My journey to The Nowhere

3rd June 2019, Brisbane.

Right now, on the eve of the release of my new book, The Nowhere, I am a bag of nerves and excitement. That frantic, anxious energy is pulsating through my veins as a range of questions circle my head: “What if nobody reads it?” “What if they read it and hate it?” And so on and so forth. 

I take a deep breath and remind myself to trust in the universe. Or at least that old saying, “what will be, will be.” 

“The story doesn’t belong to me anymore. It belongs to the reader.”

Yes, I spent the last couple of years planning, writing, editing and then promoting this book. But just like a child, once it’s out in the world I need to allow it to become its own thing. In a way, once it’s out, the story doesn’t belong to me anymore. It belongs to the reader, for them to interpret, criticise or compliment as much as they want.

In that way there’s a feeling of freedom and relief that cuts through my mind’s noise.

I exhale.

The early works

It was late 2016 and my attention had begun to turn from the promotion of my debut poetry book, Verses, and my debut novel, Shell. Although proud of both my first works, that feeling inside that my best was ahead of me bubbled beneath the surface. It in turn thrilled and frustrated me.

See, I made all the mistakes you can as a first-time authorTelling instead of showing. Not enough character development (aside from the lead protagonist). Too much happening in a relatively short book, meaning the momentum was lost at times.

Sometimes I wrestle with whether I should have put Shell out into the world at all, especially upon learning many authors write several novels before contemplating publishing one (Shell was the first full novel I ever finished). But my stubborn, youthful ambition wouldn’t have even contemplated that.

But I remember vividly thinking “what if I’ve only got one novel in me? What if I never write another?” I’d read so many times about the amount of people who believe they have a book in them, but the percentage who actually finish writing one is so much smaller.

Those thoughts were enough to push me to release that book through my co-founded publishing house, PRNTD, and it was a great process to test the waters. But within a year of its release I realised it wasn’t going to be my first and only book. I had already begun another.

The inspiration

The rookie errors I’d made with Shell in many ways planted the seeds for my sophomore novel. I knew I wanted the book to be a complete contrast to my debut. Instead of being set in the future, I wanted much of it to be set in the past. Instead of being told in third person, I wanted it to be told in first. Instead of having an ensemble cast that I didn’t develop, I wanted to focus on having fewer characters who I would really expand on. And I knew I wanted the landscape to be so visceral, it would almost be seen as an additional character in the book.

I think having come of age in a small country town myself – dreaming of the big city as I came to terms with my sexuality and identity – I’ve always been inspired by remote, cut-off places. And, having called Australia home since 2014, I was also sure I wanted the book to be set here. But not in a busy, cosmopolitan city like Sydney or Melbourne.

“I’ve always been inspired by remote, cut-off places.”

I remember sitting on Google Earth, pawing over the arid landscape of outback WA, knowing that’s where my new book would be set. Where the earth turns redder and the bushland sparser. 

So, I had a setting… now all I needed was a story!

The characters

One strange technique I picked up when dreaming up and developing the characters in The Nowhere was having conversations with them in my head. Yes, I’m aware how crazy that sounds, but it worked! It was almost as if they… visited me. Like they found their way into my story, instead of me thinking them up.

Seb came first, which was lucky seeing as he is who the story is told through the eyes of. I had no visual concept of what Sebastian Johns would look like at first, but his nature and the way he thinks channelled through me around the same time it dawned on me I wanted to write a coming-of-age novel. And once I imagined the 17-year-old boy confused about his identity living on a remote farm out in the middle of nowhere, the rest of the characters started to appear.

“His nature and the way he thinks channelled through me.”

Seb’s father, Stuart, was next, and I knew I wanted the relationship he had with his son to be testing. Turbulent, tense but also compassionate in parts. I knew this thread of the story would be very significant and it was one I knew I had to get right.

Next came Jeremy, Seb’s younger brother. A wide-eyed child with an air of innocence that would contrast some of the themes I wanted the book to touch on. I wanted Seb to be a protective big brother and that Jeremy would be what would make it so hard for him to simply pack up and run away from his life on the farm. Jeremy in many ways acts as the anchor within the book.

Originally, I planned for Seb’s mother to have left when he was little, never to have been heard of again. But once I began to develop Seb’s mother’s character and the relationship she had with her sons – I knew she wouldn’t have walked out like that. So tragically, it was to be her death that led her family to move out to the middle of nowhere (I had starting coining this setting ‘The Nowhere’ in my mind now, which became the working title before ultimately, the official title of the book).

Then came Jake, the captivating boy with a dangerous glint in his eye who moves into the derelict farm next door to Seb with his parents. With Jake, and the influential impact and influence I knew I wanted him to have on Seb, came the key plot of the story: the secret.

The secret

Now, I’m obviously not going to disclose the secret in the book here, because that would be a major spoiler for anyone planning to read it. But it was this secret that I thought up next as I began to develop Jake’s character, and the relationship he was to have with Seb throughout the book.

“I’m a big fan of slow-burning fiction.”

It was also when I decided the story would move around in timeframes, predominantly between the late 1990s in The Nowhere and modern day in Perth (2017/18, which is the timeframe I was writing and editing the book).

I knew I wanted it to be clear from the start of the novel that something bad took place in the summer on ’98, but you wouldn’t find out until late in the book. I wanted the story to slowly build towards a climactic conclusion where the truth is unveiled. 

That said, The Nowhere is not a crime novel. Interestingly, I have really got into crime fiction since completing the book and would definitely be interested in venturing into this genre in the future. But at its core, The Nowhere is a coming-of-age novel with elements of mystery, family drama and LGBT+ themes.

The slow-burning aspect of the book might not be to everyone’s taste, especially those who prefer a fast-paced page turner, but I knew this is the way the story needed to be told. I’m a big fan of slow-burning fiction, films, TV shows, even music – so I really wanted my sophomore to take this approach.

The story slowly unravels as you learn more about Seb and the characters around him. Be patient, enjoy the journey and I promise – as the story goes on the pace picks up and climax is well worth the wait.

The themes

Many people have asked me if The Nowhere is an LGBT+ book, which I have found a hard question to answer. Seb’s realisation of his sexuality is a key aspect to the story, and the fact he is a gay character infatuated with his friend does lend itself to gay fiction. But many of the people who have read advance copies of the novel have mentioned this is just one element of the book, which I couldn’t agree with more and am glad has come across.

The Nowhere touches on many themes aside from identity and sexuality. Love, loss and isolation all find their way into the pages of the book. As does the fear of self-reckoning Seb feels in the present-day parts of the novel.

I didn’t set out to make any sort of socio-political statements in the book, but in retrospect it would have been hard not to, given the themes occurring in that particular time and place.

Seb’s self-loathing as he tries to come to terms with his sexuality – along with the shocking language his self-conscious mind uses to describe himself – speaks volumes of where the LGBT+ movement was in 1990s’ rural Australia. In remote parts of anywhere in the world. And to some extent, in even more cosmopolitan areas around the globe.

Despite how far we’ve come in 2019, there are many who will still be able to resonate with Seb’s coming of age. My own experiences – although very different to Seb’s – did help me inform the writing of this part of the book. In that way it has led to some of my most vulnerable and honest writing, despite not being autobiographical.

The dedication

During the writing of The Nowhere I went through the darkest and saddest period of my life so far. In mid 2017 my father was diagnosed with cancer that had devastatingly already begun to spread throughout his body. 

Much of the book was written in hospital waiting rooms, which undoubtedly influenced some of the writing of the novel (strangely, I had already written the outline of the book before Dad’s diagnosis and strange parallels within the book were merely coincidental). 

Dad passed away in October of last year and a part of me died with him. I know that I will never get that part of me back, but he would not want me to stand still and continue to cry. He loved life, and always encouraged me to live mine to the fullest. I owe it to him to live the best life I can, and for that reason I picked myself back up and continued to plan the release of my book.

I had just finished The Nowhere before Dad passed away, and although he didn’t get a chance to read it, he held it in his hands in his hospital bed with his arm around me. I knew how proud Dad was of me, and that he will continue to be proud wherever he is now.

I am proud of him too, for being the strong, brave and inspiring man he was. That is why my new book is dedicated to him, in loving memory.

Christopher Laurence Gill

The release

Despite some alluring conversations with agents and publishers when debating the process of publishing The Nowhere, I decided to go with my gut and once again release it through my co-founded company, PRNTD Publishing. I’m not saying I would write off going down the traditional publishing route in the future, particularly if I end up writing something with more commercial appeal. But for this project, it feels right to go it alone. 

Releasing the book independently also gives my husband and I complete creative control over the design and promotion of the book. My partner, Michael van de Kerkhof, and I have been together nearly a decade now, and got married in April of this year surrounded by our friends and family. It is a dream and a privilege to get to work on creative ventures like this with him, as he is an extremely talented man who gets my vision every step of the way.

Michael designed the beautiful, simplistic cover of the novel, as well as the artwork and branding across my website and social media. It has been fantastic to build a campaign using the sleek and minimal design Michael does best, while still staying true to the book’s themes. 

This time around we begun the campaign early, which turned out to be a good move in terms of building interest around the book. As frustrating as it can be having to wait for a book to be released, marketing is key to a relatively unknown author, so I definitely feel the build-up to releasing The Nowhere has helped me begin building a platform where the type of readers I know will enjoy this book will find me.

Social media has obviously been great for this (how did indie authors do it before!?), as has the interest I have had from readers requesting ARCs. Their Goodreads reviews, as well as the beautiful pictures they’ve posted on Instagram using #thenowherenovel have all helped me build momentum around the release. I am humbled (and a bit nervous) by the number of pre-orders the book has received, but ultimately thankful.

I must also say a huge thank you to the independent booksellers who have helped me get the word out there this time around. In particular, a special mention must be made to Sydney’s iconic LGBT+ bookstore, The Bookshop in Darlinghurst, for allowing me to exclusively sell signed copies of the book both online and in store. Thanks also to Hares & Hyenas in Melbourne, Crow Books in Perth, New Edition in Fremantle and Avid Reader in Brisbane.

Finally, big thanks to UK-based not-for-profit, for both stocking my book and running an interview on me about The Nowhere and my own coming-out journey. Other interviews have included with Doingbird Magazine and Awesome Gang. The support press and reviews have for an indie author are not to be underestimated and for them all I am grateful. 

Here’s hoping there are many more!

The future

So here I am, tapping away on the keys of my laptop anxiously as I wait for the pre-ordered copies to be shipped out to the world. For the ‘pre-order’ call-to-actions on Amazon to switch over to ‘buy now’. Maybe people will, maybe they won’t. Maybe it’ll be a slow build much like the novel itself, or maybe a spark that flickers a few times before fading away forever into obscurity.

The Nowhere is available online and in selected independent bookstores.

Whatever this story’s fate, I just hope that those who do read it come away with some of the emotions I intended them to feel. I hope they feel the heat of the farm. I hope they feel the infatuation Seb has for Jake. I hope they feel the anguish Seb carries with him for the secret that burns within his heart.

I see stories like relationships. Some you click with, some you don’t. Some you have fleeting encounters with, before you move onto the next fling. Some you forget quickly. Some stay with you forever, long before you finish that last sentence.

The Nowhere is a book that will stay with me. No matter how much I grow and develop as a person and as a writer, no matter how many books I go on to write. Sure, in a couple of years’ time I might feel just the same about The Nowhere as I do now about Shell, but it won’t take away how much of myself I poured into this story. Or the events that took place between the time the idea formed in my mind to where I am now, about to set it free to the world.

What comes next is anyone’s guess. But one thing I know for certain is that you can’t keep it secret forever. The truth always comes out eventually.

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