Book Chat: Gary Lonesborough
I’m really excited to welcome Gary Lonesborough to Book Chat. Gary is a Yuin author who grew up in Bega on the south coast of New South Wales. In February 2021, Gary’s debut Young Adult novel, The Boy from the Mish, was published by Allen & Unwin and has received a lot of positive attention. The Boy from the Mish captures a pivotal time in the life of its 17-year-old protagonist, Jackson, as he comes to terms with his sexuality and the trials of first love, as well as various aspects of his Aboriginal identity. It’s a beautifully written book – moving, funny and thought-stirring – and signals the arrival of an important new voice in Australian YA.
Gary – congratulations on the enthusiastic reception for The Boy from the Mish. Thanks a million for taking the time to share your thoughts with us on Book Chat.
Firstly, could you tell us about your journey towards becoming an author, and what it was like hearing that your manuscript was going to be published?
It was a long waiting period between submitting the manuscript to Allen & Unwin’s Friday Pitch program to hearing back about it. I received an email from my publisher saying they wanted to meet with me and we met at a café in Sydney about a month later. It was really hard for me to remain calm during that meeting because I was bursting with joy inside. It really felt like a dream come true in a really fantastical, magical way. I strolled around the city for a while before I went home and told my family they were publishing my book. I was extremely happy for a long time. I didn’t have a bad day for months!
Could you tell us a little about the drafting and redrafting process you went through to write The Boy from the Mish? How long did the entire process take?
I’d originally written the story from Tomas’s perspective, so the original drafts were very different. I wrote every day for that first draft and finished it in just over a month, but I was revising and rewriting for almost a year before I rewrote the story from Jackson’s POV. The story became so much clearer when I realised it was Jackson’s story, and it was probably the second draft of that version of the manuscript that got me the book deal. Looking back, I see it as a year of getting all my bad writing out of the way then four to five months of honing the good writing. We didn’t have to make any major changes in the edits with the publisher but there were plenty of moments in the story that became richer during editing. And there are three scenes which remain from that original draft! From start to finish, it was probably about 2 years.
I’ve heard you say that you don’t tend to plot your stories out before you write. I find this impressive, given the strength of your novel’s structure and resolution. Can you offer any tips to other writers who like to write this way too?
Correct! I start with an idea and sit on that for a while until it feels ready. I give myself permission to write a bad first draft, so I’m just writing from that original idea and letting the characters take me where they go. That first draft is all about getting the words down. The structure and everything else that makes it a book can come later, but in the beginning, the important thing for me is getting the words on the page.
Your main character, Jackson, is such a well-rounded creation, and so real. Where did Jackson come from, and what made you realise that his story needed to be told?
Jackson was originally the ‘Tomas’ of the story. I was really trying to express how I felt as a teen – how I struggled to accept my sexuality while living in rural NSW and the issues I faced as an Aboriginal kid – and that expression didn’t ring true until I began writing from Jackson’s POV. I guess the reason he feels so well-rounded and real is because he is feeling what I felt and I tried to articulate it as accurately as I could. While I don’t remember exactly where the idea for Jackson came from, I know I was wanting to write a YA story with an Aboriginal kid who is going through what I went through, and I couldn’t find that story when I looked for it.
There’s a real authenticity to the first person voice you use for Jackson. I often find that when writing in the first person, many lines tend to blur between me and my main character. Is this something you experience too? If so, how do you deal with it?
Definitely! I knew Jackson had to feel real to the reader. Writing Jackson in first-person meant allowing myself to be vulnerable and open with my writing, and I believe that vulnerability and openness is what engages readers. For me, I let the line blur completely when I’m drafting and then I pull back in certain moments during the editing. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable can be mentally and spiritually straining, so it’s great to talk to friends and family, take breaks, go for walks.
Even though the Mish is a fictional place, the clarity and vividness of your writing gives it a very strong visual presence. Do you think your time at film school and work in the film industry had an effect on the way you portrayed the Mish in your writing?
Since going to film school, I definitely tend to write and think very visually. My original idea for the book came to me in a series of scenes and I’d even written a short film script which had a similar story to The Boy from the Mish. The important thing for me when writing setting or environments is to write with my five senses, really immerse myself in the feeling of where my characters are at any moment.
As you’ve said in other interviews, your main goal was to do justice to the love story at the heart of The Boy from the Mish. Nevertheless, your writing doesn’t flinch from the racism and homophobia that are inevitably present in Jackson’s world – both of which contribute to your characters’ journeys in different ways. As you wrote the novel, were you concerned that your ability to write with authority about these things might potentially pigeonhole you as an ‘issues’ author?
Correct, the original idea was the love story and the rest came later. I was very aware of being an Aboriginal writer and I was definitely scared of being pigeonholed as I was going through the publishing process. I know now that I will just write what I want to write and if an issue is part of a story, that’s fine but if not, I don’t need to force it. All I’m concerned with is writing great characters that a reader will care about.
Did your experience working in disability, youth justice and Aboriginal health inform any of the ground you wanted to cover as you wrote your manuscript?
I guess the things I really draw from through my work experience is the people I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard. I’ve been lucky to have met and worked with an amazing variety of people and personalities and I’ve definitely drawn from some of those experiences and those people to inform my characters.
What’s next for Gary Lonesborough? I did see a tweet about your current WIP that mentioned the possible presence of a cool dad, queer kids and Kylie Minogue fandom, among other things! Sounds fun – I’m intrigued already!
YES! This one’s still in the ‘idea’ stage. I wrote a first chapter and realised I needed to think about it for a bit longer. I have finished another manuscript that may or may not get published, and there’s a children’s book I really want to write soon. I’m not sure whether any of these are good or not at this point but I will definitely keep writing!
Where can readers find you online?
Instagram – garylonesborough
Twitter – Glonesborough
Facebook – Gary Lonesborough – Author
And you can check out my website – www.garylonesborough.com
Many thanks for your time and responses, Gary. It’s a real honour to feature you on the page and I’ll be keenly following your future projects.
Please see below for more information about Gary, and The Boy from the Mish.