Australian writer and journalist Trent Dalton has just followed up the massive success of his semi-autobiographical debut novel Boy Swallows Universe with a new book All Our Shimmering Skies.
Set in Australia’s Northern Territory, the book tells the tale of a gravedigger’s daughter named Molly Hook and her quest to find the man who cursed her family.
Dalton tells Kim Hill he's glad the book is providing a bit of escapism for people still locked down, especially in Melbourne.
"It's really reaching peak stress for them .. and I'm getting lovely messages from people going 'hey, I can't get out of the house but you've taken me as far away from myself and my four walls as you could possibly imagine.
"I'm so glad [the book] landed at this time – this wild story where a girl goes into caves and goes into waterfalls and watches things fall from the sky and stares enthralled into that shimmering sky that's above us all the time … I think it's so cool that through literature we can escape."
Even though Boy Swallows Universe broke sales records and won the 2019 Australian Book Industry Award, Dalton says he still struggled with imposter syndrome about presenting himself as a novelist.
"That story, which was very much from my real life, with drug dealers and prison and my mum going away and all this sort of deep, deep raw stuff. I thought I was put on this earth to write that story, maybe, but I probably got lucky in the way it was received. But now I'll just go back to my day job and I'll be humble. 'All right, thanks for the time!' I'll go back to work."
He was discussing these feelings in a book signing in Adelaide when a woman in her mid-sixties with a warm, beautiful face stood up.
"She looked at me and she just shouted at me 'Stop it! Stop that nonsense! We're all here to see you at this book shop because you wrote this book. Now you go back up to Brisbane and write us another book'.
"I said to this woman 'you don't know how much I needed to hear that' and I gave her the biggest hug afterwards. She goes 'yeah, I know what I'm talking about. My names Mem Fox.' .. in Australia, she's like JK Rowling, basically. She wrote all our children's books that we grew up on."
Dalton can't wait to see the upcoming TV series based on Boy Swallows Universe, which will be co-produced by Australian director and actor Joel Edgerton.
"Covid has meant that this screenwriter [John Collee] has just been able to smash out these scripts … and the scripts are incredible. He's written these things and given it a tone that I've never seen in film or television, and I'm so excited about it."
The tone of the Boy Swallows Universe TV series could be described as "the brutality of life mixed with the wonder of music and love and romance", Dalton tells Kim Hill.
"You know when you fall in love and it's really early – maybe even pre-marriage – and you're running up a hill and you sit on the hill with the person you love and you look up to the sky and you turn to that person and you've never told them you love them and you turn to them and say 'I love you'. That's the tone.'
Writing Boy Swallows Universe was the passcode to a treasure chest of stories in his mind, Dalton says.
"I feel like I want to write every story in the world. I'm so hungry, I'm just passionate. And I've still got so much to learn. So I'm really excited. I see this mountain and I'm just at the bottom of it and I'm ready to just climb, you know?"