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Yesterday marked 6 months since MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING came into the world. Oh my.

Thank you so much – indeed eternal gratitude – to all those who have supported the novel so far: the booksellers, the readers, the launch attendees, the podcasters, the journalists. You’re all bloody marvelous.

I have so appreciated the messages, posts and emails sent to me by readers. Every single one of them has given me a shot in the arm. It’s been almost overwhelming to hear how much Patrick and his story has meant to readers, and that the novel has moved some readers in a deep, perhaps even profound way.

A novelist can’t wish for much more than that.

It’s been such a wonderful ride so far, with launches in Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane, and the Huon Valley in Tasmania. I’ve had festival appearances in Canberra, Bryon Bay (including 5 days on the road touring regional areas, along with the incredible Huda the Goddess, Mirandi Riwoe, and Jane Caro), Southern Tasmania, and Berry, NSW.

I’ve met such amazing people and you’ve all been brilliant.

There is one more event WILD THING event for the year, and, rather fittingly, it will be back in the ACT region, where the tour began back in May. To be held at 2pm on Sunday 20 November, and called ‘The Quoll Connection’, my co-panelist will be Harry Sadler, the author of QUESTIONS RAISED BY QUOLLS, a fascinating book that is part nature exploration and part memoir. The event will be held at Terroux, a property on the outskirts of Canberra, and there will also be participation from a local quoll expert. Fabulous. Bookings essential.

As a rather lovely aside: back in 2019, Terroux offered me a weeklong residency, during which I worked on an earlier version of MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING. So, in a way, this will be a terrific full-circle moment.

Thank you once again to all those who have read the novel, who’ve let me know your thoughts, who’ve attended one of the various events.

It means the world to me.

Bless you.

Well, MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING has now been in the world for 10 weeks. It’s been lovely receiving emails and messages from readers saying how much Patrick and his story are resonating with them. Really all a novelist wants is a close reading; as others have said, the reader brings 50% of the meaning to a book, and there’s little – if anything – the novelist can do about that. But, of course, it is always wonderful hearing about how a piece of fiction has resonated in the mind (and perhaps body) of someone else. That makes it worthwhile.

It has also been energising seeing reviews come in from around Australia.

Here’s a brief summary:

‘I loved this delightful novel and the journey it took me on. Patrick’s character is finely observed, and his growth, sexual liberation and preparedness to come out as he hits 50 are beautifully scrutinised. A remarkable look at Australian masculinity and its meaning’ – Newtown Review of Books

‘MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING is a devastatingly emotional but ultimately hopeful exploration of love, family and place. The natural world takes centre stage, with Jimenbuen, the location of the farm, playing a role almost akin to that of a character. Patrick is transformed by his experiences at Jimenbuen with Lewis, but the land itself – its isolation and wilderness – also provides a place of safety and freedom from the guilt and frustration Patrick experiences stemming from his difficult relationship with his mother. Every location is rendered in precise, attentive detail: the barn in Jimenbuen, the streets of Sydney, and the sleepy country town where Patrick lives. Featherstone interrogates the power of love and the natural world in Patrick’s life, crafting a compelling and moving read’ – ArtsHub

‘Featherstone depicts life in all its complexity and contradiction, capturing the comparative freedom of childhood but also the long shadow it casts when it has taught you to repress your true self. MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING shows that ephemeral connections can be just as meaningful as the grand, enduring relationships our society venerates’ – Canberra Times

‘You can’t help but be changed by reading this beautiful, exquisitely well-wrought and richly poignant novel which dwells in the quiet, pause-filled places of life while fomenting a revolution that sees one wounded, stoically lost man find a new purpose and home, far from the ordinariness of life and off where it is still possible, because MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING is always gently adamant that it is possible to find our true self, realise your hopes and dreams and go to wild and unpredictable where the sun has not yet set on possibility’ – Sparkly Pretty Briiiight

‘Nigel Featherstone weaves a remarkable story of the possibilities of love, the cruelty of duty and the magic of place. Bringing the Monaro to life in prose that quietly sparkles, MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING is a story of self-discovery that sits separate from anything I’ve ever read. Featherstone’s novels are unforgettable gifts’ – Booktopia

‘A contemplative portrait of a man bound by a strong sense of duty to his family as he learns to overcome a lifetime of trying not to rock the boat to allow himself to find pleasure… This is a novel whose charm rests in part in the accumulation of quiet detail and perceptive observation: the fleeting appearances of an elusive tiger quoll; Patrick’s comment that “in the end all buried things have a way of coming to the surface”. Its depictions of landscape are evocative; its sex scenes tender and frank. At one point, Patrick recollects the scent of sunscreen and salt water associated with beach visits, describing it as being “about freedom, and the extraordinary ordinariness of human life”. The same is true of Featherstone’s yearning, intimate novel’ – West Australian

‘The voice of MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING is laconic, grim, masculine, withheld, but through the darkness it also holds a sweetly earnest, genuine hope – Patrick’s desires shine through’ – The Saturday Paper

‘A novel about what it means to yearn. It is a portrait, surely, of many of us – those wondering if this is our place, our lot, our future. We learnt in Featherstone’s first novel, BODIES OF MEN, that he is a writer who understands human fragility. With MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING, he has cemented his talent and allowed us an intimate view into another person’s heart. It is a gift’ – Readings

‘The heart might be a little wild thing, but this novel is a little beautiful thing – and not so little at that’ – Whispering Gums

‘MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING is a beautifully constructed and written book; it cleverly tangles the reader in every aspect of its telling. It moves us with its compassion, its vivid depictions of nature and its complex explorations of the human condition. Here is a truly astute writer utterly in control of his art. Featherstone’s fluid, stream of consciousness narrative style is an immediate hook. There is not a breath of hesitation as the reader plunges into Patrick’s story, into his mind and his world. We feel for him, we wish him well, we wish he’d take something for himself. And we exult when he does’ – Living Arts Canberra

Many thanks to the above writers and editors for their attention and engagement.

While you’re here, some books that I’ve loved recently:

IF YOU’RE HAPPY by Fiona Robertson – a wide-ranging collection of stories that delights, gently provokes, and entertains. Like all good literature, it helped me feel more connected to the world. Absolutely marvelous.

TIME IS A MOTHER by Ocean Vuong – another truly extraordinary collection of poems. I was dazzled and deeply moved. Vuong is a magician.

THE GRASS CASTLE by Craig Sherborne – a mother-and-son story with a heavy dose of dementia; it’s harrowing, sure, but also highly inventive. Sherborne is a poet, and there’s poetry on every page.

SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE by Claire Keegan – the sort of novel I adore: succinct, tight, quiet but psychologically complex, and multi-layered. Exquisite. I’ll be returning to this again and again.

FUGITIVE by Simon Tedeschi – erudite literary fragments written by a professional concert pianist. Exploratory but also most engaging. I loved it.

After a few quiet weeks (much of the time spent on the couch recovering from Covid-19, like so many others), I’m back on the road next month, doing a range of festivals and events – I’ll write a separate post about that at a later date. In the meantime, I hope you’re well and safe.

A month ago I heard the squeal and clunk and whoosh of the postie: in my letterbox were two proof copies of MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING. Which meant I had reached a particular stage in the journey of writing this novel. Here was my last opportunity to make changes; and at that time there were only three months before the baby would be out in the world.

Yikes.

So, for the past few weeks, in my crumbly old house in regional New South Wales, I have been hunched over the pages, tightening here and there and everywhere, making sure every word is right and resonant. Well, that’s the dream, isn’t it. In a way it is an exciting time, because it means the novel will soon be no longer be mine – I will have given it to others, the book will be the reader’s. But it is also a challenging time, because I really do want every word and sentence and paragraph to be perfect. Which, of course, is an unattainable goal.

I shared my battle (if that is the right word) with perfection with two other novelists, both of whom are multi-award-winning. One said, ‘Perfection is something I’ve neither aimed for nor achieved.’ The other shared with me a story:

Some years ago, when we lived in a different city, we had a dog, Meg, who was a Shetland collie-kelpie cross. She was one of those gorgeous dogs you mourn for ages after their death. She was so full of life, and when she was young we wondered if she would ever settle down. But our friend, John, talking about the biblical line, ‘Be perfect even as God is perfect’ or something similar, said that Meg was perfect not because she was good or obedient, but because she was perfectly dog and perfectly herself. That she was thoroughly herself and that’s all she needed to be. I don’t quite know how that transfers to novels and writing, but I always think of that story as taking away the need to get things right. I suppose for my writing I hope that I can let it be itself, and breathe; I don’t need to get it ‘right’. It also reminds me that I don’t need to compare with other work because only mine can be its perfect self.

Which was very helpful.

Perhaps, in the end, we can only hope that our work, in its own wonderful way, is perfectly imperfect.

Another anecdote, another that is entirely true:

Towards the end of last year, the day after I sent to my wonderful publisher at Ultimo what at the time was the latest draft of the novel, I was tidying my writing room when one of my journals threw itself from a shelf to the floor. My journals contain ideas for stories, most of which are destined to remain just that: ideas in a journal. Now sprawled on the floor, the journal had opened randomly to a page, in which was a note (written in my dreadful hand): ‘The Tiger Quoll: both Alison and Shaw are obsessed with the story of the tiger quoll’. The note is dated June 2007. I’ve long forgotten who Alison and Shaw were meant to be, but I have never forgotten about the tiger quoll. Perhaps it was me who became obsessed with that beguiling little creature – because it is a key motif in MY HEART IS A LITTLE WILD THING.

The very final edits of which I finished on Wednesday this week. Fifteen years, it seems, after I wrote that scrappy note. The occasion called for a G&T. More than one.

Next stop: publication on 4 May.

If you would like to be first in line to get your hands on a copy, the novel is currently available for pre-order. Should you head over that way, thank you.

Before you go, here are my recent adventures in reading:

THE RIPPING TREE by Nikki Gemmell – a powerful and, at times, harrowing novel about the lies non-Indigenous folk tell about the forming of this thing called Australia. It shook my bones.

WHEN THINGS ARE ALIVE THEY HUM by Hannah Brent – the commitment of sisters, the shenanigans of families, the lure of Hong Kong. A poignant and thought-provoking delight.

NEW ANIMAL by Ella Baxter – I tore through this novel and it tore through me. Really. Truly. My god.

QUESTIONS RAISED BY QUOLLS by Harry Saddler – nature, fatherhood…and how are we meant to live when everything seems to be going to hell in a handbasket? A book about worry, but not without hope.

FOUND, WANTING by Natasha Sholl – the grief memoir everyone is talking about, and rightly so. How is someone meant to respond when their partner dies unexpectedly in their sleep? Despite the subject matter, it’s beautifully observed, and lightened with wit and humour.

COLD ENOUGH FOR SNOW by Jessica Au – one of the most remarkable pieces of prose fiction I’ve read in a long time. A mother and daughter holiday in Japan: that’s it, that’s the plot. And it’s extraordinary.

THE SWALLOWS OF KABUL by Yasmina Khadra (actually a former male officer in the Afghanistan army) – an incredible, and gut-wrenching, tale about life under the Taliban. Written, of course, before recent events. Heart-breaking.

AMONGST WOMEN by John McGahern – a profound study of the lifelong impacts of war (it’s set in Ireland in the 1980s) on a man and a family. McGahern is no longer with is, but what a gift is this novel. Colm Tóibín is a fan; now I am too.

WHAT ARE YOU GOING THROUGH by Sigrid Nunez – I love Nunez, and I loved THE FRIEND, and I loved this. Brief, but so wise. If only I had a tenth of her ability.

As ever, much gratitude, and love to all. Especially during these turbulent times.

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