Thursday, August 5, 2010

Launching my Family

Right, so I promised a write up on the launch that we had for 'Daywards' at the Fremantle Children's Literature Centre while I was in Perth last week.

To be honest, I thought I was a bit over book launches - for my own books, at least. I didn't launch Into White Silence or the last couple of Nathan Nuttboard books, largely because I couldn't really see the point.

I'm actually regretting that decision now - I think it was a mistake.

I'll explain why.

Last tuesday night was a lovely evening. And I know that as the author of the book in question I'm undoubtedly a little biased, but the whole night had a really nice feel about it. Perhaps this was just because people kept saying nice things about me and my book, or because we got the booze out well before the speeches, or just because almost everyone there was related to me in one way or another, but there was a good vibe going on.

Before we got to the formal bit of the launch, there was a lot of catching up: People I haven't seen in years turned up out of the woodwork for this one including; our old neighbours from Greenmount with their little girl who I last saw when she was about 11, and who is now 18 and about 7 feet tall. My cousin (who I used to share a house with) and her husband who I thought were still living in England. My old piano teacher from when I was a kid and her son, who's read A New Kind of Dreaming. My former colleague from the Trinity library, Rosemary. Past teachers. Old friends. All sorts of unexpected surprises.

And, of course, family. My sister and her two girls were there. Toby was there - tearing around the place with his cousins and making all sorts of noise (He kept walking up to the posters and exclaiming 'Dadda!' at the top of his voice, which I thoroughly approved of.)

And Mum. And Dad. We'll get back to them shortly.

First, we were all welcomed by the Director of the Fremantle Children's Literature Centre, Lesley Reece. It's difficult for me to describe Lesley, except to say that she is one of the most incredible women I know. She set up the FCLC, seventeen years ago and has worked tirelessly ever since to turn it into one of the single most important and unique educational and cultural institutions in the country. She was the person responsible for supporting and encouraging my writing career: she put me in touch with Gary Crew, right back in 1997, and persuaded him that I was worth mentoring in my writing. Once I got published, she stood behind my books and ensured that I was able to get as much coverage for them as possible in the west. When I left teaching to become a full time writer, Lesley again worked on my behalf - finding me suitable speaking and teaching gigs to keep the wolf from the door.

And more than just patronage, Lesley (and her teams at the FCLC through the years) have also become close friends - to the point where, when Min and I were looking for a venue for our wedding, we asked if we could hold it on the Lawns of the Lit Centre, and Lesley agreed without hesitation.

The Fremantle Children's Literature Centre has been a special place for me and my family in the ten years that it took me to write this trilogy, and it was a delight to see the final book of the three go out into the world from the main gallery there.

Anyway...

Once everyone was welcomed, the book was launched by Melissa Parke, the federal MP for Fremantle, who I met a couple of years ago at another book launch, and who really impressed me at the time for her commitment to the lit centre, and to reading and children's literature generally. She's also a speculative fiction fan, which wins her huge points in my book.

And she did an incredible job - there she was, in the middle of an Election campaign, and yet she still found the time to not only launch the book, but also to read the entire trilogy beforehand! That's well over 1000 pages, which she got through in just a couple of weeks, while still campaigning for her seat. And not only did she read the books, but she thought about them, too. She picked up on all the little threads and ideas in the book that I'd hoped people would get but which, as a writer, you're never really certain have come through. Writers don't often get to experience someone doing such a close reading of their work, at least, not to our faces, and it was incredibly gratifying. I have a copy of her speech, which I'll tack on to the end of this post for anyone interested to have a look at. I'm sure she won't mind...

After she'd launched the book, I did a short and passably coherent speech; "thank you blah blah blah..." and then sat down again, expecting to get on with some serious book signing and wine drinking.

Except for one minor detail. Lesley had made other plans. She announced that we had another speaker.

I'll admit that I groaned, inwardly. One thing I kinda dislike are book launches with too many speeches, or speeches that go for too long.

Then it got worse. The person Lesley invited to the podium was...

...my mother.

Now, I should explain a little something here. Many years ago, I spoke at my brother and sister's 21st Birthday parties. I thought I spoke really well at both. Sure, I might have sworn perhaps once or twice. Certainly not more than three times. And nothing I said was even remotely outrageous. And so I was rather surprised when the family then voted to place an embargo on me ever speaking in public at family gatherings, ever again.

That didn't necessarily stop me, though. I just moved my venue a little. Those of you who've heard me tell stories about my writing will know that my family tend to, well, feature rather heavily. And not always in the most flattering light. Mum in particular gets a bit of a hard time in a couple of my stories.*

And, for some years now, Lesley has been threatening to find an occasion to give my mother the right of reply.

I really should have seen that coming, shouldn't I?

So mum got up to speak, and I poured myself a big glass of wine.

And she made a lovely speech, although she did dredge up several bits of my early writing which I was certain I'd destroyed some years ago. And she did tend to overstate a few things. But it was nice hearing her talk about what it's like to be the parent of a writer, and how proud she and dad are of the fact.

That was when I worked it out: book launches are for other people, not me.

Kinda obvious, really, but being the egocentric git that I am, it hadn't actually occurred to me that the idea of launching a book is to give people a chance to celebrate it, and each other, and the story, and their relationship to it. It's really got bugger all to do with the author, when all is said and done. Stories, after all, are one of the things that connect people to one another, and book launches are an example of that, writ large.

So, that's my booklaunch story. At the end of the evening, everyone went home happy; it was a lovely night and a celebration not just of my book, but of all books, of family, friends, the past and the future, of children and life.

My kind of a night out, really.

*stories which, I might add, are all COMPLETELY TRUE and not in any way exaggerated. Much.

Melissa Parke's Speech from the Launch for 'Daywards' at the Fremantle Children's Literature Centre, Tuesday 27th August, 2010
I’d like to acknowledge the Noongar people as the traditional owners of the land we’re meeting on and pay respect to their elders past and present – this acknowledgment is particularly significant tonight as we talk about a book that greatly honours Indigenous knowledge and skills and connection to the land.

When I was asked quite recently to launch Tony Eaton’s book Daywards, as the third book of the Darklands trilogy I said (channelling Kevin Rudd) “Fair Suck of the Sauce Bottle Lesley! We’ve got an election coming and I can’t see myself having time to read one book let alone three.”

But what with Lesley’s persuasive powers, and me being a long-time lover of science fantasy books, and having enjoyed meeting Tony at the launch of another book – Marc Greenwood and Frane Lessac’s Simpson and his Donkey - I found myself agreeing to launch this book.

And I’m so glad I did. The target readership is young adults and upwards. I am definitely in the upwards part of that age bracket and I thoroughly enjoyed all three books. They can each be read on their own but I do think it’s worth experiencing each one in turn.

The entire story is set 1000 years into the future and it’s a future that is eerily familiar and frighteningly believable as we confront a harsh and unrelentingly hot and contaminated Australian landscape that is the result of late 21st century large-scale climate change causing the destabilisation of a large number of fission reactors and waste storage facilities throughout the world. In this world, there are two groups of people trying to survive.

In the first book, Nightpeople, part of the earth is closed off from the rest of the world by a huge wall and is sparsely populated by small tribes of elderly people called Darklanders, a few of whom are dreamers in the style of Aboriginal elders, who connect spiritually with the land and the life that lives within it, such as snakes, lizards and wild dogs, and sources of water.

The main character in the first book is Saria, the last of her race to be born and she is spirited away as a baby to be looked after in a secret valley until she is a teenager. She is then called upon to answer her destiny which involves actually leaving her land in a search for her mother who was taken by the Nightpeople to domed cities in the sky.
In the book Skyfall, we meet the other group of people trying to survive in this post-apocalyptic environment. They are the Skypeople or ‘Nightpeople’ so called because they can only travel at night as they have no ability to withstand the sun’s radiation. They live in artificial technological domed cities in the sky and have no direct contact with the environment. The upper classes live in luxury in the highest domes, albeit with protein supplements as their only food source, while there is an underclass serving them that lives in poverty. One of the domed sky cities is called Port city – reminding one of Fremantle - and there is a part of Port City called North Port Central, calling to mind the north port quay proposal to build futuristic dubai-style islands off the coast of Fremantle. Could this be our own doomed future helpfully described for us by Tony?

In the trilogy, the skypeople fear that their artificial society is breaking down both physically and socially and so they study the darklanders in order to understand their genetic makeup and see if they can isolate the genes that make people viable outdoors in the contaminated hot climate.

Saria was brought to the domed city in the sky by the skypeople to be studied. She meets Lari – a young man and – to cut to the chase, they team up to start their own clan which mingles the races of the earth and the sky to produce people who can withstand the harsh effects of the sun and the atmosphere outside of the domes without having to wear a special suit. In the third book Daywards the clan lives in caves in the forest, surviving by hunting and gathering, although there are still skypeople coming to study them. Saria – the heroine from the first book – is by now an elderly woman and she seeks to returns to her home in the Darklands.
The main young female character in Daywards is Dara. In the end, Dara is faced with the choice of returning with Saria to the Darklands or of going with the skypeople in order to see what kind of common future may be forged between the two peoples in this book. I won’t give the story away by saying what she chooses.

Although set 1000 years into the future these stories seem familiar to us in WA. For instance, Dara remembers her father showing her the giant forests down south. Not far from Port city there is the crumbling city of Per. There are animals called hoppers which from the description bear a great similarity to kangaroos. Dara’s favourite expletive is “Shi”, which bears a remarkable resemblance to a word in contemporary usage.

Like all of the best high-level science fantasy, this trilogy takes on the important imaginative task of casting a series of current trends and issues forward into a social and physical scenario that examines the consequence of heading down that path.
With phrases like “the blasted remains of a great human folly” the trilogy is a powerful warning of what could happen if we don’t act on climate change; if we don’t act to save the diversity of earth’s species, a large number of which are here in Australia; and if we don’t properly manage our precious sources of water.

I’m going to recommend that all of my parliamentary colleagues read it.
At a time when we have our first female PM – who as Lesley has noted has visited the Fremantle Children’s Literature centre when she was Minister for Education and acting PM - it is also appropriate to note the strong female characters in this trilogy who are called upon to save this future world that has been seared in the shifting and the burning. Saria and Dara are the most powerful characters because they are interconnected with the Earth and life on it and can harness that energy to devastating effect as we see throughout the trilogy but particularly in the thrilling climax in Daywards.

In an era when modern Australia is still only beginning to fully recognise and value the contribution of Aboriginal people to its history, its present and to its future, this trilogy is an acknowledgement of Aboriginal people’s connection to the land and a signal that we can learn from those who have respected the earth for thousands of years. It is also a celebration of family and of appreciation for both youth and elders in our community.

Finally, at a time when fear of ‘the other’ is such a feature of Australian community opinion on asylum-seekers and refugees, the trilogy has an important message about the need for diverse peoples to work together to try to understand and esteem each other as the only way we will ultimately all survive. We may at some stage all be boat or sky people or darklanders, needing to leave our homes and forge a new life elsewhere with other peoples in order to survive. If we do the right thing by the planet then hopefully our successors will not need to build sky domes made of plascrete and clearcrete to protect them from the atmosphere and will not a thousand years into the future find our detritus washed up on the beach. As described in the book “unidentifiable foam and rubber shapes, tangles of fine polymer mesh, lumps of weathered plascrete, all of it aeons old and all of it still clinging to the otherwise pristine beach like ancient tumours, stubbornly refusing to vanish even with the inexorable passage of time”.

I’d like to thank Tony for this fantastic series - it is beautifully written, tremendously thought-provoking and utterly believable. I note Tony’s comment that it has taken him 10 years to write and how happy he is to finally finish this epic, but I must ask Anthony to reconsider this decision as I really want to know what happens next! You know when you’ve read something fantastic because when you get to the end you are reluctant to put it down and you feel a bit lost. I certainly feel sad to have lost my method of election escapism but I am grateful to Tony and to Lesley for the lovely moments I have had reading these books. I’d also now like to suggest a prequel to tell us what exactly went wrong on earth that resulted in large scale climate change with its catastrophic consequences. Perhaps such a prequel could start with a conference in Copenhagen. Just an idea Tony.

Congratulations again on this beautiful book and thankyou for inviting me to be a part of it.


3 comments:

  1. What a beautiful post, Tony. I wish I'd known about the launch, I would have loved to be one of those "happy surprises"... but mostly hear all the dirt your Mum dished up! ;-)

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  2. oh my goodness, oh my goodness! i was just thinking about books and in particular your books, and i decided to check out your blogs. i decided to dig up that old comment/question i wrote donkeys years ago, AND YOU REPLIED! ha! a famous person replied to my somewhat pathetic question! im so tickled! thank you for the advice. i ended up never even trying and deleted and threw out what i had written so far! now i feel guilty!

    thank you for the comments, and words of wisdom. thankyou for the fianl book (tear tear, after all these years its over). i had almost hoped it would never end.

    also, i think it is just absolutely wonderful that your mum gave a speech at the book launch!

    cheers,

    cassie

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  3. Cheers Karen and Cassie.

    Karen: Wish I'd emailled you the invitation; would have, if I hadn't been terribly distracted in the weeks leading up to the launch. I missed sooo many people. Still, we'll be back in Perth for a holiday over december, so will have to get our broods together then.

    Cassie: Anytime :D

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