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When I left Sydney, in 1987 and as a not-so-fresh-faced 18-year-old, I was determined to find my own way in the world.

I needed to find a new way of being. I needed to be myself.

Without a doubt there had been joy in my childhood. Summers were spent either at the beach or up in the Blue Mountains, and most weekends I was able to explore the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, which bordered the suburb where my family and I lived. But the suburb was as affluent as they come: the roads were clogged with cars made by Audi, BMW, Volvo and Mercedes, and most streets were adorned with at least one mansion.

It was also monocultural. A ‘blue-ribbon’ Liberal seat, as they say. Conservative to the core. If you weren’t a Christian you were marked as different, and different was never good.

It’s true that, in my formative years, I was aware of that situation – the privilege, but also the stifling (read: dangerous) world view. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was to get out of there as soon as I was able, to be in a place where I could choose the people with whom I wanted to associate.

And that’s what happened.

I found my tribe.

But I had no idea that in the ACT region I’d find something else.

While most folk know Canberra as the place where the federal parliament sits, where most government departments have their offices, where, on most nights of the week, the restaurants and bars are packed with political staffers and public servants talking strategy and gossip (that may have been true in the past but these days a majority of Canberrans are actually involved in the private sector; besides, the ongoing wars between ‘public service’ and ‘private enterprise’ are ridiculously reductive), I have come to know Canberra as one of the the most cultural and creatively sustaining places on the planet.

This small city has a wide range of arts organisations covering all the major art forms. There are also the national cultural institutions, including the National Library, the National Archives, the National Museum, and the National Gallery, and the National Portrait Gallery. The original parliament house has been turned into a museum of democracy.

There are brilliant universities and terrific bookshops. Libraries are dotted throughout the suburbs.

It probably should not be surprising that the ACT is one of the most progressive jurisdictions in Australia: in 1999 it was one of the only states or territories that voted for Australia to become a republic, and in 2017 it had one of the highest yes votes in the marriage-equality plebiscite.

Then there are the mountains on the edge of the city, the coast is a two-hour drive (which, in Australian terms, is not much more than ‘just up the street’), Sydney at the northern end of the freeway.

While, now I’m thinking about it, I first put pen to paper as a writer while briefly living in Perth in my early twenties, it was when I returned to Canberra that I decided to pursue my literary vocation with vigour. I met other writers, some of whom have gone on to shape the culture of the country. My own progress has been slow, a gradual coming out. (My other coming out was a little more dramatic.)

I should also make it clear that since 2010 I have lived on the other side of the border, in the regional New South Wales town of Goulburn. These days I like to say that Goulburn is my hometown, Canberra is my home city, and the ACT region is the place of my creative community

So, it was lovely – surprising, invigorating, and just a little overwhelming – to be named the ACT Artist of the Year at the 2022 ACT Arts Awards, which were held on Tuesday evening at the Canberra Museum and Gallery.

MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING also picked up a Canberra Critics Circle Award, which is my fifth.

Thank you to the Canberra Critics Circle, who, for 32 years, have been celebrating this region’s artists. Gratitude also to the City News, which so generously sponsors the Artist of the Year Award.

Years ago, a prominent Australian writer and academic shared with me some advice that I’ve never forgotten: ‘When something good happens in your writing life, you have 24 hours to celebrate – drink champagne, go out for dinner, soak it all up, whatever you need to do, but then you have to keep going. When something bad happens in your writing life, you have 24 hours to commiserate – drink whiskey, kick the furniture, howl at the moon, whatever you need to do, but then you have to keep going.’

So I applied that approach to this news; I enjoyed a wonderful Wednesday. And then, to be frank, because sometimes there is life in contradiction and inconsistency, I kept enjoying myself.

But on Monday morning, I’ll be back at the desk.

I’ll keep going.

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Image credit: author photograph courtesy of the Canberra Times.

Yesterday marked 6 months since MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING came into the world. Oh my.

Thank you so much – indeed eternal gratitude – to all those who have supported the novel so far: the booksellers, the readers, the launch attendees, the podcasters, the journalists. You’re all bloody marvelous.

I have so appreciated the messages, posts and emails sent to me by readers. Every single one of them has given me a shot in the arm. It’s been almost overwhelming to hear how much Patrick and his story has meant to readers, and that the novel has moved some readers in a deep, perhaps even profound way.

A novelist can’t wish for much more than that.

It’s been such a wonderful ride so far, with launches in Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane, and the Huon Valley in Tasmania. I’ve had festival appearances in Canberra, Bryon Bay (including 5 days on the road touring regional areas, along with the incredible Huda the Goddess, Mirandi Riwoe, and Jane Caro), Southern Tasmania, and Berry, NSW.

I’ve met such amazing people and you’ve all been brilliant.

There is one more event WILD THING event for the year, and, rather fittingly, it will be back in the ACT region, where the tour began back in May. To be held at 2pm on Sunday 20 November, and called ‘The Quoll Connection’, my co-panelist will be Harry Sadler, the author of QUESTIONS RAISED BY QUOLLS, a fascinating book that is part nature exploration and part memoir. The event will be held at Terroux, a property on the outskirts of Canberra, and there will also be participation from a local quoll expert. Fabulous. Bookings essential.

As a rather lovely aside: back in 2019, Terroux offered me a weeklong residency, during which I worked on an earlier version of MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING. So, in a way, this will be a terrific full-circle moment.

Thank you once again to all those who have read the novel, who’ve let me know your thoughts, who’ve attended one of the various events.

It means the world to me.

Bless you.

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