Melbourne is having a memoir moment.
Every week I go to the post office and, voila! There's a parcel with another brilliant home-grown memoir. Make no mistake. These are not weighty, historical 'what-I've-learned-in-my-life memoirs' (although I don't mind those - I'm getting old ... eek!) . Instead there is an emerging collective of wild, funny and oft-heartbreaking tales of ... well, making it through your teens and 20s.
But that's the beauty of this modern Melbourne memoir.
Liam Pieper's The Feel-Good Hit of the Year absolutely lives up to the hype.
This book is a true example of when life is stranger than fiction. This book made me sob (howl, actually) and then laugh. Often on the same page.
I cannot wait to read more from Liam Pieper. Trust me, you really need to read this rollercoaster of a memoir. Write and tell me what you think.
I bailed Liam up on the steps of Indus at Ubud Writers & Readers Festival and he's such a friendly fella that he agreed to answer a few questions for me. Trust me, he's as funny and earnest in person as he is on the page. Very impressive. Here's an edited version of our little chat ....
Kirsty: Who are you reading at the moment?
Liam: At the moment, I'm reading all sorts of things, but probably my favourite, very favourite thing is Only the Animals by a lady called Ceridwen Dovey who's an Australian writer of fiction. In full disclosure, she's my stable mate at Penguin. But, it's a book of short stories told from the point of view of animals that have died in human conflict over the past century or so.
... It's this magnificent tour de force of writers and different writing styles. And each of the animals that are the main characters are also tied to a key writer from the last century in some way, you know, uh... It's a hard concept to explain. It's magnificent. It's truly a work of art. I can highly recommend it.
Kirsty: Do you read a lot of memoir? Did you read a lot of memoir before you wrote your own memoir?
Liam: I did read a lot of memoir. I read everything I could get my hands on to see how it was done, you know? From the really good stuff, like Nabokov's Speak, Memory. It's probably peak, top of the game. Oh, can I plug another book while we're here?
Liam: Lorelei Vashti.
Kirsty: I've read it. I did a review on it.
Liam: Dress, Memory.
Kirsty: Dress, Memory. I thought it was, brilliant ... it's my pick of memoirs for the spring.
Liam: Oh, thank you very much!
Kirsty: I love her.
Liam: Yeah. I don't want to be picked. It's fine!
Yeah, hell of a book. Can't speak highly enough of it. So, all, all those kinds of things. I also just read a lot of terrible memoir, and a lot of really bad fiction, memoir masquerading as fiction.
More to see what to avoid than, you know, what to do. I mean, how do you emulate a memoir? You can't do it, you know. You can't really steal any stylistic tips ... Or tricks, I guess. But yeah, a lot of good memoir, a lot of bad memoir. And then I tried my best.
Kirsty: So what's next for you?
Liam: Excellent question. I am going to India. I have a residency thanks to the largess of Michelle Garnaut and her M Restaurant Group ... who are going to send me over there to write a book, which deals with hatred and fear in the Australian character.
Kirsty: How did that come about? That's interesting, a restaurateur patronising a writer ... In the truest sense of the word. It's quite the modern Medici family. M for Medici and for Michelle.
Liam: She's the Medici of Beijing. She's an Australian restaurateur who operates in Beijing (and Shanghai).
Liam: And, she loves literature. And, she started running a few years ago a Beijing writer's festival. Um, you know, using her restaurants and bars. And she just I guess, you'd have to ask her ... but she just seems to love books and wants to make them happen, and God knows, it's a hard game to make a living in.
Liam: So, yeah. I'm eternally grateful for her assistance.
Kirsty: So did you choose where to go or did she? You're going to India, not China.
Liam: Yeah, they offer two residencies. One in India, one in Beijing. The Indian writer is going to China, and I'm going to India.
Liam: Yeah, so I'm going to write a book there.
Kirsty: So is it a fiction book, or is it a non-fiction?
Liam: We'll see how it works out. I don't know exactly what shape it's going to take just yet. I have a small non-fiction book that deals along similar things coming out early next year. At least it should do, unless it all goes awry. Do you know there's a little books series at Penguin: Penguin specials? They do very small quick reads. I've got one of them coming out soon. Title to be confirmed. (Penguin have confirmed it is to be called Mistakes Were Made)
Kirsty: Is it a novella, or a ...?
Liam: It's a collection of essays.
Kirsty: Oh, lovely.
Liam: Kind of like David Sedaris kind of thing.
Kirsty: That would really suit your voice.
Liam: I hope so. That's the idea. See if it works out. So that's what's on the horizon for the next few months. After that, God knows.
Kirsty: Exciting times. So, what do you read when you're on holidays?
Liam: What do I read when I'm on holidays? Um, right now I'm reading a lot of, uh, really depressing nonfiction. I'm reading Eric Jensen's new book (Bittersweet Battle: And other Adventures).
And I'm catching up on New Yorkers, because the New Yorkers just keep coming in my house and I can't get through them. It's like that scene from Harry Potter. When all the letters from Hogwarts are coming in and they overwhelm Uncle Vernon. It's like that but with, you know, articles by that science writer I never read.
Kirsty: So are you shooting for New Yorker?
Liam: I would love to get in the New Yorker, but, you know. Baby steps.
Kirsty: Baby steps. One more question, what are you loving about the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival? Are there any writers you've uncovered, or any surprises for you? Gems?
Liam: I love the whole thing. You know, I've been pleasantly surprised by the poets. I will admit to a certain antipathy towards performance poetry as rule, but of course some of the performance poets this time around like Carlos Andres Gomez are amazing ... That's been a really pleasant surprise to see some of those dudes in action.
Kirsty: Beautiful. Thank you. That's great.
Liam: No problem. Have a great day.
I was sent a review copy by Penguin, but all opinions are my own.