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Directly behind me was a 100,000-person city.  Really.

What was I doing in this place? I had no clue.

Back in April 2010, after I’d landed in Launceston, I walked to the front door of the Kingsbridge Gatekeeper’s in Cataract Gorge Cottage (courtesy of the city council) and thought, ‘I have no friggin’ clue what I am doing.’

The cottage was perched on the edge of a cliff; there were metal bars on the windows to prevent break-ins. The gorge was both beautiful and disturbingly dark, to the point that when the sun wasn’t shining it was grim, if not straight-out depressing. With the small rooms, and being up high with 180-degree views of a surprisingly wild urban-edge environment, it wasn’t hard to imagine that I was about to spend time in a lighthouse.

All I could do was get to work.*

Four weeks later I left Tasmania with the very sketchy drafts of three…what the hell were they? Novellas? Yes, they were novellas. Mainstream publishers will tell you that this ‘in between’ literary form is almost impossible to produce commercially: they cost the same as a novel to edit and print and distribute and market but readers are wary of paying good money for a ‘small’ book; no one knows what novellas really are (meaning, are they inherently ‘difficult’?); and perhaps they’re too long for a single-sitting reading but not long enough for complete immersion.

Which is where Blemish Books came in. Thank Christ.

The mighty ACT-based independent press published Fall on Me in 2011 and I’m Ready Now in 2012 – these books bagged some enthusiastic reviews, a few gongs, and, perhaps most importantly, found their way into the loving arms of readers, a handful of whom have gone on to be very vocal champions of these funny little books. Although ‘funny’ is the wrong word. I don’t consider either Fall on Me or I’m Ready Now to be ‘difficult’, but they do have dark themes: the former is about a father and teenaged son and the long-term ramifications of a cold-blooded murder; the latter concerns a stoic though grieving mother and an almost unreasonably adventurous adult son, both of whom need to make life-changing decisions.

And then there were three.

And then there were three.

The Beach Volcano is a different beast altogether. It focuses on middle-aged man called Canning Albury, although most would know him under another name – because he has been a much-revered Australian rock musician. He is long-estranged from his family, having left home at the age of seventeen under a heavy cloud. Now armed with what he thinks is the secret to his family’s questionable past, Canning travels from his secluded though tantalisingly unfulfilled life in Launceston back to Sydney so he can help celebrate his father’s 80th birthday, which is to be a grand event at the ancestral mansion on the edge of the harbour. Needless to say, things go arse-up pretty quickly.

Perhaps, like the two preceding novellas, The Beach Volcano is about confronting the past in order to have a good, open and honest future, but it’s also, I think, about the power of families to both destroy and heal, and how we must navigate our own way. If there’s anything that binds these three stories, it’s the notion of family being infinitely complex.

But that’s enough from me.

Here’s what I really want to do – give you a heads-up about the launch:

The Beach Volcano will be launched at 6pm on Thursday 18 September at Electric Shadows Bookshop, Mort Street, Braddon, ACT.

Importantly, there will be wine, and a very wonderful launcher (already sorted but not yet made public).

And there will be a ridiculously nervous writer.

It would be brilliant to have your company.

____

* I can now see that the month I spent in Cataract Gorge was one of the most productive times of my life.

Pittwater, just north of Sydney, September 1928

Pittwater, just north of Sydney, September 1928: this place might have something to do with a novella coming out in 2014.

Can you think of a stranger occupation than writing fiction?

Those of us who do it, ignoring all the mental-health warnings, spend hour after hour, day after day, week after week, year after year, holed up in a room staring at a pad or screen, dreaming characters and predicaments into existence, all the while hoping that one day the words might be read, and with more than a little luck mean something to someone else, that reader, who may even be moved.

That’s all a fiction writer wants: to be read well, deeply, intellectually, emotionally.  Which is asking the world of them.

And it all comes down to publication.

Drumroll please: the news

'Nuanced and thoroughly original’ - The Newtown Review of Books

‘Nuanced and thoroughly original’ – The Newtown Review of Books

So, it’s with pleasure I can say that, due to the success of Fall on Me and I’m Ready Now (good sales, some gongs – twice short-listed for the ACT Writers and Publishing Award with Fall on Me winning the thing – and, on balance, a warm and generous critical response), the third and final in this series of novellas will be published in mid-2014.  The title, contents, and cover are currently under wraps at the request of Blemish Books, but all will be revealed in the first few months of the new year.

But I can say that this novella will follow the general theme – preoccupation? – of the previous two: contemporary  Australian family life in all its mess and mayhem.  Part of this preoccupation comes from a desire to lift the lid on what’s supposedly a ‘bedrock’ institution, as former prime minister John Howard described it during his long, long, harrowing days in power.  Family may well be important to modern living, because, often, it brings life into being.  But it also hammers life, stretches life into new and sometimes dangerous shapes; it can – and often does – take life, snuff the daylights out of everyone who steps into its confines or whatever it is that defines this thing.

How to explore the murky depths and live to tell the tale

But family life is also the stuff of fiction – always has been and always will be.  Because families are inherently complex.  They’re shifty; more often than not they operate in the grey and dark and black.  And fiction is a good – the best possible? – means of exploring the murky depths, of finding out who and what ticks and when and how, and to record new findings for the benefits of others.

So, then, the final Blemish novella will be about family.

Surely, surely, I could give away some of the plot?

Well, it involves a beach, a boat, two boats, many boats, a piano, a house by the harbour with a significant view, a river, an ocean, and yellow buckets tied to ankles for safety.

There’s also this.

Until next year

Until next year, much gratitude to everyone who has read Fall on Me and/or I’m Ready Now, who’s offered a kind word, or an honest one, who’s suggested that it might be good to carry on with this literary madness – it’s all so very much appreciated.  And, of course, massive thanks to Blemish Books for keeping the faith.  It’s true: writing is a tough and sometimes (often?) ridiculous gig, and I’m glad it’s this press that’s by my side.

Onwards.

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