My Debut Novel: The Best of Intentions

TheBestofIntentions_cover3Dmockup-woodAfter seven years of plot development, writing and seemingly endless revisions, my debut novel is now available.

Writing a novel was so different from any writing I had done during my working life. With policy or report writing you generally have a good idea about the purpose and contents of your document, and its structure is pretty much determined by those parameters. Writing a novel means creating a world from scratch, without a roadmap, and populating it with credible and distinct characters who can keep the reader engaged. Exhilarating. Scary too.

Not surprising then, that timelines blew out. And while I’ve always felt comfortable about having my professional writing edited, it has been more confronting to have my creative writing critiqued. It felt more personal––I had more skin in the game.

Set in Melbourne in 2009, against the background of the Black Saturday bushfires, The Best of Intentions is a sensitive and compelling portrayal of young people at risk and of the well-meaning but often ineffective child protection and mental health professionals charged with their care.

At more than 400 pages, it’s a good long read that follows a range of memorable characters whose paths cross in unexpected ways. Here’s an excerpt from the blurb:

Kurt is a disillusioned case worker struggling in an under-resourced child protection system. When he takes on the case of Gecko, a sixteen-year-old with a traumatic past and a shaky future, he is determined to make a difference. But the best of intentions are not enough.

While my novel is a work of fiction, some of my views about systemic shortcomings in child protection and public mental health services have found their way into the text.

The focus on ‘case finding’ and throughput in child protection, at the expense of providing a meaningful service to kids placed in care. The unrealistically high case loads.

In mental health, the high threshold for accessing a service, the one-dimensional nature of the medical treatment model; and the failure to abolish mixed gender wards in Victoria, leaving vulnerable young women exposed to harassment or assault at a time that they need optimal support and safety.

Does not sound like escapist reading? It isn’t. I have taken pains, though, to ensure that The Best of Intentions works as a novel in the first place, as a gripping story that will keep readers engaged to the end. No one wants to read a manifesto.

“Highly engaging … an intelligent and moving novel.” Dr Kate Ryan, Writers Victoria

The Best of Intentions is available as an e-book and can be bought from major distributors, including Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. Check my novel’s homepage for purchase links.

You will soon also be able to order a paperback version (currently in production) from your local bookseller or from an online distributor.

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stefan hertmans: war and turpentine

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Image © 2018 Kvocek via Shutterstock

“It was all so long ago, a century ago,” writes Stefan Hertmans in the closing pages of War and Turpentine, “I am walking here with his DNA in my body, lonelier than alone and too late for it all.”

This should not be misconstrued as an admission of failure. His book is successful at a number of levels: a touching tribute to a grandfather, a subtle sketch of a bygone era, a modern story laden with irony and self-reflection.

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the shadows cast by a falling child

SCFC mockupBack in 2011, when my novel was but an impulsive neuron playing Parkour across synapses somewhere in my brain, the title of my Magnum Opus was going to be The Bus Drivers. Shortly afterwards, that febrile neuron had to face the discipline board and its wiser elders settled upon Resilience as the working title for my book. The original title survives in the text as a little aside in a conversation––so you’ll be able to find out what I was thinking. Continue reading

bait: what are the chances?

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My latest short story, Bait, went live this week. It is the tale of three young men from Antwerp who set out on a camping trip to the Belgian Ardennes in the 1970s. When they arrive, the place is teeming with gendarmes (Belgian para-military police)…

Bait is not crime fiction but a portrait sketch of headstrong young men whose plans are thrown into disarray, with surprising ramifications. It is available only as an e-book; check my author website for links.

my writer’s toolkit

Popular wisdom has it that there are two types of writers: plotters, who write backstories for their characters and painstakingly plan every turn in the narrative; and pantsers, who fly by the seats of their eponymous trousers. Read this list, and you’ll probably have a good idea as to what type of writer I am. Okay, smart alecs out there, I accept your point: making a list in the first place is a dead giveaway…

Writing can be a lonely job, sitting in front of that high resolution screen, trying to squeeze elegant sentences out of an unwilling cortex. The apps we use are our toys, imaginary friends who help us get the job done. A bit like the Tooth Fairy, really, but with binary code and passwords.

So read on for a list of my digital accomplices: Continue reading

spitfire: a different kind of ghost writing

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Gilbert Delcon with his sister Georgette, Bonheiden ca. 1951.

To name your child after another person means to set up a connection from birth. To name your child after a loved one who perished under dramatic circumstances raises the stakes considerably. I was such a child, named after an uncle who died in 1952, a year before I was born. All through my childhood, Uncle Gilbert stared back at me from framed photographs at my grandparents’ place. Standing in the Texas desert, sitting in the cockpit of his training aircraft –  always with his kind, dimpled smile. As I grew up, the family resemblances became more pronounced. But unlike Dorian Gray’s, his picture stayed the same as my face developed wrinkles and grooves – a small price to pay for the privilege of ageing.

I knew the stories, of course. As a young boy in World War II, Gilbert refused to seek shelter when the air raid sirens went off over Bonheiden, a small village in Flanders. Much to his parents’ frustration, he ran outside to watch the Allied formations pass over on their way to Germany. He was enthralled with Spitfires in particular, captivated by the elegance of their design. One day, he resolved, he would be flying a Spitfire, and that would be the best day of his life. Continue reading

elena ferrante: my brilliant friend (2011)

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Naples streetscape – copyright ilolab 2016

You have to love a novel that starts with the disappearance of one of its protagonists. When Elena discovers that Lila, her childhood friend, has not only disappeared, but also removed all physical traces of her existence, she gets angry. She resolves to write a novel in which she will record all she has found out about Lila over the past sixty years. Story-telling as a corrective, an act of vengeance.

Having thus framed the novel in the prologue, Ferrante takes the reader back to 1950s Naples, a gritty and at times violent urban environment, where being male is a distinct advantage, and being streetwise a necessity. Enter the unlikely protagonists: two six-year-old girls.

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