It's come to my attention that my 1997 novel, Loving Athena, is on a list of 11 books nominated as Australian YA classics from the last 30 years by kill your darlings.
I'm chuffed, of course, though I know the book won't win - it's up against many best-selling and loved books. Athena would only have ever sold about 2,000 copies at most, and is long out of print, but it's always had its fans.
One girl wrote and told me she'd read it 19 times.
Even I haven't read it 19 times.
About a decade ago, I got hate mail about this book, from a class of students who'd been made to read it. It was vitriolic and aggressive in its tone - they wondered how on earth the book had been published, but most of all, they said why didn't I just make Keats gay, as he so obviously was. (Well, of course he's gay - he's a gentle boy who writes poetry - what else could he be?) By the way, they weren't wanting me to write a gay novel, it was the opposite of that.
I was very low on iron at the time, had just come home from an operation after months of feeling ill, and I didn't reply to them. I simply didn't have the energy. I dropped their letter sadly into the bin. What made me sad was the intolerance of someone who was 'different'. These were the Pauline Hanson years, when Muslims and other 'unaustralian' people were being targeted with hate. It was now, obviously, quite okay to be intolerant.
What was their teacher thinking?
Anyway, I'm amazed that this book, of all of mine, has been chosen. Mahalia and Secret Scribbled Notebooks, are far better known, have sold many more copies, and been published overseas.
So to celebrate, I'm putting a little bit of Athena into the attic.
The novel is about a young man named Keats, who writes poetry. He lives with an old man, a potter, on a commune called Elysian Farm near Lismore. There is a real Elysian Farm near Lismore; I've never been there - I just liked the name (just as there was a real Hope Springs bookshop in Lismore - I put it in Secret Scribbled Notebooks - I have been there many times (it's now defunct), and it was very as I described).
As my Keats wrote poetry, I interleaved each chapter with one of 'his' poems.
This is one that a lot of people have told me they liked:
I'm sick of poems
that are shy,
ready to run
if you look at them,
that want to be wooed,
I want a poem that stands aggressively on street corners,
cigarette in mouth,
loitering with intent.