This Sky’s In Love: Trent Dalton Talks About His New Book
It’s no surprise Trent Dalton is one of the most in-demand writers on the circuit. He’s wonderfully humble, he’s funny and open and insightful. He has this contagious positivity about life that permeates not just his writing, but his general disposition. The author of the best selling and award winning Boy Swallows Universe is back with All Our Shimmering Skies, an epic odyssey of true love and grave danger, of darkness and light, of bones and blue skies.
Once again he has chosen a child to navigate the reader through a complex and, at times, magical narrative.
‘I think it’s from my past, from my period of being adolescent and growing up in a housing commission in Brisbane. I’m 41 now and live a stable life – my life in the late 1980s and ‘90s was wild, all the stuff from Boy Swallows Universe was real – in the second book I create a character a lot like Eli Bell because I’m deeply fascinated by Aussie kids on the knife edge of having life bash the magic out of them. I think [about] the magic that is in all our kids living on the fringes – I feel for those kids – at 3pm today they walk back into their homes and there will be trauma and violence and adults in those houses, filled with desperation on the edge, and those kids will escape into worlds of story telling. It’s no coincidence that Molly Hook is living that life in 1942 Darwin, her life is so hard she has come to believe she is cursed, and as the bombs drop over Darwin she makes her great escape; she goes into the wilderness of the vine forest country’.
The extraordinary landscape is a feature of Dalton’s new book, penned as a love letter to Australia and an ode to the art of looking up.
‘The country there hits you hard, the sky, the sea, it’s unbelievable – then within that is the incredible history that Darwin has. I have been, for the last 20 years, deeply fascinated with Australia’s role in WWII and when it came to Australia – 19 February, 1942 – the most incredible moment when people in Darwin looked up to the sky and saw a fleet of Japanese aircraft that dropped bombs. It has to be the most dramatic day in modern Australian history, I always thought it would be an amazing kickstart to an adventure!’
It certainly is. Dalton has a way of weaving real events into his text. The events are creatively escalated, allowing the reader a fantastical insight into an unknown history. One of the threads in his latest book involves the story of Hajime Toyoshima.
‘In real life he was shot down by Aussie soldiers and his aircraft landed on Melville Island, which is as wild and magical, as you can imagine. He hits his forehead on the flight control, wraps his head in a bandage, grabs a pistol and starts wandering through the Australian wilderness… what if our her, Molly Hook, meets that guy on her adventure and thinks he’s the enemy, but he ends up being one of her best friends?’ says Trent.
The vastness of the sky plays a major role in All Our Shimmering Skies ‘There are these magical realism moments when gifts fall from the sky’ says Trent. ‘But it’s all real. These are all real things that have dropped from the sky for Australians.’
Trent reflects on the enormity the sky represents.
‘Why do we have such reverence for the sky? You cannot look at the night sky for too long because you would spend the rest of the night there. The blue sky turns up each day and makes us forget there is this eternal universe. Every now and then you remind yourself to look up. It’s very powerful – the kid in my book does that to the point she has no friends, so the sky becomes her friend. The sky has been that to me, it gets my deepest conversations – I will look up and talk to my old man up there.’
The Byron Writers Festival hosts Trent Dalton in conversation with Zacharey Jane at the Byron Theatre on Tuesday 17 November at 6pm. This marks a return to live events for the much loved Byron Writers Festival that had to cancel its 2020 program because of COVID. A newly adapted event is planned for 2021 – keep your eye out and get those tickets fast! In the new world of social distancing, tickets sell fast!
To find out more go to byronwritersfestival.com.au.