A quaint old cultural ritual, a remnant from the days when books emerged less often and seemed correspondingly more significant? A bit of ego massage for the author? A custom that is disappearing anyway because its cost is no longer justified by the sales generated?
Previously I’ve posted some thoughts about ceremonial book launches, noting that even authors themselves are not unanimous about the value of these events. David Malouf (so successful that he can afford to be dismissive) shrugs them off as merely “exercises in vanity,” while Miriam Cosic regards them as a vanishing species, “one of the silent casualties of shrinking profits and digital publishing.”
Paul Genoni delivering his speech to launch A Thousand Tongues
Having had my new novel A Thousand Tongues launched at a cheerful event yesterday, I incline towards the more optimistic opinion that this traditional way of celebrating a book’s birth can still create ripples of publicity that reaffirm collectively the worth of literary creativity for readers as well as for writers and publishers.
Anyway, I enjoyed myself thoroughly and the crowd that filled Mattie Furphy House apparently did so too. I’m grateful to all who contributed to the afternoon’s success, especially to Dr Paul Genoni for his eloquent appreciative speech (a version of which will later be published as a review), to my publisher Framework Press for all its support (particular thanks to Indeira William), to the Fellowship of Australian Writers (WA) for the use of its lovely heritage-listed venue, and to Olivia for a great sales job.
And by the way… I’m delighted that Amanda Curtin generously invited me to write a piece about my novel as a guest on her website. She posted it there today and you can read it here.
I’ve always tried in my previous historical fiction to raise issues relevant to our own times. So it’s encouraging when reviewers recognise (to quote one of them) ‘themes that speak to our present society’ in what I’ve written.
But I’m still aware that some readers see any stories set in the distant past as indulging in a kind of antiquarian escapism, looking nostalgically backwards instead of engaging with today’s concerns.
The book’s back cover
I hope any such misapprehension will hardly be possible for those who turn the pages of my new novel, A Thousand Tongues.
It tells a story in which situations from earlier periods are framed by a present-day setting, with characters in the here-and-now of contemporary Perth investigating characters from earlier periods and other places, discovering in the process that certain questions (e.g. about matters of conscience) are perennial even if they take different shapes as circumstances change.
Pleasant though it is to be praised for evoking authentic impressions of times gone by, my aim in A Thousand Tongues goes well beyond that – as the back-cover blurb asserts. In case you can’t see the text on the accompanying image clearly, here’s what it says:
Released from Dartmoor Prison in 1889, a black man soon breaks back into it. Interned in the same jail in 1917, a conscientious objector seems to invite trouble and seek punishment. On a present-day Australian university campus, a Muslim student is mysteriously murdered.
The suspenseful action of A Thousand Tongues reveals how these enigmas are interlinked. It explores racial and sexual tensions, twists and turns of conscience, the limits of historical enquiry, and legacies of guilt and shame.
“Ian Reid’s fiction is grounded in an understanding of how complicated character can be, how tragic fate can be, and how lives that might seem inconsequential carry the immense power of history and personality.” – Brenda Walker
Published by Framework Press, my novel is scheduled for release on the first day of the Australian spring season.
When its author first sees how a forthcoming book will look, there’s a frisson of pleasure.
So I’m very happy to share this preview of the cover of my soon-to-be-released fourth novel, A Thousand Tongues.
The design by Steve Barwick captures the story’s mood well, incorporating a landscape scene that figures importantly in the action. The row of stones, stark, uncanny, tongue-like, has stood in this part of Dartmoor since prehistoric times.
The title? It alludes to a speech by one of Shakespeare’s characters, quoted in an epigraph to the text.
More on this before long, as the release date draws nearer.