We’re all familiar enough with why 2020 was a giant tyre fire. Thankfully, it looks like the tide is turning. 2021 will hopefully (*touches wood repeatedly*) be a better year.
Every December, I reflect on the past year and plan for the one ahead. When I made my 2020 goals, I had no idea what was about to unfold. Consequently, many of my goals – like everyone’s – went to hell.
Weirdly, my career thrived in 2020. I don’t take that for granted. Invisible Boys landed a slew of accolades, culminating in winning the WA Premier’s Prize for an Emerging Writer in August. I also signed with a new agent for my next books, and sold the film and TV rights for Invisible Boys, which is now in development as a ten-episode TV series. This stuff was fucken awesome, especially against the backdrop of a heinous year.
That said, despite the luminosity of career highlights, this year was a bit of an annus horribilis for me personally. I started the year with an injury, dislocating my shoulder for a second time, which derailed my health and fitness for months. The gym and footy do a lot to keep my head above water, and losing both was a major struggle. After that was a two-month lockdown, financial strife as my income dried up for the year, the death of a family member, a car accident that injured my back, a house flood and insurance battles, then a very public legal quagmire. From January through to December, my mental health was the worst it’s been in ages. This stuff was fucken terrible, especially against the backdrop of a heinous year.
The mix of light and dark in 2020 was starker than in most years, and there was a chasm between people’s perceptions of how good my life must be and how shit I actually felt. But upon reflection after a strange year, I have my health, I have my husband, I have a career I love, and I live in a relatively safe part of the world. I am lucky.
And despite a year of thwarted dreams for many, people across the globe are arming themselves with the usual December hope that next year will be better. I share this hope. Setting goals helps me take stock of how far I’ve come and refocus my energies. Looking back and looking forward is how I stay motivated.
So, I set 10 goals for 2020, split between writing goals and personal life goals.
Here’s how I went:
2020 WRITING GOALS
1. Sign a contract for Book 2 and do edits for that.
Well, this didn’t happen. My first agent left the publishing business, and so I signed with a new agent mid-year: the brilliant Gaby Naher of Left Bank Literary. Gaby requested edits to the manuscript, and this led to an extensive rewrite. Technically, I did sign a contract with my agent for Book 2, and I did do edits for it. But the goal was to sign a contract with a publisher, which hasn’t yet happened. Book 2 will be pitched to publishers in 2021.
Result: FAIL (but PROGRESS).
2. Promote IB until it has been flogged to death (NB: may have already happened).
I reckon I did what I set out to do here. Despite the pandemic leading to the cancellation of loads of gigs, including events and festivals over east, I still landed a bunch of gigs, many of them online, to sustain myself and promote the book. There was loads of media to promote the book and heaps of good word of mouth. I worked hard on this one, and I achieved my goal.
3. Get 1 piece of short fiction & 1 piece of journalism published.
My short story “Irreversible” was published in a special edition of Westerly in February 2020, so I got the first part done. However, the journalistic piece eluded me. I did have an offer of a commissioned piece mid-year, but I had to turn it down as the deadline was impossible given what I was juggling at the time. I enjoy writing articles, though, so I’ll keep this on the backburner for the future.
Result: HALF SUCCESS, HALF FAIL (note to self: don’t put two different goals in one next time).
4. Start work on Book 3.
This is one goal the pandemic actually made easier. I didn’t just start Book 3 – I wrote the whole thing in five weeks while we were in lockdown in April-May. I have hardly glanced at this manuscript since I finished it and I feel I’ve really benefited from staying away from reading it for more than six months. I’ll have a fresh perspective when I dive into rereading and editing it in 2021.
5. Super Secret Project X!!!
This referred to the adaptation of Invisible Boys as a film or TV series, which I was having conversations about last December but hadn’t yet signed a deal. In August, we announced these rights were optioned by Nick Verso and Tania Chambers, and earlier this month, we received development funding from Screenwest. I am so stoked the TV series is going into development in 2021 and can’t wait to see how it unfolds.
2020 LIFE GOALS
6. Maintain average 5 workouts per week (weightlifting and cardio).
Somehow, I actually managed this. For most of the year it was 6 days per week, helped by the fact that footy counts as cardio. There were some crap weeks where I only exercised two or three times, but overall I maintained a steady level of regular near-daily fitness this year and I’m proud of that. I want to keep going with this into 2021.
7. Shred up & reach goal weight of 73 kg by 30 June 2020.
Not sure whether to laugh or cry at this one. I weighed 86 kg when I made this goal. Despite exercising like a muthafucka all year, I also started comfort eating and drinking bulk alcohol during lockdown. By July, I was 87 kg – even heavier than December. I got my shit together in October, gained some muscle and lost some fat, and consequently weighed in at 83 kg last week. Considering the year I had, this is good progress, but still a far cry from my ambitions of major shreddage.
Result: EPIC FAIL.
8. Get tattoos – July 2020. 😊
This goal is also in tatters. The plan was get ripped, then get inked. I haven’t achieved the first so the second hasn’t followed. Bum-bow. I know I can get tattoos whatever my body shape, but my vain heart wants what it wants.
9. Train harder at footy, get less shit & play at least 1 whole AFL 9s season with the Hornets.
Despite my injuries, I trained harder at footy than in 2019. I played a whole season of AFL 9s with the Hornets, save for a couple of games when I had work. And I ultimately got a bit less shit: I am still not a stellar footy player, but I’m better than I was twelve months ago. I can only try to keep improving and hopefully, over time, become a more useful and competitive player.
10. Do 1 whole term of guitar lessons (10 weeks).
Okay, this one completely fell by the wayside. I was too busy to dedicate time to this every week for a whole school term. I do still really want to learn guitar, though.
Ultimately, I succeeded at about half my goals and failed at the remaining half. That’s a pass mark overall, right?
I am not fazed by the failures. Every year, I set goals knowing I will achieve some and fall short of others. This is the nature of goal setting and life. It doesn’t stop me enjoying the process of aiming high and it helps me work out which goals I don’t feel passionate about and which I really want to work harder at next time.
2020 hampered a lot of my goals, so my list for 2021 looks very similar, with some minor tweaks:
GOALS FOR 2021
1. Sign a publishing contract for Book 2 and do further edits on it.
2. Complete the second draft of Book 3.
3. Progress the TV Series adaptation of Invisible Boys.
4. Get 1 piece of short fiction OR journalism commissioned, contracted or published.
5. Maintain an average of 5 workouts per week (between weightlifting, footy and cardio).
6. Get nutrition sorted to shred up and reach goal weight of 75 kg by 30 June 2021.
7. Get first tattoos in 2021.
8. Train harder at footy and grow more confident and useful to the team in games.
9. Do at least one guitar lesson.
10. Do some fun shit for pure enjoyment.
When I look at these goals, I feel strongly about making them all a reality. I’ll do my level best. I love having goals to chase and I can’t wait to get started on all of these.
What are your goals for 2021? Are they focused mostly on career, or on life, or a mix of both?
The other day, I was asked a question that stumped me.
I was doing a talk at a high school, and a year 9 boy asked me if, given how much I suffered, would I change anything about my younger years?
I did the standard public speaker response when you are asked a question you have no idea how to answer: “Wow, that’s a really great question. Thank you so much for asking it.”
Depending on how slowly you utter this, and how strategically you structure your pauses, you can draw this out for five to ten seconds – enough time to throw together a response.
But even after those few seconds of scrambling, I still didn’t have an answer.
I ended up thinking out loud with the audience to meander my way to a quick response – that I probably wouldn’t change things – but I didn’t have space to explain why.
Growing up homosexual in the broad circumstances I did – a country town, blue collar, Sicilian-Australian, Roman Catholic environment – gave me certain messages about being gay. It was effete; unmasculine; it made me a faggot or a finocchio; it made me evil and sick. Bad bad bad.
But these external messages, in isolation, are not what fucked me up.
What fucked me up was my response to those circumstances. Being gay in that world seemed like it would annihilate me and everything I was supposed to be. So, for years, I fought it, denied it, deleted it. I perceived it as a mortal sin; prayed to God to fix me; dug out my baptismal crucifix and wore it like a talisman; studied the Bible hoping to drive the devil out of me. This led to that spiral down into depression, self-loathing, and eventually the suicidal ideation I wrote about in Invisible Boys.
So yes, the world was hostile to my existence. But I was more hostile to myself than the world was.
I know sixteen-year-old me only did what he did to try to survive. I probably wouldn’t have done it if my external environment told me it was okay to be gay; that I was good enough just as I was.
But I don’t sit down with my therapist to unpack the world and its fuckery. Sure, I could blame the world, but what a waste of time. I can’t change society any more than I can solve suffering on a global scale. Both would be Sisyphean to attempt, and nobody will ever succeed at either.
I do sit down to work with my therapist around how I treat myself, and that is where my recovery process begins and ends: with me, on the micro level. Those microcosmic changes are what ripple out to influence the macrocosm, but I can’t start with the world. I must start with me.
I have spent a long time recovering from how cruel I was to myself. My self-loathing runs deep, and even now, on a bad day, I can be right back there in that dark well in a split second. I have a track record of treating myself worse than I would ever consider treating another human being: with revulsion and disgust and utter contempt. I can turn on myself very quickly.
It might seem logical, then, that if given the chance, I would change this.
But being cruel to myself in my younger years made me more resilient in the long run.
For instance, sometimes I meet someone new who seeks to insult me, denigrate me, humiliate me, embarrass me, or reduce me. This is less common than when I was younger, when I had no discernment and would hang around people who made a sport of ridiculing me, but it still happens.
When I was younger, I listened to anyone who insulted me. I tried to make them like me. I tried to embody the characteristics they admired and squash out the traits they derided. I laughed at their ridicule of me to make them tolerate my presence. I performed like this constantly and if they didn’t stop insulting me – which they didn’t – I would blame myself for not doing enough to make them like me.
I did this most of my life. I don’t do it anymore.
These days, when I encounter someone like this, I feel a bit immune to their bullshit. Like, what can they say to me that is worse than what I have said to myself? Nothing. I was the most destructive person in my life for years. So, every time someone in my life tries to have a go at me, even in subtle, passive-aggressive ways, I just think, You can’t hurt me. They can’t. They will never come close to making me feel as bad about myself as I already did.
That isn’t to say I’m impervious to being emotionally wounded. Far from it. I have a sensitive temperament. I have a propensity for listening to critical voices, either my own, those of others, or those of society, that tell me I am not okay.
But I know now that there is nothing wrong with me. The message that I am not okay at my core is what is inaccurate, always, whether it’s me or someone else saying it.
So, the moment I get a whiff that someone is going to be destructive towards me, I don’t try to please them, or get them to change. I just get the fuck out. I cut them off, stop talking to them, stop investing time in them, block and delete if it’s online. I keep their toxicity as far away from me as possible. Their voices do not bear listening to, and whatever I do hear, I don’t take on board.
But this is a response I’m not sure an otherwise serene adolescence could have manufactured. It is a resilience borne of self-acceptance overcoming self-abnegation; a powerful alkali neutralising a corrosive acid.
That is to say: I am not sure I could have ended up where I am without having gone through what I did. I don’t know if I could know self-acceptance and wholeness if I hadn’t, at one point, hated myself so much I was willing to abandon myself entirely. Living through my own personal brand of shit made me who I am.
What if I had grown up in a wealthy, inner-city, left-wing suburb, in a white-collar family, with no cultural or religious prejudices towards homosexuality? Or what if I had grown up heterosexual?
I don’t know who I’d be or what I’d be like, but I do know that guy wouldn’t be me.
And even if those facets of my life changed, I don’t think I’d be happier or unmolested by life. I would have suffered anyway. All humans suffer and our suffering shapes our lives. My suffering would have just had a different colour.
So, to answer that kid from the high school library: no, I wouldn’t change anything about my past.
The only thing I would have changed about my younger years is that I would have been kinder to myself. But I feel okay with how things played out for me. It is my past cruelty towards myself that led me to a sense of what psychologists call unconditional self-acceptance.
The arrows I slung at myself along the way were misguided, but they both toughened my hide and taught me to put down the bow.
About three years ago, during a time of massive failure, I went back to my uni to visit my writing lecturer.
At the time – early 2017 – I had both lost my full-time job and had to abandon my failure of a fantasy novel. From every angle, I felt like a loser. I wanted my lecturer’s advice, and comfort, and to try to recapture that student feeling that dreams could come true.
As I told my lecturer about my book’s inability to interest agents, and how I realised my novel wasn’t good enough, I tried to find a way to fan the flames in my chest into words.
“I’m going to make it,” I told her, resolutely.
“I know you will,” she replied.
No, she wasn’t getting it, I thought. I wasn’t just some writing student who sort of wanted to get published. This wasn’t just a career that I may or may not proceed with. This was my life. This was almost the only thing in the whole world that I cared about. This was the only way I made sense as a fully-rounded human.
“I mean I won’t stop until I make it,” I elaborated. “No matter what. Even if I have to write a whole new book, even if I have to self-publish first before I can get a traditional publishing deal, even if it takes me years and years, the rest of my life, I will get there.”
“I believe you,” she said, with an ‘ease up, turbo, or I’ll press the duress button’ kind of look.
I remember that day, and that era, as the point where I kicked my ambition up a notch.
Ambition had always been the undercurrent of my personality, since the age of seven, when I first knew I wanted to be a writer. I am not ashamed of my ambitious nature. I am proud of it, actually. It would have been easy to give up on this dream at an early age. A boy from a blue-collar background in a country town doesn’t have the most inspiring pedigree for a literary career. In order to become a bona fide published novelist, I had to reach beyond my station in life, defy expectations and obstacles, and keep going in the face of many years of scorn, disinterest, rejection and abject failure.
Ambition – that craving to get the thing I wanted – is what pushed me to persevere and rise above all of that. I believed – and still believe – that if you want something dearly, and work hard for it, you can eventually achieve it. I am living proof of this approach.
But at that particular time, I knew standard ambition wasn’t enough. I had to move to a total war, scorched earth approach to achieving my dreams.
So I did.
I doubled down on my ambition. This was the only way I could pick myself up from what is probably the nadir of my career so far; if I did not fight back and push on twice as hard, I would have crumpled.
This blind ambition moved me through a hard time, and made me achieve a lot. It made me dig deep and write about something real: my novel Invisible Boys was born from this process and was written in the winter of 2017.
Moreover, my blind ambition spurred me on to do more than just write. It made me get on social media and work hard at building a platform. It made me cut way back on socialising and prioritise the hustle. It made me treat my day jobs as secondary, so I was author first, worker second. It made me quit smoking, take up exercise, eat better, lose weight, push myself out of my comfort zone. It helped me get what I want and it made me increasingly happy.
As my dreams began to come to fruition, winning awards and landing a publishing contract, I started to think about where I was going.
In 2018, I wondered how I would measure success, and the best metric I had was unemployment. That is, the day I can quit my job and live off my writing full-time, I would have made it.
In both of these reflections, my only metrics for success were the continued pursuit of my dreams. On one level, I don’t really have a problem with this. In 2018, I wrote how a quote from Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece, The Alchemist, sums up my approach to life:
“No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”
In other words, if you spend your whole life trying to become a successful writer, but never achieve fame and fortune, you’ll still have a happy heart and a fucking awesome life, because you spent all your time doing what makes you joyous: writing.
The paragraph above is ripped word-for-word from my 2018 post, and still sums up how I feel. So, I guess I’m still blindly ambitious, although perhaps I’m using that term too liberally. Some people would interpret blind ambition as compromising your values to get what you want, stabbing people in the back and walking over their corpses to climb a career ladder, shouting “don’t you know who I am?” – that kind of shit. I haven’t done that, ever. (Well, okay, I have said the last one, but only as a joke, I swear!)
And while I’ll continue to be ambitious, something cropped up recently that made me think more deeply about what I want.
It started when I interviewed Natasha Lester at Perth Festival in February, and she talked about becoming a New York Times bestselling author. When her publicist said, “you can check that off your bucket list”, Natasha replied that she had never had it on there in the first place. (In a bit of a boss move, however, she did then jot it down and cross it off, just so she could say she had – ha!)
That interview drew my attention to the idea of a bucket list – the list of things you want to do before you die. Then, a few months later, I was filling out a player profile for my AFL 9s team, The Perth Hornets – a social media “get to know your player” thing. One of the questions was “what’s your top bucket list item?”
Well, I don’t have a bucket list, I thought. I just want to make a living from writing.
But that goal begged a question: before I die, how do I want to live? What would I actually do with that full-time writer living if I achieved it?
My worker bee response to this was this: keep writing.
And this is where I discovered the downside of blind ambition. For all the success this approach has yielded, it has also left me stunted in my focus. I am a blinkered thoroughbred horse and I cannot see anything but the finish line of this enormous race I trained myself for.
On my player profile, I wrote my top bucket list item as:
“Owning some rural land with my dream ute and dirt bike – that’s it!”
Not super exciting, but it was my first, unfettered response, so I wrote it and moved on with my day.
But then a couple of things happened that brought my own mortality sharply into focus.
Firstly, my uncle died, far too young. He was a good man, and I care deeply about him and his family. I returned home to see my relatives, and attend his funeral. I delivered the eulogy, and as I rehearsed it, I was struck by how contented my uncle was with his life. Not only was he a kind, gentle and good-natured man – he was content. He worked hard as a bricklayer to provide for his family, but also to provide for himself. He enjoyed his life. He was at his happiest sitting on the balcony of the dream house he built for himself and his family, having his morning coffee and overlooking the spectacular cobalt blue of the Indian Ocean.
The second thing that happened was that I was in a car accident a few days ago.
It was, thankfully, not fatal. My car was stationary at the back of a long line of traffic on the freeway at peak hour, and the car behind me just didn’t stop – he ploughed directly into my Commodore and smashed it beyond repair – it’s a write-off. I was in shock and apparently responding quite slowly to paramedics and had back pain and whiplash, so I was taken to hospital by ambulance and wasn’t allowed to move my head or neck or spine for hours until they had done scans.
According to the X-rays, nothing was broken. I was released to go home and heal my back – which would be sore and stiff for a while, they said – and to take care of myself mentally and emotionally – which is expected to take longer. But all things considered, I appear to be okay. Hopefully there won’t be any long term impacts.
When we left the hospital, my husband (author Raphael Farmer) asked me if I’d had any revelations. Had the accident made me see life differently? I was alive, but that was pure luck: if the other car had been going faster, that might have been the end of me.
When I imagine my death, I see myself very old and grey, in bed with Raphael, and we both die in our sleep at the same time, peacefully and never having to mourn the other. This is what I hope for. But that night, had things gone worse, my death might have been in the twisted metal of a Holden Commodore on my way home from having San Churros with a mate, my last thought about how frustrating peak-hour traffic is on the Mitchell Freeway.
To say this was merely sobering is the same as saying 2020 has been just been a little challenging.
I told Raphael that no, I hadn’t had any great shake-up in terms of my life direction. Laying on that stretcher, I realised I am already living the life I want, which is reassuring. I have a husband I love, and who loves me; I have a fulfilling career as a writer; I have hobbies and pastimes and sports I enjoy and family and mates whose company I value.
Unexpectedly, the first thing I said to my husband was about a material desire: “I’m going to finally buy my ute.”
Maybe it’s dumb, but because I don’t come from money, and writing is rarely lucrative, I always knew I could have either the dream or the material possessions, but not both.
Blind ambition meant it was an easy sacrifice to make: the dream comes first.
But there are consequences to this way of living. I don’t spend money on my house: I live in a cheap rental in a cheap suburb and I don’t remember the last time I bought any furniture for it. I don’t spend money on my car: I drive (or drove) a cheap sixteen-year-old sedan. I don’t spend money on anything: for years, I haven’t replaced our broken washing machine, or our broken second-hand mattress that hurts our backs every night, or my ancient laptop which is so painfully slow I want to scream and throw it against the wall every time I use it. And so on, and so forth.
It always seemed like a worthwhile trade. Short-term pain for long-term gain. To some extent, it has made my achievements as a writer possible, so I don’t regret that.
But what if achieving a sustainable career as a writer takes another five, ten, twenty years? Would it be worth living a hindered, shitty quality of life for that long if it meant getting more novels published?
Before my uncle passed away, and before my car accident, I would have said yes.
Now, my answer is no.
I’ve been thinking more about how I want to live. Not my goals, but how I spend my day to day life.
So this is what I want, long term. I want to live with my husband on a bit of land – a good few acres, somewhere semi-rural, but close enough to the amenities of the city, where I can write from a writing den in my house and travel to the city/further afield for appearances and gigs. On said land, I’d like to have a dirt bike to ride around on, and I’d love to have my dream ute (a Holden SSV or Maloo).
That’s my bucket list. Everything else is gravy.
The house and land will take time to achieve – and the dirt bike is an extravagant toy.
But since I need a new car now anyway – dammit, I’m gonna get a ute. I’ve wanted once since 2007. It’s unrelated to any sense of achievement. It doesn’t help my career. I just want it for me. I’ve been busting my arse working since I was seven. I think it’s time I got something nice for myself.
I’m gonna find a way to get a new mattress, and washing machine, and laptop, too. Chasing dreams is not pleasurable if I’m running the whole way with holes in my shoes.
I will always be ambitious and hardworking, but the time for unadulterated, blind ambition is, for me, over.
I’ve always been a country boy who wants far more from life than he was ever poised to inherit organically. I still want to achieve big things before I die. I still want to scale this mountain.
But now I’m looking forward to seeing, feeling and enjoying the climb, too.
There was no way I was going to miss posting a reflective message about the end of a whole goddamn decade. 🥳🥳
I chose these two photos to juxtapose because they exhibit the positive change a decade has wrought on me. 😁😁
The biggest change is not on the outside, but within.
The 2009 me on the left is smiling, but he has no confidence, no self-esteem and loathes himself most days. He thinks he’s not good enough. He cares what others think so much that he lets their opinions shadow, plague and dictate his own self-talk, words, and life. 😔😔
The 2019 me on the right looks a bit aggro, but he is confident, assertive and likes the bloke he’s become. He knows he is good enough just as he is. He is the captain and master of his own self-talk, words and life: he is his own. He also looks really fucken buff here. 💪💪
What a metamorphic, Saturn-Returny decade it’s been. 🤩🤩
And hell, what a wild year 2019 has been – marrying my beautiful husband Raphael Farmer and my debut novel, Invisible Boys, being released were the highlights. 😍😍 Thanx heaps to each of you for being a part of this massive year. Your messages, reviews and photos this past few months have made my heart incredibly full. Thanx for supporting (and sometimes tolerating) me, my book, my writing, my penchant for talking about my dick, my entirely healthy obsession with Alanis Morissette, my Witcher song singing, my runaway ego and my neuroses, and my shameless shirtless gym selfies. 😜😜😅😅
And here’s to the Roaring Twenties 2: Electric Boogaloo. Although sequels are usually worse, let us embrace the next decade with the same foolish optimism that I embraced Jumanji: The Next Level. It could be awesome, who knows? We should experience it first and decide later, right? 🤷♂️🤷♂️
May this new year and decade bring you each growth, comfort, strength, opportunity, fucktons of fun, challenges, solutions, liberation, balance, and most of all, the doggedness and determination needed to build and live whatever kind of life you want. It’s yours and we don’t live on this planet for very long, so go on and do what you want before it’s too late. 🤘🤘🤘
So, this weekend, a bookseller from Dymocks Busselton sent me a photo of two chefs on stilts reading my novel at the Manjimup Cherry Harmony Festival.
I cracked up laughing, because I had no context for this image and it seemed like the most random thing I’ve come across in this book’s promo cycle so far. (Sidebar: the bookseller has since told me there was absolutely no context for this photo, she just took it because she thought it would be a cool pic – so that’s even funnier to me.)
Anyway, yesterday, for some reason, this image stirred up an idea. I remembered how one reviewer had mentioned the role food plays in the book. I also hadn’t written anything creatively for three months, since I’ve been so hectic with touring and promo. Apparently a day and a half was enough rest time to have recharged my creative batteries a little: I was eager to write something creative and fun, and I churned this piece out: a menu based on the culinary dishes that feature in the book.
If there’s anything more random than the photo of the chefs on stilts reading Invisible Boys, it’s probably this blog post. But I had fun writing it and it was a great way to reflect on my novel and also ease back into writing creatively again.
Happy reading – or bon appetit!
INVISIBLE BOYS: THE MENU
Anna Calogero’s Traditional Sicilian Potato Salad
How dare those Skips try to put mayonnaise in a goddamn potato salad? This traditional dish is the same Italian recipe handed down by the women in your family since the 1930s and it is not going to change now just because of some Aussie tart pushing her way into your family. This refreshing salad includes peas, red onions and eight litres of olive oil. A versatile dish, it will simultaneously please the palate and, when paired with a hearty spray of Lynx Africa, can competently mask the odour of unexpected bodily fluids in the kitchen bin.
Charlie Roth’s Gummy Shark & Chips
This simple, classic Aussie favourite doesn’t need cutlery or crockery, much in the same way that you don’t need anyone else in your life because they’re all phonies anyway so fuck ‘em. Salty and satisfying, this dish is perfect for hot February nights on the Geraldton foreshore before you dip into the Indian Ocean for a swim, or lurk by the wharf to cruise men for anonymous sex.
Natalie Wright’s Tiramisu
So your Italian mother-in-law hates you, but that’s no reason to stop trying to change her mind. Instead of bringing around your usual pavlova, spice things up by making your own version of the one dessert she prides herself on. Moist, creamy and soaked in liqueur, it definitely won’t trigger her defensive tendencies or remind her of how you’ve swanned in and usurped all influence over her son. Buon appetito!
Matt Jones’s BBQ Snags
Who says the gays need to be known for delicate baked goods and effete brunches? Be true to you and embrace your retrosexual masculinity by treating your Valentine’s Day date to a hearty slab of your meat. Best cooked with plenty of ventilation to ensure just the right amount of smoky barbequed richness. Pairs well with a Bushchook or eight. For added Northampton flair, surprise your beau with snags made of native Aussie meat and wait to see how long it takes him to notice.
Zeke Calogero’s Gnocchi in Traditional Sugo
Perhaps these potatoes wanted to end their lives rolled into lumpy gnocchi, perhaps they would have preferred to be French fries, but the existential anthropomorphism you try to project onto them doesn’t detract from how deliciously filling they are in your belly. A staple of the Sicilian peasant diet, these hearty dumplings are enriched by a homemade Italian tomato sauce: just because you can’t squeeze a drop of goddamn empathy out of your rigid Catholic parents, doesn’t mean you can’t squeeze some ripe tomatoes to form a zesty and herby condiment. Bellissimo!
Kade “Hammer” Hammersmith’s Onion Rings á la Bilby’s Burgers
Nothing says “self-sabotage” like interrupting your closely-monitored diet of protein shakes, creatine and BCAAs with a greasy post-footy feed from Bilby’s Burgers. Whether you’re dining in or sequestering a lover away in your brother’s ute, these crunchy, beer-battered onion rings are the perfect, masculine accompaniment to your 100% Aussie Beef burger from Bilby’s. Do your best not to tell your date how you wonder if your dick would fit through the middle of the onion rings. Best served with aioli, or any other salty white sauce.
(PS. Did you really think this post wouldn’t end up where it did? :P)
I wrote Invisible Boys because I wanted to show the world that boys and men suffer, and how our suffering shows up in various ways.
Sometimes our suffering makes us small and quiet and self-loathing, like Zeke.
Sometimes it makes us angry and confrontational, like Charlie.
Sometimes it just makes us seem like arrogant “dickheads”, as many people have described Hammer.
In almost all cases, however, men and boys suffer with one almost universal commonality: we usually do it in silence.
This silence is killing us. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 40. We’re taking our own lives at a rate TRIPLE that of females, and this stat has not budged for AGES.
We don’t open up and say how we’re feeling, and I am convinced, in my bones, that if we gave ourselves permission to be vulnerable, and boldly tackle what’s going on inside, we would help ourselves to suffer less.
I believe developing the muscles required to be vulnerable makes a man more masculine, not less. The willingness to bare our souls, to face what is within us – whether virtue or demon – makes us braver and stronger and more assertive and more powerful. And yep, more manly. 💪💪
So today let’s acknowledge that the struggle is real for men and boys all across this fucked-up planet – not just gay guys, but all guys.
And in all the earnestness of this post, let’s not forget that today really ought to be a celebration of men and our awesomeness, not just a lamenting of our issues.
So here’s to all the legendary blokes out there, being heroes and lovers and fathers and sons and brothers and soldiers and healers and leaders and artists and sportsmen and dreamers. Here’s to the blokes who are tough as nails and those who are gentle as a feather. Here’s to the slack and the ambitious, the pristine and the traumatised, the stoic and the empathetic, the passionate and the larrikin.
Here’s to us men, being what proud of what we are and working hard at what we could become. 💪💪
So pumped to share the latest chapter in my author interview series, Holden’s Heroes.
This series focuses on fellow writers from my #5amwritersclub, and this month I’m stoked to be chatting to the woman who started all the #5amwritersclub craziness here in Perth. This month’s reluctant blackmailee technically consenting participant is my friend Lana Pecherczyk – an author whose work spans multiple genres, but almost always involves sexy heroes, thrilling action and kickass heroines. Lana also describes herself as a big fan of ‘pro-caffeinating’.
Let’s dive in and find out more!
Holden’s Heroes ~ August 2019
Holden: Lana Pechercyzk, welcome to my house! Don’t mind the cans of pre-mix whisky and cola all over the patio – that’s just me failing to clean up after Alicia Tuckerman came to visit. Anyway, welcome to my crib.
Lana: Thanks for having me here, Holden. And I don’t mind a bit of mess. In my opinion, it’s a sign of a creative person. Well, at least that’s what I tell my husband!
H: I’m going to start claiming this, too – although my husband is also a creative, so we’re just screwed. Now, tell me about your writing: you write both urban fantasy and paranormal romance. What is it that attracts you to these genres, both as a reader and as a writer?
L: The action, the magic, the romance. Basically, it’s those three things that you’ll find in most of my work. I’ve always been a huge fan of the paranormal, and if I have to pick a movie to watch, it’s always got to have heart pounding action and suspense. When I grew up, firstly, I didn’t have a TV for many years, so I lived through the character’s lives in books. As I got older, we had a TV, but I had to share it with five other kids. In the end, I preferred the adventures in my books.
H: I’m hearing you about the growing up with lots of other kids around – why compromise when you can have the book world all to yourself, right? Speaking of, your own book world is impressive: you’re incredibly prolific as an author – seeing how many books you’ve already published is absolutely staggering and also makes me want to weep with envy as a fellow author. What’s your secret?
L: Well, I wasn’t always a prolific writer. It took me three years to write my first book, and I redrafted it eleven times. With every book, I get faster and better. The secret is to keep going. Don’t look back. As Nora Roberts said, “You can fix anything but a blank page.” So keep writing.
H: Maybe a more pragmatic question for me to ask should be what’s your process that enables you to achieve such a great rate of output?
L: Don’t freak out and don’t read your reviews. After the first novel, I freaked out. I thought it would fly off the shelves. I thought everyone would LOVE IT! Of course, it dribbled off the shelves. I took it hard and spent the next two years not writing anything!
Then I met some amazing authors at RWA (Romance Writers of Australia) and learned that’s just the writing business. Most authors in Australia make a poor income. If I wanted to actually make more money, I had to push myself. Treat the writing as a business, and turn up Monday to Friday, nine to five. I block my writing in a schedule (I don’t always keep it, but I try) and I put that schedule up on the wall where I’ll see it daily. I also have some great friends who push me and encourage me. I think you’re familiar with the #5amwritersclub on Twitter, Holden 😉
H: I am indeed – in fact, we’re both part of the club, though let’s face it, we don’t always wake up on time. What made you join the club, and what made you stay?
L: I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but I think I was one of the first in Perth to use the hashtag (in relation to our little group).
H: I was aware you were one of the early adopters, but I didn’t know you were the one to blame for all the early starts I’ve inflicted upon myself this past 18 months, ha!
L: I was on one of my writing binges (deadline looming) and was a bit lonely that time of morning. I got up early to beat my kids before they wake for the day, used the hashtag (when I should have been writing) and Louise Allan was up and noticed. She joined in and then we found more Perthites, and more. Don’t you just love social media?
H: I remember you all ganging up on me and saying I had to join you. I have to be honest – I really didn’t want to. I felt like waking up at 5am would be hideous. But when I saw how many of you there were I was like “these could be my people”. And the desire to find my tribe was stronger than the desire to sleep in. I don’t regret this at all, now, even if I struggle to check in all the time.
L: I must admit, that lately I’ve been drowning a bit in other jobs and responsibilities, so getting to the group isn’t always easy, but that’s the great thing about the friendly group of writers… you can just drop in any time, and everyone is very welcoming. Find your tribe! And if you can’t, jump onto someone else’s. Another great hashtag on Twitter is #amwriting.
H: Finding your tribe needs to be one of the things we tell other writers more often, I reckon! Okay, let’s talk about your Paranormal Romance series, The Deadly Seven. You’ve released three books in this series already, as well as a novella. What was the inspiration for this book series, and what can readers expect next?
L: This is the first series I’ve gone, you know what? I actually LOVE superheroes, and I LOVE romance! I wish there was story behind Lois Lane and Clark Kent. You watch the movies, and you see the pivotal influence the love interest has on these heroes, but we never really give credence to it. That’s what I wanted to do. And I amplified it tenfold in TheDeadly Seven.
The inspiration for the type of heroes came from the words “deadly sin” and I just thought one day, wouldn’t it be funny if they were actually deadly? Then that sparked the entire series plot around genetically modified heroes who are created to defeat deadly sin in the crime drenched cities.
Usually I get my ideas from songs, believe it or not, so this was a bit different.
H: I really love your inspiration about them being *actually* deadly – what a cool concept. I think there’s a perception that Paranormal Romance refers solely to Twilight and vampire stories of that ilk. Have you come up against pre-conceived notions of your genre previously and how do you tackle this?
L: I have a bad habit of writing between the genres. I don’t stick solely to one, and it’s hard to market my work. But I swear I’m getting better at this with each series. I think you get these sort of confusing comments from readers when you haven’t marketed your book in the correct genre, and you haven’t managed expectations. It’s important to let readers know in the blurb, and with your cover, what story they’ll be reading. I’m very clear that my new series is a superhero romance, so that I don’t get any hardcore superhero fans reading it and complaining that there’s kissing scenes in there. Lol.
H: I’m thinking of that moment in The Princess Bride. Is this a kissing book?
L: If you do get some strange comments, then I think it’s important to take a look at your branding, and work out whether you were throwing out a mixed message. If you’re clear, then, my advice is to ignore it. Sometimes haters just gonna hate.
H: Agree. The other main genre you write in is you also write Urban Fantasy, with your The Game of Gods What’s the best part about writing fun, action-driven stories like these and how does it differ from your romance novels? Less kissing?
L: Okay, so both my series have crazy amounts of action in them. The difference with the romance ones is that they spend a little more time on the relationship. When I write and read these scenes, I feel as though I’m in the thick of the action. My brain fires better! If only I could have that amount of clarity all day.
I actually find fight scenes and love scenes don’t differ too much. When you drill down to the basic core reasons for these scenes, you find the best fight and love scenes both get your heart racing, both should only be in the story if they move the plot forward, and both have crazy amounts of tension, and both start with characters wanting two very different things. It’s just a different kind of battle *winky winky*.
H: Battle … now there’s a new euphemism for me to use for it, haha. You also have another book out called Robin Lockslay, which is described as a fun, gender-bending twist on the evergreen Robin Hood story. I’ve noticed the enormous popularity of fairytale retellings over this past decade. What’s the appeal of revisiting these very old stories and giving them a modern twist?
L: This was so much fun to write and I will get back to it. I’ve been getting rapped over the knuckles by a writer friend who’s helping me stay on one genre track. Fairytale retellings are not only a familiar story for the reader, but familiar for the writer. You’ve got a guideline to follow, and creating characters and plots completely from scratch isn’t needed. The story comes easier.
H: There’s also that concept of having an pre-prepared audience: if people like that particular fairytale, they’re more likely to pick it up, right?
L: Readers like to relive their favourite characters over and over. I think that’s the beauty of retellings. You get to do it all again, but a little bit different.
H: You’ve been incredibly prolific and are having a lot of success as an indie author. What’s it like being an indie author and how do you manage your time between creative practice and admin and marketing duties?
L: Aw thanks. I wish I was super successful money wise, but I think I’m on the right track. As long as I keep consistently putting out work, I’ll build a loyal readership. With managing my time, I’ve learned by trial and error. Always learn! Never believe you know everything. The writer that does that will be the writer to fail.
I’ve learned about my own process. I know that if I stop, get distracted, or don’t have a deadline … I just find other things to fill my time. So, I block in my writing first. Then I limit myself to only a certain amount of freelance or book cover design hours a day. Getting out of the house, and away from the internet and design computer has been the best tip I’ve received to keep my writing on track. I like to go to a cafe, sit in the same booth, put my headphones in and listen to the same piano music of pop songs, and then write. When I don’t get out of the house and go to writing “work”, I inevitably get distracted.
H: Distraction is the devil! But some distractions – like socialising with other writers – can be beneficial. You’ve previously been involved with the Romance Writers’ Association of Australia in a committee role, and recently went to their annual conference in Melbourne. Tell me, what is the importance of writing organisations like the RWA and how has being involved helped you?
L: RWA helped me find my tribe. Writing is a solitary gig. It’s lonely and also one of the industries where you really need that feedback from peers – even if it’s a friendly bit of encouragement. And writers love to talk about writing. I don’t know about you, but I find that my non-writer friends (and family) quickly became fatigued with all my writing talk when I first started.
H: Oh man, yes, this exactly. I used to talk about my writing to my non-writer mates and family and a small few of them would listen, but most would look at me like, ‘Shut up. I don’t care.’ And it’s true. They really, really don’t care and most of them don’t get why we want or need to talk about it. And yet we listen to them talk about their jobs, but hey, that’s a bitter tangent for another day, haha.
L: But your writer friends will listen to you drivel on and on FOREVER! It’s amazing.
H: Agree. Tribe stuff again.
L: When I first joined RWA, I didn’t know anyone (naturally) so I put up my hand to volunteer. It’s the best way to network, be helpful and to learn from the best. I highly recommend it. You only need to write romantic elements to become a member. You don’t have to write full on romance. The organisation is open to many people.
Plus, if you meet a group of friends, it’s a business meeting and you can claim it on tax. True story. (Insert witty reference to consulting your accountant for official advice here!)
H: Consult your accountant for accurate tax advice, please, readers! So, Lana, we’ve so far talked about your writing, but you also work as an illustrator and design your own book covers. I love your covers, not just because they feature hot guys, but because the artwork is really damn cool. Did you study drawing or is this something you’ve nurtured yourself? Do you do commissions, or just prefer to draw for yourself?
L: The hot guys really make it! Would you believe I still get embarrassed when I create them? I can’t believe I write romance sometimes! Lol.
Here’s a story for you. When I studied Fine Art and Fashion Design (these are just a few of the subjects I studied when I should have been writing), and I had a nude life drawing class, I would leave the butts for last. They had to be perfect every time! My teacher would always give me stick for it, and I never even knew I was doing that until he pointed it out in front of the whole class. “Lana, why do you save the butts for last?”
H: You have no idea how happy I am that we’ve ended up talking about butts, Lana. This is totally on-brand for me.
L: Anyway… that’s enough about butts. Yes, I studied art. I never believed I was good enough to write. That little voice inside me said I had to be a fantastic literaty (see? I don’t even know the right word there), but eventually I gave it a shot, and I discovered a huge factor in successful writing – it’s not always about the words, but the feelings.
H: Totally agree – I’m personally drawn to writing that evokes emotions effectively rather than writing that is technically beautiful and literary but doesn’t move me. Speaking of being moved by things, your bio paraphrases the English theme song of Sailor Moon, which is just awesome. Are you a big fan of Sailor Moon and has this or other anime influenced your writing?
L: Sailor Moon is my boo! She got me through the tough times of my mother and grandfather passing away when I was younger. She fights for love and justice. As a young girl growing up, I think it was important to see a good female role model. She was the kick-ass savior, not the man (Tuxedo Mask), although he does make a gratuitous appearance every episode to give her a little bit of supportive encouragement. Lol. As you can see, big Sailor Moon fan. I also loved many of the old school anime.
H: I feel you and my husband would get along well – he’s a big Sailor Moon fan. I used to dig it too, back in the day. Now, the first time we met in real life was at the West Coast Fiction Festival in November last year. What do you enjoy about days like that when you get to meet readers face to face and sign their books?
L: I love chatting to people, readers and writers. These events are great for meeting both. There’s nothing like talking to a reader who loves your book. It gives you a real boost, and sometimes, just one letter or email, can give you the fuel to write for weeks. I think these events are just as much about the readers as the writers. And I loved meeting you! You have such energy, I’m sure you’ll be the life of your book signings this year!
H: You’re too kind. *bounces off the walls* I can’t wait to have people read my book and actually tell me what they enjoyed. How about you – what’s your favourite thing that someone has said about one of your books?
L: Ooh, that’s a tough one. I love it when they say they couldn’t sleep because they had to stay up and read to find out what happened next, and next, and next! I also love it when they fall in love with my heroes. That means I’ve done my job to make them realistic and full of depth. To be honest, I love it when any reader contacts me. I’m lucky that I haven’t had the dreaded author hate mail yet, so fingers crossed I stay away from that.
H: Long may your inbox remain hater-free. So what are you working on next?
L: I’m currently working on my fourth book in my Deadly Seven series. It’s called Sloth and focuses on one of the two female heroes of the group. Being so heavily dominated by men, she’s dealing with a lot of self-pressure to perform at their level. I love to layer in real topics through my books, so it’s not all smash, grabs and stabs. And of course, being affected by the sin of sloth is another battle she has to win. I have eight books in this series planned, all about 70-80K words. Hopefully I’ll get the rest out next year.
H: I am seriously so impressed with how quickly you can write!
L: I’m also polishing a romantic comedy called Hate Expectations. It’s something I wrote a few years back when I was confused over what genre to target. Rather than letting it sit in the drawer, I’m going to get it ready to see the world. That’s the beauty of indie publishing!
H: Yes, it really is. Trad publishing is far more glacial – even once a manuscript is accepted for publication, it can be 12-24 months before it hits the shelves. Indie publishing gives you more control in that respect. Okay, we’re down to my final question: what advice would you give to new writers who are just starting on their journey?
L: Don’t read your reviews. I think I mentioned this before, but if you’re the kind of person who is affected by reviews, don’t read them. It’s an irrational thing for me. I know sometimes the review is wonderful, I still have trouble distancing myself from my story. I can’t explain it, but I know that I get massive imposter syndrome, and self doubt. So, for me, the easiest thing is to just stay away from that section of Amazon and Goodreads.
H: I’ve heard this from so many authors – to stay away from Goodreads – but I don’t think anyone has managed to do it successfully yet. Not entirely, anyway.
L: The second thing is: the minute you finish one book, write the next book. Don’t stop to market it. Do the marketing while you’re writing the next book. The longer you wait between books, the harder it is to get back into it.
Thirdly, hire an editor. If you’re just starting out, hire an editor to whip that first manuscript into shape. Every time I think I’ve written the best book, my editor will come up with ten ways to make it better (often more!) You learn better when you hae an editor, and unless you’re JK Rowling, you can always learn to be better. (Her name is Ann Harth, and she’s currently open to new business. Look her up!)
H: Solid advice – all authors need our editors to not just save our arses from rogue typos, but also craft our narratives into more compelling stories. Lana Pecherczyk, thanks for coming over to my place – it was awesome to get to know you better. Care for a drink or two?
L: Oooh, don’t mind if I do.
H: What’s your poison?
L: I’ll have the Diet Coke, thanks. And maybe a gin on the quiet, but not Coke and gin together. That’s gross.
H: I’ll keep your cheeky gin quiet. It’s just between you and me, and all the people on the Internet reading this, haha. ^_^
L: Thanks for having me, Holden. I love your work and enthusiasm. I think you’ll do amazing things with that attitude and I wish you all the best.
H: Ah, cheers bud. Means a lot and I’m really touched. Thanks for agreeing to the chat!
L: Next time you can come to my place. Just watch the land mines from the dog, and lost Lego from the kids. Peace out!
H: Floor lego! My old nemesis!
~ Social Media Links ~
I hope you enjoyed this interview with the lovely Lana Pecherczyk. She’s a force to be reckoned with in the world of Aussie paranormal romance, and she’s great to interact with on the socials, so here’s where you can give her a like and a follow:
Just came across this blog post from one of the Year 12 students I met in June at my old high school. She wants to be a writer too and seeing this post totally made my day, so I wanted to share it!
Good morning, afternoon, evening or whatever time you read this dear reader.
Guess what! I met a real life author! I mean you probably did if you were in the same room as me last Friday.
The imageabove is a lovely photoofformer Nagle student,award winning and soon to be published author, Holden Sheppard,and yours truly, me.
Holden’s novel,InvisibleBoysis described as “a punch in the face”. Which seems appropriate. I won’t give any spoilers, but the book describes the inner turmoil, struggles, and dilemmas of three youngmen in rural Australia as they come to terms with their identity in the society which demonises them.The content is unique with a letter seeping into the narrative of the chapters and a mystery revealed at the end. A book launch is happening on the 29thof October at theGeraldtonRegional…
So pumped to share the latest installment in my blog interview series, Holden’s Heroes.
Firstly, I should mention that sometimes I get overwhelmed by simple things in life. This has led to me developing habits like responding to text messages five days later as if nothing has happened and it’s only been five minutes. For today’s post, I’ve decided to take the same approach. It’s been a few months since I posted my last Holden’s Heroes interview, and I’m just gonna strut back in here with my Oakley sunnies on and my shirt collar popped and a cigarette dangling from my gob and act like that’s what I planned to do all along. Okay? Sweet as.
So, this interview series focuses on fellow writers, and I’ve spent 2019 chatting with members of my #5amwritersclub. This month’s terrified abductee legally willing participant is my mate Alicia Tuckerman – a talented YA author, talented mother and talented lesbian (I’ll take her word for it) who is also a raging coffee addict and dad joke enthusiast. Let’s dive in and find out more!
Holden’s Heroes ~ July 2019
Holden: Alicia Tuckerman, welcome to my house! Um, look, first up, sorry about the mess … there is seriously just crap everywhere. In fact, I probably haven’t cleaned properly since Raihanaty A. Jalil came to visit … looks like the dregs of our peppermint tea is still in the bottom of those tea cups, ecch. I’d like to say I usually clean for guests, but I’d be lying.
Alicia: That’s alright mate! I had all my booster shots when the kids were small!
H: Booster shots? You underestimate the biohazard that is my house, I’m afraid … but please, make yourself comfortable. Okay, let’s jump in. You’ve had so much going on lately, I almost don’t know where to begin! I’ve really been enjoying your guest blogs for Margaret River Press during July. What have you enjoyed about that process, and is blogging something you have done on a regular basis previously?
A: I’ve had my Facebook page going for a couple of years now and while the posts aren’t typically “blogs” they do have that feel about them. Where I really just monologue about random stuff! I’ve really loved the opportunity to write for a different audience with the MRP blogs. The idea that other authors and writers would be able to relate to anything I have to say still blows my mind. I have to admit that the weekly deadlines have not been my favourite thing and I’ve seen a couple go rushing by, but I’ve really enjoyed it.
H: In your latest blog post, you referenced that famous Douglas Adams quote about loving the sound deadlines make as they go rushing by … I think we can both relate, ha! I believe the MRP guest blogging gig came about because your short story “Glass” is appearing in an upcoming anthology they are putting out later this year. “Glass” is a really moving short story and I feel privileged to have had the chance to read an early version of it. Can you talk about this story – what’s it about, and what was the inspiration?
A: Writing a short story was so ridiculously hard! And I tried really hard to not write “Glass”. I had a few different ideas and I tried to write those stories and they were good stories but Glass… well, it just wouldn’t bloody leave me alone. Pass the chips would ya?
H: As long as you don’t eat the last ones, or I’ll have a food tantrum. There ya go, enjoy the Doritos. And please, go on.
A: “Glass” demanded to be written and so the day before the deadline I gave in and it just fell out of me. “Glass” is kind of a break-up story and I didn’t want to write it because I went through one myself recently and I was worried people would assume the story was mine. It’s a story about what happens after a break up, when everything is so raw and fresh and jagged. When you’re terrified about what comes next but you can’t stay where you are and you’re learning what it is to heal. It explores that moment you start believing that maybe one day you won’t feel so broken and you might even be whole again.
H: That’s intense, and dealing with an adult break up is quite different to say, dealing with YA relationships like those in your first published novel, If I Tell You. Glass is probably more pitched at an adult audience. Was there any shift in your writing process, or thinking process, when you crafted “Glass”?
A: As I said, I had a few other stories that I was going with for the MRP collection and they were YA or New Adult stories. And I had wanted to write those (and who knows maybe I will turn them into something). But “Glass” had other ideas and once I stopped fighting the words, they just came and I didn’t really have to do much at all! I wish it was always that easy. Maybe I should give an adult novel a crack?
H: If by adult novel you mean full-blown erotica, I’m down for that. I’d also be okay with a grown-up contemporary fiction, which is more likely what you actually meant. Speaking of being a grown-up, I recently saw you on stage at the Centre for Stories interviewing YA author Mark Smith. Your delivery was so funny and perfectly timed and it definitely got the audience on side.
A: You’re being kind mate! I reckon I tanked so bad at that event! But thanks for boosting my ego.
H: You totally didn’t … this is one of those “writers are their own worst critic” scenarios. Are panels and public speaking gigs like this something you’d like to do more of in the future?
A: Yeah for sure! You know I love to talk and I love the chance to talk about things I’m really passionate about. You and I have an event later in the year at Crow Books and I’m doing a gig with your better half, Raphael, in October talking about the books that changed our lives. And really I’d love to do heaps more speaking gigs for sure! So anyone reading this—hit me up!
H: Go ahead people and book her, she’s stellar. Alicia, speaking of things that are stellar (my segue skills are off the charts today), let’s talk about your debut novel If I Tell You (Pantera Press, 2018). You’ve received some amazing reviews for this book, and it was even shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards. Congratulations! What does it mean to get such recognition?
A: It’s so wild! And unbelievable to be shortlisted. To go into the State Library and see a sticker on my book was a dream come true. And whilst I didn’t take it out, it was an honour to be named alongside the other amazing shortlistees. Renee Pettitt-Schipp’s book was so poignant and a very deserving winner.
H: Absolutely, huge congrats to Renee – great recognition of her book and as I said, the shortlisting itself is a real achievement for If I Tell You. Your novel was one of my favourite novels of 2018 and I talk about it a lot, just so you know. This is a bit of a Sophie’s Choice thing to ask, but who were your favourite characters in the book? For the record, I had a crush on Justin (but only in the early parts of the book), and found Lin to be the funniest part of the book.
A: Well Justin’s a hot guy (so I’m told)!
H: He is. I like my bogan boys.
A: And despite his … opinions … he’s not a bad guy. That was important to me, that he wasn’t completely irredeemable.
H: Yeah, I really liked this – there was nuance to Justin, even if he was a bit of a douche at times.
A: But I loved them all, they lived inside my head for ten years and that makes me sound like a crazy person but sometimes I miss them a little bit now they’re out in the big wide world on their own. And of course I have big soft spots for Alex and Phoenix and their love story but one my favourite characters to write was definitely Lin.
H: Yesss. I am a big Lin fan club member. Lin for PM.
A: I think everyone needs a mate like Lin, who will defend you to the end but also tell you when you’re being a dick. I also really loved Alex’s Dad, Andrew and Gilly and Van… And I think I’ve mentioned them all now which was probably not the point of the question!
H: Um, yeah, you’re kind of cheating now, but I’ll roll with it because hell, we make the rules here. Tell me, what’s your favourite thing that someone has said to you about If I Tell You?
A: I love a good ego boost as much as anyone. I love hearing anything good about my book, that someone has enjoyed something that came from my head and heart. But what really gets me in the feels is when someone goes out of their way to message me and tell me that my book has helped them or that they have seen themselves in my book. I’ve had so many messages from young people who are struggling with their identity who have said that my words have given them strength and that’s more than I ever dreamed of.
H: I totally get that. It’s what we hope for when we send these hyper-personal stories out into the world.
A: There’s this one message that sticks with me from a girl who contacted me on Instagram after Sydney Writers Festival last year. She’d come to hear my panel and she had my book with her and wanted me to sign it but she was with her mum and she was too afraid to come over to me in case her mum made some sort of connection between me and her. Because I wear my identity on the outside. Then she messaged me again a few months later to say she’d come out and everything was okay. Not great but okay—and sometimes okay is enough. It’s a start. And that, that right there really is enough to make up for my one star reviews or people not getting it. If I can help one person feel better, to be brave when they don’t know what is waiting for them after the fall, then I’m happy.
H: That’s unreal – this shit changes lives. You’re right to feel special about that. Okay, let’s shift gears, because I know you’re working on a second novel, because we’ve both bitched and moaned over coffee this past year at how hard second novels are. Can you give us a hint of what kind of book it will be, and how it’s progressing? Apologies in advance if this question sends you into a full-blown shame spiral and/or nuclear meltdown.
A: You got anything stronger than these cans of export mate? Might need a whisky to get through this one, haha!
H: Answer the question, Tuckerman, and you can have all the whisky you desire.
A: Well, it’s safe to say it’s taken far longer than I thought it would, but it’s getting there. It’s about a sixteen year old girl learning to accept the changes and challenges in her life following a pretty brutal car accident. Before the accident she was a soccer player with dreams of playing for her country and well, now that won’t happen. It explored grief and jealousy and the idea of participation. The idea of not needing to be the best at something to be able to love it. There’s a good handful of LGBT+ characters and themes but this isn’t a “coming out” story. And there’s some love/lust thrown in for good measure, because I love writing kissing scenes! Now… where’s that whisky!?
H: Terribly sorry to pull a GLaDOS on you, but the whisky was a lie. I need you relatively sober to answer my remaining questions. One thing I’ve noticed is that you write about lesbian characters in an authentic way that is often grouped in with the #ownvoices movement. What would you love to see more of when it comes to lesbian characters being represented in literature/culture?
A: There’s no argument that If I Tell You was a coming out story. It’s a book about being young and gay in rural Australia and what that can be like. But what I hope to write more of now and see more of, are YA books about sport or crimes or drugs and sex where the characters are gay, but it’s not about being gay. Or not only about being gay.
H: Totally agree. I kind of feel like us gay authors in particular sometimes need to write the coming out story – or some version thereof – first, maybe, because we can move on to those more nuanced depictions.
A: Being gay is no different to being straight and I think people—including myself—can sometimes be attracted to the drama of a coming out story or a story about overcoming adversity because those stories allow for us as authors to really take the character on a journey. There’s a lot of scope for drama and it’s tempting to write in that space. But teenagers—gay or straight—have a whole lot of other crap going on I’d love to write about.
H: Agree. Let’s touch on process now. We are both part of the same #5amwritersclub though we’re both, uh, a little lax about attending regularly. What made you join the club, and what made you stay? Was it my constant gym selfies?
A: Hahahaha! Well, we both know that every time I see you I get a front row seat to the gun show!
H: *kisses his own biceps*
A: It’s definitely your hot bod and constant innuendo that keeps me coming back for more!
H: Innuendo? You mean in your endo. Okay, go on, we have people reading this who are probably less vapid than us. Maybe. What keeps you coming back to the #5amwritersclub?
A: I think it’s the collegiate feeling I get, even when we’re just pissing about on Twitter instead of being productive. I stay because we’re family. Up until I released If I Tell You I didn’t really have many writer mates, people who I could talk to about stuff that non-writers just wouldn’t understand in the same way. I craved that community, that connection with people—my people—to provide friendship and support and cameraderie while we all go along this crazy ride of self-loathing, rejection and a tiny bit of success.
H: More than a tiny bit, in your case! What’s something you’ve learned in the past year or two about writing that you wish you’d known before getting published?
A: I think it’s the pressure I wasn’t prepared for. Not external pressure but internal and self-imposed. See, I had my whole life to write my first book but now I’ve done it I feel I need to back it up with more books quickly so that people don’t forget who I am! There’s a lot of pressure in my head and that doesn’t lead to very good writing. So I think I need to relax a little and let it happen more organically. I’ve also learned that you can’t actually survive on coffee and zero sleep!
H: Yeah, that shit will catch up to you. I remember you talking once about how your idea for a novel was shelved for many years until you were injured and had so much time on your hands you decided to write it. Do you think that Alicia would recognise the Alicia of 2019? And I guess my biggest question: where does Alicia Tuckerman want to be five years from now, in 2024?
A: I don’t think the Alicia then is too fundamentally different to the Alicia now. I’m definitely older now and not just in years. Since then I’ve had relationships and kids, I lost both my parents. I’ve experienced heartbreak and loss but also great happiness and joy and I think the Alicia then is still the Alicia I am now, just different. But I change and grow every day, that’s what makes life interesting. As for the future, there’s a plan. In five years I’ll have finished at least another two books and Netflix will have brought them all and I’ll be living on a farm in the Swan Valley with heaps of cool outbuildings that I’ve converted into little writing retreats. My kids will be running wild and I have a pet miniature donkey called Switch [don’t ask me why Switch because I literally don’t know—that’s just his name].
H: That is … oddly specific. The donkey’s name, I mean. And the existence of the donkey at all, actually. The rest sounds relatively in line with what I might have expected in your answer.
A: Well, that’s the dream plan. Reality probably doesn’t look quite like that, but really the only plan I have is to do more of what makes me happy. Write more, spend time with my kids and people I care about.
H: Sounds solid. Okay, like a true investigative journo, I’ve saved the hardest-hitting question for last. 1990s pop group Alisha’s Attic had a hit song called “Alisha Rules the World“. Tell me honestly, have you ever listened to this song to boost yourself up before a public speaking gig?
A: Oh you know I have!
H: I KNEW it!
A: But I wish they’d spelt my name right. And it totally pumps me up, but let’s be real here, the song’s about a badass heartbreaker and I don’t think I’m fooling anyone in that regard, hahaha!
H: Alicia Tuckerman, it’s always a blast shooting the shit with ya, mate. Thanks for coming round. The whisky’s up for grabs now – wanna stay on for another drink, maybe some light spooning?
A: Sounds great, but you know I’m the big spoon!
H: Well, this conversation has taken an unfortunate turn. Maybe with some whisky in me I won’t mind being the little spoon …
~ Social Media Links ~
I hope you enjoyed this interview with the amazing Alicia Tuckerman. She’s a true talent in the YA literature space and not just fun to chat to – she’s even more fun to interact with on the socials, so here’s where you can give her a like and a follow:
I even type the word “gratitude” hastily, almost looking over my shoulder in case someone catches me doing it, because I think I was raised (socially/culturally/familially) to see this concept as a bit granola-y, you know?
Like, if I talk about feeling grateful (ecch), it’s a slippery slope to aura cleansing and essential oils and crystal therapy. From there, of course, it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to having a man bun and drinking kombucha.
Worse than that, I was scared that if I ever wrote about feeling grateful for what I have, I would lose it. It sounds superstitious to write this, and is probably a chunky insight into my shattered-glass psyche, but even now as I write this, I am scared that when I hit “publish”, the universe or God (or the therapy crystals, those malevolent fuckers!) will turn on me and take away everything good in my life.
I wasn’t raised to talk about the good things, because that’s showing off and attention seeking, and I grew up learning that pride comes before a fall. No pride, no fall, right?
However, I also wasn’t raised to talk about the bad things, because that’s dwelling on the negative and navel gazing and also, somehow, attention seeking. You just get on with it.
Sidebar: when I look at these two statements, I can only conclude that I was essentially raised not to talk.
But talk I do, now.
In any case, I think I’ve learned over the past few years – through writing my blog posts, through being more open on social media, and of course through my writing of novels and short stories – to talk about the hard stuff, the darker side, the bad shit. It’s been cathartic and revelatory and a constant undulation of learning that it’s okay, and survivable, to feel the full spectrum of human emotion.
But I don’t know if I’ve ever learned how to write about feeling good.
I realised this recently when a wave of the much-maligned gratitude smacked me in the face with the force of a tsunami, and I could barely hold it together.
It happened, of all places, at Disneyland.
This was over a month ago, when I was on my honeymoon in Europe, and we arrived in Paris for the final week of our holiday. I mentioned something to my husband about following him around France to various pop concerts of his choosing, and he suggested I should choose an activity for us while we were in Paris.
The first thing out of my mouth was, “I wanna go to Disneyland.”
This was unexpected, because Disneyland has never been on my radar. I’ve been to Paris twice before and never had any intention to visit it. In fact, in 2013 I was at the train station that takes people from Paris to the theme parks, and I remember seeing the parents with their prams and kids hanging off them like saddle bags and thinking, “That seems like actual hell on Earth.”
And to be honest, I’ve always been fairly critical of the commercial apparatus behind the Disney machine: I don’t like how that studio has taken over so much of Hollywood, how its influence and control sweeps over so many franchises. My first thought of Disneyland was the No Doubt song “Tragic Kingdom”, taken from their hit 1995 album of the same name:
Once was a magical place
Over time it was lost
Price increased the cost
Now the drawbridge
Has been lifted as the millions
They drop to their knees
They pay homage to a king
Whose dreams are buried in their minds
His tears are frozen stiff
Icicles drip from his eyes
The king being Walt Disney; his frozen tears a reference to the urban legend that he was cryogenically frozen upon his death in 1966. (Which, holy crap, I only just discovered was not actually true(!?!), but that’s a discussion for another day.)
The point was: I was a bit cynical about the Disney corporation and yet, when I was given carte blanche to choose anywhere I wanted to go in Paris, I chose Disneyland.
Because, being on my honeymoon, I was in a five-week long permanent good mood, and honestly, fuck the cynicism and shit, I just wanted to go have some fun.
So, the husband and I finally arrived at Disneyland Paris on a cool June day. As soon as we got off the RER train and walked out into the open air, I could feel the sense of excitement building in my limbs.
“I want to explore the village first, before we go into the theme park,” I said, like an absolute geek, but I just needed to know that I had walked around every square inch I was allowed to.
So we did: briefly exploring the retro restaurants and cafes and sports bars of the Disney Village like the kid who keeps his shiny collectible in the box and presses his nose to the plastic, scared to ruin the anticipation of finally opening the new toy.
And while we were still in the village, in one of the giant shops filled with Disney merchandise, the wave hit me.
It was partly the nostalgia factor of seeing so much Aladdin and The Lion King merch on display in the shop. They were the defining Disney animated films of my childhood; Aladdin was the first movie I ever saw at a cinema when I was 4 or 5. I remembered the first time I’d heard of Disneyland. Back in the days of VHS tapes, they used to have advertisements for Disneyland before and/or after the film, so in that moment in the World of Disney shop, it came flooding back.
The memory of being five years old, and seeing all these kids and families having an epic time at Disneyland, and knowing that would never be me.
It would be misleading to pretend that I grew up in some impoverished situation, because I didn’t. But I grew up in an isolated town and we weren’t the kind of family who could afford to fly overseas and go to Disneyland. So, I think I grew up learning that lots of things in life were out of reach for someone like me, and Disneyland and Europe were two of those things.
I had never realised it had imprinted on me in such a way until this moment.
So while my husband was blithely scoping out the merch, I felt a tidal wave of happiness splash over me, gently at first, almost like a fresh dew.
The wave said to me:
Sometimes, we do eventually get what we want. Isn’t it nice?
And then, suddenly, there I was, choking back tears in the Disney shop, surrounded in all directions by those stupid fucking overpriced mugs and Mickey Mouse-embossed glassware while A Whole New World played over the speakers.
Because the wave was right. It was really nice to, eventually, get something that you always wanted. It was a childlike, redemptive state to be in: that I had accessed some hitherto hidden pocket of joy that I had absolutely ruled myself out of experiencing when I was a young boy.
What a lucky doer.
I managed to contain myself, so when the husband decided he was done and we moved on to the next part of the village, I cracked jokes about how this place was so capitalist and how “moichandising” was “where the real money from the movies was made” (quoted in the voice of the character Yogurt from the 1986 parody flick Spaceballs).
But the wave wasn’t done with me yet.
As we walked, the gratitude just kept building inside me. The tidal wave was slushing through my body, a cleansing flood washing out all these other things in my life I had told myself I would never, ever have – except now, miraculously, I did have them.
I felt gratitude to be at Disneyland as a 30 year old man when I’d once believed I’d never have the chance.
I felt gratitude to be walking there, hand-in-hand with the man I love. The first time I came to Paris in 2006, I was with a man and later told myself this would be something I would never have again. I remember returning to Perth Airport after that backpacking holiday and squeezing myself back into my straight guy body, the spectral snakeskin of my old self that I would continue to wear for two years. I thought I would never get what I wanted – but now, here I was with my husband.
I felt gratitude that, after all the campaigning and trauma, I was now legally married to the bloke, something I grew up never even imagining as an option.
I felt gratitude to be in Paris, my favourite city in the world, a million miles from home.
I felt gratitude that my book had just won another award, that people were congratulating me and saying they wanted to read it, that it was actually finally getting published, when I’d been working on that dream since I was seven years old.
I felt gratitude that I was on my honeymoon and having the best five weeks of my goddamn life.
I felt so much gratitude I just wanted to get on my knees and thank God, or the universe, or the essential-oil-crystal-kombucha-auras, for letting anything this good happen to me. I didn’t feel like I deserved any of it, but I was so, so glad it was happening.
While all this was happening, my husband said he needed to pee. While he was in the toilet, I found a quiet corner at the side of a sports bar and let myself shake and cry tears of utter, unfettered joy. I had come to know pain and struggle intimately, but this feeling of being really, truly happy was brand new.
Crying finally let that tidal wave out of my body – and it swept away with it all the junk and detritus a man can build up in thirty years of hating himself, of being afraid, of thinking he will never get what he wants.
When my husband returned, I said I was ready to head into the theme park and enjoy our day at Disneyland. In fact, I decided I was ready to go on a real rollercoaster for the first time ever – something my anxiety had always held me back from until that point. But, in my freshly flooded state, I thought, “to hell with you, anxiety”.
No, more than that.
To hell with everything that ever held me back.
To hell with my own negative thoughts.
To hell with my fear that, if I’m grateful, and enjoy the moment, something will go wrong.
To hell with everything that ever stopped me just being a kid and having some fucking fun.
So I found the biggest, fastest, scariest rollercoaster there was – the famous Space Mountain, of course – and I went on it. We were seated right at the front and we hurtled through a pitch black tunnel at breakneck speed for two minutes, faster and faster, the force of the wind almost solid against our faces, the adrenaline giving me permission to shout and say the word “fuck” a lot.
And it was sick as, because with my arms strapped to my sides, there was nothing I could do but live in the moment and revel in it.