within days I found myself – or lost myself – thinking, Who was she? Who was the woman who brought me into the world? Although the family in MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING is not my family, my writing of the novel, I think, was my attempt to explore what had just happened in my life, primarily through the character of Patrick. Soon, however, the novel became entirely Patrick’s, and that is the only way I think of it now.

To mark the publication of the novel, earlier this week I spent a day and a night at Bundanoon, which is a village half an hour’s drive north of Goulburn, where I live. Some of the novel is set there: Patrick lives in the same street as his ailing mother. Then I drove two and a half hours south, to Bobundara. It was fascinating to see the steading again; it felt as though Patrick would open the door and welcome me inside. Perhaps he would make me a cup of tea, or pour me a glass of wine, or just light the fire and say, ‘Thank you for visiting. What’s new in your world?’

It felt as though the place – the building, the paddocks, that wooded hills – were now his.

I hope they will soon be yours too.

If you’re within spitting distance of the ACT at the end of this month, the novel will be launched at Harry Hartog ANU at noon on Saturday 28 May. The event will be an in-conversation with Anna Vidot from ABC Radio Canberra. Booking essential.

Thank you to all those who have engaged with my work over the years. It is an obvious – and common – thing to say, but a novel only comes to life when it is in the hands of a reader, and when that reader is lost – and perhaps found – in the imagined world.

Much gratitude to you all.

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