&how we moved forward, all of us

I flew down to Sydney about thirty-six hours ago, and I’m writing this post on the airplane back. It’s been kinda wild, and I haven’t really stopped all week (both during my time down by the Opera House, as well as beforehand).

    I’ve spent the majority of my time these past days in the Hachette offices, either attending panels, meeting n mingling, or attending the Richell Prize ceremony, which I was shortlisted for, and which was presented ultimately to Sally Abbott, who is of no close relationship to our wounded ex-Prime Minister (or so she says). Her piece is lovely and deserving and you can read the beginning of it here.

    The ceremony was a delight. Meeting everyone from the Sydney lit scene, meeting the rest of the (interstate) shortlist, and—perhaps topping the night—hearing Hannah Richell reflect on the nature of the prize, as well as its significance to her, Hachette, and the literary community at large. I never knew Matt, but Hannah’s speech had me as close to tears as anything this year has.

So where to now? I dunno, man/woman/gender-neutral-‘yo’. It’s a wild world, and this has been a full couple days (which I have to keep refraining from referring to as a ‘weekend’) that I won’t soon forget. Opportunity’s come from it, certainly, and being shortlisted as I have is, I suppose, no small feat (though I wear size eleven shoes, for reference, one size larger than Eminem’s). So we will see what comes of it.

    But for now, I guess, I gotta keep working. Start book four, which is at this moment titled ‘And The Gods, All of The Gods, Are Nothing But a Rumour’, a title still with a somehow shorter wordcount than my Richell-shortlisted work, which is ‘& (or, The End Is On Its Way It Just Got Lost Is All)’. The title of book four is adapted from TC Boyle’s short story Chicxulub, which was recently featured in The New Yorker Fiction Podcast. It is a very perfect story. Which is why I’m stealing from it, I suppose.

    This is a good time to remind myself that I must also stay humble. Remind myself that on the same night I was one-of-five national emerging writers in the Hachette offices, I also lost out in an election in application to play a part on the Executive Committee of the University theatre company. Which brings me nicely to the advice of my best friend Brody Foy, who is over in Oxford right now, doing some contrived shit like researching how to model cancer cell reproduction in lung cancer patients. This man, this great man, gave me some advice regarding success—and that is to never idolise it. To always remember that behind every great success are a dozen great failures. And from my experience, that is very true.

    For instance, I submitted the same manuscript to the Richell prize as I did to the Queensland Literary Awards. If I had only submitted to the QLA, the perception I have of my own literary competence right now would be very different. But I submitted to a couple places instead, and I got lucky—or I was well-liked, or I found a snug and coincidental fit, or something. And this is where statistics come into it. Those dozen failures for every success I mentioned?—they’ve gotta happen. Statistically speaking, your ratio will probably be worse than that. I think mine is. But the more you try, the more you’ll fail, and the more likely you are to succeed, because that’s how life is, maybe. Shoot a thousand arrows and you’ll probably hit some sort of target at least once. That is, so long as you are trying truthfully with all your strength and both your eyes to hit the target in the first place.

    Self-aware comment: I sound like I’m giving the obligatory coach monologue from every sports movie. I guess I really am Gary Gaines or Billy Bob Thornton.

    All the same. Things are coming together. I’m not sick, I’m not in Singapore, I’m not in Sydney, my flight’s just begun its descent back to Brisbane. I’m almost warm and sleeping and okay. True, I have a trio of exams waiting for me on my return, and they are each ill-prepared for, and are all for subjects I don’t care about in a degree I don’t intend on continuing. But I will get through.

    Because that’s what I’ve been doing, am doing, and will be doing until one day maybe I—


Jonathan O'Brien