After four years in the incubator, Billy Bird, my new novel for adults, is due for release. The official launch date is 31 August. It’s going to be introduced by Barbara Larson, at the University Book Shop, Dunedin. Before then, I’m heading away to speak at Off the Page in Palmerston North (19 August) and at the Christchurch WORD Festival (which runs August 25-28); and in September, I’ll be speaking at Going West (which runs September 9-12).
If I had to write an elevator pitch for this book, I’d say it’s about an overly anxious mother and a preoccupied father trying to work out how best to manage their young son, who insists that he’s a bird.
I’ve said in the press release for Penguin Random House that this is the best ‘hard fun’ I’ve ever had writing fiction. I wanted to play around with different literary modes to reflect shifts in mood and emotional development; so the book slides through narrative prose, complete poems, a mock stage script, lists, and even doodles.
Increasingly, as I grew more immersed in Billy’s family, it felt to me that flick-flacking in and out of styles reflected the constantly ducking and diving energy, the swerves of focus, in a busy household: not only its daily kitchen-sink mini-dramas, but the larger drama of three people dealing with how to recalibrate themselves individually and as a family after significant crises – ranging from professional/economic to personal.
Having a bright, quirky kid as one of the main characters in the book meant that a lot of joy and comedy could lift some of the tougher events that this family confronts. Billy is a fusion of several funny, smart, vulnerable and wonderful kids I’ve met. Recently it’s been hard not to think of him as my own third child — or the book as ‘its own person’. I know it’s got a warm jacket on out there — but I hope it calls home now and then, to let us know how it’s doing.
*The cover illustration is by 14-year-old Abe Baillie; the overall design is by Carla Sy. Harriet Allan and Sarah Ell are my nimble and diligent editors. My highly tolerant literary agents (and manuscript assessors) are Barbara and Chris Else at Total Fiction Services.