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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.

Can good things happen in a pandemic? Apparently.

It’s lovely to be able to announce that, along with wonderful Australian novelists Robyn Cadwallader and Julie Keys, I’m heading to northern New South Wales as part of the inaugural Write North Writers’ Group Residency.

The residency, which is a special initiative of the Byron Writers Festival and Create NSW, will give us space and time to write under the direction of eminent novelist Charlotte Wood. I’ve long-admired Wood’s work and her internationally successful The Natural Way of Things quite literally changed the way I look at the world. Her latest novel, The Weekend, about ageing and friendship, also affected me greatly.

Charlotte Wood

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been selected for a handful of residencies over the years – Varuna, Bundanon, and the Australian Defence Force Academy at UNSW Canberra – and they tend to have a significant impact on how I work. Indeed, it’s usually the case that I don’t fully understand the impact until some years down the track.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about ‘going away’ to write is that what I expect is rarely what I get, but what I get is just as valuable, usually more so. Perhaps the greatest benefit is the way a different place enables me to see my work in a different way; perhaps the place can even have an impact on how – and perhaps even why – I’m writing.

You would think by now that I would know what I’m doing, but I really don’t. Perhaps I do have a couple of tools in my writing tool-box, but I could always do with more. A lot more. And then there’s the fact (and I really do think it may be exactly that: a fact) that the writing process is largely mysterious. What makes one piece of writing feel more alive than another? The author’s motive probably has something to do with it; the rest is more or less beyond me.

Of course, with this residency, it will be wonderful spending time with two friends – Julie and Robyn – who are also writers of novels, all three of which – The Artist’s Portrait, The Anchoress, and Book of Colours – I’ve adored. And then, there will be Charlotte Wood encouraging us to take risks, to write differently, to challenge ourselves, and, perhaps to challenge each other. She also sent us an email: Be prepared to work hard. Roger that.

If I’m allowed one expectation for this particular experience, what might it be?

To get just a little better.

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