My YA novel The Things That Will Not Stand had its genesis in two thoughts that came to me one day when I was taking one of my regular walks around the neighbourhood.
One was a memory from my Uni of Queensland days of being in the foyer of the Schonell Picture Theatre and hoping that a particular person I knew might come through a set of doors and join me.
The second thought was about writing a story which took place over just one day.
That was an idea that immediately appealed to me. I knew it would be a challenge but it would also be a gift because it would free me to focus just on the characters and their immediate interactions without having all the rest of their lives to worry too much about.
In the end I used both thoughts and wrote a kind of love letter to my Uni of Qld days and the places there that held special memories for me.
It’s quite bizarre and amazing now, to think that those two day-dreaming thoughts that drifted into my head as I auto-piloted my way around Enoggera and Ashgrove, would eventually lead me to Parliament House Canberra and a hand-shake with the Prime Minister.
The life of a writer is nothing if not unpredictable!
Of course it took quite a while for those early random thoughts to join a thousand other thoughts, sort themselves out and weave their way into a story. Then for that story to struggle its way to a final manuscript, and for that final manuscript to arrive in the hands of Clare Hallifax publisher at Scholastic Australia/Omnibus Books who would end up liking it enough (thank god!) to decide to publish it.
Publication occurred in 2018 and like every author whether they admit it or not, I desperately wanted people to like the book and for them to write and say nice things about it.
But you can never write a book that everyone loves. Nobody can. The two and one star reviews on Goodreads that every book receives will quickly tell you that.
The best you can hope is that your book will find its own dedicated and sympathetic readership. What I like to call its TRIBE. An audience of like-minded readers who feel a strong connection to a particular book because they’ve found something in the story or the characters that speaks to who they are and the things they hold dear A book with a story that beats along with their heart.
The dedication of The Things That Will Not Stand says that it’s, ‘One for the Dudeists and the dreamers.‘. And I think that pretty much sums up the book’s tribe. They’re a motley crew, but I like them. A lot. They’re possibly hopeless romantics which of course makes them people after my own hopelessly romantic heart.
Fortunately for me it turns out that some of TTTWNS TRIBE include important people who make some big decisions when it comes to books.
People like the good folk at the International Youth Library in Germany who did me the great honour of selecting TTTWNS for the 2019 WHITE RAVENS CATALOGUE.
This catalogue is produced annually by the International Youth Library in Germany whose language specialists select ‘books of international interest that deserve a wider reception’ based on ‘their universal theme and/or their exceptional and often innovative artistic and literary style and design’. The 2019 catalogue features 200 titles from around the world. My book Don’t Call Me Ishmael was lucky enough to be selected as a White Raven in 2007.
Luckily for me, other TTTWNS Tribe members turned out to be the Judges for the 2019 PRIME MINISTER’S LITERARY AWARDS who decided that TTTWNS was worthy enough to make their shortlist.
And what a shortlist to find myself on!
I’d read and loved every one of the other amazing books.
So my reaction to The Things That Will Not Stand making the PM’s shortlist was, ‘I’m so happy and proud to be on this list with these other brilliant authors, but of course it follows I’ve got little or no chance of winning.’
(Ironically – since I think he’s a genius and I love CICADA and everything else he’s ever done – the only person I thought I might have a better chance of winning than, was Shaun Tan – and that was only because I thought Cicada didn’t really fit in that well with the YA category.)
With so many brilliant Young Adult books being written in Australia these days (especially by a rapidly expanding field of awesome female authors) if you are selected for any YA shortlist in this country you should consider yourself seriously fortunate.
I would hate to be a judge. My shortlist would stretch on forever!
On the day before the announcement of the winners my wife and I were flown from Brisbane to the Nation’s capital and be put up overnight at the beautiful and grand Hyatt Hotel.
Then the following morning, October 23rd, it was off to Parliament House and the official awards ceremony with the delightful and multi-talented Annabel Crabb as our formidable and funny MC.
The Prime Minister Scott Morrison was also in attendence. From time to time. That was because during his speech the PM had to leave and return twice when the bells rang and he was required to vote in a division in the House of Reps. (In his absences Annabel declared herself acting PM, a development which was roundly applauded by all present.)
First up all the shortlisted authors were presented with our shortlist medallions.
And then it was time for the announcement of the winners.
Drum roll, please!
I think I went into slight shock when The Things That Will Not Stand was read out as the winning book in the YA category. I was honestly prepared to hear any name but my own. I could hardly get the words out during my ill-prepared speech. Anyone who was there on the day can confirm my faltering voice and stunned mullet appearance throughout.
And if you want physical proof of how little confidence I had in winning, all the other winners delivered eloquent speeches read from neatly typed A4 pages …
… while my don’t-worry-too-much-about-it-since-I’ll-never-have-to-deliver-it–anyway speech sadly looked like this:
But it wasn’t a complete disaster.
~ I did manage to thank all the people who really deserved to be thanked – the Fed Gov, the Judges, Scholastic Australia/Omnibus Books, my publisher Clare Hallifax and my incredible couldn’t-do-it-without-her editor Celia Jellett.
~ I also acknowlegded what a true honour it was to be on the same shortlist as Shaun, Karen, Clare and Sharon and their wonderful books.
~ I took the opportunity to give a heartfelt and sincere plug for YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE in general, describing it as among the most diverse and powerful you can read and encouraging everyone present to do so.
~ And I finished by thanking the Coen Brothers, The Big Lebowski and the Dudemeister himself Jeff Bridges for helping inspire my book. And my wife Adriana for inspiring everything else in my life.
A pretty good ending at least.
WHAT A DAY! Thanks to everyone who sent their messages of congratulations and kind words my way either in person or via email or on social media. I am grateful for each and every one of them.