This year, I’m starting a new interview series on the blog. I’m asking fellow authors, artists, creators, and just generally cool people I know, one simple question:
What is your most precious literary treasure?
So, this is Precious Things. Some of the coolest people I know, telling the stories behind some of the coolest things they have: the literary artefacts that helped make them the creators they are.
As is my tradition, I’m going to start things off with my own item, partly to give you an idea of how it’s all going to look, and partly because I am a hoary old egomaniac who loves the sound of his own self-importance.
This is The Book. If you’ve known me long enough, you’ve heard the story. In 1979, when I was 8 years old, my family moved from Narrogin— a country town in the Wheatbelt of about 3000 people– to Rockingham, a seaside town of over 25,000, where I would stay for the next 13 years. The cultural disconnect was enormous, not least because, for the first time, I was introduced to the concept of large-scale, sustained bullying. But my horizons also grew: the range of sports on offer was larger (at one stage, I was playing 5 per week); the libraries were larger, and, basically, existed; there were magical, amazing things like cinemas and drive-ins and shopping centres…. my tiny, self-contained consciousness, which had been enfolded in a comfortable cocoon of working-class English insularity and acceptance of mediocrity, was ready for cracking.
Shortly before my 9th birthday, I discovered a record at the back of my parents’ record collection. A Goon Show record. Yeah. We all know how that turned out. I still have it: I claimed it when my parents split up and point-blank refused to give it back to either of them. Plus, of course, I now have many more. So many more. My sense of humour was born. And we all know how that turned out. Crack number one. Call it a fissure. Call it a freaking canyon.
Then, for my 9th birthday, I received The Book. It’s official title is Science Fiction Stories for Boys. It’s one of those wonderful anthologies you used to see a lot of in my youth: a quickie rightsploitation effort from Octopus Books, sold on the cheap racks at Coles and K-Mart, filled to the brim with stories whose rights expired the day before the junior acquisitions guy got the directive from his Manager. There’s not even an editor by-line.
BUT: Wells. Asimov. Bradbury. Kornbluth. Leinster. Fredric Brown. Mack Reynolds. Harry Harrison. Ward Moore. Eric Frank Russell. John Christopher. Harry Harrison…… it’s a work of beauty. Some of the stories are genuinely stunning: Aldiss’ To Serve a Man is, in my opinion, just about his best short. And Russell’s Allamagoosa is a comic classic. If you’ve never read Brown’s Knock, well……
And then there was this story. It Could be You, by Frank Roberts. I’ve talked about this story before, and the indelible, life-altering impact it had upon me. This is where I found it. This is where it all began.
Something inside me went clunk, and fell out of its slot. And it’s never fitted back in. And for the next 13 years, it didn’t matter how much I was bullied, and beaten, and ostracised (hint: a lot). It didn’t matter how dramatic and painful my life became (hint: a lot). There was somewhere to retreat to: a place where I saw the horizon in a way nobody else could, where I could determine the colours in the spectrum, or the species of my companions, or the fate of worlds. I had found the home of my mind and soul. Everything I have created, aspired towards, and dreamed of, began with that LP, and even more so, this book.
My family aside, my art aside, this tatty book is my most precious possession. It marks the point where I ceased to be my parents’ heritage, and began the long, painful, and difficult fight to becoming me.
So there you have it: the first Precious Thing. Stay tuned.