Book Launch: The Boy from the Mish by Gary Lonesborough

Last week I attended the virtual book launch for Gary Lonesborough’s debut YA The Boy from the Mish. The event was hosted by Better Read than Dead bookshop with fellow YA author Will Kostakis as moderator. The interview was fun and friendly and having seen Will interview a range of authors he has a wonderful mix in his interviewing style that makes it both fun and informative.

Hearing about Gary’s story and his journey to becoming an author was interesting. Originally from Bega Gary told us that he went to film school and loves to write and loves to be creative. The Boy from the Mish came about because Gary saw a gap in the market for queer Aboriginal protagonists written by an Aboriginal author. It was a story he began writing when he was 23 but he had been thinking about what would have helped him when he was a teenager. Gary told us that as a teenager he struggled a lot and a lot of his experiences and struggles are in the book through the character of Jackson.

Will mentioned that so often first books are steeped in lived experience and asked Gary how much of himself is in Jackson and what he goes through. Gary replied that roughly 40-50% of himself is in Jackson. All of the things that Jackson felt he’s felt, and things like the experience of being racially profiled more than once, and Jackson’s inner monologue comes from a train of thought but Gary also made clear that everything is still a fictional story and hasn’t happened to Gary exactly.

When discussing the subject of queer identity and its role in both the book and Gary’s life, Will asked how the experience of writing Jackson’s story was, especially the aforementioned struggles. Gary revealed he started writing not long after he came out and it felt incredibly vulnerable writing down the story, sitting by himself at a desk but also with no intention of showing the story to anyone. He also admitted that the experience was also pretty freeing – he had the power to put in scenes that are nice and portray the romantic side and express himself that way, not to mention the excitement to write an Aboriginal character who was gay.

In fact Gary told us that through the entire writing process the love story was the whole focus. Before subplots and side stories and anything else there was the love story. From early drafts when the story was told through Thomas’ perspective, the love story was the continual drive and motivation to finish. Built upon an idea from a short film script Gary wrote about two Aboriginal boys in love the story evolved and one month, a change of narrator, and 65 thousand words later Gary had his first draft.

What was interesting to hear was that US author David Levithan heard of the book and the book is now in the process of being released for US audiences. I will admit when I heard this I was wary, confirmed instantly when Will spoke to Gary about how while the US market is a big deal, they often edit out the “Australianness” of it which takes out a lot of nuance and the voice by changing all the words. The pair spoke about US audiences often love the Australian language and are intrigued by words like ‘ute’ and how some Aussie authors now are putting glossaries in the backs of their books which is a fantastic idea.

Will gave Gary some excellent advice in how to approach being edited for the US while still keeping his text unique and not Americanised which was amazing. I am so glad Aussie authors are getting to push back against changing our stories to suit their audiences. If I have to spend my life never knowing the difference between a sophomore, a junior, and a freshman or have a reference for any of their food then they can learn what a ute is.

Back on the writing process, Will asked what the most challenging part of the process was to which Gary replied adding all the extra things like subplots, but also to stop himself self-editing and allowing himself to write intimate scenes.

When asked about his own reading influencing the writing Gary admitted he has a love/hate relationship with reading and has always come in and out of it. But The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian drew him back in when he was 17 or 18 and after reading it he thought he could write his own story about Aboriginal kids growing up.

Being a zoom event the audience questions were scattered throughout and people asked general questions about the writing and editing process, but there were some great ones from people like fellow YA author Holden Sheppard who asked Gary about considerations made when writing regarding harder topics and subjects. Gary said it was absolutely something he considered when he was writing. He wanted to approach the sexual scenes with feeling rather than making them graphic. He treaded carefully with drafting and worried about the sexual scenes, but not much was edited in the revision, it was mainly the amount of smoking scenes that were cut down.

Will asked Gary about whether he had a second book and Gary revealed he had a manuscript underway, and even has a few more stories up his sleeve. Since Gary wrote to fill a gap, Will asked him whether he was worried he would be pigeonholed. Gary admitted he was worried but that there was a lot more ground to be explored. Will added that being pigeonholed is not always a bad thing because readers love it as do publishers.

Gary admitted trying to write the second book is hard because he’s not writing something as good as The Boy from the Mish but that he needs to get through the doubt. Will advised Gary that as queer writers they write from the margins anyway and not to listen to what reviewers say on Goodreads or the people on the back of the book because it’s not important. The idea is to compare first drafts to first drafts, not first drafts to finished copies, it’s instincts that created the first book.

After an absolutely rewarding hour the interview wrapped up with a crucial question left till last – what was Gary’s favourite Kylie Minogue song (a question with several wrong answers according to Will) but Gary seemed to pass with his answer of the album edit Disco Needs You.

You can purchase The Boy from the Mish via the following

Better Read Than Dead | QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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