Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards
It was an absolute buzz to attend the VPLAs last month – many thanks to Black Inc for flying me down to Melbourne for it. Writing a novel means so many years of solitary work, just you and your laptop, that it’s important to celebrate every win you can along the way. And I don’t just mean the literary award wins – I mean all of them. Finishing a complete first draft, handing in the manuscript to the publisher for the first time, getting the first bound copy in the mail…the list goes on!
The highlights of attending the VPLAs were hearing the overall winner Behrouz Boochani accept his award via What’sApp from Manus Island (don’t get me wrong – I’d rather have heard it from him in person, free and walking amongst us, everyone would’ve, but it was moving and incredible to hear his emotion at winning…just brilliant) and hanging out with other wonderful writers, including my fellow YA shortlister Erin Gough and the winners of the YA category Ezekiel and Ambelin Kwaymullina (all pictured below).
Between Us launch dates and locations
There will be launches for Between Us in Darwin, Sydney and Melbourne. I can barely believe the book is finally going to be out in the world. I hope you can come and join us. Here are the details.
Wednesday 7th February, 5pm for a 5.30pm start at The Bookshop, 1/30 Smith Street Mall, Darwin City.
To be launched by Kevin Kadirgamar, NT Young Australian of the Year 2018 and Young Lawyer of the Year. Kevin specialises in migration and is the lawyer for Mojgan Shamsalipoor, a young Iranian woman seeking asylum in Australia.
Thursday 15th February at 6.30pm at Becher House, Asylum Seeker Centre, 43 Bedford St Newtown.
To be launched by Melina Marchetta, an author I hugely admire. Melina’s writing is one of the reasons I got into writing for young adults – I love the way she explores culture and class in her stories.
Please note that this is a ticketed event so if you are keen to come please buy a ticket here. The ticket price includes a signed copy of the book and the rest of the money goes to the Asylum Seeker Centre to support their great work.
Monday 19th February at 6.30pm at Readings Hawthorn, 701 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn.
To be launched by Fiona Wood, an author whose writing I adore. Fiona has been an amazing support since Nona & Me came out and I’m thrilled to have her launching Between Us in Melbourne. This event is free, no booking required.
Hope to see you there!
Early reviews for Between Us
The first review for Between Us came out in Books + Publishing Magazine late last year. I was so thrilled to read it and see the reviewer had really gotten the story and themes I wrote the novel to explore. Plus they awarded it 4.5 stars! Got to be happy with that! Here it is here:
Another two reviews came out just recently from teen readers as part of Readings Teen Advisory Board. These reviews mean the world to me because they are from teenagers, the people who the book is written for, even though I of course hope adults will enjoy it too. The first one in particular blew me away – I couldn’t have asked for a better response. Click here to have a read.
FINALLY!!! Between Us!
Well, it’s only taken three years! I write that semi-jokingly, knowing that whilst some books are faster to write, others take far longer. To me, it has felt like forever since Nona came out. Nevertheless, the new book is finally here. It’s called Between Us and here is the blurb:
From the award-winning author of Nona & Me comes a stunning new novel about two teenagers separated by cultural differences, their parents’ expectations and twenty kilometres of barbed-wire fence.
Anahita is passionate, curious and determined. She is also an Iranian asylum seeker who is only allowed out of detention to attend school. On weekdays, during school hours, she can be a ‘regular Australian girl’.
Jono needs the distraction of an infatuation. In the past year his mum has walked out, he’s been dumped and his sister has moved away. Lost and depressed, Jono feels as if he’s been left behind with his Vietnamese single father, Kenny.
Kenny is struggling to work out the rules in his new job; he recently started work as a guard at the Wickham Point Detention Centre. He tells Anahita to look out for Jono at school, but quickly comes to regret this, spiraling into suspicion and mistrust. Who is this girl, really? What is her story? Is she a genuine refugee or a queue jumper? As Jono and Anahita grow closer, Kenny starts snooping behind the scenes…
And here’s the beautiful cover, inspired by Darwin’s stunning skies and wet season storms…
In writing this novel I did a hell of a lot of research and also worked with a brilliant Iranian artist and writer as my cultural consultant – a big thanks to Shokufeh Kavani for sharing her knowledge and life experiences. And another huge thanks to Natasha Blucher, refugee advocate extraordinaire, who answered my endless questions tirelessly over the last three years! And there are many more thankyous, but I won’t list them all here – I’ll save them for the back of the book!
Between Us comes out February 2018, and is published by Black Inc…stay tuned for more updates!
Head down, bum up
I just wanted to post quickly to apologise for the long gaps between posts. I’m writing another novel and, unlike some other writers, I am not the best creative multitasker. If I’m working on a TV script, I stop work on everything else to focus on it. The same has happened with this book. One creative task at a time for me. I need to be able to immerse myself in the world, to think of all the connections, rammifications, emotions, practicalities and so on.
It’s the same reason that I’m not really present on social media or Twitter. I will unapologetically tell you that with three little kids and a book to write I just don’t have time. For me, it’s either compose tweets and Facebook updates or write a book, and I know which one I’ll choose every time.
I’m excited though. I can feel the threads of the new book slowly pulling together. It is such a long process. I wrote Nona & Me over two years, and this one looks to be taking around the same. But I am starting to feel like I can breathe again so I will try to post here a bit more regularly.
One exciting thing I have coming up is a writing workshop in Katherine this weekend being run by Courtney Collins. Her first novel, The Burial, came out a few years ago. It took out a bucketload of prizes, was published internationally and is now being made into a film! Funnily enough, she is now living in a remote Aboriginal community up this way, and this weekend she’ll be in Katherine to run this workshop. Lucky me! I can’t wait!
NT Book of the Year 2016!
Thrilled to announce that Nona & Me is the joint winner of Territory Read 2016, the NT Book of the Year Award, along with Mary Anne Butler‘s fantastic play Highway of Lost Hearts. Got this snap with the wonderful Johanna Bell who, aside from being a great friend, author, and the creative producer of Spun, took out the NT Literary Awards Short Story category.
And to top off all that good news, I have a little Cinderella story for you. This evening, getting ready for the awards, I found all my shoes had fallen victim to the wet season. One pair had hints of mould, another looked scruffy, a third had elastic that had lost its stretch. Yes, I only have three pairs that are potentially worthy of wearing out – clearly not a shoes girl! I had Birkenstocks…but even in the NT surely Birkenstocks aren’t suitable awards attire…are they?
Then I remembered this pair of magical red shoes I had tucked away in the back of my cupboard. I call them my Laurie Halse Andersen shoes because she actually found them in an op shop when we were travelling around regional Victoria talking about our books to high school students as part of the Reading Matters Festival 2015. She found them, but they didn’t fit her…so she passed them on to me…and voila…they were a perfect fit. And now here I was, with no shoes to wear…and these luminous red heels suddenly reappeared in time to trot onto the stage and claim my award. Might have to rename them my lucky shoes!
Sydney Writers Festival Western Sydney Roadshow
It has been a huge but fantastic week visiting libraries in Western Sydney and giving talks and writing workshops, along with Melissa Keil, Claire Zorn, Catherine Jinks and Tim Sinclair as part of the Sydney Writers Festival 2015 Roadshow. We’ve been to Blacktown, Parramatta, Cabramatta, Penrith and are finishing the week off tomorrow in Bankstown. So many wonderful students! So many eager writers!
Best high school student questions of the week:
– What time period is your novel set in – is it in the past or recent history? (By a boy who hadn’t read the book but was interested in how it fit with Aboriginal history)
– How do you feel about the fact that Aboriginal people in communities like the one you lived in live shorter lives, have worse health outcomes etc and people accept that as normal, whereas events like Paris get a lot of attention and coverage?
– What airline do you fly on to get to Yirrkala? (A pertinent question given the closure of the refinery in Nhulunbuy which has meant that Qantas no longer flies there!)
And my favourite scene that was written by a workshop attendee:
The students were given the scenario of creating a scene about a girl coming home after skipping school. Her dad knows she skipped – he got a call from the principal that day but wants to see if she’s going to confess before he busts her.
The students were asked to use subtext and the idea of ‘show don’t tell’. A group of Islander students said that if this were an Islander household the daughter would arrive home and the dad would have a row of implements laid out in front of him – a stick, a belt, a shoe etc. The scene went something like this:
Dad: How was school?
Dad: What did you have today?
Girl: Oh just maths, english, you know, the usual…
At which point the Dad just starts beating her with whatever implement he picks up first.
Of course I don’t condone the violence but it is a fantastic, culturally-specific, realistic scene and I loved it for its honesty.
Over and out.
On money & community
This doesn’t have much to do with writing. Well, maybe a little bit. Did you know that the average writing income of an Australian author is $12,900? Unless you happen to smash out an international bestseller you don’t earn a whole heap from writing books. Add to that having three young children and the cost of modern childcare and I would probably be better off financially if I stayed home with the kids full time.
But of course writing is part of me. I would only be half a person without it. And I’m not complaining. Not at all. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do what I love – a lot of people don’t – and to earn anything from that is a real privilege.
The funny thing is that lately I’ve noticed that there is a quiet upside to making do with less money. (And, please note, I’m not saying anyone can or should survive with no money – that’s not ‘making do’, it’s poverty, and poverty clearly has little upside.) For example, we recently decided we needed a shed. (I can almost hear you sighing, “A shed? Is she serious? Does she mean a ‘shed shed’ or is this some kind of extended metaphor?”) Yes, I mean an average garden shed. And we could have saved up and paid a company to build one for us, but we decided to try to do it on the cheap. I ordered a shed kit online and then, to our pleasant surprise, two local friends offered to help build it. They came over and brought their tools, and their partners and kids too, and we spent the day talking and shed building and kid minding and cooking scones and eating and you know what? It became about more than a shed. It became about community.
I’ve thought about this a bit lately, about how money is great (and of course necessary – see ‘poverty’ above), but it can also construct barriers between us. Yes, it is probably easier to hire a babysitter, but the babysitting swaps we’ve started doing with friends makes us feel more like part of the village it supposedly takes to raise a child (or three). And yes, supermarkets are convenient, but riding my bike down to the local community garden and picking fresh herbs is pretty damn satisfying too.
So I’m going to ignore the bank balance and keep writing. The concrete slab of my second novel is (slowly) being poured. Now I just need time to build the frame, walls, roof and…voila! Book two! Easy, right? 😉
(Hey, you hung in there, I had to try to use a shed analogy somehow.)
CBCA! Hip hip hooray!
My oh-so-lovely publisher, Black Inc, agreed to send me to Melbourne for the CBCA award announcements. It was so fantastic to be there in person…and even more fantastic for Nona & Me to be announced as as HONOUR BOOK for Older Readers in 2015! Here is a blurry photo (because I’m sure that’s just what you wanted to see!):
And a slightly less blurry photo with Claire Zorn (the winner for The Protected) and fellow shortlister Melissa Keil (for The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl)…what’s that? Is Claire a bit taller than us? Um…just a little bit…
Claire made a very touching award acceptance speech about not fitting in at highschool, but also about the academic pressures placed on students today and how that can suffocate creativity.
Tony Wilson read out his funny and entertaining poem entitled Each Peach Pear Figs, which included the names of the shortlisted authors in all the categories. Was a buzz to be included on that list!
I was moved by the honesty of Michael Camilleri who talked about the financial challenges of trying to make a living out of being creative, and the importance of having a supportive partner. I would guess that’s true for a lot of us in this industry – I don’t think anyone is in it for the money, and the number of authors who can support themselves as full-time writers without outside assistance or doing other work on the side must be few. I definitely feel very lucky to have the time and space to be able to explore my ideas and write. Michael also talked about the first time someone said they thought he had real talent, and how much that meant to him – it brought tears to my eyes.
It was incredible to be on a stage that also held legends such as Libby Gleeson (who was later awarded the Nan Chauncy award) and Freya Blackwood (who took out THREE awards – a record, apparently).
Enormous, heartfelt thanks to the CBCA for all the work that goes into organising these annual awards and to the judges (apparently they had to read upwards of 400 books!). Being an honour book is truly the highlight of my writing career to date.
Awesome hip hop clip from Yirrkala peeps
Every year around the start of August I see photos of the Garma Festival online and start to get incredibly homesick for Yirrkala. Well, this video tops it. It’s a hip-hop piece with fun, funky beats…plus it features heaps of friends and familiar faces…watch it for a great insight into the community, culture and the power of working together!