On the brink of The Brink

G’day crew,

My second novel THE BRINK is published tomorrow and I am so excited for it.

I had intended to write a more comprehensive blog post to herald this book’s release, but I’ve been swamped for a long time.

I was doing a podcast interview earlier today when I mentioned how I recall the specific moment my career exploded. I was standing in the art exhibition space in building 16 at Edith Cowan University’s Mount Lawley Campus in mid-2018, back when I worked there, and while setting up for the event, I glanced at my phone and saw an email from Griffith Review.

The email stated that my novella “Poster Boy” had been declared one of the five winners of the 2018 Novella Project competition, and would be published in Griffith Review #62 later that year.

I remember being numb with shock, disbelief, excitement, anticipation. It had been a long slog to get any of my work recognised. And this email came a few months after a phone call with my then-agent, who advised me that the big 5 publishers in Australia had all rejected the full-length novel manuscript we were pitching to them, titled INVISIBLE BOYS.

I remember taking that phone call in March 2018, a few minutes before teaching an Academic Writing tutorial at ECU for their University Preparation Course. My heart sank through the floor. I remember saying to my agent, “So, is INVISIBLE BOYS dead in the water, or what?” And while she assured me it wasn’t, I feared my career was over before it had begun, and had to go on to cheerily teach a class about how to write an academic essay while inside I felt devastated that I would never make it as an author.

So, just a few months later, when I stood in that white-walled art exhibition space and saw the email from Griffith Review, I was ecstatic. Something was happening! Something I wrote was getting published in a really respected journal. I remember how my colleagues – Sarah, Shad and Julie – celebrated with me, supported me, and encouraged me. It was an awesome win after a long few months of failure.

When “Poster Boy” got published, I was given a few thousand dollars of prize money. It was the first time I’d made any real money off my writing, ever. And I remember that moment as the start of an avalanche, because a few weeks later, INVISIBLE BOYS was shortlisted for the Hungerford, and then it won, and then things went KABOOM .

I mention the mid-2018 “Poster Boy” moment because it was from that moment that my career kicked up a gear and I felt overwhelmed by it for the longest time. The world became a gigantic, non-stop hustle. The INVISIBLE BOYS tour was awesome. But it also made me dissociate the fuck out of my body almost every gig, because it was just so intense to revisit that trauma over and over.

It wasn’t until late 2021 that I started to feel like I had any level of control over my life again. I started learning how to say no to things, how to put up boundaries, how to protect and defend my writing time and my time to just be a human being. I learned how to define myself beyond being a writer. I found a lot of peace and comfort in weightlifting, and cardio, and playing social footy, and working as a labourer again.

I mention this because my headspace, now, today, the day before my second novel comes out, is so wildly different to how I felt the first time.

When INVISIBLE BOYS came out I felt like a newborn foal taking his first shaky steps only to cop a torrent of fire-hose-pressure water to the face. I felt knocked off my feet. I had only just worked out who I was, and then the whole world seemed to just COME AT ME, with its misreadings and expectations and projections. Ahh, it was amazing and horrific in equal measure.

Tonight, I am sitting at my desk with a can of bourbon, pausing for just a minute to reflect on how I feel before THE BRINK goes out into the world.

I am really happy to say that this time around, I don’t feel overwhelmed. I don’t feel like a nervous foal finding his feet in a dangerous environment.

I feel like a goddamn wild stallion.

This time around, I know who I am. I know I am not everyone’s cuppa tea and I don’t give a shit. I’ve happily set up a whole tour where I can put myself out there, show up as I really am, meet a whole heap of you guys, and then promptly retreat back to my cave to take care of myself once it’s done.

This headspace was hard-won. I pushed back against the expectation that authors, gay YA authors specifically, have some duty to be good role models (fuck that – it’s unhealthy!) and I rejected the projection of literary class that was foisted upon me in the public eye by proudly accepting my status as a bogan on season seven of the ABC’s TV show YOU CAN’T ASK THAT (I’m not kidding – the moment that episode aired I felt this bulk sense of relief that I didn’t have to pretend to be anything other than a Gero dero anymore).

I really can’t overstate how much these moves have made a difference to how settled I feel.

I don’t feel any pressure to be perfect or well-behaved or anybody’s role model.

I don’t feel the weight of being an award-winning literary author.

I feel more comfortable showing up as myself now. The good parts and the bad.

It makes the eve of a new book release far less daunting than last time. Instead of this sense of dread and terror, I feel excited.

I have written a book I am proud of. It is, as John Mellencamp would say, the best that I could do. It is a book about self-discovery and self-love. It is about wrestling your own identity back from who the world wants and expects you to be – something I have spent the past few years trying to do. It is, I hope, an ode to self-empowerment and finding a way to be yourself, even if the climate around you has always made you feel like shit. It is about Leonardo, the shy, terrified boy who wants to be tough; and Kaiya, the high-achiever who wants to be bad; and Mason, the footy jock who wants to be with his best mate, Jared. It is about burning your fake persona down to find who you really are – who you really wanna be.

It’s also a kickarse thriller (well, I reckon it is). I hope youse like it.

With all the edits to THE BRINK obviously now completed, and my third book draft completed and sent off to my agent and publisher earlier today, I am finally able to get back to blogging and sharing more writing and reflections with you guys again – just in time for my tour.

You can find out more about THE BRINK here.

And if you wanna come see me on tour, here’s the details of where you can find me in the coming weeks.

Can’t wait to connect with youse again as I hit the road across Australia over the coming months – seeyas out there!

Holden

Author: Holden Sheppard

YA Author from Western Australia.

One thought on “On the brink of The Brink”

  1. Congrats Holden. I’m really looking forward to reading The Brink. I am sure it will be as good and as successful as Invisible Boys. But I suspect that IB will always be a favourite for many. Wishing you lots of positive reviews and loads and loads of sales. Andrew ________________________________

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