On September 1st my new young adult novel THE THINGS THAT WILL NOT STAND was released.
It’s always an exciting time, as well as nerve-wracking, when a new story goes out into the world. It’s a bit like your child leaving home. You hope with all your heart the world will welcome them, treat them kindly and love them just as much as you do. But of course, there are no guarantees.
TTTWNS is told in the present tense by Sebastian a year eleven student attending a University Open Day for schools with his best friend Tolly.
As the events of the day unfold Sebastian encounters Helena and then Frida and wishes that for once his life could play out like a feel-good rom-com.
Unfortunately as Sebastian explains, that’s not the way life usually works.
That’s the trouble with Life. It’s never just one type of thing, is it? Not like films. With films, you sort of know what you’re in for. If it’s a sci-fi film, you get space, the future, or aliens. If it’s action, you get gun fights and car chases. Horror, you get monsters and ghosts and basically shit-scared. Comedy, you get laughs and happy endings. Romance, you get the girl. Or the guy. Depending on your preference. See what I mean? But it’s not the same with life … Oh no. With life it’s all over the place. One minute it’s tears. Next minute it’s laughter. Then, just when you think you’re headed for a happy ending, the monsters turn up. Or the aliens. Or someone with a gun. And sometimes there’s a car chase. With a crash. And someone dies. Yeah, films make a lot more sense to me than life. Plus, they’re a lot easier to walk out of or turn off.
The story is different from anything else I’ve written before, as it all takes place over just one day and in just one general setting.
I based that setting on my old Uni, the University of Queensland, a place I happily attended for 5 years until I finally left with a B.A. Dip Ed.
To help me write the story I went to a recent Open day at UQ to soak up the atmosphere and get a feeling for where certain scenes would take place.
Scenes like these:
BY THE LAKE:
From the bench we have a wide view of the lake. It’s ringed with reeds and water lilies and dotted with ducks and other waterbirds. Over near the far bank a series of fountains spray misty columns of white water into the air. In the middle of the lake is an island draped over by a clump of large weeping willows. A flock of white birds are gathering in and around the branches. In the sharp afternoon light they glow like they’re lit from inside. Frida and I take our time to soak up the scene before us. She is the first to comment.
I look at her. With her bleached hair and white clothes, she’s glowing like the birds. I agree with her about the view.
(TTTWNS page 136)
IN A LECTURE THEATRE:
We both look inside. It’s a big space. We’re right at the back of the room and curving rows of padded red and black seats slope down to an elevated stage area with a long bench, a lectern and two massive screens. A few people are still coming in through the lower entrance but the room is almost full. There must be close to three hundred people waiting for a talk to begin.
‘Which one is he?’ Tolly asks.
I spot him about halfway down.
‘There. Red shirt. Black hair. Mucking around with the guy beside him.’
I watch Tolly’s eyes zero in on his target.
(TTTWNS page 114)
AT THE CINEMA:
I follow the girl I now know as Frida into the darkened cinema. We enter at the back on the right-hand side. There are plenty of empty seats. Up on the screen the credits of the black and white short are rolling to the sound of a tinny piano. It looks like we’ve actually timed it perfectly. Frida trails a hand on the brick wall as she takes some careful steps down the aisle. She stops a few rows from the back.
‘Well,’ she says, casting her eyes around, ‘do you want to sit together or do we sit separately and run the risk of looking like the kind of loner-losers who would go to see a film all by themselves?’
Frida’s scratchy voice carries to a girl sitting alone just a couple of seats away. She freezes with half her arm lost inside an enormous carton of popcorn and aims a death-wish stare at us.
Frida holds up a hand and grimaces at her. ‘Only joking,’ she mouths.
The girl seems unconvinced.
(TTTWNS page 27)
NEAR THE PITCH-DROP EXPERIMENT:
Frida and I stare at the old-fashioned scientific apparatus inside the glass cabinet.
‘Pretty incredible, eh, guys?’ Tolly says, wedging his way in between us.
Maybe I’ve missed something here. I take a closer look.
Inside the cabinet is a tall bell-shaped jar. Inside the jar is a glass funnel held in position by a metal tripod. The wide mouth of the funnel contains a black substance. A column of the black stuff fills the narrow section of the funnel and a blob of it is hanging off the end. There are also blobs of the black stuff in a bowl sitting directly below the end of the funnel. The whole thing looks like some kind of weird still-life art installation. There’s quite a bit of detailed information on a number of panels behind it, including one entitled The story so far, but all I take in is the main heading.
THE PITCH DROP EXPERIMENT – the world’s longest running laboratory experiment.
‘Tolly, nothing’s happening, man.’
(TTTWNS page 100)
IN THE GREAT COURT:
It only takes a few minutes to walk to the Great Court. The name says it all, really. It’s a massive, grassy courtyard area dotted with big trees, right in the centre of the campus. Surrounding it are sandstone buildings and a walkway flanked with sandstone columns and arches. It really is pretty great.
Normally it would just be a wide open space with a few benches sprinkled about, but today, for the Future Students program, there are food vans, and rows of stalls and tents promoting a whole heap of uni clubs, societies and student services. There’s also a local radio station giving away prizes and pumping out music from the top of a double-decker bus.
And of course, plenty of people.
(TTTWNS page 76)
If you do ever decide to spend the day and visit these places with Sebastian, Tolly, Helena and Frida, I really hope you enjoy the experience.
And I’d love to hear what you think.