Acclaimed Brisbane author, Trent Dalton, returned to QUT’s Kelvin Grove campus as the guest reader of the May QUT Literary Salon: Brisbania. The Boy Swallows Universe and All Our Shimmering Skies author took the stage to read an excerpt of his new book, which deals with the many forms of love. Dalton has been interviewing various Brisbanites to hear the unusual, serendipitous, tremendous stories of love, looking for that ‘cracker love story’, as Trent would say.
The QUT Literary Salon is a monthly event where the emerging writers of QUT submit and read their works out loud if chosen. Each salon has a different theme, and the salon asks established writers to feature in a guest spot. May’s salon captured the tantalising energy of Boy Swallows Universe, as writers were asked to write about Brisbane. When the team initially thought of the idea, we immediately said ‘Trent Dalton.’ After weeks of coordinating with Trent, we secured him as our guest reader.
Chosen readers at the Brisbania Salon were: Em Redman, Ashton Darracott, Samuel Maguire, Hannah Vesey, Ellie Kaddatz, Waverley Stanley Jr., and Jess Woods. Each writer gave us a different side of Brisbane, sharing with us drunken stories, stories with heart, and stories that were just so unapologetically Brisbane. Trent was moved to tears by Jess Woods’ story Suburban Dreams, which personifies Trent’s dad’s house in Bracken Ridge from Boy Swallows Universe. After Jess finished speaking, Trent gave her a huge hug.
Trent spoke on the microphone with confidence and conviction, like the most natural-born storyteller in the world. He gave the audience a show, he revealed a story given to him by the manager of Archives Fine Books. The audience was in stitches as Trent told an outrageous story of people hooking up in the actual book store!
The significance of an author like Trent Dalton, who wholeheartedly celebrates Brisbane, is a shift in the Australian writing scene. The international success of Trent’s book, Boy Swallows Universe, has changed the perspective of Australians in regards to Brisbane. No longer is Brisbane seen as the ‘daggy’ little brother of Sydney and Melbourne. This change brings on the systematic disembodiment of cultural cringe.
Emerging writers are often told they must move to Melbourne or Sydney to make something of themselves; Trent proves that you can be a Brisbane writer and be successful. You can even write about Brisbane! For example, Boy Swallows Universe tells the story of Eli Drake as he navigates the hardships of growing in Brisbane’s working class. Set in the 80s, it draws upon Trent’s own upbringing. A book that Trent says is ‘straight from the heart, a soul cough.’
When asked about cultural cringe, Trent said, ‘I feel passion writing about Brisbane the same way as someone would writing about New York City. In Waverley’s store he mentioned Streets Beach in South Bank. Hearing about that it gave me chills. We should celebrate Brisbane and our stories.’
Some people might be unaware that Boy Swallows Universe was written while Trent worked full-time at the Courier Mail. Trent says his current writing process has changed because of the success of Boy Swallows Universe. ‘It’s freed me up to make writing and fiction writing and long form storytelling kind of a full time thing for me’.
Writing students may be familiar with the hardcore writing schedule of Haruki Murakami: ‘[w]hen I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m.’ Haruki did this without variation.
When asked about his writing schedule, Trent said he does something similar, although he is slightly kinder to himself. ‘I wake up, drive the kids to the 710 bus, come back and go for a jog, because I think it is really important to be fit. Physically healthy as well as mentally healthy. This helps me because I am a physical, emotional kind of writer so these things work in tandem. I come home, have a boiled egg on avocado toast and then I make a really strong coffee. Then I will go downstairs and write from 8:45am-12pm, then I will come upstairs, have a ham, cheese and tomato jaffle, watcha bit Netflix and defrag and think about what I wrote for the last three hours.’
Trent also talks about his routine working around his family. ‘…I go back to writing from about 1pm to 4pm, which is when I have to pick the girls back up – I have two girls, they are fourteen and twelve. I have to pick them back up from the bus stop. I have to juggle my commitments with being a dad but it works well because I write really shit after 3:30pm. Even in journalism I tried to write my best stuff from about 9am-2pm.’ As you can imagine, there was a lot of laughter that took place in this interview as Trent delivered his answers with confidence and charisma.
Another component of the QUT writers’ scene is ScratchThat magazine. ScratchThat publishes high quality, original work of QUT students and alumni. The magazine currently publishes writing, podcasts and artwork. It is another excellent opportunity for burgeoning writers and artists to get their work seen before leaving university. ScratchThat has published five issues so far; three in 2020 and two in 2021.
Hannah Brown, the art editor for issue 5, created a portrait for Trent and presented it to him on behalf of herself and ScratchThat magazine. ‘It was such a rewarding experience to be able to present a painting to a person who’s work I’m such a fan of, and to receive such a heartwarming reaction was so amazing,’ Hannah said when asked about the moment she gave Trent his portrait on stage.
Follow The QUT Literary Salon on Instagram @qutlitsalon and Facebook The QUT Literary Salon. Follow ScratchThat at https://scratchthatmagazine.com. Both are great opportunities for writers to be published before leaving university and both have set QUT up with a fantastic writing culture.
Jakeb Smith is a writer who specialises in queer stories. Life is too heteronormative, so Jakeb always tries to liven things up and tell a story from a queer perspective. Whether that be in poetry, short story, or any other creative medium, Jakeb always tries to add a bit of glitter and sparkle to his every tale.