I’m not sure if it ranks up there with giving birth to your first child, but the day your first book comes out shares some similarities – you can’t believe how long it took or how much it hurt, you’re not sure you ever want to go through it again, and you know you’ve contributed something to the world – even if it’s a creature of paper and ink rather than flesh and blood.
And so – I’m really excited to be chairing “Something in the water – Byron’s debut authors” panel at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival in a few weeks time.
There really must be something in the water in our neck of the woods, as every year the festival introduces a new crop of local authors who are writing outstanding books across the genres and being published by the industry’s leading houses.
This year, the (highly accomplished) new kids on the block are novelists Jessie Cole with ‘Darkness on the edge of the town’ and Lisa Walker with ‘Liar Bird’, and memoirists Shamus Sillar with “Sicily – it’s not quite Tuscany” and Amanda Webster with “The boy who loved apples”.
Last night I turned the final page of “Darkness on the edge of town” and put it down with a big sigh. I remember Jessie describing how the story had come to her in a rush, almost fully formed, and it certainly felt that way reading it. It’s a perfect jewel of a novel, one of those precious things that writers give thanks for. It carries the reader along effortlessly, though at times I wanted to say “Stop! Oh no, don’t do that!” as I saw the characters I’d come to know galloping towards what appeared to be disaster. It’s full of surprises and suspense. I remember Jessie reading out the first chapter of this book over a year ago at a writer’s gathering and all of us were spellbound. It won the VarunaHarperCollins Manuscript Development Award a few years back, and if you read it you’ll see why.
Lisa Walker is testament to how persistence pays off for a writer. She keeps writing no matter what, and this self-run apprenticeship paid off when, after also winning the VarunaHarperCollins Manuscript Development Award, she signed a two book deal with HarperCollins for her commercial fiction. Liar Bird is possibly the first romantic comedy about a feral pig, and her forthcoming book is about a timid erotic writer – rather timely given the current rise of erotica! Liar Bird is a hoot of a read and it’s great to have a romantic comedy set somewhere in the northern rivers rather than, say, Notting Hill. Her bolshy leading lady, Cassandra Daly, loses a PR war with a potoroo and finds herself making an unwanted sea change to the land of feral animals and only slightly less feral blokes. Until she meets a certain ranger…
I’m especially thrilled to introduce Amanda Webster’s memoir “The boy who loved apples”, as Amanda is a member of my writing group and is launching her book in Sydney tonight. This is a heartwrenching – though also wry – story about a mother’s battle with her son’s anorexia. Knowing pretty much nothing about anorexia when I first read it, it has opened my eyes to the reality of this disease and how it impacts on the families of those affected. Amanda’s son Riche is now an adult and fully recovered, and I can see how the intervening years have given Amanda the chance to reflect on what happened and understand it with some hindsight – as well as providing time for her to hone her extraordinary writing skills. Don’t think it’s a grim read – it’s anything but – at times almost funny, and at times heartwrenching. You may have seen the extract published in The Good Weekend a few weeks back.
And this brings me to Shamus. His quirky memoir about living in Sicily for a year with his wife is next on my bedside pile. However I’m saved by his blog, which happens to have as its latest post “How to pretend you’ve read my book”. Thanks for that Shamus. I can tell you that according to the book publicity, once Shamus and his wife Gill moved to Sicily, any romantic visions they’d had of restoring a villa or stamping their entwined feet in vats of Chianti grapes disappeared faster than the chief witness in a Cosa Nostra trial. Their tiny apartment in Catania was located in a grim neighbourhood opposite a triple-X cinema and a shop selling coffins, nearby Mount Etna erupted soon after their arrival, a mystery ailment left Shamus in a neck brace, they crashed a Vespa and had regular dealings with at least one Mafioso. If you like your travel memoirs funny, this is the one for you. We’re especially thrilled to have Shamus debuting at the festival because he pitched this book to publishers a couple of festivals ago as part of the “Perfect Pitch” program, and as the latest success story, he’ll be MCing this year’s pitching sessions.
Congratulations Lisa, Jessie, Amanda and Shamus – the Northern Rivers Writers’ Centre and festival organisers are very proud of you.
Think of this is a little festival preview, and if you are coming along on the first weekend of August, pop in to our session at 10.45am on Sunday 5 August and hear these writers discuss their work – there’s something pretty special about your first time up on stage at a major festival and it’s a great thing to share.