The Best Unpublished Books – Part One

From the Deep End Table – Christopher Currie

I tracked down Chris after reading an amazing story of his in Voiceworks a couple of years ago, called 1969. It was about Woodstock – the summer of love. I found his writing to be incredibly insightful, subtle, and beautiful. I was instantly a fan. Chris has been published in journals (including The Lifted Brow, One Book Many Brisbanes and forthcoming in Other Terrain), and his novella Dearly Departed was included in the book Love and Desire: Four Modern Australian Novellas.

He has just edged over 100 stories on his story-a-day blog Furious Horses – a mix of the apt, the quirky, the surreal, the poignant, the merry, and the morose. The 100th story on June 14 entitled Strange Days in July is startling.

From the Deep End Table in Chris’ words is ‘the story of Simon Sawyer, a 12 year-old boy, whose parents go missing during a driving holiday. While visiting Reception, a small tourist town on the northern NSW coast, his parents go for a walk near a local dam and, while Simon is asleep in their car, they disappear. Simon is taken in by the town’s small community and in particular the Gale family, who own a hotel by the ocean. When it becomes clear no one is the town is particularly interested in finding Simon’s parents, Simon himself must uncover not only their whereabouts, but the darkest secrets of Reception itself.’

If Chris had to classify the novel he would call it a literary mystery, in the thematic realm of some of his favourite writers: Sonya Hartnett, Murray Bail and Donna Tartt. From what I have read, it has a sense of unnerve, a deep unsettlement at the beginning. The reader is instantly drawn into the experience of the young protagonist, intrigued by the mysterious town from the start. Adding to the tone are Chris’ masterful descriptions of the miniscule things that make up the bigger picture.

The manuscript was longlisted for the 2007 Australian/Vogel literary award. An earlier version was also longlisted in 2005 for the Varuna Award for Manuscript Development (now the Pathways to Publication program), and in the same year was awarded a Queensland Writers Centre Residential Mentorship. Chris believes his style would suit publishers like Text, Allen & Unwin or Picador.

Chris sees potential readers as those who may enjoy his own favourite writers (as mentioned), but also those that enjoy good fiction in general. The novel is particularly Australian, he says ‘only in that the ache of our unique landscape endlessly fascinates me, and I hope it comes through in my writing’.

A short extract –

He closed his eyes, letting a semaphore of sun and shadow shudder across his vision. It flickered like a projector, stuttering yellow and white. He heard his mother’s voice from the front seat: her deep vowel sounds. He couldn’t understand the words, but he knew from the rhythm that she was scolding him to sit up. Simon had always thought his mother’s voice to be orange, dull but waxy: captivating, the way it slid from her mouth, just heavier than the air that supported it. Simon opened his left eye, and saw a thread of his mother’s knitted cardigan dancing on her shoulder, an unlikely aberration in the puckered seam that ran to her wrist. She turned around.

Omega Park – Amy Vought Barker

Amy and I have a virtual connection established through both having unpublished manuscripts and entering similar competitions. We have been emailing each other since the beginning of the year and will catch up at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival in July. I asked to read her manuscript and was haunted by its world, its strength, and voice for a long time afterwards.

Omega Park presents the parallel stories of 13 year old surfing prodigy Damian ‘Dingo’ Peterson, and his mate, whose death Dingo witnesses at the beginning, 17 year old Jacob Box.

The teens are neighbors and ‘Parkees’, living in a less-than-reputable rough outer suburb of the Gold Coast. Jacob’s death is blamed on the police, and Dingo himself saw them chasing Jacob at high speeds before impact. The locals begin a clash with the police, which Amy based on the riots in Redfern and Macquarie Hills in Sydney.

But the novel is about much more than these societal clashes. There are all the intricate relationships between the characters – parents with addictions, complex kids killing their time with games of spotlight, random destruction, and closeness to each other. The voices of both Dingo and Jacob are incredibly strong – I was absorbed in the world of the novel. Amy depicts the characters so masterfully that they are just like people you know. There is so much empathy for them.

The chapters about Jacob, who dies at the start of the novel, go back through his life and basically show a series of events where a smart, good-hearted kid has his innocence broken. They are beautifully written and of a soft, layered tonality. They contrast beautifully to Dingo’s chapters and the present moment in the novel. The extract below I have chosen from one of Jacob’s chapters.

First, a little more about the manuscript and Amy. She began the book in the final year of a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and finished the first draft in Peter Bishop’s residential Masterclass at Varuna in 2005. The latest draft of the novel was completed during a residency at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland. She believes comparable books include The Killing Jar by Nicola Monaghan and Luck in the Greater West by Damian McDonald. Amy says ‘Omega Park differs from existing books in the market by virtue of its unique setting: the dark underbelly of the Gold Coast, Australia’s tourist Mecca of sun, sand, surf, five star hotels and famous theme parks.’ Omega Park was shortlisted in the Varuna Awards for Manuscript Development in 2008 and the full MS has since been solicited by various Australian literary agents as well as a publisher and is currently on submission. Amy is currently working on her new novel The Fire Lily, as well as leading Remix My Lit, funded by the Australia Council.

A short extract –

It seems like a long time that Jacob waits in his room holding his breath, coughing sometimes, his eyes watering painfully as it fills with hot fat smoke. And then comes the crackling, a sound like wrapping paper on Christmas morning at his grandparents’ house, wrapping paper scrunched up into great balls after opening presents. And then the house begins to moan, the very walls, the wood beams, moaning. What world lies beyond his bedroom door he can’t imagine but he knows the world has changed and he must find out how.

(…)

And that’s when it happens. Through his stinging eyes, his sticky tears, he watches the television screen, he sees something moving, a rainbow, He has no system in which to place the phenomenon, no experience from which to draw a comparison. Jacob simply sees the rainbow and follows it. Instinctively he knows that if he stays within the path of the colour he will be safe.

As it moves away from the television set and his father, towards the kitchen window, Jacob allows himself to be drawn by it, crawling on the ground, breathing the colours in like oxygen.

As he passes by, Jacob looks to his father, propped up in the armchair in front of the television set, his head thrown back and his body perfectly still— a wax figure, slowly melting. Jacob sees that his father and the armchair are fused. Possessively, the flames are consuming them.

So hot now that Jacob feels like his blood is boiling inside his skin, he climbs out through the window and flees across the backyard, the cold wet grass soothing his feet. The Hills Hoist spinning with his father’s shirts flung out like tethered ghosts. The shrieks of buckling wood pursuing him.

The fence is high and the rainbow threatens to escape him, his shin scraping against loose wire as the rainbow rises into the air.

Livvy and Toby’s mum find him, sooty black, in striped flannel pyjamas, climbing their frangipanni tree. Behind him, the pink house burns bright, like a tiny sun fallen to earth. Their mum pulls at Jacob’s legs but he clutches a fat branch and will not let go. His face upturned, his gaze fixed beyond the sweet flowers to the stars and the planets, he begs over and over, “Wait.”

Parts Two and Three to come…

15 thoughts on “The Best Unpublished Books – Part One

  1. Artsy wankerishness comes in handy in some industries. 🙂 It’s only detrimental if you’re not actually talented. So you’re all good there Chris.

  2. Fantastic post! What a great idea… I agree wholeheartedly that Chris Currie is a most excellent writer. Definitely want to see more of his stuff in the future. Amy’s piece was great too.

  3. This is a great idea for a post! I’m so glad you introduced Chris’s blog, it looks wonderful. Your reviews are always a great read, thank you.

  4. This is a great idea for a post, in my biased opinion. ;)It’s great to get a peek at interesting books, and not have to wait for them to make it through the publishing labyrinth!

  5. I have faith they’ll make it through that labyrinth one day and get the audience they deserve 🙂 Excited to introduce LM readers to ‘The Ice Age’ next week Kirsten 🙂

  6. Have let the agent at the top of my wishlist know about this post and the upcoming ones so hopefully she’ll drop by for a visit!

  7. And all you emerging writers don’t forget to check out http://www.remixmylit.com too – it’s a good publishing opp. Emily Maguire’s flash fiction is up & Damian McDonald’s short story is about to be made available to remix. P.S. The superstar agent from Curtis Brown did visit the blog & was suitably impressed (go Ange!). She’ll be watching.

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