The Half-Child was launched at Brunswick Bound bookshop by Christos Tsiolkas on Thursday 9 Sept 2010 in the company of some 80 friends and family.
Christos gave a beautiful speech, typical of his warm and generous nature. He described how we first began meeting regularly to discuss our work when we were living around the corner from each other in Canberra — “a place where we’d both followed the men we love” — forging an artistic relationship that has continued over the years. Christos said he’d talked of our relationship during his recent three-month residency on the west coast of Scotland, “and in talking about it I realised how deeply lucky I am to have a friend who gets what I do, who understands the excitement of writing and also the frustration of the sheer doggedness involved in the work of writing a book.”
Christos described The Half-Child as “a novel that doesn’t pander to exploitation or easy moralism. It is, like the writer herself, deeply humane.” He described main character Jayne Keeney as “tough, smart, doesn’t always make the right decisions and she isn’t always right but she is as vivid and powerful and human a character as I have read in an age.”
I was so touched by Christos’ words and by the significance he attributed to our artistic relationship. As I said in my right of reply, “what you’ve said about me, I want to say right back at you.” I mentioned that only the previous weekend, I’d found the words I needed for a session at the Melbourne Writers Festival in an article he’d written with Zoe Ali that talked of ‘the creativity and productivity that comes from negotiating difference’. “That nailed it,” I said. “That’s what keeps taking me back to Asia. That’s what is at the heart of my writing.”
The beauty of the launch party was the opportunity to celebrate, to share the joy of publishing a second book, and to publicly acknowledge and thank the people who helped bring The Half-Child to life. First and foremost among these is my partner Andrew Nette, the man I entrust “with my roughest drafts as a writer and as a person.” I told the story of how I’d written The Half-Child for the most part during the wonderful year we spent as a family in Cambodia, in a house so cosy, Andrew and I actually sat and wrote at opposite ends of the same dining table. It was an irresistible opportunity to announce that the book he wrote that year has been short-listed for a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award.
I thanked Text Publishing, especially my editorial team of Alison Arnold and Caro Cooper, and my publicist Cora Kipling — “possibly the most alliterative support team in Melbourne publishing.” I thanked Richard Fleming for excellent legal advice, and who together with Helen Morgan and Suzie Fry took pictures on the night. Richard’s wife, my friend Sarah Rey, also got acknowledged, together with Sonja Horbelt, for help with German translations.
“As my first novel was translated into German, I intend to keep peppering the series with sympathetic German characters in the hope of encouraging more international rights deals,” I explained, “so may well keep drawing on your bilingual expertise.”
I also got to thank other dear friends for their support: Angela Whitbread, Mary Latham and Lilian Topic.
The Half-Child is dedicated to my mother Olgamary Savage, who managed to get to the launch party, despite being mid-chemotherapy. As I said at the launch, it meant the world to me that she was with us on the night.
I finished up my launch speech with what I think is an amazing story about my friend Palani Narayanan, who chose the perfect karaoke song for the closing scene in the novel. As part of his prize for choosing the song, Palani is acknowledged in the back of the novel, received a signed copy of the book in the mail, and was given the opportunity to name a character in my next novel. Having already started on the third Jayne Keeney outing, for some time I’ve been hassling him to give me a name.
Last week Palani received his copy The Half-Child in the post and was very excited about taking it on holidays at the end of the week. He sent me a message on Facebook to say “In regards to the name for the next book, how do you feel about Mayuri? I had chosen this name as a possible name for my daughter, if I ever had one. But I guess I am getting a bit old to still fantasize about having a child. Maybe if she was a character in your book….in some funny way, she will be given life?”
As anyone who has read the book will know, there is a character called Mayuree in The Half-Child. In fact, it wasn’t that character’s original name. I changed it at the very last minute before the manuscript went to the typesetters.
As novelist Barbara Trapido said at the Melbourne Writers Festival last weekend, “Random life is full of coincidences too unlikely to use in a novel.” Like this one.
Heartfelt thanks to everyone who came to the launch, and also to Suzie and Rob, our fabulous hosts at Brunswick Bound. The books sold out on the night, so let’s hope it’s a sign of things to come.