The Art Student and I are in Brisbane, wagging it from our Sydney lives to cheer for my niece Edwina Shaw whose book Thrill Seekers had its Australian launch at The Avid Reader last night.
I’ve blogged about the book before. It’s published by Ransom in the UK as part of their Cutting Edge series for reluctant teenage readers, and it’s pretty strong stuff. The promo on YouTube gives you some idea of its credentials to be part of something called Cutting Edge – lots of booze, drugs, sex, risk taking and rock and roll. Its final image of a wide-eyed, possibly terrified boy gives a glimpse of the book’s heart:
Though the book is grim and cutting edge, the launch was cheerful. A huge crowd crammed into Avid’s courtyard in the warm Brisbane evening (unlike Sydney, Brisbane has been having a summer) to be greeted by a slide show of Edwina and friends being young in the 80s. Jeff Cheverton, CEO of Queensland Alliance for Mental Health, kicked things off with a short talk in which he wondered aloud if Douggie, the boy in the book who is diagnosed with schizophrenia, might have had a less cruel experience if he and his friends had had a language for what was happening, and if there had been places then as there are now (though he seemed to say only two in Queensland) where young people who are losing it could go for support without being taken into the embrace of the medical model. Or words in that general direction – I didn’t take notes and I have a sieve for a memory.
Venero Armanno gave an elegant launch speech. He was at pains to say that while a great strength of the book is that it draws on the writer’s experience, it would be a mistake to see it as biographical, and especially so to see the alcoholic mother of the novel’s dangerously acting-out teenagers as in any way representing the author’s mother. The possibility of readers’ leaping to such an assumption has caused a lot of grief during the book’s long gestation, so the clarification was welcome. All the same, in other places the line between history and fiction are a little blurred. The book is dedicated to Edwina’s younger brother, whose life had a lot in common with that of the tragic fictional Dougie, and it’s his photo that ends the YouTub promo. I asked the elegant young man and successful artist sitting in front of me if he was a model for any of the characters. ‘Oh yes, he said, ‘I’m the one from a sugar farm who used to kill cane toads with his bare hands.’
Edwina spoke, and read a short passage, of which the emotionally charged last line caught her off guard, and she had to struggle to finish. Which must say something about the power of the book: she must have read that passage a hundred times in the writing-rewriting-rewriting-editing-proofreading process, but it still has that power for her.
And then she signed and signed and signed.
Because Ransom is a tiny publishing house, Edwina is handling the Australian marketing and distribution herself. Her website gives regular updates on where it’s available.