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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.

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.

Amazingly enough, two years ago to the day a wee novel called BODIES OF MEN came into the world. I started writing it in 2014, when I was a writer-in-residence at UNSW Canberra, and eventually – and rather miraculously, it must be said – it saw the light of day in May 2019.

What a marvellous ride it has been since then.

Thanks to all the kind folk who have engaged with the novel. Only this week, two wonderful people got in touch – one sending me the first picture, of the book at Berkelouw’s in Berrima, the other saying they had recently read the novel for the second time, because the first time they had rushed through to find out what happened to dear James and William.

Yes, it has been a ‘ride’, but in a way that is not the right word, because it is all about readers, and I have been so fortunate that so many have engaged with the story. The award listings have been lovely, but there is nothing like a reader saying how much the characters and their story resonated for them. Even just this morning, when I posted something similar to this piece on Facebook, a kind and generous reader wrote, ‘The ending is perfect, as it makes your mind explode with hope.’ That sort of response is almost literally gold. No, scratch that. It IS gold.

Big thanks to all the incredible booksellers. Imagine a world without them.

Of course, thanks to Hachette Australia, and all power to publisher Robert Watkins and Gaby Naher from Left Bank Literary for making everything happen.

Sorry about the photo in which I look like a cross between Oscar Wilde and that bloke from Spandau Ballet.

Finally, I have been fortunate to appear recently on two terrific podcasts: Words and Nerds with the incredible Dani V, and The Dead Prussian with Mick Cook, an Australian war veteran. Wonderful conversations both. A print interview can be found on Triclinium, the blog of Australian historical-fiction novelist Elisabeth Storrs. Having the opportunity to discuss BODIES OF MEN in such depth and detail is really very special.

Thanks again, everyone.

Love,

your old Goulburn mate x

Well, the writing life is full of surprises, isn’t it?

Today it was announced that BODIES OF MEN has been longlisted in the inaugural 2020 ARA Historical Novel Prize, which recognises the best historical long-form fiction in Australia and New Zealand.

Crikey, I did not expect that.

Indeed, expecting anything as an author is a recipe for a disaster. Mostly I just want to get better, and, perhaps, to connect with more and more folk who are interested in literature. So a nod like this is a shot in the arm (to mangle my body parts).

And what a list to be on. It’s all rather dazzling, which means I’ll head to the couch for the rest of the day. This afternoon the Southern Tablelands weather is miserable – cool and rainy – so perhaps I’ll light the fire.

It’s made me wonder what is it that any writer hopes to achieve when they sit down at the desk and start working on the first sentence, and then, hopefully, the last sentence. I’m not sure recognition is the answer; perhaps it’s just about wanting to create some kind of ripples in the literary pond, and, with a bit of luck, the bigger pool beyond.

In any case, there’ll be a few moments of reflection to mark the occasion, and then back to the desk in the morning.

Over and out.

*

UPDATE: a brief interview and reading for the longlisting can be found here.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be LIVE ONLINE talking all things Writing War with the very wonderful Melanie Myers, Simon Cleary, and Cass Moriarty, who must be one of the hardest-working people in Australian letters.

The panel, which was organised last year by Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane, was originally scheduled to be held in person in the store. However, things have changed a lot since then, haven’t they. It’s been a tough year for so many, a heart-breaking year, a tragic year. The writing community has had to rethink how it does things, with events either cancelled or moved online. Thankfully the Writing War discussion will still be happening, thanks to the wonders of the internet and the tenacity of folk.

Who knows what we’ll end up talking about, but we’ve already decided that we won’t be shy about heading into the contentious (and increasingly frightening) world of Australian military history. Why is it so hard to talk about war history? Why are so many scared about having a point of view?

Have we really reached the point where it is impossible to have an alternative or creative view about Australia’s military past? Is it now impossible to critique it, even in a respectful and informed way? Why is it that people have lost their jobs – indeed some have even been kicked out of the country – if they have tweeted criticism about Anzac Day?

It will all be happening at 6.30pm on Monday 20 April. The tickets are just $5. It’ll be via Zoom so it’s open to folk anywhere in the world.

It’d be great to have your company.

Booking information here. Big thanks to to Krissy Kneen and the amazing team at Avid Reader Bookshop.

Despite the world having serious wobbles at the moment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (though thankfully, miraculously, Australia appears to be faring much better than many other countries), some good things continue to happen.

BODIES OF MEN is still doing its humble little thing: finding readers here and there; it’s such a joy to receive messages from folk saying that they have enjoyed the novel. In rather lovely news, for the month of April Amazon has the e-book version on special for $2.99. If you’re a Kindle user and would like an affordable way of reading the novel, now is your chance! Also please do help to spread the word – it’s autumn in Australia so the chooks have gone off the lay, which means more trips to Woolies, which means I need to have a few coins rattling around my pockets.

In related news, like many writers I have lost a number of gigs due to The Virus, but at least one is still going ahead, albeit online: a panel organised by the Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane, Writing War, which features Melanie Myers, Simon Cleary and your old Goulburn mate and facilitation by Cass Moriarty, will be held via Zoom at 6pm (Queensland time) on Monday 20 April. Tickets are just $5 and can be bought here. It would be terrific to see you.

Moving from the page to the stage: my new play – with songs – has been selected for a creative development through the First Seen program, which is an initiative of The Street Theatre in Canberra. Last month I had the opportunity to spend two days at The Street doing a preliminary creative development with dramaturge Anne-Louise Rentell, which was such a productive experience. First Seen will offer an even deeper experience and involve a range of creative voices exploring and challenging the work. While usually this would happen over an intense 7-day period in the theatre’s rehearsal space, due to COVID-19 the sessions will be over Zoom and spread across 2 weeks in May.

The text for the work is still very much a work-in-progress, but here is a sample from one of the songs:

Who is he,

the man who dares to himself himself

‘father’?

 

He is my

he is your

crumbling wall

What I find (sometimes almost overwhelmingly) fascinating about writing for the stage is being able to access input from so many creatives, all with their different perspectives and requirements. In a way, there’s no way of knowing what will emerge, but, to be frank, it’s exciting.

To end: during the week I posted on my socials a photograph of me from when I was about 5 years old; it’s at the top of this post. Although I said online that the photo was taken in my backyard, I was actually at a holiday house my family used to rent at Mount Wilson in the Blue Mountains, to the west of Sydney. Throughout my childhood we spent many holidays at Mount Wilson and I adored it; I still think about the place. And write about it. A lot. My first novel, REMNANTS (Pandanus Books, 2005, largely out of print but information is available here), was set at Mount Wilson, a significant chunk of BODIES OF MEN involves Mount Wilson, and a recent memoir essay I wrote for the special Australian Issue of the CHICAGO QUARTERLY REVIEW explored my ongoing association with the place, including an event that has continued to resonate. (You might be pleased to know that new projects have moved ‘off mountain’.)

The caption I used for the photo when posted online was ‘One minute you’re a happy little kid playing theatre in the backyard; the next you’re a gloomy bloody author. Either way, buy a copy of the BODIES OF MEN e-book and cheer this old bugger up?’

Perhaps I’ll end this post by simply saying: if you’ve ever bought a copy of one of my books, or you’ve come to one of my shows or events, if you’ve commented here or on the socials, thank you.

Very much.

As this year, a publication year for your old Goulburn mate, comes to an end, I’d just like to say thanks so much to all the lovely folk who have been a part of the BODIES OF MEN adventure.

Thanks to those who attended the launch of the novel back in May at the wonderful Street Theatre in Canberra.

Thanks to those who attended my speaking gigs, in bookshops, libraries, and schools.

Thanks to those who have messaged me with photos of the book in various places around Australia and in New Zealand – it’s such a simple gesture but it means a lot.

Thanks to those who have emailed or messaged me or come up to me at events and shared their experience of the novel. So very much appreciated.

Thanks to those who interviewed me and helped find an audience for my funny little war novel.

Thanks to those who have written responses to the novel online and then shared them. Some members of the literary community are just amazing, like Sue Terry from Whispering Gums – check out Sue’s summary of authors who have blogs, which includes a little mention of this here place in the online world.

Special thanks to all the many bookshops who stock the novel – you are bona fide heroes.

Special thanks also to my magic-making agent, Gaby Naher of Left Bank Literary in Sydney, and my very smart and hardworking publisher, Robert Watkins at Hachette Australia.

What have I learned?

To be frank, I have no idea, but here are some thoughts, which may or may not end up being true:

  • confidence is a trickster
  • publication is the fullstop at the end of the sentence
  • for the stories that find a home, it was always impossible to predict where that home was going to be
  • accept invitations that make you feel as though you’re going to faint
  • it is better to make art that no one sees than to not have made art
  • success is 10% talent, 20% luck, 50% hard work; no one knows what makes up the remaining 20%
  • doubt is a loyal friend and is more helpful than you may realise.

What happens now?

After a bit of a summer break, my mind will turn to other projects, although I do have a BODIES OF MEN-related event in Queensland in April, just in time for Anzac Day 2020 – it will be at Avid Reader and with authors Melanie Meyers and Simon Cleary and moderated by the tireless Cass Moriarty. We’ll be talking all things writing war.

See you next year (if we in Australia survive the Bushfire Apocalypse).

It is rather lovely to report that BODIES OF MEN has been shortlisted in the 2019 Queensland Literary Awards – University of Queensland Fiction Award. It’s extraordinary company to be in; I’m just pleased to see that the novel is receiving love, from readers but now in this way.

All the shortlists can be found here. And an overview can be found in The Guardian (Australian edition).

Who knows what will happen next.

Thanks to all those who’ve engaged with BODIES OF MEN, and have sent me messages of support. I do appreciate it – very much.

Over and out.

As luck would have it, BODIES OF MEN continues to adventure itself into the world and, sometimes, I get to tag along. As many other authors have noted, there is an element of letting go when a novel is published: what happens is essentially out of the control of the person who dreamed it into being. Some of us worry – some of us worry a lot – but that’s largely unproductive. The novel has to have its own ride.

Here are two things that have happened lately, and one that’s about to happen.

Last month there was a review of BODIES OF MEN in the Australian Book Review. Although it’s rather unbecoming (and possibly dangerous) to focus too much on reviews, this one, by Patrick Allington, did offer a bit of a shot in the arm:

BODIES OF MEN offers a thoroughly humanising depiction of Australians during World War II. In telling the story of two soldiers, William and his childhood friend James, Featherstone reflects upon the brutality, drudgery, and absurdity of war but also on the two men’s love and regard for each other. He weaves a compassionate tale but one that contains multiple layers of tension. It is also persistently surprising, as if the author has found a way to keep the ground beneath the characters – and readers – constantly shifting. Although William and James dominate the story, Featherstone draws upon a range of intriguing, deftly drawn characters; his characterisations of women are particularly rich and complex.’

Speaking of Australian literary journals, one of the gutsiest and hardest-working, Verity La, published an interview with me this week. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation with Tamara Lazaroff, who asked incitement questions. While we’re talking about gutsy, I understand that shortly Verity La will be running a crowdfunding campaign to keep the journal going. If you can, please swing them a few dollars.

 

 

Finally, next month I will be in Sydney doing a double-headline gig with the very fine  Holden Sheppard. Born and bred in regional Western Australia, Holden’s debut novel, INVISIBLE BOYS, won the 2018 City of Fremantle Hungerford Award, and will be published by Fremantle Press next month. Our joint gig, in which we’ll be chatting to each other about our books and related topics – sexuality, masculinity, intimacy, maybe even love – will be held at Better Read Than Dead Bookshop in Newtown: 6.30pm, Thursday 10 October. It’s free. More information here.

Thank you to all those who have sent me messages or emails saying they have read BODIES OF MEN and enjoyed it. The other day, at a writing event in Canberra, someone came up to me and said, ‘I read your novel, I was absorbed into the world of the novel, and I have kept thinking about James and William.’ That’s all a novelist really wants: to have someone engage with the work in an open way. I do appreciate it. Really.

In winter you are covered from head to toe. Grey beanie; brown-striped woollen jumper that was knitted by your mother when you were a teenager; long-sleeved black sloppy-joe over black thermal top; blue thermal longs beneath blue tracksuit pants; red woollen socks from the shop in Crookwell; and Ugg-boots, of course. You spend those dark days in your writing room with a bar heater beside you, your right hand hovering over the bars. As the hours progress the room does get warmer, but the rest of the house, a worker’s cottage dating from 1895, does not. If you are lucky, the fog burns off by lunchtime and there is a bright blue sky, at which you will gaze longingly while eating an omelette.

At 4pm off go the jumper, tracksuit pants and Ugg-boots, and on go a pair of grey tracksuit pants, a grey hooded top, black sports socks, and running shoes (if that is what they are called). You leave the house and get on your way, past the little cottages the same as yours, all the corrugated iron roofs rusting, past the newer, bigger houses on their manicured blocks, until you reach the edge of town and the twin water-tanks there with the view across the paddocks to the low ranges to the west, wind-turbines turning in the distance.

There’s hope in those turbines, you think.

Then – in September, October, November? – the outfit changes.

*

Keep reading in the Sydney Morning Herald, which commissioned this piece and published it on 31 August 2019.

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