Words by Rhiannon Towell & Interview by Garry Nguyet
In 1997 award-winning author, Steven Herrick’s poetic masterpiece, Love, Ghosts and Nose Hair was short-listed for the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year and the NSW Premier’s Literary Award. The novel, and its sequel A Place Like This, follow the story of Jack, a teenager trying to figure out first love, life, personal insecurities, and most of all, the everlasting grief his mother’s death has caused his family.
The best part? This Australian classic series stands apart from many other children’s and young adult novels, as both novels are entirely written in verse. A collection of humorous and honest poems captures Jack’s story, his misgivings and his dreams as he progresses through High School and into adulthood. After resolving his issues with his dad and finally letting go of the “ghost”, A Place Like This picks up after Jack has finished school and is intent on embarking on a road trip around the country with his girlfriend, Annabel. Together, the couple are introduced to a new way of life, and their perspectives are changed forever.
We had the chance to chat with Steven about his characters, artistic process, success as an author and the upcoming reissue of his celebrated novels.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
I don’t regard any part as difficult. I enjoy the process from beginning a story, creating characters and writing dialogue to the time spent editing the final manuscript.
In A Place Like This, why did you choose to explore Jack and Annabel’s relationship with Emma, a pregnant sixteen-year-old?
I am particularly interested in how young people can be a positive influence on each other. Jack and Annabel arrive in Emma’s life at the time when she desperately needs some positive peer friendship.
What do you owe the real people who were the inspirations for Jack and Annabel?
Jack and Annabel are fictional characters, but I do occasionally use certain character traits from people I meet. Although, it’s often said that the characters an author creates all carry a piece of the author within.
What was the hardest scene to write?
Probably the scene where Jack says goodbye to the ‘ghost’ of his Mother, where Jack consciously decides to move on after the death of his Mother.
Why did you select Katoomba in the Blue Mountains as the setting for the first book and a farm as the setting for the second?
Katoomba is where I live and I wrote the book soon after moving there, so some of the scenes and locations in the book are from my family life. I chose the apple orchard for the second book because I vividly recall working as a fruit picker when I was a teenager, I really enjoyed that period in my life.
In A Place Like This, Jack says ‘Two Arts degrees does not a life make. So we both chucked it. University is too serious. I’m eighteen years old: too young to work forever, too old to stay home’. What was your attitude towards university when you were studying your Bachelor of Arts degree? Was it similar to Jack and Annabel’s?
I certainly recognise the value of a good education, but unfortunately, my experience was similar to Jack and Annabel’s, I felt quite indifferent to university. I was too eager to get out and enjoy the thrill of travel.
What was it like receiving the news that Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair was shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year, 1997, and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, 1997?
It was hugely exciting and gratifying that my first verse-novel was recognised as having some literary value. It gave me enormous encouragement to keep writing and performing my work. Thankfully, it’s what I’ve done since this book was first published twenty-two years ago. It’s also hugely satisfying that these books have been republished due to their relative success.
Which has been your favourite place to perform your poetry?
I enjoy performing my poetry everywhere. Every audience is important to me, every audience is a new challenge, every audience deserves my best show. However, having said that, I particularly enjoy performing in Europe because of the challenge of reading heavily Australian-based poetry to a foreign audience.
What literary pilgrimages have you been on? How have they influenced your writing?
An interesting question, the only place I can remember going to as a pilgrim is the Black Hills of Dakota in the USA, because when I was a child my Mother used to sing a song about that area. I loved it, but I can’t say it really influenced my writing.
Sometimes, travel has the opposite effect, I wrote a book titled Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend about children living in a dusty Australian country town while spending a few months in Europe. The alien landscape of Europe seemed to help me recall the place of my birth.
Special editions of Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair and A Place Like This are in stores now!