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Shaun Prescott

Shaun Prescott: a note on The Town

Six years after it was first published, Shaun Prescott reflects on his debut novel The Town, released in a new edition in February 2023 with Giramondo. Prescott’s second novel, Bon and Lesley, was published in September 2022.

It’s likely the case for many a debut work, but The Town was a novel I spent all of my adult life writing. It went through a half-dozen variations across roughly fifteen years, with each new never-completed version different to the former. It required that much time for me to discover the right way to evoke what I thought might improve my life, for its successful evocation. That seems to me a fairly normal process for a novelist writing their first novel, not to mention subsequent ones. As for the version that exists, that took me about three years worth of Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights drinking beer on a Marrickville porch.

I had intended to self-publish The Town, like I had some shorter works. The thought of submitting my fiction to publishers was a nightmare to me, so simply not submitting helped to avoid any inevitable deflation. Writing is enjoyable work, albeit often taxing. Some of the most gratifying moments of my life have been spent alone, writing fiction. But with time it becomes hard to do it without a reader, even just one.

Drawing to the end of what I thought was a final draft, I emailed then-publisher of The Lifted Brow, Sam Cooney, to ask if he would read my manuscript, because I had written occasionally for that journal. I just needed someone to read it and tell me if it was better than bad, someone other than my long-suffering partner. I sent the email after several beers, which I’ve learned is a good time to send emails. Sam charitably agreed to read it. He offered some useful and unpaid feedback, and eventually – after a lot more unpaid work – also published the book. Sam and the former team on Brow Books are entirely to credit for the book’s existence, but none made any money from working on it, as far as I know.

I have grown apart from The Town but it scratched some itches. I am unhappy with many passages and remain proud of some. A part of me wishes I had saved this book for later in my life, but I could say the same for Bon and Lesley too. You don’t know when you’re going to die, so it’s better to parade your messes as soon as you can.

— Shaun Prescott

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Shaun Prescott: a note on Bon and Lesley

Shaun Prescott reflects on Bon and Lesley (September 2022), his latest book of fiction following the critically acclaimed The Town.

Bon and Lesley started from a desire to write fiction based in a real-world town that I have dreamt about all my life. Other than wanting to inhabit that setting – a dream-aberrated version of a barely known place – I had no firmer plans for it, for a while. Writing fiction is often a way for me to inhabit half-imaginary places that I feel a creative urge to fill out. If the place holds my attention for long enough, the work gathers power from it, and is able to then move in other directions I’m interested in. 

Four years later, that playful desire to create and inhabit a place via the writing of fiction seems to belong to another, much younger, person. I have never especially wanted to write novels that have a lot to do with obvious contemporary concerns, and I am probably not alone in feeling weary of modern novels that brush too explicitly against humankind’s currently unfolding situation. But I am an anxious human first, a parent second, novelist third, and the third is subservient to the concerns of the first two. 

So this is inevitably a novel with concerns, and they are not subtle ones. I won’t list them. It’s not a journalistic novel, nor a speculative one, nor an auto-fictional one. I wanted to avoid languid, authoritative subtlety, or, in other words, that mode of fiction where the writer has a point, the reader quickly understands the point, but the point is skirted out of literary tastefulness, so that everyone tucks in feeling wiser (but still, wisely, doomed). This is a novel written by a person with no elevated understanding of the forces and phenomena that inspired its mood. I don’t have a point. It’s a work of imagination written by a parent, a worker, a family member, during a time of crisis. It’s a work of imagination contaminated by reality. 

Hopefully the reader will find a lot of messy life in it, because that’s the crucial dollop. Unlike other fictions I’ve worked on in my adult life, I felt like I had to see this through to completion, that I could not write anything else until it was out of my way. Now that it’s finished, I feel like I’ve been evicted from a cold but nevertheless sheltering home.

To put it in a way my imaginary friend and fictional character Steven would appreciate: This is my doom metal novel. I hope to one day write a psytrance novel. To some it may make no sense, to others it may make too much mundane sense. 

— Shaun Prescott

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