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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.

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.

It has been quite a while – a couple of decades, to be frank – since I have written poetry for the page, as opposed to libretti or simply lyrics, so it is rather lovely to have a poem published in RABBIT, a prominent Australian literary journal. This issue, number 32, focusses on ‘form’, which is something I love thinking about, and then tie myself in knots trying to make work. But not just work; I want the whole thing to be alive.

The poem is called ‘Astronomical’ and is about how, even (especially?) in the depths of the night, it is possible to be infinite.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed writing the libretto for THE WEIGHT OF LIGHT (commissioned by the Hume Conservatorium in New South Wales, with music by James Humberstone), and there are song lyrics in my new play-in-development, it has been good to worry about how a poem works on the page rather than about how the words might be sung and resonate with an audience hearing them in the context of a performed work.

A poem does not necessarily make a good song lyric, and vice versa.

So I am learning.

In any case, many thanks to guest editors Charmaine Papertalk Green and Stuart Barnes. Thanks also to Melinda Smith for introducing me to the concept of duende, which has changed my writing in so many ways. (If you would like to know more about duende, you may wish to check out this terrific essay by Tracy K Smith.)

If you would like to check out RABBIT 32, just drop a click here.

Over and out.

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