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Dr Jared Thomas: New work

May 12, 2013

I have been working on the manuscript Calypso Summer for 6 or so years.

Because I have been working on projects back to back since I was in my late teens, a part of my writing process is to simply think about the idea, see the characters and story come to life in my mind for twelve or so months before I begin writing.


During this time, I research by looking at photographs, films, books and articles relating to events that will feature in the story and the general subject of the story. For example, when I wrote ‘Sweet Guy,’ named after the Paul Kelly song, I studied ‘Puberty Blues,’ and similar Australian classics. The novel touches on issues of family separation, depression and domestic violence so I read articles and spoke with people who have experience with these things.


In the process of conducting this type of research I get excited about writing and my story… I let all the ideas and excitement bottle up.When I put pen to paper, seeing ideas flow onto the page, it is like being a little kid opening all the Christmas presents you’d wished for.


In the process of writing Calypso Summer I went through many highs and lows. Immensely busy with family and professional responsibilities I became overwhelmed by what I hoped to achieve. I wrote the novel as part of my PhD and one of my heroes, Olive Senior mentored me during the initial drafts.


I sent the work to numerous publishers over the years and it was rejected. I wasn’t used to this happening, especially when I believed so passionately in the story. Last year I spent five months in Aotearoa as part of an Australian Endeavour Award Research Fellowship under the supervision of Professor Linda Tuhiwa Smith, one of the world’s most celebrated Indigenous academics. I spent some of the time rewriting the novel from beginning to end, changing the tense from past to present and voice from third to first. When I had completed the task, I sent the work to another publisher and they also rejected it.I was disappointed not only because the work wasn’t picked up, but because I felt I was letting down all of the fantastic people who had supported my work.


Early this year I submitted the manuscript to the State Library of Queensland Black and Write Writing Fellowship.


Recently I was in my office and received an email from the State Library of Queensland saying they wanted to speak with me as they were finalising the winners of the fellowship. I thought, ‘damn, I didn’t win,’ and that they wanted me to provide some biographical notes on the winner. This kind of request always comes my way so it didn’t seem unusual. I made the call, and Katie Woods told me that I had won the award.


It didn’t really register… and when it did… I actually started crying… happy crying… lots of it… and the more I cried the happier Katie sounded…


After the call I punched the air. The sweetness of success was exhilarating.

I have learned so much through this experience, sticking to my guns, seeing it through. I am delighted that I am one of the fellowship winners and that the work will be released by Magabala Books in 2014 as a result. In addition I will work with a team of Aboriginal editors to hone our collective skills and contribute to an Indigenous publishing house.


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