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There is nothing like it.

Waking up, turning on the laptop, and opening my emails – to find an engaged, open, generous response from a reader.

It doesn’t happen every day, of course, though I can’t say I wish it didn’t. But when it does, a certain spring in the step ensues – a book is only half itself without a reader, it can only come to life in a reader’s mind. And the author has no control over what happens in a reader’s mind; the author must let go. But letting go is difficult. Many weeks and months and years have gone into the creation of those characters, those places, the journey of the story. Which means that, yes, when someone engages with the work (and it is indeed work) it is as though it’s now complete.

Needless to say, an author also wants their work to be enjoyed, if not loved.

Perhaps appreciated is enough.

These connections can also happen at those miraculous events called writers festivals, which I’ve been lucky enough to attend recently as an invited author. Sometimes (often) an author will feel as if their latest work has been wrapped in silence – nothing is happening. Have I experienced that? Oh yes. Indeed, every time a novel of mine goes into the world it is met with silence; sometimes that silence is all encompassing, sometimes it’s simply a hint. But then someone will come up to me at a writers festival and, about MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING, say, ‘I read your novel. I was so moved. Goodness me, I felt for Patrick. And the places in the book – they shimmered.’ All of a sudden, the silence is gone, at least momentarily. The novel has found a reader and all is well with the world.

Below are some images of this year’s Byron Writers Festival, which was spectacular, and also one image of the Canberra Writers Festivals. Other authors include Hannah Kent, Trent Dalton, Alan Close, Will Kostakis, Aaron Fa’Aoso, Mirandi Riwoe, Lee Koffman, Sulari Gentil, Karen Viggers, Huda the Goddess, Jane Caro and Suzanne Leal, as well as literary agent Alex Adsett.

Shortly I will be off to Tasmania to participate in this year’s Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival, during which I’ll have the pleasure of leading a residency as well as giving a masterclass. Generously, the Festival has also organised a literary dinner for me and MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING. If you happen to be in Tasmania, it would be wonderful seeing you – it’s happening on Thursday 13 October.

After that, I head to the coast of New South Wales to attend the Berry Writers Festival.

While you are here, some books that I’ve loved recently:

THE MOTHER by Jane Caro – what would you do if one of your children married a domestic abuser? What if your grandchildren were also suffering from that abuse? Would there be a point where you would give up trying to protect them? These are the questions Caro asks. It is a novel that races along while offering a lot of food for thought.

NIGHT by Elie Wiesel – first published in 1960, this short autobiography chronicles a 15-year-old boy’s experience of the Holocaust. Tought, profound, gut-wrenching.

THE COAST by Eleanor Limprecht – this is a truly heartbreaking and multi layered novel about the ‘leper colony’ that once existed in Sydney from about 1886 onwards. Not only was it fascinating to learn about leprosy, which is now known as Hansen’s disease – it’s actually very hard to catch and limbs don’t fall off – the characters are so richly drawn that, yes, my heart broke more than once. Incredibly moving. Unforgettable really.

THE BALLAD OF ABDUL WADE by Ryan Butta – a wide-ranging history of the Afghan cameleers who were crucial in the establishment of the colonies that would end up being called Australia (which is highly problematic on many levels, as we know). The cameleers were treated incredibly poorly – it doesn’t take much imagination to work out why – by many, including those fancy chaps who would go on to create the White Australia policy. If you’re looking for a different, and necessary, take on Australian history, do give this a go.

THE BURNISHED SUN by Mirandi Riwoe – one of the best short story collections I’ve read in years. It is bookended (literally) by two exquisite long short stories; essentially novellas, they’re powerful and utterly unforgettable. What’s also wonderful is the way the collection, despite some of the stories being historical and others contemporary, and are set in various parts of the world, feels so cohesive. Perhaps that’s because, with this book, Riwoe has a very specific concern, one she explores with great depth and humanity.

I hope you’re well and safe.

And if we do happen to cross paths, please say hello – most likely it will make my day.

Well, MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING has now been in the world for 10 weeks. It’s been lovely receiving emails and messages from readers saying how much Patrick and his story are resonating with them. Really all a novelist wants is a close reading; as others have said, the reader brings 50% of the meaning to a book, and there’s little – if anything – the novelist can do about that. But, of course, it is always wonderful hearing about how a piece of fiction has resonated in the mind (and perhaps body) of someone else. That makes it worthwhile.

It has also been energising seeing reviews come in from around Australia.

Here’s a brief summary:

‘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’ – Newtown Review of Books

‘MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING is a devastatingly emotional but ultimately hopeful exploration of love, family and place. The natural world takes centre stage, with Jimenbuen, the location of the farm, playing a role almost akin to that of a character. Patrick is transformed by his experiences at Jimenbuen with Lewis, but the land itself – its isolation and wilderness – also provides a place of safety and freedom from the guilt and frustration Patrick experiences stemming from his difficult relationship with his mother. Every location is rendered in precise, attentive detail: the barn in Jimenbuen, the streets of Sydney, and the sleepy country town where Patrick lives. Featherstone interrogates the power of love and the natural world in Patrick’s life, crafting a compelling and moving read’ – ArtsHub

‘Featherstone depicts life in all its complexity and contradiction, capturing the comparative freedom of childhood but also the long shadow it casts when it has taught you to repress your true self. MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING shows that ephemeral connections can be just as meaningful as the grand, enduring relationships our society venerates’ – Canberra Times

‘You can’t help but be changed by reading this beautiful, exquisitely well-wrought and richly poignant novel which dwells in the quiet, pause-filled places of life while fomenting a revolution that sees one wounded, stoically lost man find a new purpose and home, far from the ordinariness of life and off where it is still possible, because MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING is always gently adamant that it is possible to find our true self, realise your hopes and dreams and go to wild and unpredictable where the sun has not yet set on possibility’ – Sparkly Pretty Briiiight

‘Nigel Featherstone weaves a remarkable story of the possibilities of love, the cruelty of duty and the magic of place. Bringing the Monaro to life in prose that quietly sparkles, MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING is a story of self-discovery that sits separate from anything I’ve ever read. Featherstone’s novels are unforgettable gifts’ – Booktopia

‘A contemplative portrait of a man bound by a strong sense of duty to his family as he learns to overcome a lifetime of trying not to rock the boat to allow himself to find pleasure… This is a novel whose charm rests in part in the accumulation of quiet detail and perceptive observation: the fleeting appearances of an elusive tiger quoll; Patrick’s comment that “in the end all buried things have a way of coming to the surface”. Its depictions of landscape are evocative; its sex scenes tender and frank. At one point, Patrick recollects the scent of sunscreen and salt water associated with beach visits, describing it as being “about freedom, and the extraordinary ordinariness of human life”. The same is true of Featherstone’s yearning, intimate novel’ – West Australian

‘The voice of MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING is laconic, grim, masculine, withheld, but through the darkness it also holds a sweetly earnest, genuine hope – Patrick’s desires shine through’ – The Saturday Paper

‘A novel about what it means to yearn. It is a portrait, surely, of many of us – those wondering if this is our place, our lot, our future. We learnt in Featherstone’s first novel, BODIES OF MEN, that he is a writer who understands human fragility. With MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING, he has cemented his talent and allowed us an intimate view into another person’s heart. It is a gift’ – Readings

‘The heart might be a little wild thing, but this novel is a little beautiful thing – and not so little at that’ – Whispering Gums

‘MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING is a beautifully constructed and written book; it cleverly tangles the reader in every aspect of its telling. It moves us with its compassion, its vivid depictions of nature and its complex explorations of the human condition. Here is a truly astute writer utterly in control of his art. Featherstone’s fluid, stream of consciousness narrative style is an immediate hook. There is not a breath of hesitation as the reader plunges into Patrick’s story, into his mind and his world. We feel for him, we wish him well, we wish he’d take something for himself. And we exult when he does’ – Living Arts Canberra

Many thanks to the above writers and editors for their attention and engagement.

While you’re here, some books that I’ve loved recently:

IF YOU’RE HAPPY by Fiona Robertson – a wide-ranging collection of stories that delights, gently provokes, and entertains. Like all good literature, it helped me feel more connected to the world. Absolutely marvelous.

TIME IS A MOTHER by Ocean Vuong – another truly extraordinary collection of poems. I was dazzled and deeply moved. Vuong is a magician.

THE GRASS CASTLE by Craig Sherborne – a mother-and-son story with a heavy dose of dementia; it’s harrowing, sure, but also highly inventive. Sherborne is a poet, and there’s poetry on every page.

SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE by Claire Keegan – the sort of novel I adore: succinct, tight, quiet but psychologically complex, and multi-layered. Exquisite. I’ll be returning to this again and again.

FUGITIVE by Simon Tedeschi – erudite literary fragments written by a professional concert pianist. Exploratory but also most engaging. I loved it.

After a few quiet weeks (much of the time spent on the couch recovering from Covid-19, like so many others), I’m back on the road next month, doing a range of festivals and events – I’ll write a separate post about that at a later date. In the meantime, I hope you’re well and safe.

It has been a hectic though entirely joyful few weeks launching MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING into the world: I’ve had events in Canberra, Sydney, and Brisbane (Queensland).

Such wonderful crowds, despite the ongoing threat of COVID-19. The Canberra launch, thanks to Harry Hartog ANU Bookshop, was an entirely masked affair, which helped to make people feel a little more comfortable. It is always terrific meeting readers, those who read BODIES OF MEN and are eager to read the new novel, or those who have already read MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING, or those who are new to both novels. It doesn’t matter; a novel only comes alive when the words are making magic in the mind of someone else.

To all those who have sent me messages or emails saying how much they have been moved by the story: thank you.

It’s also been lovely chatting with various podcasters. Two recent ones include writer Samuel Elliott, for The Write Way Podcast, and writer Michelle Barraclough, for The Writer’s Book Club podcast. I thoroughly enjoyed both conversations – so spirited – and highly recommend both programs.

Another response to MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING that has become very special to me is ‘Monaro’, which is the latest composition by UK-based artist and composer BPMoore.

Ben and I became friends over social media. As readers of this blog will know, I adore music and have done so from a young age; listening to music continues to be a daily habit. I immediately connected with Ben’s work: perhaps fitting into the ‘contemporary classical’ category, the songs – and they are indeed ‘songs’, as though written for those who are more used to pop music – are evocative, engaging, and deeply moving.

One evening last year, after having a couple of wines, I messaged Ben via Instagram to rather boldly suggest I send him an advance copy of MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING and see if perhaps it might resonate enough to result in some kind of musical response.

To my surprise, and delight, Ben leapt at the offer.

And here we are: today Ben releases ‘Monaro’, a pair of songs that have been written to be listened to as a whole.

Some words from the composer:

Monaro I & II’ were written during the reading of ‘My Heart is a Little Wild Thing’, reading in the evening each day, and then working on music the next morning in response. There were pictures in my mind, colours, vibrations in my body – all from the words Nigel wrote. I have never visited the Monaro. I hope to one day.

What I find extraordinary about Ben’s music is how it captures the Monaro in all its beauty and strangeness. The rolling notes evoke the wide-screen bareness, and the soaring vocals suggest the height that comes from what locals call ‘big-sky country’.

Of course, the music also reflects a crucial aspect of the novel: the main character, Patrick, who is devoted to the care of his ailing mother, meets a man called Lewis, who will change his life – and Lewis is a composer of contemporary classical music. Early in the story, Lewis invites Patrick to listen to the sketch of a new composition on his phone; Patrick is suitably moved. This event becomes central to how these two men will continue to connect over time.

‘Monaro’ can be listened to on all streaming services; it can also be purchased via Bandcamp. I do hope you enjoy it as much as I do. I also hope you discover BPMoore’s two albums, Komorebi and If I Don’t See You Again.

Once again, to all those have read MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING and have taken the time to share with me your thoughts: thank you – so very much. I’m absolutely thrilled that Patrick and Lewis’s story is resonating with people the way it is. Patrick and Lewis have become real to me – I feel sure they’d both be fascinated to hear BPMoore’s musical response to their story – and it is just so wonderful that they are becoming real to others.

Gratitude.

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.

I have just returned from a 5-day trip (working on a top-secret commission, which is not actually top-secret, just wonderful), beginning down on Yuin Country, which is what they call the Far South Coast of New South Wales. Starting at Merimbula, the trip took in Eden, Bega, Bemboka, Bibbenluke, Bombala, Nimmatabel, Braidwood (the scene of a certain 93rd birthday), Murrumbateman, Yass, and Gunning.

Ngarigo Country/the Monaro is a place that has really got beneath my skin.

The day after I got back, a box appeared on my verandah. But before we get to the box, here are some photos from the trip:

And some notes, which I wrote on the road:

From the sea to the high plains – day one: The day began beautifully with Tim and included a walk along the edge of Merimbula’s tidal lake and out to the nearby ocean beach, a coffee at a boathouse, before following a boardwalk through mangroves. Bellbirds on the coast? I did not know about that. After an afternoon of reading, a walk into Merimbula, cocktails at a tapas bar, a meal of Malaysian curries – we were warned the soy-chili side was hot and it was, deliciously so – before staggering back to our lodgings along the boardwalk, fish jumping left and right. Even though it’s not yet 8.30, my bed is calling me. 

From the sea to the high plains – day two: in which, exploring more Yuin Country, we headed to a town called Eden. The morning began with a view south over Twofold Bay, where whaling had once been common, before a visit to the Killer Whale Museum, which, as is often the way with colonial history museums, involved a lot of death and destruction. A reminder that not all sentient beings have been treated equally. Thankfully we discovered Aslings Beach, which includes one of my favourite things in the world: an ocean pool – spirit restored. Then a walk along the beach before, now, a café lunch in Pambula. The south-east coast: the sea makes it.

From the sea to the high plains – day three: now travelling solo, because there’s work to be done, I headed up into Ngarigo Country via what they rather unromantically call ‘Brown Mountain’. A coffee break in Bemboka, then south to Bombala, which is a town (population 1500) that feels as though it’s hanging on by the skin of its teeth. Just one car dealership in town and the only vehicles for sale are white utes. Every few minutes the grumble of a timber truck rumbling along the mainstreet. I stumbled on what remains of the Bombala Literary Institute, let myself in, heard the faint echoes of theatre on the stage and, perhaps, the yarn of the local temperance association. The only other audience: a dead sparrow. A sausage roll and pie for lunch. Then back up the road to Bibbenluke, which is at the ‘locality’ end of ‘village’, for an absolutely magical conversation with visual artist Lucy Culliton – a white barn of a studio surrounded by dogs, emus, chooks, geese, sheep, a goat called Harry, cockies, pigeons, horses over the way. I left with more than a spring in my step; I felt positively drunk on the conversation. I drove deep into the Monaro; amongst the almost frightening expanse of it all I was reminded why I became enraptured with the place. Have now arrived at the Federal Hotel in Nimmatabel, where I’ll spend the night. The barman insisted that I have a drink, so there’s a schooner of Old beside me on the table. Ah.

From the sea to the high plains – day four: after a meat-and-three-veg pub dinner, washed down with a few schooners of Old, an early start this morning. From Nimmitabel to Cooma, a foggy crossing of the Monaro, which was a contrast to the sheer blue distance recorded yesterday. If anyone is in need of a coffee, it’s me. Next stop: Braidwood 200kms to the north-east. Update: a wee secret reason for coming by the Braidwood neck of the woods was to drop in on my father, who just so happens to turn 93 today. He has a twin sister, Mary. She and her husband Ron drove 200kms from Bega down on the coast up to Braidwood so the siblings could share the occasion. While I took a photo, Mary turned to my father and, smiling but with more than a hint of sisterly concern, said, ‘Jack, do you think it’s time to get a new jumper?’ He replied, ‘There’s nothing wrong with this one – it’s the warmest I’ve got.’

From the sea to the high plains – day 4 (evening): after celebrating – with a green tea – the 93rd birthday of Jack and Mary, I checked in to the Royal Mail Hotel in Braidwood and tried to get some rest, but my mind was buzzing – this trip has been packed with highlights and magic, and the company and generosity of good folk, and I wanted to hold on to it all. In the surprising heat of the afternoon, I walked down to the southern end of town to meet with singer-songwriter and discussed how to stitch together a life as an artist in the thing called regional New South Wales. Turns out it’s all about trusting your gut and finding love and home. And making the work you want to make. Another theme of the trip: taking photos of artists with their dogs. We continued talking as we walked a way towards the mainstreet, Michael’s labrador, nose lost – or not lost at all – in the sodden grass, leading the charge. If the day started with the need for coffee, it’s finishing with the need for a vodka at the Royal.

From the sea to the high plains – day 5: after a much-needed sleep in the Royal Mail and a dawn-lit coffee in the mainstreet, I headed north-west to the granite and wine country of Murrumbateman. I had a wonderful conversation with the novelist Robyn Cadwallader about working as an artist in the thing called regional New South Wales. ‘It’s all about being able to breathe,’ Robyn told me. ‘And, while writing, there’s something about being able to watch a wren on the other side of the window.’ I then took a series of photos of her sitting in her garden. (Interesting to reflect on the fact that all three artists I chatted with during this trip wanted to be photographed with their canine companions.) I then drove on to the small town of Yass and had lunch at Thyme to Taste – it’s a gorgeous café owned and operated by a very friendly chap called Andrew; it just so happens that he and I went to high school together in Sydney. We did not talk about those days, preferring to yarn about the joys of living regionally. I also dropped in on the Yass Bookstore – owner Jo has set up her shelves in the foyer of the town’s now-disused cinema. It was terrific seeing so many familiar names represented, including BELIEVE IN ME by Lucy Neave – was it really only 5 days ago that we had a very engaging event at the Book Cow  in Canberra together with Irma Gold? Feeling a little delirious from the trip, on the way home I went by the tiny town of Gunning, where I treated myself to a caramel slice, which was washed down with a cappuccino. I then drove the final 50kms – across the 5 days I would do over 1000kms in total – through the boulder-strewn paddocks and wind farms stretching hopefully to the north and south, before finally pulling up at my house, feeling – deeply feeling – incredibly lucky that I get to live and write on what always was, and always will be, Gandangara Country.

As if there hadn’t already been enough excitement for one week, yes, a box appeared on my verandah. What was inside? Final, author copies of MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING. Oh shit. I picked up the first book in the box, turned it this way and that, saw how the gloss lights up the clock, and the very generous comment from Delia Falconer, a novelist I admire very much so her thoughts about my novel are very humbling, the boldness of the back cover, including the first line of the story presented as though lit up in lights. Oh my. The novel is not out until 4 May, though is currently available for pre-order, but I already feel as though it’s no longer mine, that it belongs to readers, and there’s no harm in that – none at all.

A month ago I heard the squeal and clunk and whoosh of the postie: in my letterbox were two proof copies of MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING. Which meant I had reached a particular stage in the journey of writing this novel. Here was my last opportunity to make changes; and at that time there were only three months before the baby would be out in the world.

Yikes.

So, for the past few weeks, in my crumbly old house in regional New South Wales, I have been hunched over the pages, tightening here and there and everywhere, making sure every word is right and resonant. Well, that’s the dream, isn’t it. In a way it is an exciting time, because it means the novel will soon be no longer be mine – I will have given it to others, the book will be the reader’s. But it is also a challenging time, because I really do want every word and sentence and paragraph to be perfect. Which, of course, is an unattainable goal.

I shared my battle (if that is the right word) with perfection with two other novelists, both of whom are multi-award-winning. One said, ‘Perfection is something I’ve neither aimed for nor achieved.’ The other shared with me a story:

Some years ago, when we lived in a different city, we had a dog, Meg, who was a Shetland collie-kelpie cross. She was one of those gorgeous dogs you mourn for ages after their death. She was so full of life, and when she was young we wondered if she would ever settle down. But our friend, John, talking about the biblical line, ‘Be perfect even as God is perfect’ or something similar, said that Meg was perfect not because she was good or obedient, but because she was perfectly dog and perfectly herself. That she was thoroughly herself and that’s all she needed to be. I don’t quite know how that transfers to novels and writing, but I always think of that story as taking away the need to get things right. I suppose for my writing I hope that I can let it be itself, and breathe; I don’t need to get it ‘right’. It also reminds me that I don’t need to compare with other work because only mine can be its perfect self.

Which was very helpful.

Perhaps, in the end, we can only hope that our work, in its own wonderful way, is perfectly imperfect.

Another anecdote, another that is entirely true:

Towards the end of last year, the day after I sent to my wonderful publisher at Ultimo what at the time was the latest draft of the novel, I was tidying my writing room when one of my journals threw itself from a shelf to the floor. My journals contain ideas for stories, most of which are destined to remain just that: ideas in a journal. Now sprawled on the floor, the journal had opened randomly to a page, in which was a note (written in my dreadful hand): ‘The Tiger Quoll: both Alison and Shaw are obsessed with the story of the tiger quoll’. The note is dated June 2007. I’ve long forgotten who Alison and Shaw were meant to be, but I have never forgotten about the tiger quoll. Perhaps it was me who became obsessed with that beguiling little creature – because it is a key motif in MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING.

The very final edits of which I finished on Wednesday this week. Fifteen years, it seems, after I wrote that scrappy note. The occasion called for a G&T. More than one.

Next stop: publication on 4 May.

If you would like to be first in line to get your hands on a copy, the novel is currently available for pre-order. Should you head over that way, thank you.

Before you go, here are my recent adventures in reading:

THE RIPPING TREE by Nikki Gemmell – a powerful and, at times, harrowing novel about the lies non-Indigenous folk tell about the forming of this thing called Australia. It shook my bones.

WHEN THINGS ARE ALIVE THEY HUM by Hannah Brent – the commitment of sisters, the shenanigans of families, the lure of Hong Kong. A poignant and thought-provoking delight.

NEW ANIMAL by Ella Baxter – I tore through this novel and it tore through me. Really. Truly. My god.

QUESTIONS RAISED BY QUOLLS by Harry Saddler – nature, fatherhood…and how are we meant to live when everything seems to be going to hell in a handbasket? A book about worry, but not without hope.

FOUND, WANTING by Natasha Sholl – the grief memoir everyone is talking about, and rightly so. How is someone meant to respond when their partner dies unexpectedly in their sleep? Despite the subject matter, it’s beautifully observed, and lightened with wit and humour.

COLD ENOUGH FOR SNOW by Jessica Au – one of the most remarkable pieces of prose fiction I’ve read in a long time. A mother and daughter holiday in Japan: that’s it, that’s the plot. And it’s extraordinary.

THE SWALLOWS OF KABUL by Yasmina Khadra (actually a former male officer in the Afghanistan army) – an incredible, and gut-wrenching, tale about life under the Taliban. Written, of course, before recent events. Heart-breaking.

AMONGST WOMEN by John McGahern – a profound study of the lifelong impacts of war (it’s set in Ireland in the 1980s) on a man and a family. McGahern is no longer with is, but what a gift is this novel. Colm Tóibín is a fan; now I am too.

WHAT ARE YOU GOING THROUGH by Sigrid Nunez – I love Nunez, and I loved THE FRIEND, and I loved this. Brief, but so wise. If only I had a tenth of her ability.

As ever, much gratitude, and love to all. Especially during these turbulent times.

Well, here it is: the fabulously gorgeous cover for my new and – gasp – deeply personal novel, MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING.

For authors, it’s always an interesting stage when the publisher finalises the cover. For a long time – often years (this particular narrative has been with me, in various forms, since 2014) – the story has been something internal: words and sentences and characters and events in mind, and in body too, in a way.

But then it becomes an object that a reader might be able to hold in her or his hand.

Or it looks like it could be held.

The publisher’s summary:

Blood is thicker than water, but the heart is a little wild thing that can’t be tamed.

The day after I tried to kill my mother, I tossed some clothes, a pair of hiking boots, a baseball cap and a few toiletries into my backpack, and left at dawn.

Patrick has always considered himself a good son. Willing to live his life to please his parents, his sense of duty paramount to his own desires and dreams. But as his mother’s health continues to deteriorate and his siblings remain absent, he finds the ties that bind him to his mother begin to chafe.

After an argument leads to a violent act he travels to a familiar country retreat to reflect on what his life could be – and through a chance encounter with a rare animal and an intriguing stranger starts to wonder if perhaps it is not too late to let his heart run wild.

A story about family, love and the cost of freedom, MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING serves as a reminder that we all deserve to pursue our dreams.

The novel is out on 4 May through the incredible Ultimo Press, the new and innovative imprint from Hardie Grant Publishing.

Pre-orders for MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING are currently available.

Many thanks to all those who’ve been engaging with this novel – it means the world to me.

Until publication day, I’ll be wandering the streets of Goulburn aimlessly.

No, I really will.

Thrilled – and just a little trembly – to be having a new novel out next year, through Ultimo Press, a new imprint of Hardie Grant, via the incredible Robert Watkins who brought BODIES OF MEN to the world.

A few words from the top folk at Ultimo: ‘We have been bewitched by Nigel Featherstone’s tender, insightful novel, MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING.⁠⁠ A story about family, love and the cost of freedom, MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING serves as a reminder that we all deserve to pursue our dreams. Deeply personal and lyrical, Nigel has woven a story exploring love – both familial and romantic – in all its complexity.’

Deeply personal? Indeed.

I first had the idea for this novel back in 2013 and a few drafts came and went, none of which felt as though they were sufficiently lively – filled to the brim with pulse is what’s needed.

Then a few things happened.

Thanks to the generosity of a wonderful person, I spent a week living in an old barn on a farm on the Monaro, a beautiful though remote district at the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, in New South Wales.

Then I realised that I had been enjoying writing nonfiction, including an essay about my mother’s final days, which was published in 3:AM Magazine, and another about my childhood holidaying in the Blue Mountains, which was published in the Australasian edition of the Chicago Quarterly Review. (During the writing of MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING I would be commissioned to write an essay about my father.) What if I wrote this novel as though it were non-fiction, by which I mean as though the main character is writing a memoir?

And then Caroline Stacey, the artistic director of The Street Theatre in Canberra, who directed my song cycle THE WEIGHT OF LIGHT, said to me, ‘Remember that sometimes good stories don’t start with the bad thing; they start after the bad thing happened.’

Some weeks later, eminent Australian poet Melinda Smith introduced me to the notion of ‘duende’, which she defined as being what drives written work that says what we’re not meant to say, or not allowed to say.

It seemed some key pieces had fallen into place.

So, I had one last go at the manuscript.

And here we are.

A few more words from me: ‘What do I hope readers will take away from this novel? A renewed awareness of life always being⁠ complex and messy; that sometimes, if we want to find ourselves, we must go back to the beginning; that a human being is entirely dependent on the environment in which it is placed; and that love is a wild, wild thing.’ ⁠⁠

And some last words from Robert, who is Ultimo’s Publishing Director: ‘Nigel is such a considered, lyrical writer – and MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING is a beautiful novel. Readers, I’m sure, will relate deeply to the conflict Patrick feels between his love for his family and his yearning to pursue his heart. I’m so delighted to be publishing Nigel again on our new list at Ultimo Press.’⁠⁠

MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING will be published in May 2022.⁠

Rather unbelievably, it’s already available for pre-order.

Big thanks to Gaby Naher at Left Bank Literary, who keeps the show on the road. Author photo by David Lindesay, who somehow managed to get me to almost smile.

Now to have a nice quiet faint.

Once I’ve recovered, I so look forward to sharing this novel with you.

Do stay well.

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