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The audience gasped and it was because of something I said, or, at least, had written in a humble novella called I’m Ready Now.  I didn’t think much of it, because I had to keep reading, engaging the crowd as much as humanly possible (especially when your hands are shaking and your legs feel as though stuffed with porridge).  It wasn’t until I finished and stepped off the stage that Greg Gould from Blemish Books said to me with a cheeky glint in the eye, ‘Some may have found the reference to X a shock to the system.’  Of course, Greg didn’t say ‘X’; he told me exactly what some may have found a shock to the system.  But I didn’t mind, not at all, because it’s better for an audience to have a strong reaction than to have no reaction.

Now it’s time to focus on the next public-speaking gig: the 2013 Southern Highland Writers’ Festival, which runs from Friday 12 July to Sunday 14 July in Bowral, New South Wales.  Shit – next weekend!  Check out the festival’s website for the program.  As mentioned before around these parts, my session, which is with Wollongong-based novelist Christine Howe, is at 4pm on Saturday.  Not only am I looking forward to participating in this amazing festival and gratuitously rubbing shoulders with eminent writers like Anne Summers, Mark Tredinnick, and Ursula Dubosarsky, I have a few familial connections to the region.

My father worked in the local hospital, my parents lived on neighbouring Mt Gibraltar, my maternal grandparents lived opposite the town oval (now named Bradman Oval, which is apparently a reference to some cricketer or other), and family lore has it that in the late 1700s, after immigrating in a boat – yes, Australian politicians, IN A BOAT – my forebears, convicts the lot of them, were granted land just south of Bowral.  These days, my kin are all over the joint, but I’m just an hour down the road, in bloody-boiling-one-day-and-fucking-freezing-the-next Goulburn, which is, quite frankly, where I’m happiest.

But I’m getting carried away.

If you’re not doing anything next weekend, why not head for the Highlands?  It’ll be great to see you.  I might even tell you about X.

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Blemished Evening FlyerJust a quick Blemish Novella Story update and rare mid-week UTC post, for two reasons.

The first – and perhaps most important, if anything about all this could be considered ‘important’ – is that tomorrow night (20 June), at 6pm, I’ll be taking part in my publisher’s Very Blemished Evening at Smith’s Alternative, Canberra City.  Can you think of a better title for a literary event?  But this isn’t any old literary shindig, because this one has music, by the always cheeky Jason Recliner, and mountains of booze from the bar.  So do drop in, have a drink and a dance, and listen to words by poets J.C. Inman and P.S. Cottier as well as myself.  I’ll be singing – yes, singing – an entire chapter from I’m Ready Now.  Okay, I may have made up that last bit; I’ll simply be reading a couple of saucy excerpts.

Speaking of I’m Ready Now, this being the second in what I hope will be a series of three novellas, all of which exploring contemporary Australian family life, has scored a warm and appreciative review in the Newtown Review of Books.  The only response a writer really wants to their work is a close and thoughtful and open reading, and that, to my utterly biased mind, is what Walter Mason has done.  Click on the link above for the whole deal, but the tastiest morsel might be this:

A newly widowed Tasmanian woman travels to Sydney to start a new life and begins her journey in the in-between space of her gay son’s stark one-bedroom flat in the inner city.  This is the premise of Nigel Featherstone’s beautifully crafted novella, I’m Ready Now, a book that examines the impact of ageing on a grieving rich widow and a lost gay man approaching what he can only perceive as a hopeless middle age.  Featherstone writes with sensitivity and a terrific eye for what it is that makes love – or at least sustained sexual connection – so very thrilling.  Ultimately I’m Ready Now is about ‘feeling life’ – feeling one’s way around its unpleasant limits and reaching the end of its strangely narrow circuits.  Thoughtful and frequently wistful, it serves as a guide to Sydney’s sadder streets and as a map of those moments of emotional maturity where you realise that it isn’t going to work out.  Nuanced and thoroughly original.

Cue glowing heart.

If you’re in the ACT region tomorrow night, I look forward to seeing you – I’ll be the one whose legs won’t stop jiggling from nerves…

Fall on Me: you be the judge

Giving away art for free - who benefits in the end?

Giving away art for free – who benefits in the end?  (Someone once said that I reminded them of a ‘better-looking Thom Yorke’.  I’ve never known if that was a compliment or not.)

No, regrettably this little novella isn’t going to be a contestant on The Voice, but there is a music connection.  In 2007 the British rock-band Radiohead famously released their seventh studio album, In Rainbows, on a pay-what-you-want-for-the-download basis.  Whilst definitive results of the experiment are hard to come by, indications are that about 60% chose to pay nothing, while the remainder paid on average a significantly discounted price.  Overall, however, once the album was released physically, In Rainbows was a financial and critical success, making more money than the band’s previous album across all platforms.  At the time, Radiohead’s approach was considered ground-breaking, but over the years there’s been debate about its impact on the music industry in general; even Thom Yorke, the band’s free-thinking frontman, said that the strategy may have been a mistake, as it played into the prevailing internet culture that everything should be free.

What’s this got to do with literature and Fall on Me?

For a limited time only, the e-book version of Fall on Me is available to download on a pay-what-you-want basis. Nice.

For a limited time only, the e-book version of Fall on Me is available to download on a pay-what-you-want basis. Nice.

As is increasingly obvious, the publishing world is currently in turmoil and in many ways is following on the digital coat-tails of the music industry, or at least trying to.  Publishers big and small are looking to try anything and everything to get their books in the hands of readers.  And my publisher, Blemish Books, is no different.  So, for a limited time only, Blemish have released Fall on Me as an e-book on a pay-what-you-want basis.  It’s a very interesting proposition, because it’s actually the mirror-reverse of the In Rainbows experiment: Fall on Me has already had a successful run as a physical book, in terms of both numbers sold and positive reviews achieved.  But will this new strategy generate downloads?  And how much will readers pay for it?  And what do I reckon about all this? I’m just glad that the life of Fall on Me is being extended, and if Blemish’s cheeky Radiohead-esque move means more readers can experience the novella then I’m all for it.  Plus I have a phone-bill to pay.

I’m Ready Now for Smith’s and the Southern Highlands

This little baby's gonna be out and about a bit more.

This little baby’s gonna be out and about a bit more over the coming months.  I’ll probably turn up as well.

Meanwhile, the most recent of the two novellas, I’m Ready Now, continues to make its way in the world as a hard-copy-only book.  A handful of reviews down, and some public-reading gigs in the bag, I’m Ready Now has a few more outings up its sleeve.  At 6pm on Thursday 20 June, I’ll be joining my Blemish stable-mates, including PS Cottier and JC Inman, at a special one-off event called A Very Blemished Evening, a title that suits me perfectly.  It’ll be held at the new Smith’s Alternative, which is a longstanding and iconic Canberra bookshop that’s recently had a major overhaul and is now as much a bar and performance space as it is a place of books and reading.  Do join us: there’ll be booze, which is the main thing, isn’t it.  Oh and I’ve heard gratuitous gossip that there’ll be music by Canberra’s favourite streetwise troubadours, The Cashews.  Now that’s something to get excited about.

Then, a few weeks later, at 4pm on Saturday 13 July, I’ll be taking part in the Southern Highlands Writers’ Festival.  Established only last year, this time around the Festival has on offer literary luminaries such as Anne Sommers, Mark Tredinnick, Ursula Dubasarsky, and Geordie Williamson, all in a charming venue with an intimate atmosphere.  Don’t like the massive crowds of the big-city festivals?  Me neither, so come to this one.  I’ll be sharing the stage with Christine Howe, which is a bit nice as we’re both alumni of the University of Wollongong’s creative writing program.  We’ll be talking ‘Fantastic Fiction’ – apparently this requires us to dress as superheroes.  Me in lycra?  It’ll never happen.  But I’m sure Christine and I will still be able to keep you entertained.  Especially if there’s booze at the end of it.

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As always, thanks for your support and interest.  Fingers crossed that I’ll see you at one – or maybe both? – of these events.  And if you’re in the market for the highest quality e-book known to mankind, I do hope you’ll be able to press the right buttons and make a very independent publisher and their very independent author just that little bit happier.  Plus there’s that phone-bill to pay.  Chink-chink.

The Canberra Times reviews 'I'm Ready Now' - wine ensues, as does a hangover (and, despite the hangover, much thinking).

The Canberra Times reviews ‘I’m Ready Now’ – wine ensues, as does a hangover (and, despite the hangover, much thinking).

Beneath everything that’s been going on – finding a way of paying the bills, covering the cracks that have been appearing in the walls, the death of a divisive UK matriarch, the barrage of daily emails, dodging kangaroos – there’s been a simmering story: how is I’m Ready Now faring in the rapidly shrinking world of literary reviews?

For an excellent but sobering analysis of the current book-review situation in Australia have a read of ‘Parallel Fates’ by Sybil Nolan and Matthew Ricketson, which was recently published in the new and much-needed Sydney Review of Books.  I’m just eternally grateful that I’m Ready Now, a story about two difficult people making difficult decisions, a novella by a regional writer and published by an independent press, has managed to be reviewed at all, first in BMA Magazine, then Whispering Gums, and now The Canberra Times.

As ‘Parallel Fates’ makes clear, book reviews are extraordinarily important: they provide a thoughtful, dispassionate and contextual critique of a writer’s work; they offer advice and feedback to a publisher; and they help connect books with readers.  Without book reviews, especially the articulate, erudite and fearless kind, there can be no viable literary culture – writing is as much about response and contribution as it is about creation.  They can also help to toughen writers, who are, no doubt, innately sensitive souls, and they help to educate readers, encouraging the broadening of interests.  The book pages, however, particularly those in the mainstream press, appear to be dwindling.

But what of the review in The Canberra Times – is it any good?

Well, it does have this to say:

Writing novellas might seem a little anachronistic or studied, a bit like playing the harp, say, reading Henry James, or listening to LPs. In Featherstone’s hands, though, the novella form becomes an opportunity for concise, intense, concentrated emotion. For him, 156 pages are plenty to introduce plot twists, to give characters depth and feeling, to juxtapose emotions, and to colour his settings with textured, intriguing detail (Mark Thomas)

Which is very generous and resulted in the drinking of wine.  Lots of wine.  Far too much.  And a hangover the size of a bastard country.

In other I’m Ready Now news, Blemish Books has produced a podcast of me reading a short (3-minute) extract, there’s an interview I did with ArtSound FM, and if you’re in a book club you may be interested in the reading notes that have recently been made available and the associated discount offer.  So the good ship I’m Ready Now, skippered by the tireless Blemish folk, keeps sailing despite some challenging seas, and here’s hoping that the wind remains in the sails for a little while longer.

As always, thanks to everyone who’s said a kind and supportive word – I appreciate it very much.

What does a reader's response mean to the writer, even if it's negative, or not uncritical?

What does a reader’s response mean to the writer, even if it’s negative, or not uncritical?

The email

On the Wednesday just gone, after hours of thought, I posted the following on Facebook: Today, one of my oldest friends, an avid reader and very careful in the books she selects, sent me an email.  She wrote, ‘I’ve read I’m Ready Now.  Really cared about the characters, thought the suspense and build excellent.  Enjoyed it the most of your books.’  And this short and sweet note made me the happiest I’ve been in weeks.

Part of the reason why I posted the above was because of that last line in my friend’s email.  I’m Ready Now is a book in which I’ve invested my heart and soul, so it’s an honour – and honour is the word – to know that a reader sees this novella as being a step forward.  However, I also posted it to show how even the briefest piece of feedback will lift the writer from the gutter, the metaphorical gutter if not the literal one.

And it’s not just about praise – even a piece of negative criticism, especially if it’s thoughtfully composed, is helpful in the long run.

It’s about response.  A writer writes to be read, and, so it’s dreamed, to know how people feel about the work.  Was the reader engaged?  Were they moved?  Did the characters and their predicament linger for days after the last page was turned?  Did the reader find themselves talking about the story with others as if they’d personally witnessed the events on the page?  And what of the prose – carefully crafted?

But it’s also about keeping the silence at bay.

The silence

For days, weeks, months, years, decades even, writers work at every single dot and squiggle on the page; if the writer’s extraordinarily lucky, the work will be published.  And then?  Well, more often than not, there’s silence.  It was an eminent Australian novelist who told me about this.  And I said, ‘But how is that possible?  You’re a multi-award-winning writer.’  And he said, ‘It happens after every book.’

Most writers, myself included, say that writing is the most rewarding activity they know but that it’s also the hardest – breathing life into a sentence takes  a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears.  More than likely, for every word that’s on the published page there’s a word the writer has discarded.  No one asks us to do this crazy of crazy pastimes, especially the fiction pastime, but there are rewards to be had.

The quotes

What follows, then, are the rewards – a selection of quotes from some of the feedback I’ve received so far from those who’ve taken in I’m Ready Now (listed anonymously to protect the correspondent):

Your writing is always filled with so much love.  The story was great, smooth and easy to read despite the dual voices – you made it work well.  The milestone thing is something that I can relate to, and I’ve been wondering if I should stop taking myself so fucking seriously.  I’m Ready Now will stay with me for some time.

Precise and elegant prose, the subtle interplay of character, and the ability to make the reader want to read on.  I really enjoyed the sense of place both in Sydney and Tasmania, one of your strengths, too. Congratulations.

I’m Ready Now is another step in the steady development of your work.  I especially admired the dialectic you maintained throughout between the familial/domestic on the one hand, and the momentous – death, sex, love, fracture, searching – on the other hand.  I think you’ll get some real attention with this one.

A gripping saga and very moving.  I found the characters believable and I hope things work out for them.

I have just read I’m Ready Now, and was totally hooked; which I find even more interesting as I didn’t particularly like Gordon, just for selfishness reasons. (His, not mine.) But he had slyly worked his way under my skin. Even into my pure little veins.

Do you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about your characters and their decision-making when it occurred to be that I haven’t told you that I loved it.  There were certain passages at which I almost gasped.  The passionate commitment to a child, the strange longing for the first mad love, the need, sometimes, to get to the new place – the untested territory – alone.  Oh how wonderful to have written this book.

The thanks

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who’s email me, or posted something about the book on Facebook, or sent me a text-message, or just said a kind word face-to-face.  It does make it worthwhile, and it makes the story more alive.  Undoubtedly it’s a ridiculous thing to say, but I’m sure that the characters themselves feel more alive, too.

Another year of writing comes to an end and it’s been a ripper, even if every second day I ask myself, why am I doing this?  It’s not that I don’t enjoy it – mostly I love the wrestle with words and their meaning, with characters (who more often than not want to do their own thing), and the evil beast that is plot and event – but it is a strange occupation when so much time is spent worrying about what’s not real.  Though we plough on, don’t we.  And I mean that ‘we’ – I’m just one of thousands who are embroiled in this whole writing caper, plus around every writer is a bank of people who are very generous with their interest, support, advice, and encouragement.

So, an update on a few things:

I’m Ready Now…for novella no. 2 to have its moment in the sun

Out now!

Out now and in the (hopefully) loving hands of readers and critics alike.  Fingers – and other things – crossed.

Two reviews for I’m Ready Now (Blemish Books, 2012) have come in to-date: the really very interesting and thoughtful literary blog Whispering Gums and the indispensable ACT-based street-press BMA Magazine.

Whispering Gums said of this novella, Nigel Featherstone builds tension and mystery around his characters’ behaviour without undermining their realness or humanity, and without alienating readers. We warm to them even while we wonder about the wisdom of their decisions and motivations. Besides the characterisation, I also like the novella’s voice and structure. It’s told first-person in the alternating voices of Lynne and Gordon, and is effectively paced, largely through varying the length of the chapters. And so for me, the book is about ‘living imaginatively’ and about liberation, but it is also about how the past can stall us if we don’t get it in the right perspective. Featherstone opens the book with two epigraphs, one being TS Eliot’s ‘Home is where one starts from’.  I think that, in a way, says it all.

BMA concluded, I’m Ready Now is masterful in its execution. This is not high impact, flashy narrative. It doesn’t need to be. So delicately does Featherstone introduce the nuances of his characters and the incidents in their lives that – despite their simplicity – you are drawn in, eager to learn how these flawed and real characters fare. It doesn’t end in a walloping climax or the decisive nature of a bullet but with a simple yet life-changing decision. This is a perfect companion to Featherstone’s previous novella, Fall on Me, and both prove the man has a commanding grip on the novella form.

You can read both reviews in full here and here respectively.

I’m Ready Now can be ordered in through your local bookshop, or purchased direct from Blemish Books.

Fall on Me…is rising

Winner of the ACT Writing and Publishing Award (fiction)

Winner of the ACT Writing and Publishing Award (fiction).  There’s been a fair bit of wine-drinking since the announcement.  From memory.

There was more than a spring in my step when I left the Mercure Hotel in Canberra on the evening of Thursday 13 December, because Fall on Me (Blemish Books, 2011) had just won the 2012 ACT Writing and Publishing Award (fiction).  The judges’ concluded: A clever, poignant and engaging plot, and the pace is quietly and consistently held. Interest grows as the story and the relationship between the father and son unfold, polished and compelling. Carefully drawn and cannily observed characters, who develop in a plausible and appealing way. Judicious use is made of back-stories to define the characters; the reader never loses curiosity. This work is carefully and beautifully crafted, no showiness, no gratuitous sentiment, an example of skill and talent being put to outstanding use.  I do hope the award, and the sticker that can now adorn the books, ensures that Fall on Me, a novella about a father who is surviving the senseless murder of his wife and the couple’s now teenaged son who insists on doing radically creative things with his body, continues to have a life out there amongst the big books.

Like I’m Ready Now, Fall on Me can be ordered in through your local bookshop, or purchased direct from Blemish Books, the best indy small press in the country, as voted by me.

A long-lost interview finally gets an airing

You know, there’s been a private saga that’s been simmering throughout much of this year.  Back in autumn, I received an invitation from eminent South Australian literary journal Wet Ink for an in-depth interview.  Of course, I jumped at the opportunity – these things come around once in a very blue moon.  Over a total of twenty-five questions, the interviewer, Susan Errington, asked me about a wide range of topics, including what makes a novella, why I write so much about men, and my favourite authors and their books.  For months and months I eagerly awaited this interview to appear but, sadly, Wet Ink went belly-up just before publication day.  Thankfully, Whispering Gums came to the rescue, and the interview, which is 4,500 words long, is being serialised every Friday for the next few weeks, with an extra section added to bring it all up-to-date.  Needless to say, I’m extremely grateful to Sue Terry for saving the day, but it’s also an example of how rapidly the world of literature is changing, particularly in terms of the ongoing tsunamic (is that a word?) shift from paper to the online environment.

The latest installment of the interview is here.

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A massive thanks to everyone who’s bought a copy of Fall on Me and/or I’m Ready Now; to all those who’ve shared with me their responses to the books, I appreciate it very much.  Yes, writing literary fiction is a bizarre pursuit, especially in an age where we’re all so pressed for time and are being bombarded with an avalanche of information (first a wall of water, now rushing slides of snow!), and the international economic climate is wobbly at best so people are understandably careful about what they do with their coins, but after the year that’s been I’m pretty damn keen for 2013 to start.

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To all those who subscribe to Under the counter or a flutter in the dovecot, who comment, or just drop in every so often, I hope you enjoy the festive season (if there is one where you live), and all the very, very best for the new year.

Fancy that: a wall of readiness

The build-up

You know, six months out from a book launch, you just can’t wait for the big day – it’s all just too exciting.  Then there’s the week of the launch and you start counting down the sleeps.  But then the morning comes and you think, why the hell do I do this?  It’s the nerves: will anyone turn up?  But there’s also the anxiety around a story, and the people of the story, who have been private for so long, years, all of it being made public: will the words and their intent come alive for readers?

In the end, people do attend book launches, and the book is officially sent out into the world, and you wake up the next morning and think, Wow, what a night; did that all really happen?  Thank you so much to all those who came long to the launch of I’m Ready Now at Electric Shadows Bookshop in Canberra on the Thursday just gone.  A packed-out independent bookshop is always a thing of beauty.

McEwan on the novella

Chris Wallace: no bullshit.  Which was appreciated.  By a lot of people.

I’m Ready Now is a novella, and some people have asked me what this strange beast is all about.  It’s the million-dollar question – if there can be million-dollar questions in the world of literary fiction – and many have tried to come to a definition.  Back in October of this year, Ian McEwan wrote the following in The New Yorker: ‘I believe the novella is the perfect form of prose fiction. It is the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated ill-shaven giant’.  It’s a great line.  But in a feature I wrote last year for The Canberra Times on the novella, John Clanchy dived deeper: ‘Whatever we call it, the novella isn’t a novel that’s run out of puff; it isn’t a short story that’s meandered beyond its natural length and lost its way.  I like working with the novella because it shares some of the most attractive features of the novel – its expansiveness, its multiple layers of theme and plot – at the same time constraining them with features normally associated with the short story: intensity of focus, singularity of narrative voice and architecture, discipline of length.  But all the while remaining a distinct species, not a hybrid.’

Two sibling novellas on a shelf – what is it that they’re saying to each other?

What some are thinking

As to the launch itself, a huge thanks to journalist and writer Chris Wallace for cutting the metaphorical ribbon.  What’s the best thing a launcher can offer a writer?  A close reading.  And no bullshit.  Chris, who is infamous for calling a spade a spade, offered both.  Amazingly, there’s already a review of I’m Ready Now: it’s over at the unstoppable literary blog Whispering Gums.  What I love about the review is that it begins with some reflections on the launch, and the independence of these reflections make them more valuable and interesting than anything I can do here.  But the writer of the review, Sue Terry, also gets the books, so much so that she concludes thatI’m Ready Now is about living imaginatively and about liberation, but it is also about how the past can stall us if we don’t get it in the right perspective’.  Those last few words, about how the past can grind to a halt if we don’t frame it correctly, really do get to the heart of the book.

Heartfelt thanks

‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ Hang on, this novella’s already got words in it.  No need for any more.

Thanks again to everyone who came along to the launch or sent warm wishes.  Special thanks to Marion Halligan, Karmin Cooper, and editor Nicola O’Shea who really helped to bring I’m Ready Now to life through offering very astute suggestions.  And, of course, much gratitude to Greg Gould and Lesley Boland from Blemish Books for publishing I’m Ready Now (along with Fall on Me last year).  I can only write what I want to write, and what I’d like to read, which means that I may never have the biggest readership in the world (though one can dream), so it’s brilliant that Blemish has made such a commitment to me as a writer and to the novella as a form of story-telling.  What now?  I just hope that I’m Ready Now is read.  One final time: thank you.  Until we meet again.

Your copy is here

I’m Ready Now can be purchased through your local bookshop or you can order it directly from Blemish Books – that link will take you straight to Blemish’s online store.

About a launch

Somehow it’s all happening at once, so to keep track of everything that’s happening, and to share some of the goodies, here’s a very rare mid-week Under the counter post.  Firstly, just a reminder that my second novella with Blemish Books, I’m Ready Now, is being launched tomorrow (Thursday) night, at 5.30pm at Electric Shadows Bookshop, Mort Street, Braddon, ACT; it’s a thrill to have journalist and biographer Christine Wallace cutting the metaphorical ribbon.  Cue sleepless nights and trembling hands.

Story leaks

Over the last few weeks I’ve been leaking bits and pieces about I’m Ready Now, so to keep the tradition going for a little while longer, this novella manages to meander its way between Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney, and northern Vietnam and south-west Ireland also get a mention.  And ‘Sail On’ by The Commodores features, and this is a band that can apparently walk on clouds – make of that what you will.

Guesting, whispering

Relating to I’m Ready Now, the increasingly influential literary blog Whispering Gums recently asked me for a guest-post.  I wrote about novellas (no surprises there), raising children (yes, you read that right), and how family-life is the raison d’etre of the contemporary Australian novel (I really believe that).  Oh, I also mention zombies.  Massive thanks to Sue Terry for the opportunity.

An anthology of giants

More broadly, I’ve mentioned before that a story of mine, ‘Severance’, which was first published in the Canberra Times in 2003 and republished in Island in 2004, has been included in The Invisible Thread: one hundred years of words (Halstead Press), which celebrates the Centenary of Canberra in 2013.  Creative Director of the Centenary – and singer, writer, and arts-luminary-in-general – Robyn Archer says in her introduction: ‘The anthology includes names such as Roger McDonald, David Campbell, Blanche d’Alpuget, Barbara Blackman, Rhyll McMaster, Alan Gould and Jackie French; but there are also equally beautiful emerging voices such as those of Omar Musa, Nigel Featherstone, Sarah St Vincent Welch and Melinda Smith.  That so much good writing, past and present, should emerge from this region is a powerful challenge to the silly cliché of Canberra as a city without a soul.’  Needless to say, it’s a real treat to have work included in these pages.

Oh look, I’m now on YouTube

The tireless editor and project-manager of The Invisible Thread, Irma Gold, who is a very fine author in her own right, has video-interviewed seventeen of the writers involved, including yours truly.  You can watch the interview here.  Mostly I talk about how ‘Severance’ (which, perhaps, has turned out to be my biggest hit) was written, the benefits of living in Canberra and now Goulburn, and juggling everything that life throws at us.  The Invisible Thread is being launched in Canberra on Thursday 29 November.

I hope you enjoy the links, but it’d be great to cross paths with you in person at the I’m Ready Now launch tomorrow night, or The Invisible Thread launch next week.

Onwards.

Well, we’ve got a cover.  This time around, Blemish Books commissioned the completely and utterly talented – and damn fine – folk at New Best Friend.

Yes, it’s the baby to the left.

It’s always interesting to see what will be the public face of a story that’s been private for so long – it’s as if the idea materialises right in front of your eyes.  It’s true that there’s a kind of magic to all this.  And it’s all just so full of surprises.

I had no idea the doorknob that features in the story would become the dominant image.  But it’s fitting, very fitting: if you have the key you’re able to go inside.  But maybe the door’s unlocked already – just come on in and make yourself at home.  Perhaps the door’s unlocked but the door’s hinges are a bit rusty and you’ll need to give the whole thing a pull and a push to make it move so you can make your way in.

Whatever the case, there we have it: the cover of a novella called I’m Ready Now, to be published next month.

Also on the cover is a quote from Marion Halligan, one of the ACT region’s – and Australia’s – most esteemed writers.  I admire Marion very much, plus I’m fond of her as a person, so it’s always a nerve-wracking experience for someone like this to be approached to endorse your work.  And you do need endorsements: independent-press publishing is too difficult as it is to go in blind and naked, as it were.  (To be frank, commercial or mainstream publishing is probably no easier).  Needless to say, it was a relief to read Marion’s generous words, to know of her response.  ‘A powerful yet gentle narrative that grabs you and holds you till the end.’  Powerful.  And gentle.  I like that, especially for a dual point-of-view narrative.  Is it Lynne Gleeson, the mother in I’m Ready Now, who is powerful?  Or is she gentle?  Or is it her son Gordon, the naughty – and troubled – son who is those things?  Or is it the story itself, the book?  Or is it me (God forbid)?  Or is it all these things?  It’s all these things.

From here we’re on the slippery slope to the launch, which is at Electric Shadows Bookshop in Braddon, Canberra, on Thursday 22 November.  It’s quite an unreal experience to have two novellas out in two years, two book covers, two endorsements, two launches, all the gut-wrenching anxiety of going public with a personal imagination, a day-dream in a way, a very long day-dream.  If anything, I just want Lynne and Gordon Gleeson to have their time in the sun; it feels as though they’ve been kept cooped up for far too long (since 2003, really, when the idea of this story and the people in it first popped up).

They’re tough people, independent and determined, so they’ll make their own way without me now, I know they will, I know they will.

Today, this morning, right now, it feels as if I live in a lighthouse.  The howling – almost screaming – of the wind hitting the corrugated iron of the roof and passing through, the clank-clank-clank of the neighbour’s back gate, windows rattling, the Old Lady of the House putting her paws over her ears (she’s not good when the weather’s like this). In the old parlour room that’s now my library there’s an airy rush coming down the chimney as though it’s a connection to a very wild other world.  The day’s overcast, but it’s not raining, though it might rain soon, when the wind has blown itself out.  I can admit to you that, in a perverse kind of way, I like the house on days like this – it’s as if the place is alive, it’s as though the paddocks that begin half a kilometre away have reached in to my back door.

Somehow it seems right for it to be like this, because today, so I’ve been told, Blemish Books sends my second novella, I’m Ready Now, to the printer.  I’m nervous, I’m nerve-wracked, I’m excited, I’m frightened.  What’s there to be frightened about?  Isn’t this a good thing?  Yes, it’s a good thing, a great thing – it is, in fact, quite miraculous.  They say that only 1% of writing in Australia gets published, and that without an agent only one in a thousand manuscripts is turned into a book.  These are horrible statistics, there’s no dancing around that.  So I’m lucky, very lucky.  But still this time I’m both excited and frightened.

There’s something about turning yourself inside out when writing words for others to read, any kind of writing really, even this blog post.  But with fiction it’s different.  All the questions and judgements: does this guy know what he’s doing?  Will readers engage with the work, will they be moved?  I operate within the context of small-press independent publishing, so being a ‘top-seller’ isn’t a consideration (or even a dream), nor is winning the big awards.  One small fish; an endless, endless ocean.  But still you want the words, the characters, the story – the predicament, the end result – to mean something to someone.  Eminent Australian novelist Roger McDonald said not long ago that he dreaded the silence; a novelist works on a story for years, maybe even decades, and then…the silence.  McDonald also said that he loved nothing more than a reader coming up to him and saying, I loved your novel, I immersed myself in the characters and what was happening to them, and I lost myself in that world, so thank you.  That’s what Roger McDonald writes for – that response.  After everything he’s achieved, all the accolades.

Obviously, I’m not in McDonald’s league, but my motivation to write is the same: to tell a story, to be heard, to get a response.  One reader of Fall On Me, the first of the Blemish novellas (2011; yes, two novellas in two years – I could never imagine that this is how it would turn out), said that she cried at the end, that she then visited her parents and found herself re-telling the story and her parents asking, ‘What happened next?’  So a story goes out into the universe and it does its thing, or it doesn’t, and sometimes you hear about it and sometimes you don’t.  In essence, it’s no different to when, over thirty years ago, in primary school in the posh northern suburbs of Sydney, a teacher scolded me for demanding – very loudly and persistently – that I be the one to read my story to class.  My hand’s still up, it appears.

Hobart’s Narryna House: it plays a central role – actually, two central roles – in a little book called ‘I’m Ready Now’

Let me tell you a little about I’m Ready Now.  The first draft of the story was written in the first half of 2010 during a mad month of writing while an artist-in-residence at Cataract Gorge, Launceston.  I found it difficult to engage with the gorge and the city – winter wasn’t far away and there was a palpable sense of darkness and doom.  So I retreated into a story about Lynne Gleeson, a mother who, after the sudden death of her wealthy husband, leaves her grand ancestral home in Hobart to spend a fortnight with her son Gordon who is reaching the peak of what he calls his Year of Living Ridiculously.  I’d had the idea for years: a mother who comes to stay but won’t stop cleaning and a son who is on the verge of losing control.  As had happened with Fall On Me, I thought that the idea was nothing more than a short story.  I was wrong.

Over the past two years I’ve edited and polished and edited some more; it’s been looked at by others – professional others and simply generous and honest others – and I’ve edited and polished some more.  Perhaps like any writer, I’ve gone through stages thinking ‘this is kind of okay’ but then ‘this is absolute rubbish – where’s the delete button?’ before ‘maybe, just maybe, it works, but what would I know’.  Have I put everything I’ve got into I’m Ready Now?  Yes, I have, and perhaps even the title alludes to that.  But I’m not Gordon Gleeson in the book, I know no one like Lynne Gleeson (maybe, at the most, she’s a composite of some people I know, but I’m related to none of them), and I’ve never been in the precarious situation they’re in.  What am I writing about?  The complexities of modern Australian families.  Why is this so fascinating?  Because we all have a family of some sort, and we all know – though not everyone can admit it – that they’re endlessly complex and intriguing and bewildering and destructive and hopeless, and in the end we’re nothing without them.

So, as the wind barges its way over and around and just a bit into my little old house, I think of an idea that became a hand-written first draft that became a manuscript – a series of manuscripts, too many to count – that today, perhaps right in this very minute, is in the process of being turned into a book.  The official launch is still two months away (here’s me claiming the date, as they say: Thursday evening, 22 November 2012 at Electric Shadows Bookshop in Canberra, the capital city of my increasingly infuriating nation), but in many ways I can’t wait to have this thing in my hands.  Is this how first-time parents feel when they hold a new-born baby in their arms: what is it that we’ve done?  The analogy has been done before, because it’s apt.

Maybe it’s fitting that I can report to you that it’s raining now, the sound of the pummelling on the corrugated iron, the thrumming on the window panes, all of it a great big roar as though there’s a wild ocean outside.

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