Award-winning writer Wayne Macauley did us the honour of launching Wayne Marshall’s debut collection, Shirl, at Melbourne’s Hill of Content and gave a speech so delightful and heartfelt that we wanted to share it here.
The first thing I’d like to say is that the movement has begun and it may no longer be possible to stop it. The first seed was planted decades ago, with the crooner Wayne Newton’s 1962 worldwide hit, ‘Red Roses for a Blue Lady’. After that there was American self-help author, Wayne Dyer, whose first book, Your Erroneous Zones, became one of the best-selling books of all time. There was also Wayne Knight, the postman from Seinfeld, Wayne Rogers, as Trapper John McIntyre from MASH and, more recently, we have celebrated the very unique Wayneness of Wayne Coyne, lead singer of The Flaming Lips.
Nothing great has ever been expected of a Wayne, least of all by us Waynes – we came in under the cover of darkness. While the world was looking the other way – towards the Ethans, the Keanus, the Joaquins – we were quietly gathering strength, banding together, preparing.
For too long we have said the name under our breath, too embarrassed to even speak it – especially that elongated central vowel – aloud. But we will hide our light under a bushel no more and, tonight, Wayne to Wayne, I publicly welcome this Wayne into the movement’s Australian chapter and know that, whatever comes next, he will surely do us proud.
That by way of introduction …
I absolutely love this book. From first page to last. It pains me now to think that I might not have accepted the invitation from Affirm to read and possibly comment on it. I started my advance copy on a quiet Saturday afternoon; within a couple of pages I was hooked and I read it non-stop to the end. This week I read it again and trust me, it gets even better.
The joyous moments of comedy: for example when the cancer-ridden sports theme park magnate in ‘Gibson’s Bat ‘n’ Ball’ refuses to take the cricket bat his father is offering – Take it you fucking idiot, says dad; or when the aliens in ‘Our Year Without Football’ point their ray guns at the town’s residents and say: No football. One year. Mind experiment…
The heartrending moments of pathos, too, such as when Noel Burfitt, charged by the Committee the third time for crying – and therefore to death – remembers last Saturday’s sunset through the windows of the Settlers Arms and the wedge-tailed eagle, gliding as if on the hand of God; or the moment in ‘Levitation’, one of the collection’s saddest and most tender stories, where father and daughter bounce ideas off each other towards improbable tales, including one about a shark in a pool, before drifting up through a curtain of jacaranda leaves, above the tree line and into a sky of devastating blue.
It is one thing in a work of fiction to shock or spin a reader out, throw up an absurd or fantastic image or take an apparently improbable leap. It is another to do so with the steady hand of control. I praise this book for its adventurousness, but above all I praise it for its craft. It could and should be read by creative writing students everywhere for examples of how to build a story around a striking central image and take us to places we’d not expected to go, but without ever compromising the story’s foundational, internal logic. This is as true of one of Chekhov’s or Carver’s or Munro’s realist stories as it is of Wayne Marshall’s weird ones. Great skill, and I would imagine great patience too, and love, has gone into the making of these gems.
Many decades ago, Patrick White complained of Australian fiction’s ‘dun-coloured realism’. I’d happily say that there’s no longer so much dun-coloured stuff around, but I’d also say that, in my opinion, we’re still not using the full combination of colours on the palette. No literary culture can afford to sit back on its laurels, rest on the success of its imitative skills; there is always room to shake the cage, flip the paradigm, skew the viewpoint, make heads look like tails. In fact, without this kind of innovation and risk-taking –making old ideas new, pushing out to the boundaries of style – any literary culture begins to dull and die.
I say all this because I am here to celebrate this book, Wayne Marshall’s Shirl, as an example of risk-taking that should be celebrated. And I am also here to celebrate the fact that these days such books do get published and supported, by agents like Martin Shaw and small presses like Affirm and everyone here who has made tonight possible.
To the booksellers, too, I say, put it up the front and shout its praises to the sky. To the bigger publishers, I say: take note. To my fellow Wayne, I say, congratulations, well done, and I wish Shirl a long, happy and sales-filled life.
Signed copies of Shirl are available while stocks last at Hill of Content.