Holden Sheppard talks about writing his second novel ‘The Brink’

Perth Festival’s Writer’s Weekend has returned and yesterday author Holden Sheppard spoke about following up the success of his debut novel Invisible Boys with new work The Brink. 

Nestled within the intimate setting of Fremantle Arts Centre’s Inner Courtyard, audiences awaited in the cool, flower scented breeze for the local writer to take the stage and make things gay (for those who may have FOMO with World Pride in Sydney), as he talked about the release and reception of The Brink, his latest work, a young adult, queer thriller.

As always, Holden Sheppard draws in a crowd that on the surface don’t look like they would have much in common, but underneath share a kindred spirit – not unlike the various characters Sheppard is known for writing.

Joined by Natalya Hawrylak, for their fifth ‘in conversation’ with each other, Sheppard reflects on The Brink’s high school microcosm thematic, and various points of interest which have drawn in his diverse fanbase, noting that – despite being categorised as a young adult book – it has touched the hearts of adults looking to relive their teenage years, and maybe hoping for “what I could’ve done better”.

Prompted by Hawrylak, Sheppard provides the antecedents for The Brink as Lord of the Flies meets White Lotus… “but with shittier accommodation.”

The panel opened to questions from the audience, which ranged from the technical aspects of writing, to heart-warmingly provocative, and finished on “how do you say goodbye to these characters?”

For The Brink, Sheppard said: “it sounds horrible, but they’re kinda dead to me!” In the situation of the book being stand-alone. However, with Invisible Boys, the daring trio might be returning in a future book, where Sheppard reveals, “maybe in my fourth book, we’ll see them in their adult years.”

With the current climate surround drag story-time, and queer book banning, a few points of interest were raised by audience members.

Sheppard mentioned that Invisible Boys began making its rounds to publishing houses approximately around the completion of the equal marriage postal survey.

“Publishers wanted to do gay stuff … I mean, not gay stuff, but gay content!

“Publishers wanted happy gay stories, not real experiences.” he said.

It was these real experiences that had it stand out with Fremantle Press, and now is the reason why Invisible Boys is in active development as a television series with Stan.

Sheppard, prompted by another audience member, went on to say: “Write from your scars, not your wounds. Treat it like your training ground but seek therapy to work through your trauma.”

As a new era of queer arts practitioners enter the space, it was refreshing advice to hear that although trauma fuels art, it should be experienced and healed before we show the world. It’s only in this moment that we can connect with other people, and how storytelling continues to inspire change.

Poignant, humorous, and insightful – Sheppard never leaves you feeling invisible.

Perth Writer’s Festival continues today. 

Joshua Haines 

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