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If you’re looking for something to do tomorrow – Sunday 30 October – why not come to South Hill Gallery (3 Garroorigang Road, Goulburn), where I’ll be reading from Fall On Me. Proceedings kick off at 2pm. There’ll be cake – probably.  The reading is in conjunction with an extraordinary exhibition by Sydney artist Jim Anderson. So you’ll get spoken words with pictures, too. And some of the pictures contain nudity.  What’s more, the whole shebang’s free!

So.  There’s yet another book in the world.  A month ago, more or less, my novella Fall On Me became a reality, as in it was all of a sudden made public, by the inimitable Robyn Archer, who said nice words about the book.  I remember few of Robyn’s nice words, because I was standing beside her looking like a stunned mullet, according to He Who Is Allowed To Make Such Observations.  However, I do remember Robyn describing Fall On Me as an emotional thriller, or perhaps it was psychological thriller, yes, let’s go with that, because that sounds better, better as in sexier, because being sexier is the name of the publishing game these days, isn’t it.  I guess the point is this: on September 15 2011 there was a launch where Robyn Archer and my publisher, Blemish Books, and various attendees who’d kindly crowded into Electric Shadows Bookshop said nice things; some people even queued to have my scrappy, scratchy signature on the main title page of their copy.

Once the launch was done there’s been the excruciating wait for reviews.  I’d like to say that I’m man enough to not worry about reviews, that I’m big enough (in every possible way) not to take any notice of what professional critics say about my work.  But I do worry, I do take notice.  Why?  Because through a review someone – usually an articulate, erudite, respected someone – tells a lot of potential readers what they think about my work, about all that effort and heartache.  Of course, we all know that the critic is critiquing the writing, not the writer, right?  Wrong.  Show me a writer – any type of creative person – who can separate their work from themselves and I’ll show you a dirty fraud.  Thankfully, on balance, the reviews have been generous to Fall On Me.  So far the novella has been described as ‘a well-crafted tale’ (Sydney Morning Herald), a book of ‘substance, seriousness and a fair dose of poignancy’ (The Canberra Times) and containing ‘easy characters to like and care about’ (Varuna News).

There’ll be more reviews, I think, if only because I believe there are one or two others in the pipeline, or the gun barrel.  And then what?  There is undoubtedly a ‘come down’ element to publication: after all the work and wait and hope, someone presses the magic button and a story is made public – it’s let loose on the world, and the world responds in countless ways, if it responds at all.  On top of the reviews, I’ve received some lovely, warm emails from readers, or people have told me directly what they think of the story.  One of the conversations I’ve liked the most was when a reader asked me what I reckon becomes of Luke Bard, the book’s provocative but lonely teenage protagonist.  I said, ‘I’m fairly sure he moves to Melbourne to study medicine.’  And the reader replied, ‘But does he make any friends?’  I like how ink and paper can make people care.

But that question.  Now what?  Well, the answer is this: just keep going.  Despite the absurdity of the fiction writer’s task – to lie, lie, and lie some more until people believe in it, and maybe some people are even moved by it – I do want to keep going, to see what happens next.  To see what sort of story and book – if any – emerges now.  In the meantime, Fall On Me is out there, on bookshop shelves, in libraries, on bedside tables in homes, perhaps even down the back of the couch.  And as ludicrous as it sounds, I like to think that it’s doing good things, quietly, if not meekly (how good would it be if novellas inherited the earth!) telling us to take risks, to be brave, to love, and the rest will look after itself.

Last week a box turned up at my front door.  I picked it up and took it into my writing room and placed it on the desk.  It’s a cardboard box, not large – it could contain two video tapes, if you can remember those.  Since the box turned up I’ve been opening it on a daily basis, an hourly basis, sometimes every minute.  I open the box, lift out the scrunched up balls of paper, which are there to offer protection, and lift out the small bundle of flyers.  For a moment I stare at the package beneath, and there are times when I think that I should stare at it, let my eyes do the work, because it would be safer that way.  But in the end I give in: I lift out the main part of the package and slide out what’s inside – three hard copes of Fall On Me.

The cover is simple in the classic sense, and the internal layout is similarly unfussy – the whole production has been based on maximum attraction to potential buyers and maximum readability for readers.  At least that’s how I see it – it’s all been up to the wonderful people at Blemish Books.

How did I feel the first time I held a copy?

Enlivened.  Elated.  Ecstatic.  I might even have welled.

I sent a text to He Who Loves Knowing About These Things: I’ve just received hard copies of my novella and they look FUCKING AWESOME!  The reply: OMG!  How excited are you??

In this day of e-readers and all that tiresome talk about the death of the novel, the end of the ‘professional writer’ (whatever that means), it’s just so good to hold in your hands a book that’s been made with so much care.  There’s no smell – not yet – but there is this wonderful, magical sense of being able to hold a world in the palm of your hands.  Between these covers are lives, and these lives are in a precarious situation, and they have a problem to solve.  What’s more, these lives are slipping away from me, as in they no longer feel like my creation.  Even writing ‘my creation’ feels absurd.  Did I really create those characters and put them in that situation?  It’s not a question of false modesty; I’m just incredulous.

It’s only been fifteen months since the first handwritten draft of Fall On Me came along in the little gatekeeper’s cottage that’s stuck onto the southside of Cataract Gorge, Launceston.  In the world of publishing, so I’ve been lead to believe, that’s a short period of time to go from scribble to physical book, even a relatively humble book like this.  However, to put that into perspective, it’s been six years since my last foray into publication, Remnants, a novel, and since then governments have been and gone, earthquakes and tsunamis have tried to ruin countries, and planet Earth has warmed up just that little bit more.

But that’s the past.  This post is about the present and the future.

What’s on my desk – what’s beside me right now – is a little box of books.

Sometimes it feels like what’s beside me isn’t a box but a nest, and in the nest is a white pigeon, and sometimes I imagine carefully scooping up the pigeon and lifting it up into the air, and watch it swoop this way and that against the deep blue Goulburn sky.  But then I tell myself to pull my head in.  In a week and a half there will be a launch, eminent Australian singer, performer, writer, thinker and festival director Robyn Archer will do the honours.  From that moment onwards, Lou Bard and his son Luke and a glorious young woman called Anna Denman will be sent off into the world.  So if you happen to be in the Canberra neck of the woods, do come along and help celebrate.

The launch details:

5.30pm, Thursday 15 September

Electric Shadows Bookshop

Shop 2, 40 Mort Street, Braddon, ACT

If you’re doing your hair that night, you can pre-order your copy through your local bookshop, or by contacting Blemish Books direct.

In the meantime, between now and the launch, I’ll turn to the box on my desk, and I’ll open it, I’ll lift out the scrunched up balls of paper, and I’ll lift out the small bundle of flyers that’s dwindling now, because I’ve been handing them out.  For a moment, perhaps for quite a few moments, I’ll yet again stare at the package beneath.  But in the end I’ll give in: I’ll lift out the main part of the package and slide out what’s inside – a story.

I admit it: I’m excited. About the fact that a novella called Fall On Me is getting closer to being in the world. Since I last wrote about this, a date for the launch has been set – Thursday 15 September – and a city chosen – Canberra ACT, which is an hour south from where I live. Plus there have been two other developments: we’re now down to just a couple of cover options, and my first preference for the launcher of the book has said yes.  When the yes came through it almost felt like a successful marriage proposal (except the law’s not on my side in that regard).

And then there’s been the completely and utterly nerve-wracking process of sourcing an endorsement quote.  I know someone, a writer at the very top of the literature game. I haven’t known this person for long; we’ve just been getting to know each other this year. It’s been such a joy. How enriching to receive thoughtful emails about many things: the writing life, family, health, landscape, the weather. How I’ve tried to be as thoughtful in my replies. But then I had the ridiculously audacious notion of asking this writer to read Fall On Me and prepare one of those sentences that will entice a reader to pick the thing up in a bookstore.

Being brave to the point of stupidity at times, I sent off an email, a very nervous email. Within twenty-fours I had a reply. Yes, the writer would read the novella, but on one condition: goodwill wouldn’t be enough, there had to be genuine enthusiasm for the work. The email made it clear that these things were ‘always a risky business’. What was the risk? That our friendship may not (yet) be sufficiently robust to withstand the honesty that maybe required. Feeling even more nervous than before, I accepted the terms.

Some weeks later, when Blemish Books sent me a proof of the text layout, I went down to the main-street and had the thing copied, then I went to the post office and sent the copy away. What on earth was I doing? More to the point, what on earth would the writer think about my work? And if it wasn’t good enough, would I cope with the rejection?

As I waited for the response, I thought about how Fall On Me has happened.

In April/May last year I went down to Launceston, Tasmania, with the goal of writing six short stories. I hadn’t written short stories for half a decade, because I’d been focussing on bigger things, and creative journalism (which is a euphemism for writing for newspapers but not having the faintest idea how to do it). I had another goal: to write by hand. My handwriting is so appalling that at times I can’t read it myself; every third word is an unintelligible scribble. But I wanted to see what impact this would have on my prose. Wiser people than me say that compared to using a computer you write more slowly by hand, it’s a considered act, an act of composing.

And I had a third goal: to write whatever the hell I wanted. If I wanted to write a grim tale where everyone dies, then I’d write that tale. If I wanted to fill my pages with hardcore gay sex (which is something I find difficult to do, because I’m more interested in warmth and connection and intimacy) then so be it. If I wanted 500-word paragraphs contained within brackets, then I’d do that too. I didn’t want to care about rules and conventions; I just wanted to write what would excite me as a reader.

Did I come away with six short stories? No, I came away with three novellas, one long short story, and one piece of experimental prose that most likely won’t see the light of day. I also came away with one very blurry right eye, because I found that as I wrote by hand my face became closer and closer to the table, which was glass-topped and reflected the bright globe of the lamp.

Now, over a year later, which is a frighteningly short period of time in the world of publishing, Fall On Me, the second novella I wrote in that month in Launceston, is forming itself into a book that others will read. One which a certain writer has now read in ‘two swift reading sessions’.  Does the writer like what I have written?  Well, what I can tell you is that we now have an endorsement quote for the cover. Which is a very big part of the reason why I’m starting to feel excited about a little book that might just be able to.  Stand up in the world, I mean to say.

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