her last words roses

DON’T GIVE UP

It’s the most inappropriate time to be even thinking about promoting a new book. There is so much pain and uncertainty throughout the world right now, so much injustice and tragedy that is all too real for too many. Black Americans are pleading for peace after four centuries of exploitation and murder, while their president swaggers, brandishing a bible. The UK is under the charge of a giant, dishevelled toddler up past his bedtime, and Australian leadership, bereft of all imagination, wants to ‘snap back’ to normal with bulk kitchen renovations for the rich and near silence on the black deaths in custody that continue in this country like fresh strikes upon an open wound. And meanwhile, in my sleepy arcadian patch of central New South Wales, the Rural Fire Service is backburning forested hills ahead of the extreme fire conditions expected to return as a result of our collective abuse of the planet.

Yeah, buy my book.

But if books are little lights in the dark, I hope mine is, in its own way, a plea for good things: understanding, kindness, a walk in another’s shoes. I hope all my stories seek these ends, however humble my skill at this business of writing might be. I hope my stories are objects of healing. Some nourishment in the brain space. Some resting of the soul in places near and far. Whispered words that encourage other hearts to fight another day. A soft place to land after a crap day. I hope I use my privilege well, to lift rather than crush. I hope I put helpful thoughts into the world.

So, yeah, this latest one – Her Last Words – is out on audiobook this week, from the lovely people at Bolinda; the paperback and ebook will follow on 7 July. Yayo. Before I say anything else about it, though, if you can’t afford to buy books in any format right now, please ask your local library to order in the books, audios and other reading joys you crave. No-one who needs one should go without a story. Ever.

That’s the philosophy of the heroic bookseller in Her Last Words, Rich O’Driscoll – erstwhile Irish backpacker and loser in love, he’s the quiet, steady heart of my version of a romcom. Because it’s my romcom, it has a murder in it and lots of gags about the publishing industry, too. It also has a few serious things to say about depression, especially the kind of depression brought by grief, and the way the past haunts the present.

In real-life, it all began when a friend from uni days, the incomparable Jennifer Smith, was assaulted and murdered on an inner-city Sydney street one summer night in 1998 – a bag-snatch gone very, very wrong. I can still see where I was and even what I was wearing when I heard the news.

I can still see every moment of Jen’s memorial service, and all that day my heart had wondered: what will become of the novel she was writing? I had little idea of what she was writing about, only that she’d nearly finished it and that I couldn’t wait to read it. I can still see her eyes glittering with excitement and enthusiasm.

But when I asked a mutual friend if we could get hold the manuscript and do something with it, the very idea was waved away, ‘Oh, but it wasn’t any good.’ And oh, but did that quick dismissal of Jen’s excitement and enthusiasm sit in my craw. For all these years, it’s been waiting for its moment to make up story brimming with Jen’s inventiveness, generosity, nuttiness and sparkling intelligence.

My heroine, Thisbe Chisholm, is not Jen, though, and her friends, Penny Katschinski, John Jacobson and Jane Furlow, aren’t Jen’s friends. None of the story in any way explores the real-life crime committed against her, either – because that was never the point. I wanted to write a story about a murder, a missing manuscript and an undying love that would make an old friend laugh. I hope in my heart of hearts, in whatever corner of the universe the wisps of our souls bump subatomic particles, that I’ve succeeded.

Her Last Words is, really, a novel about yearning – be it for fulfillment, love, peace, or the truth. It’s a story that implores all of us who grapple with the dark, including myself: please, don’t give up. It can be hard, so hard, to see how loved and necessary you are when everything has gone to shit. But you are loved and necessary. Let the brightest sparkles in us all have the last laugh.

And believe that justice is coming to those who have caused such trauma and grief. In one way or another, justice is coming to those who commit crimes of violence against women. Hate criminals. Racist criminals. Their time is running out. We have to believe that.

Love must win, and the contribution each of us makes to this victory, however small or frail or faulty, is mightier than kings.

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The Bolinda audiobook is available now here and wherever audiobooks are sold, as well as through the Borrowbox library app.