Craig Silvey is the young Australian author of award-winning novels RHUBARB and JASPER JONES. I showed up for his event at the HK International Literary Festival and found that there was not much need for a volunteer. The event at the Saffron Café on the Peak was very laid back, and Craig seemed quite comfortable chatting with the attendees over wine and canapés. I met some interesting volunteers and booksellers, and we talked about writing until the event began.
The conversation, moderated by Amanda Hayes, focused on JASPER JONES, the story of a 13-year-old boy who makes a disturbing discovery in a rural Australian town. He must come to terms with the lies and myths told to children to keep them safe as he experiences the realities of the world. Craig was casual, charming and extremely well spoken. He had an easy way with words and he cracked jokes and shared personal stories as he discussed his book.
Craig described the writing process as a very organic experience for him. He views the story as a gift that the writer gets to bring to life, and he said he often does not know much about his story and themes until he writes them out. He says he becomes obsessive about his work as he brings the characters to life. He was humble and honest, saying that he does not view himself as a preternaturally gifted writer. He said he just really wants it and he is a stubborn person and that makes all the difference. He has been heavily influenced by the American Southern Gothic tradition, and JASPER JONES has been compared with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. He laughed off the suggestion that he is the Australian Mark Twain.
The audience at this intimate session mostly consisted of 30-something Australian women. Many of them had read Craig’s books (I bought his first novel there; the Kindle edition of the second comes out in April). They had good questions about the nuances of the novel, but also just seemed charmed by Craig himself. His successes include a nomination for Australia’s Bachelor of the Year, and there was only one man in attendance. I also met Australian authors Shirley Shackleton and Sally Rippin who had decided to watch Craig’s event before their own sessions the next day.
At the end of the evening I was tasked with making sure Shirley Shackleton got safely back to her hotel. She asked Craig Silvey and Sally Rippin if they were heading back, too, and before I knew it I was piling into a cab with all three authors. We talked about Hong Kong as we sped down the Peak toward Causeway Bay. Sally lived here as a child, and she spent much of her life living in different countries. Craig and Sally said they had both always known they wanted to write, and there was never really a time when they decided to start. Writing is purely and simply a part of their souls.