Bruny is shortlisted for Fiction Book of the Year in the 2020 Australian Book Industry Awards. It’s in excellent company. A shortlist will be announced on April 28th. The winners will be announced on Wednesday 13 May in a virtual event. More details to come here.
Bruny – Heather Rose (Allen & Unwin, Allen & Unwin)
Silver – Chris Hammer (Allen & Unwin, Allen & Unwin)
During this long period of isolation I am keenly aware of what it will take to be a parent to young children. For many years, I’ve been going into schools and reading the Tuesday McGillycuddy series to primary school children. I also dress up as one of the main characters – Serendipity Smith.
So, to make a small contribution at this time, I’m going to read a chapter of Finding Serendipity at 4pm Australian Eastern Standard time on Facebook beginning Monday April 6th.
If readers want more, I’ll keep going. (In Australia there’s a long winter ahead.)
The series has been published in Australia, the USA and Germany. It has twice been shortlisted for Best Children’s Fantasy Novel in the Aurealis Awards. The books are fantasy but they’re also about creativity and family, love and courage. We also wrote them to encourage and support young writers.
If you have younger readers aged 8 – 12, I’d love them to join me. I’ll also suggest some creative exercises they can do beyond the reading to keep them entertained a little longer.
There may even be dressing up.
If you’re in a different time zone, I’ll be posting the readings to YouTube here. Subscribe if you enjoy.
Delighted to have Bruny make the Indie Book Awards shortlist for Best Fiction Book of the Year – in amazing company with my fellow authors Charlotte Wood, Favel Parrett and Christian White. Here’s what the Indies website has to say about this year’s shortlists across all categories:
Australian independent booksellers, members of Leading Edge Books, are thrilled to announce their SHORTLIST for the Indie Book Awards 2020 for the best Australian books published in 2019!
The Category Winners and the Overall Book of the Year Winner will be announced at the Leading Edge Books Annual Conference Awards Dinner to be held on Monday 23 March 2020 in Brisbane, QLD.
Established in 2008, the Indie Book Awards recognise and celebrate this country’s incredible talent and the role independent booksellers play in supporting and nurturing Australian writing.
Who will win in each category in 2020?
Who will take out the overall ‘Book of the Year’ Award?!
Without further ado…
Without further ado…
The Shortlist for the Indie Book Awards 2020:
There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett (Hachette Australia)
Bruny by Heather Rose (Allen and Unwin)
The Wife and the Widow by Christian White (Affirm Press)
The Weekend by Charlotte Wood (Allen and Unwin)
Your Own Kind of Girl by Clare Bowditch (Allen and Unwin)
488 Rules for Life: The Thankless Art of Being Correct by Kitty Flanagan (Allen and Unwin)
Tell Me Why by Archie Roach (Simon & Schuster Australia)
Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World by Tyson Yunkaporta (Text Publishing)
Wearing Paper Dresses by Anne Brinsden (Macmillan Australia)
Allegra in Three Parts by Suzanne Daniel (Macmillan Australia)
The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean (Fourth Estate Australia)
Heart of the Grass Tree by Molly Murn (Vintage Australia)
The Lost Boys by Paul Byrnes (Affirm Press)
Finding the Heart of the Nation by Thomas Mayor (Hardie Grant Books)
The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland (Hardie Grant Books)
In an Australian Light edited by Jo Turner (Thames & Hudson Australia)
The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Ugly Animals by Sami Bayly (Lothian Children’s Books)
Into the Wild: Wolf Girl, Book 1 by Anh Do, illustrated by Jeremy Ley (Allen and Unwin Children’s)
The Tiny Star by Mem Fox & Freya Blackwood (Puffin Australia)
Young Dark Emu: A Truer History by Bruce Pascoe (Magabala Books)
The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim (Allen and Unwin Children’s)
Aurora Rising: The Aurora Cycle 1 by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Allen and Unwin Children’s)
It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood (Text Publishing)
Monuments by Will Kostakis (Lothian Children’s Books)
This is how it works. The twenty-four shortlisted books, the best titles of the year as nominated by Australian independent booksellers themselves, will be vying for the top spot as the Overall Indie ‘Book of the Year’. Panels of expert judges (all indie booksellers and avid readers) will choose the winners in the six book categories – Fiction, Debut Fiction, Non-Fiction, Illustrated Non-Fiction, Children’s books (up to 12yo) and Young Adult (12+). Independent booksellers from around the country will then vote to select their favourite book of the year from the six category winners.
Since the Awards inception in 2008, the Indies have a well-deserved reputation for picking the best of the best in Australian writing. Past Book of the Year winners have gone on to be bestsellers and win other major literary awards. Previous winners include: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton; Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, The Dry by Jane Harper; The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood; The Bush by Don Watson; The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan; The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman; All That I Am by Anna Funder; The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do; Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey; and Breath by Tim Winton.
The Awards recognise and celebrate the indie booksellers as the number one supporters of Australian authors. What makes our Indies uniquely placed to judge and recommend the best Aussie books of the past year to their customers and readers, is their incredible passion and knowledge, their contribution to the cultural diversity of the Australian reading public by recommending books beyond the big brands, and their love of quality writing.
The Indie Book Awards would like to gratefully acknowledge the 2020 Awards Sponsors: Simon & Schuster Australia, Pan Macmillan Australia, Affirm Press, Thames & Hudson Australia, Allen & Unwin, Text Publishing and Awards partner: Books+Publishing.
Review by Rohan Wilson in The Australian‘s Review magazine Saturday November 9, 2019.
Chafing satire and explosive views
By ROHAN WILSON
the most part, Australian literature in the 21st century is fairly toothless.
a good day, our writers can muster up some anger at the appalling treatment of
our First Nations people or for the equally appalling treatment the LGBTI
outside of these worthy causes it seems as if our writers enjoy a middle-class
contentment that turns their gaze inward to domestic life, rather than outward
to civic life.
the world is going through an economic revolution. The billionaire class and
their neoliberal political attack dogs have convinced us that competition is
the defining characteristic of human relations.
inequality is causing epidemics of depression, suicide and obesity. Property
ownership has become an impossible dream for whole swaths of the community. A
handful of powerful corporations are busy destroying our climate. Are our best
writers asleep to what’s going on around them? Or worse, are they happy with
the status quo?
Heather Rose is perhaps the last writer I would have expected to come out swinging. Her previous novel, The Museum of Modern Love, won a swag of awards for its depiction of performance artist Marina Abramovic and her piece, The Artist is Present. It was a quiet, contemplative novel about the way art can bring people together and give us hope.
we have Bruny, which is more like a hand grenade than a book, with its
excoriating satire and explosive views on our political and economic
trajectory. It’s the best evidence we have yet that Australian writers are
finally waking up to the unfolding crisis.
begins with an explosion on the newly built Bruny Island bridge in the south of
Tasmania. The bridge is meant to connect Bruny to the mainland, making life
easier for the locals and boosting tourism.
explosion has the hallmarks of a terrorist plot and it quickly becomes a
central issue in the looming state election. Enter Astrid Coleman. Astrid is
called in by her brother, JC, the premier of Tasmania and Liberal Party
strongman. He wants a speedy resolution and thinks Astrid, who is an expert in
conflict resolution based in New York, can bring together the various factions
fighting over Tasmania’s future. But as Astrid starts to dig, she soon learns
that JC’s motives are more nefarious than she first assumed.
takes an episodic approach to her story, with Astrid in the field gathering
information from bridge workers, restaurant owners, greenies, and anyone who
might have reason to blow up the bridge.
picture of contemporary Tasmania begins to emerge. We see how the politics of
austerity have impoverished the community, we see how privatisation has given
more and more power to unaccountable private tyrannies, and see, perhaps most
frightening of all, that China has moved in to take advantage of Tasmania’s
clean, green potential.
is not without her own problems, too. We learn that her parents’ marriage
wasn’t as happy as it seemed and that it has left her with some anxieties to
work through. Her own marriage fell apart after her husband revealed himself as
she is world weary and somewhat cynical about her brother’s agenda, she
maintains an optimistic outlook and a deep love for the island of her
childhood. But her optimism is seriously challenged by the conspiracy she
uncovers as the facts behind the destruction of the Bruny Island bridge come to
is where the satire in the novel really starts to bite. The Chinese Communist
Party views Tasmania as yet another Third World location where it might win
some influence through investment in infrastructure. It insists that Chinese
workers be shipped in to complete the repairs to the bridge and the Liberal
government enthusiastically agrees.
starts to think that the bomb plot may have been staged in order to win support
for a change in local employment laws to allow foreign workers to be shipped in
wholesale. In fact, the truth is much, much worse.
I read on and the scale of the conspiracy became clear, I had to put the book
aside because I was laughing so hard.
is audacious writing. It exposes the lies at the heart of neoliberal economics
more clearly than any book in recent memory, and it does so with a vicious
sense of irony.
there’s something here for everyone. Whether it’s Astrid’s rule-breaking
romantic interest in Dan, the manager of the bridge workers, or the family
drama between Astrid and JC, or the political commentary and piss-taking, there
are moments on every page that keep narrative tension bubbling away.
I certainly expect to see this book feature in major prize shortlists over the next 12 months. It’s the wake-up call we needed.
Heather Rose. Allen & Unwin, 424pp, $32.99
Rohan Wilson‘s most recent novel is Daughter of Bad Times.
From Heather: Rohan’s wonderful novel The Daughter of Bad Times shares many of the same concerns as Bruny – but is set in 2074 … do go seek it out!
You are a UN
conflict resolution expert based in New York. Your brother is the Tasmanian premier.
Your sister is the Tasmanian opposition leader. Your mother has cancer and your
father is sliding into dementia and speaks only in Shakespearean quotes.
Someone blows up
part of an almost-completed $2bn bridge joining Tasmania to its offshoot Bruny Island.
You, dispatched to the scene, spot a bloke who looks as if he’d know how to
handle explosives, but on the plus side he resembles Chris Hemsworth.
Welcome to the
weird, wonderful, sad, nervous, bold and hilarious interconnected world of
56-year-old Astrid Coleman, the lead character in Heather Rose’s new novel
Bruny, named after the 362sq km island at its centre, permanent population
“The whole book was
the most amazing amount of fun I’ve ever had writing in my life,” the author
says. “I laughed and laughed.”
Rose’s family has
lived in Tasmania for six generations and Bruny Island, accessible only by
boat, has been important to her throughout her life. It was a place of fun and
games for Rose as a kid and it has been a place of peace and quiet for her as a
writer. A lot of that laughing during the writing of the novel, which is part
thriller, part political satire, part romance, was due to Astrid’s formidable
presence in Rose’s life.
Some writers treat
their characters as galley slaves. They tell them when to row, where to go and
when to stop. Others live with their characters, have conversations with them,
are guided by them. Rose is in the latter camp. “Yes, my children think that is
strange,” she admits.
known as Ace because as a child she cheated at cards, even came to her in a
dream and suggested — perhaps demanded is a better word — an important
development in the plot.
“That night she
wiped me out with something so shocking it left me sitting up in bed,” Rose
Rose used to argue
with her characters and sometimes try to say no to them, but she has stopped
doing that now and is more comfortable with the relationship as a result.
“I think that’s the
trick, isn’t it? I’m so grateful that Astrid only came at this point (Bruny is
Rose’s fifth novel for adults). I might have tried to push her around if she’d
come earlier, but this time I just let her have her head, and I was shocked by
her so many times.
“She’s quite an
outrageous character and she says things about life, men, politics, ideology,
everything, really, and I would type it all out, look at it and think, ‘I can’t
say that. That’s terrible. And then I’d think, ‘Oh, well, Astrid said it.’ ”
Here’s a good
example, when Astrid, who has two grown children, is thinking back on her
failed marriage: “Everyone should have to get divorced from the person they’re
married to, just to see who that person really is.”
Bruny is Rose’s
first novel since The Museum of Modern Love, centred on Serbian performance
artist Marina Abramovic, which won the 2016 Stella prize. It is also the first
one she has been able to write full time, thanks to the Stella cheque and an
Australia Council grant. Rose, 55, dabbled in modelling and acting when she was
young but has earned her living as an advertising copywriter, then as
co-founder of an award-winning advertising firm, Coo’ee Tasmania. She has three
“The Museum of
Modern Love took me 11 years. It was a very long process. I wrote four other
novels in the meantime, and it was a tedious novel in so many ways. Sorry.
“There was a
gruesomeness to writing it. It was arduous. It took everything, that novel. And
then, it had all the success, which was such a surprise. Then on the back of
that, the Australia Council, for the first time after 10 applications over 23
years, gave me a grant to work on this novel.
“I had already been
coming up with a few thoughts about it and writing scenes and all of that. But
there was something so brilliant about being able to knuckle down with this
idea that the Australia Council had funded me to write a political satire about
explosive set-up, Bruny unfolds as a power and passion drama about family,
loyalty, home, place, politics, foreign investment and love. It is in part a
love letter to the author’s home state.
Yet Tasmania is a
familiar but estranged place for Astrid, who has lived most of her adult life
in New York. She returns to help her twin brother, John, the Liberal premier,
known in the family as JC, a man who can walk on water, who is set to go to the
polls in four months. He has asked her to bring together the opposing sides in
the bridge debate, the established Tasmanians and the greenies versus the
newcomers, the developers and the Chinese investors, so the bridge can be fixed
and opened before the election.
leader, Maxine, is their older sister. She is the one who has continued the
family tradition as she is the Labor leader. Their father, Angus, was a state
Labor MP for decades. JC switched sides.
“If this book is a
love story, it is a love story for my fellow Tasmanians,” Rose says. “There’s
no way I could do justice to this community without talking about the
spectacular visual beauty we live in every day and how much that colours our
“But I also can’t
help but observe Tasmania and what we’re seeing in terms of visitor numbers and
consider what that means in the next five years, in the next 10 years, in the
next 20 years.
“And when I was
writing the book, I was immersed in current affairs, to everything that was
coming out of the US, the UK and here in Australia. I do think it’s important
we have better conversations about our national security planning, about our
long-term economic planning … and about what on earth are we doing about
protecting ourselves from the climate emergency.
“Clearly we do not
have leadership on any of those fronts. One of the things that I enjoyed doing
was looking into the nature of democracy.”
The novel is set in
the near future, which turns it into a delightful guessing game for readers.
Who is the prime minister? (Hint: I think it’s a comeback.) Who is the king of
England? Who is the American president? Who is the bestselling writer-public
intellectual greenie camped on Bruny Island? (Hint: I don’t think it’s Richard
I’m not going to
spoil the fun for readers, so I’ll leave the possible name out in this example.
When I say to Rose that the federal minister for natural protection Aiden
Abbott, better known as Aid-n-Abet, is obviously … she laughs and nods. A
friend of Rose sitting with us chips in. “You’ve been very naughty,” she tells
the author, who laughs some more.
As well as the name
game, other tantalising questions linger from the outset. Who blew up the
bridge? Why? Is it an act of terrorism? Is the brother-sister political
opposition just a front that allows one family — Coleman Inc — to control the
state? Does China have Australia’s interests at heart or are we just part of
its “chequebook colonialism”?
And is Astrid
working for someone else other than the Premier? Early on she notes “I have to
hide the truth, that’s always been my speciality”, and wonders: ‘‘Would I ever
kill for an ideal?” A reader’s impression of what that ideal may be will shift
as the novel goes on.
quotes from Angus are not just there for fun. This novel has Shakespearean
undertones. Readers will think of Lear, The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest and
especially Hamlet, where one can “smile, and smile, and be a villain”. No one
is exactly who they seem to be.
“It’s beautiful as
a writer to be part of a lineage,” Rose says. “I think as a writer it’s very
hard to ignore the influence of great writing, especially what’s been given to
us in the dramatic realm. And of course Shakespeare is so political.”
intrigue at the centre of this novel is the result of a lot of research. Rose
spoke to friends and contacts who worked in, or had connections to, political
parties, security agencies, government authorities and the UN.
particularly nervous about the scenes where the bridge is blown up, worried
that readers in the know would tell her she didn’t understand the nuts and
bolts of it.
So she made contact
with explosives experts, people similar to her fictional former paratrooper now
bridge foreman who looks like Hemsworth.
“They did come back
to me,” she says, “and were willing to advise me, but on one provision. They
said: ‘This is for a work of fiction, right?’ ”
Bruny, by Heather
Rose, is published by Allen & Unwin (424pp, $32.99).
My first book tour is over. Bruny has been launched across Australia. Thank you to all the bookstores that so graciously and delightfully welcomed me and Bruny to author events across the country. It was such a pleasure to meet readers everywhere, brilliant booksellers, and to discover so many beautiful bookstores! Apart from the events below, there were also so many signings at independent bookstores and Dymocks stores in every city. Thank you all!
My thanks to the very dedicated and brilliant publicist from Allen & Unwin – Christine Farmer – who made all this happen … and visited endless shopping centres with me for signings. Also to Ange Stannard and Maria Tsiakopoulos in WA and Victoria who chaperoned me in those states. Also to the awesome Allen & Unwin team who designed all the Bruny collateral that decks windows and bookstores across Australia. So wonderful to have this kind of support for a novel.
Events were held at:
Hobart Sunday Sept 29 3.30pm Fullers Bookshop In Conversation with Literary Editor of the Australian, Stephen Romei
HobartTuesday Oct 1 6pm Official Bruny Launch Hobart RACV Hotel 6pm with Premier Will Hodgman and supported by Dymocks – SOLD OUT
Sydney Wednesday Oct 2nd 6.30pm Better Read than Dead In Conversation with Editor of The Guardian, Lenore Taylor
In November 2018 The Museum of Modern Love was published by Algonquin in the USA. It was launched where much of the novel is set – in the atrium at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Heather was in conversation with esteemed Australian writer, feminist, editor and publisher Anne Summers AO. This is their conversation at the launch event.
‘What I’ve seen of death, someone – or something – comes to get us’
Each week, Benjamin Law asks public figures to discuss the subjects we’re told to keep private by getting them to roll a dice. The numbers they land on are the topics they’re given.
The Hobart-based author won both the Stella and Christina Stead prizes in 2017 for her seventh novel, The Museum of Modern Love.
How would you describe yourself politically?
I’d say I’m a Blue Green.
What’s a Blue Green?
Green is someone who cares passionately about the environment, social justice and for the long-term good of humanity and the planet. Blue is for the old-fashioned liberal values of egalitarianism, economic growth – not, however, at the expense of the quality of human life.
What party represents those values?
There isn’t one. I always find myself appalled by how we seem to have arrived in the 21st century with a world that is so deeply unjust to the great majority.
Does it make it hard for you as a voter?
Completely, but I always vote Green. You have to vote for the planet and human rights.
Where do you think you get your politics from?
My father is a Labor voter and my mother is a Liberal voter. Bizarrely, I grew up in Hobart equidistant between neighbours who’ve gone on to both become senators: one in the Greens, one in the Liberal Party. I’ve ended up in a world where I’m much closer to my Green colleagues, but I’m not a pure socialist: I think everybody deserves to benefit from personal endeavour.
Could you date someone with fundamentally different politics to yours?
[Laughs.] Maybe not.
Was money a fraught thing for you, growing up?
Both my parents worked to put my sister and I through private school. No one in my family had ever got a degree, so education was really important. However, it was tight. My parents were really smart about caring for money. We didn’t go on holidays – we didn’t have that kind of income – so we lived very simply. My grandparents built a shack for us on the Tasman Peninsula, so we spent holidays there. Other than that, we went camping. Camping is my idea of money well spent.
Do you feel like you’ve been good with money?
I’m good at making money and making a business profitable. [As well as penning seven novels, Rose has run advertising agencies, sat on arts and corporate boards in her home state and founded a luxury accommodation business in Hobart.] In my personal life, I’m very good at saving. But I’m also very good at spending; I really love beautiful clothes.
What do you consider a waste of money?
Nights you never remember! A lot of designer stuff to me is excess, in a world where we need to have better priorities. There’s a gluttony to the world of the designer that I find really abhorrent.
What constitutes the “beautiful clothes” you like, then?
Beautifully designed, beautiful fabrics. It doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars. I have one designer I absolutely love: Alistair Trung. He’s my absolute go-to. His designs are magnificent, his fabrics beautiful.
You have three children. Have you ever sat down with them and said, “This is how you save money”?
I’ve given each of them a copy of George S. Clason’s The Richest Man in Babylon. It’s all about being respectful of your money, making sure some of it is saved, some of it is put away for everything you need to live on. So with my kids, when they got pocket money, I would say, “Even if you’re getting $10, $1 of that you have to save.” Great: you’re teaching them fractions at the same time. Indeed!
You’re 53. How would you like to die?
I want to die very old, in a really warm chair, with a good blanket. My hair is white. My children …
You’ve thought about this!
I have! I saw it recently: my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are somewhere about. I’m in a house with glass windows and the sun’s coming in. Someone in the house really loves me, especially, particularly and deeply. It’s afternoon, and we’ve just had some beautiful celebration. Possibly my 104th birthday. And I close my eyes.
And that’s it.
Yep. That’s a pretty great death.
Do you fear death?
Not at all.
I’ve nearly died several times.
Heart problems. And I’ve been quite reckless as well, in my life, when I was younger.
In what ways? Or, in what ways can you share?
It’s going in the memoir. [Laughs.]
What happens to us when we die?
I think we go on. My sense is we have a soul. I know Christopher Hitchens would be cross with me for that.
Does that matter?
Yes! I feel like he’s still out there.
Well, if what you’re saying is true, he is.
I feel there is some mystery that is absolutely evident to all of us on this planet. It’s either that we get recycled and we come back in another life. Or that we live all these lives at once because time is completely an illusion, like physicists remind us. Or we get reabsorbed into the magnificence. I don’t know. But from what I’ve seen of death, someone – or something – comes to get us. And if something comes to get us, then there’s something beyond.
Published in The Good Weekend magazine – The Age/ Sydney morning Herald
10 stories by 10 big Authors
14 December 2018 — 12:19pm
At the beginning of the year, I wrote in gold pen “The Year of Wonder” on a white piece of card. I had been meditating and it was a feeling that bubbled up. The Year of Wonder. I had to write it down and put it somewhere obvious, so I stuck it on the fridge.
The definition of wonder, I discovered, is “something admirable or amazing caused by something beautiful, remarkable or unfamiliar”. I wondered, as I looked at those words, what would happen if I claimed a whole year of it.
“I want this weaving of fact and fiction. I want the story to come home to its heartland, to the very place the novel is set.”
On Wednesday, November 29, 2017, I was in New York, meeting for the first time with Giuliano Argenziano, Marina Abramovic’s director. Abramovic is the performance artist at the heart of my seventh novel, The Museum of Modern Love. Giuliano has been the lovely voice in the emails I’ve been receiving since I first approached Abramovic to appear as a character in my novel. She agreed to that invitation via Giuliano. It was Giuliano who received my updates, the drafts of the novel, and finally, years later, the news of publication. He had been unfailingly generous, kind and supportive. When I met him at the Abramovic offices in Greenwich Street for the first time, I was armed with 24 yellow roses. He was vibrant, handsome, Italian and delighted with the flowers.
During the course of our meeting, we discussed the launch of the novel in New York. I was also in New York to meet my US publisher. That, in itself, is a story of wonder. Some months before, I was introduced to a German publisher in Sydney. I spoke to him for less than four minutes. I learnt later that he obtained a copy and read my novel on the plane back to Germany but was unable to convince his publishing firm to take the novel on. At the Frankfurt Book Fair, a month or so later, he saw a New York colleague. He took her by the arm, walked her to my book, put it in her hands and said, “This is for you.” It turned out he was right. My New York publisher, in another twist, lived in the same location as Arky, the lead character in The Museum of Modern Love. In all of Manhattan, the same location with the exact same view over Washington Square.
So there really was going to be a US launch. It wasn’t just a possibility that Giuliano and I had discussed from time to time as the years went by, and the book was rejected, then eventually bought in Australia, then in Greece, Israel, China, Thailand, Catalonia and the UK. The book was coming home to New York. So when Giuliano asked me my ideas for the launch, I said that my dream was to have it at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It was the home of Abramovic’s 2010 retrospective and seminal performance piece, The Artist Is Present. That is the artwork that unfolds throughout the novel – Abramovic’s 75-day ordeal sitting opposite strangers and meeting their gaze. Abramovic is herself in the novel and there is a cast of fictional characters, including a ghost. The book, as you may be gathering, is a strange blend of fact and fiction.
At my words, Giuliano in his delightful Italian accent, with his hands gesticulating, said, “Darling, that is a very big dream.” Then he paused and smiled. “But you keep your dream, because we do not know what is possible.” He suggested I ask Abramovic to be part of the launch. “She loves the book,” he said. “We all love the book. Ask.” Then he shrugged. “And we will see.”
I write an email. I write an email to the very famous, very busy, on-the-road Marina Abramovic, asking her to be part of a book launch. She responds a few days later. She would like to be part of the launch. But she has a big international schedule. Her diary and the US publisher’s dates have to align. The publishers want November … We are waiting on an international biennale to confirm Abramovic’s dates, too …
How are we going to get MoMA? For a book launch? It’s like asking to be on Richard Branson’s first flight into space. But I keep seeing the launch there, in the atrium. One night in June, I’m at dinner in Melbourne with a group of old and new friends. One of the new friends is a big fan of the book. She is very excited when she hears Abramovic may be launching the book. “I think it’s going to happen,” she says. She asks me about the venue. I say it’s not decided. I say I would really like it to be in the atrium at MoMA. It would be a homecoming for the book. “I’m going to help make that happen,” she says, explaining that she’s a friend of the director at MoMA. She sends him a copy of the novel.
I receive confirmation that the international biennale dates are not a clash. Abramovic will be available for November 28. And she will bein New York. She is a yes to the launch.
We learn that MoMA bookstores do not stock novels. They do not stock any fiction. Even if my book is set in the gallery? Even if it was launched at MoMA? No, no, no.
MoMA’s director writes and says he will look into the possibility of having the launch at the museum. July, August and September go by. August is my birthday. I have lunch with four girlfriends at a Japanese restaurant in Hobart. They make me write my wish list for the launch. I write who I want as the MC. I write that the launch happens in the atrium at MoMA. I take this piece of paper home and prop it on a shelf where I keep other things that are sacred to me. Photos of my children, an Aboriginal bark painting, a small ivory netsuke of a man reading.
No news from MoMA. The publishers are getting anxious. Do we have a back-up plan if MoMA doesn’t come through? Am I sure Abramovic is confirmed? Famous people cancel, apparently, all the time. I assure them that if Abramovic has said yes, she is a yes. After 11 years of research, I feel it is something I can be certain about.
We have only met once, me and Marina Abramovic, and it was over in seconds. But I have written hundreds of thousands of words about her. I have more than 300 individual pieces of research about her work and her life in my files. This is over and above the collection of books I have, and all that I have read about her. I hadn’t wanted to meet her. To me she is a character in my book. Writing is a strange enough thing to do each day without your characters coming to life.
Time is running out. There is talk of alternative launch venues – the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library. Or simply McNally Jackson, the bookstore in SoHo. But Abramovic is confirmed and a book store doesn’t seem big enough for her presence. Since The Artist Is Present, her absence from the atrium has haunted me on every subsequent visit to MoMA.
I want this weaving of fact and fiction. I want the story to come home to its heartland, to the very place the novel is set. Abramovic spent 75 days of her life in the atrium. I spent three weeks there researching the book, then five years or so imagining that performance almost every day while completing the novel. But the MoMA atrium is one of the most desired locations in New York. It’s a place for high-end fundraisers and black-tie charity events.
An email arrives. The director expresses his affection for Abramovic, for our mutual friend, for the book, and for making it happen at MoMA. He’s sure, however, that the atrium will be booked. (It’s booked months and years in advance.) But he will get back to us with an alternative location for the launch. Three days pass. Then an email arrives: “looks like the atrium will be free!!!” Those three exclamation points are the moment of truth.
My publishers seem genuinely shocked that an obscure writer from Tasmania has pulled off a launch at MoMA, sponsored by MoMA, and in conversation with the artist (and character) Marina Abramovic. I am a little shocked, too. I tell friends and colleagues. I advise them that an official invitation from the publishers will be forthcoming. Twenty-eight friends confirm they will be flying from Australia for the launch of the novel. I would have been surprised if eight friends had wanted to come. But 28?
Abramovic agrees that we will do an in conversation. Via email we discuss the format. I need someone to make the opening remarks. I would like it to be someone Australian, with a connection to the book. Someone who can hold her own at MoMA with a world of international people amassed for a book launch with Marina Abramovic. I ask someone I deeply admire who has recently returned to New York. She says yes. When I pass that piece of paper from my August birthday lunch on the shelf, I see that I had written her name on the paper as preferred MC. I had completely forgotten.
My three children are flying to New York from their various homes in Australia and the US. My 84-year-old father is coming from Australia, chaperoned by my sister.
When I arrive in New York, Giuliano calls me from London. Abramovic is very unwell. She was due to travel to New York on Tuesday for the launch but instead is to be transferred to a medical facility in Austria. Giuliano flies to New York to be with me for the launch and Abramovic sends an audio message. She sounds exhausted.
“Good evening everybody. I’m so sorry I can’t be there but the doctor has forbidden me to fly to New York,” she says. She goes on to explain that she’s having high blood pressure caused by Lyme disease. I know her condition is erratic and dangerous.
“I’d like to tell you a little story about this book and me,” she says, recounting how she met me briefly some years ago. She knew I was writing a book, and then one day, the book arrived, dedicated to her. “It was so overwhelming. It lies on my office table and later next to my bed for a long time. I didn’t really have the courage to open it and see what I would find there. I also always believe that right time, right place, right situation is the best.
“So soon I am leaving for India and the only book I take with me is that one. And India was the right place, right situation, when I can read with ease and full concentration. I was so touched by this book. It’s not just that it was about me and The Artist Is Present … but much more important than all that, is the way it was written. It’s a really, really, great piece of literature. I hope you enjoy this evening and I’m so sorry I am not with you tonight.”
And so, on Wednesday, November 28, at a private event at MoMA, Marina Abramovic and I were not in conversation. Instead Anne Summers stepped in to conduct the interview. She is a fan of the book and a consummate interviewer. She had just returned home to New York after her Australian tour following the launch of her memoir, Unfettered and Alive.
She makes the evening look as if it was always meant to be this way. We discuss the book, and the writing of it, and the life of being a writer, while faces from The Artist Is Present appear huge on a screen behind us. Faces that include that of Abramovic, who is a very large, very still presence throughout the evening. Like the character within the pages of the novel, she remains silent, enigmatic and quietly powerful.
Perhaps it’s strange to say it, but I’m not disappointed. I was deeply saddened to hear of Abramovic’s health challenges. I understand well the challenges of illness. And like her, I am a great believer that there is a flow of right action in the world. Whatever unfolded, this too was as it should be. She has already made enormous contributions to both the book and my life. And she has done all that from a great distance. That is what artists do.
In 2010, I sat opposite Abramovic four times in the centre of the atrium during The Artist Is Present. I was just one of 850,000 people who attended that performance. Eight years later, I sat in the centre of the atrium and Abramovic’s image watched over the launch of a story drawn from that event. Perhaps one day Abramovic and I will get to have a conversation. Perhaps it will be far from an art gallery with wine, food and good health. For now, we remain creator and character, author and artist, author and muse.
A novel born of an idea first realised at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), written largely in Tasmania, and published in Australia, has arrived in the United States. A book that took 11 years to write, and was rejected many times over, has had its US launch at one of the most famous art galleries in the world. It is the first novel to be launched at MoMA and the first and only novel to be stocked in its bookstores.
It’s hard to explain how much wonder has happened since 2005, when I first saw a photograph in the NGV that made me consider Abramovic as a character for a book. This was before she was the world-famous artist she is now. Before she became a household name. In 2010 when I sat opposite Abramovic at MoMA in New York, she had already been sitting at that table for years in my mind. (That’s another story.) But it was at MoMA that I realised I couldn’t fictionalise her any longer. She was too magnetic, her story too real. That’s when I asked and received permission to include her as herself.
In 2015, the very same day I got the phone call telling me the book had finally been accepted for publication here in Australia, Marina Abramovic flew into Hobart for the launch of her retrospective at The Museum of Old and New Art. She hadn’t been to Hobart in 40 years. That was where we met, in that brief moment she referred to in her audio message.
When I looked for a venue for a post-book-launch gathering for 28 Australians in Manhattan, everything was prohibitively expensive or booked out. I tried numerous options and came up short. Then someone recommended a bar. I called and they were helpful, inexpensive, welcoming. Great food. It is in the street right behind MoMA. This is where we Australians and New Yorkers gathered after the launch to celebrate late into the Manhattan night. The pub was called Characters. Of course the pub was called Characters. That is what writing a novel is all about. It is about those elusive, ephemeral and powerful creatures who come to our writing minds as characters.
Writing is a long road and overnight success can take decades. I began my life as a paid writer at 17 for the Hobart Mercury. I’ve written millions of words learning my craft and I’m still learning every day. If I am lucky, I’ll be learning to be a better writer until the day I die.
My seventh novel is taking flight around the world. I don’t know how readers will respond to The Museum of Modern Love in America. I do know, however, that the book was launched at MoMA exactly one year to the day since I first expressed my dream to Giuliano. I also know that when we gathered for the event, with the image of Abramovic watching over us all, it was a dream come true. It was “something admirable or amazing caused by something beautiful, remarkable or unfamiliar”. It was a wonder.
Heather Rose has published seven novels. The Museum of Modern Love (Allen & Unwin, $20) won the 2017 Stella Prize.
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Ways to connect with Heather
For all Australian media and event enquiries please contact Christine Farmer at Allen & Unwin, Australia – ChristineF (@) allenandunwin.com. For all other enquiries please contact Heather’s agent, Gaby Naher at Left Bank Literary. Follow Heather on her Twitter, Instagram and You Tube accounts below.