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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.

Since 1995, when he published Loaded, a slim but incendiary novel about twenty-four hours in the life of a young, gay, Greek man living in Melbourne, Christos Tsiolkas has been a powerful literary force. He would go on to receive high praise and perhaps even riches for The Slap (2008), a kaleidoscopic novel which would be adapted for television in Australia and the US. There has been Damascus (2019), Tsiolkas’s award-winning re-imagining of the life of St Paul and the dark and violent early days of the Christian church, as well as other novels, a short story collection, and criticism.

His is a towering presence, one that would be intimidating if the man did not have a reputation for being warm and generous.

But this reviewer can now hear Tsiolkas spitting venom: ‘Do not bring my personality into this, you fool. Do not mix my life with my art.’

So then, this latest work.

7 ½ is subtitled ‘a novel’, but how much of that is true? It concerns a Melbourne-based novelist called Christos Tsiolkas. He lives with his long-term, same-sex partner. He is in his mid-fifties. The narrative involves Christos (sometimes ‘Christo’ and sometimes ‘Chris’) taking himself to a rented holiday house on the far south coast of New South Wales in the hope of retreating from the world with all its distractions to write a new book. We see Christos writing in the house – often on the deck overlooking a manicured garden – and swimming at the beach, making meals, watching films, smoking, reading, and dreaming, which is a close cousin of the imagination, as it is of writing fiction.

The Christos of the novel makes it clear that he is telling a number of stories simultaneously, one relating to his childhood and adolescence, another about a retired gay porn star who, despite now being married to a woman and has a son, is offered a large sum of money to return to the US, the country of his birth and former profession, to have sex with an elderly gentleman who never had the opportunity to properly explore his sexuality.

In typical Tsiolkas fashion, 7 ½ is also a polemic.

*

Keep reading this review at the Canberra Times, where it was published on 13 November 2021.

Well, this is rather lovely news: BODIES OF MEN has been shortlisted for the 2020 ACT Book of the Year.

For three decades now, the ACT and surrounding region have provided me with such a creatively sustaining environment. I left Sydney at the age of 18 and never really returned, preferring to call Canberra home, which I did for twenty years. Even though to most people it’s only ever seen as the centre of Australia’s federal politics (to the frustration of those who live there), and perhaps as a relatively well-known ‘designed’ city, to me Canberra has been the place where I began exploring so many things – all that made me feel truly alive.

Literature swiftly became the core of that.

Ten years ago, I moved 80 kilometres up the road and across the border and Goulburn, in New south Wales, is where I live now. However, it’s becoming my habit to say that Goulburn is my hometown, Canberra is my home city, and the ACT region is where my creative community lives. So, it feels…special to have BODIES OF MEN being endorsed by my peers in the ‘hood.

Nice also knowing my funny little war novel still has a bit of puff.

As ever, gratitude to Gaby Naher of Left Bank Literary, my publisher Robert Watkins, and Hachette Australia. Thanks also to artsACT, which administers the award – it mustn’t have been easy when the process got, well, plagued.

All the love in the world to everyone who has engaged with the novel.

That’s where it lives now: in the minds of readers.

Onwards.

A laneway in Alexandria, Egypt; photograph dated 1941. Source: Australian War Memorial.

I’m not sure why I haven’t mentioned it.

Of course, I have mentioned it, on social media and sometimes in person, and there is also a reference to it in my bio on the About page, but there’s no post. Which is why I’m writing these words now.

The point is, in the first half of 2019, my novel BODIES OF MEN will be published by Hachette Australia.

Which is really very thrilling.

What’s a little odd, though, is that I currently don’t want to talk much about it, except to say half a dozen quick things.

The first is that the novel began when, in 2013, I spent three months as a writer-in-residence at UNSW Canberra, which provides the campus for the Australian Defence Force Academy. During the residency I researched different expressions of masculinity under military pressure; I left the residency with the scratchy, sketchy handwritten first draft of a manuscript. (I recorded some thoughts on the residency experience in The ADFA Diary section of this blog).

The second thing is, yes, BODIES OF MEN is a war story, but my intention has been to shine a light on a previously hidden (or politically and/or historically unwanted) war experience, to tell a story that is as much about love and intimacy as it is about what happens when men have guns in their hands.

The third is that most of the story takes place in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1941.

The fourth is that I wrote 38 drafts of the manuscript.

The fifth is that towards the end of the drafting process I collapsed. But more about that at a later date.

The editing begins – for real.

And the sixth is that earlier this week, which was complete with high family dramas and financial pressures and crap weather (wind and freezing rain and snow in the countryside and on the mountains down south, so the opposite of Egypt), the astute, caring, and eagle-eyed editorial team at Hachette Australia sent me their edit of the manuscript – and a blue sky opened in my heart and everything feels better.

I have one month to review the editorial suggestions and get an updated version of the manuscript back to Hachette. If you see me looking frazzled again, please administer whiskey and chocolate.

Sincere apologies for not telling you more about the actual story in BODIES OF MEN, but I am so looking forward to sharing it with you.

For now, I’ll leave you with a quote from a diary of an Australian serviceman who served in the Middle East in 1941; the diary is in the Australian War Memorial:

Be yourself: simple, honest, unpretending.

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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