Launch Anniversary

Today marks the one year anniver­sary of the launch of Empire of the Waves: Voy­age of the Moon Child. To com­mem­o­rate the occa­sion, here are my remarks deliv­ered on that glo­ri­ous night.

Thank you to all who have made this year unfor­get­table.

Empire of the Waves: Launch Speech

16 July 2015

Before I begin, let me thank those good souls who have made tonight pos­si­ble. Thank you to Tra­cy Nathan and Dymocks Syd­ney for host­ing me. After ten years– on and off – as a staff mem­ber at Dymocks Bur­wood from the time I fin­ished high school, it feels espe­cial­ly fine to return “home” for such an event … sur­round­ed by all those unfor­get­table Dymocks fonts and shades of red!

To my moth­er, my god­moth­er, and my aunts – which all sounds very Hans Ander­sen, or very P.G. Wode­house, depend­ing on the type of aunt – thank you for mak­ing the cham­pagne, wine and food pos­si­ble. An extra spe­cial thanks to Judy, who has already pur­chased so many copies of the nov­el she could open the Christo­pher Richard­son Memo­r­i­al Library in her liv­ing room.

For the sea shanties, I thank my dear friend Robin Dixon, along with Rubi, Lib­by and Pip­pa. Togeth­er, they are Pel­i­can Daugh­ters.

Next, I want to thank all of you for gath­er­ing here on this suit­ably wind and rain-swept evening. I have been blessed to gath­er so many won­der­ful friends through each new jour­ney of my life, and to have so many of you here tonight to cel­e­brate delights me. I see here friends from child­hood, from pri­ma­ry and high school, from my under­grad and Hon­ours days, from my Mas­ters, my PhD, from church, from my trav­els, and from many oth­er serendipities.

Prov­i­dence has been kind to me.

It’s no acci­dent so many of you here are teach­ers – the most impor­tant pro­fes­sion in the world! – and I have been for­tu­nate to have many men­tors to nour­ish my imag­i­na­tion, mind and heart, shap­ing me not only into a bet­ter writer, but – I hope – into a bet­ter man. Over time, most of my favourite teach­ers became great friends. I sup­press the mem­o­ry of the rest, or chan­nel them into lit­er­ary vil­lains. Curi­ous­ly, there are no maths or PE teach­ers here tonight … but, of course, they too have souls!

I par­tic­u­lar­ly thank friends who have, over the last twelve years, lis­tened patient­ly as I talked of Anni Tidechild, Duck Knife­tooth, the fel­mane, sleen and wibbens, and most espe­cial­ly those who took the time to read and offer thoughts on ear­ly drafts. It’s a heavy bur­den indeed to read an unfin­ished novel…

I raise my glass to all of you, but also to absent friends, dear­ly missed, who could not be here tonight, yet sent notes of sup­port in recent days – from Spain, Eng­land, Swe­den, Hol­land, South Korea, and north of the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone … in Queens­land. One day, I pray, my friends north of the oth­er Demil­i­ta­rized Zone will be able to enjoy a moment such as this, freely shar­ing in the plea­sures of the writ­ten word. 

Above all, I thank my fam­i­ly, par­tic­u­lar­ly my moth­er, father and sis­ter, Katy. We have always been, and remain, a close fam­i­ly. Tonight I miss my dad the most – 5 years this Sep­tem­ber since he died, after a ter­ri­ble bat­tle with Parkinson’s over­shad­ow­ing much of my Twen­ties. Stan was a prince among men. Along with my moth­er, he raised me with a heart full of sto­ries, and I’m cer­tain my love of the Eng­lish lan­guage – its sound and rhythms espe­cial­ly – come from the nour­ish­ment of dad read­ing to me in child­hood from Shake­speare and the King James Bible (still the two great wells of our lan­guage), and from my moth­er read­ing Tolkien and Lewis, Edward Lear, Lewis Car­roll and Susan Coop­er, before bed each night. Not to men­tion all the trav­el tales mum spun, of Indone­sia, India, Africa and the for­mer Sovi­et Union. They both set the bar high.

It’s my great sad­ness dad didn’t live to see me sign my con­tract with Pen­guin, and I con­fess I felt my own hope fad­ing for a time. Of course, like all good dads, Stan knew the right thing to say to a son. Not long before he died, he told me that he knew it would hap­pen some day, and if it didn’t, then he was proud of me all the same. One of the loveli­est things Susie from Pen­guin ever said was that she felt his spir­it filled the novel.

It does.

18 months after that great sor­row, as I pre­pared to embark on a new jour­ney, start­ing my research on North Kore­an children’s cul­ture, I received an email form Susie, Man­ag­ing Edi­tor at Pen­guin. Appro­pri­ate­ly, giv­en how I felt about life at the time, her first line was: “Are you still out there?” fol­lowed by a quip about a faulty TARDIS, which put me imme­di­ate­ly at ease, as if there is one thing above all my child­hood imag­i­na­tion loved, and inner-child still loves, it’s Doc­tor Who.

Thus began one of the busiest, mad­dest, most pro­duc­tive peri­ods of my life, revis­ing a then over 115,000-word nov­el … whilst research­ing and writ­ing a 100,000-word the­sis. In gen­er­al, I don’t rec­om­mend this, but – hap­pi­ly – I had the best pos­si­ble allies sup­port­ing me through my study – many of them here tonight – and in the House of Penguin.

Lisa Riley, a pub­lish­er of incred­i­ble lead­er­ship and vision, whose pas­sion for Empire of the Waves guid­ed me safe­ly to this day. I can­not thank you more. Susie Gib­son, who lit­er­al­ly plucked my tale from the pile of unso­licit­ed man­u­scripts, and whose cor­re­spon­dences over the last few years helped keep me on the straight and nar­row with words and music to inspire, often when I need­ed them most. Alas, my first edi­tor Davina Bell can’t be here tonight, but Davina left an indeli­ble mark, and pre­pared the way for Jess Owen, who proved the best pos­si­ble ally in the lit­er­ary trench­es. Jess is an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly gift­ed and hard-work­ing edi­tor. Thank you.

It’s no exag­ger­a­tion to say I’ve enjoyed every moment work­ing with these three here tonight, and – thanks to them – I think I final­ly know how to write a book. 

More or less…

I must also men­tion Bruno Herf­st, design­er extra­or­di­naire. Bet­ti­na Guthridge, who took my scrib­blings and cre­at­ed the beau­ti­ful map of Salila. And Allen Dou­glas, whose mag­nif­i­cent illus­tra­tion adorns the cov­er. Per­son­al­ly, I was must struck by the exquis­ite detail on Anni Tidechild’s face and the maw of the mon­strous fel­mane, but no less a lumi­nary than British come­di­an and nov­el­ist David Wal­liams has – among many many oth­ers – remarked upon the mermaid’s most notable assets. Which is fine, I guess, as I would like to think the nov­el con­tains some­thing for everyone…

Mind you, when an eleven-year-old boy asked me at Berkelouw on Sat­ur­day what my book was about, and I replied: “pirates and mon­sters and sea crea­tures and mys­ter­ies of the deep … it’s got every­thing!” he imme­di­ate­ly raised a brow, and asked: “But does it con­tain Norse gods?” Alas not, but since this was the same boy who also explained that his favourite thing about books is “burn­ing them,” per­haps it’s safer to say the book has some­thing for almost everyone.

If there’s any­thing I’ve learned writ­ing a nov­el at the same time as research­ing the children’s cul­ture of the DPRK – where every book, even for chil­dren, is either by or about the Great Leader, in one way or anoth­er, usu­al­ly sev­er­al – it’s that words have the pow­er to lib­er­ate, or to chain us, accord­ing to how and why we use them. They can bind our hearts, but they can also set them free. For those of us who write for chil­dren, or teach, or are par­ents, grand­par­ents, aunts or uncles, to chil­dren, it is espe­cial­ly true. What we say, what we write, and what we read mat­ters.

That God should be defined both as logos, the Word, and also as love, has always res­onat­ed deeply for me. And to share words, to tell a sto­ry, to take that time out of a hec­tic day to share a tale between friends, between a par­ent and a child, between a writer and a read­er, is – ulti­mate­ly, I think – an act of love. For me, sto­ries are the stuff the uni­verse is made of.

But, of course, as I writer, I would say that, wouldn’t I? So here I am, twelve years after that win­try day when I first imag­ined a small girl named Anni in per­il, stand­ing in the shad­ow of a giant ship, look­ing for answers.

So now I share my sto­ry with you…