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A Song Only I Can Hear

LOCAL WRITER BARRY JONSBERG recently took out the Best Children’s/YA book for A Song Only I Can Hear in the 2020 Chief Minister’s Book Awards. His tale about first love is also a double best seller domestically and has received terrific reviews in Germany, Italy and the USA. We caught up with him for a chat.

Congratulations on your award! What did winning the award mean to you?
Thank you! This book has [so far] done really well, both here in Australia and abroad… It is amazing to be recognised in the place you call home, especially since so many local people helped me with the research for the book and kindly read early drafts and made suggestions. I am thrilled to be recognised in the Territory and am very grateful for the honour of winning again the Best Children’s/YA book in 2020.

Tell us about your book!
Rob is passionately in love with the new girl at school, Destry Camberwick, but he is painfully shy and finds it difficult to make an impression. Apparently a book about first love, A Song Only I Can Hear is also about being comfortable in your own skin and identity. It also [I hope] turns readers’ expectations upside down and provides a twist that challenges our assumptions. I hope it makes readers laugh and cry … at the same time.

What was the inspiration behind it?
I always write from one simple idea and never plan what is going to happen. I believe that the writer’s job, a bit like the reader’s job, is to carry on and find out what the characters are deciding is going to unfold. It’s sort of like a voyage of discovery.

So I started from the very simple idea of first love and wrote to find out what Rob was going to find out. As it turned out, Rob surprised me – I really wasn’t expecting what he decided to tell me. I love it when that happens!

Are you currently working on any more books? Tell us more!
Always. I have finished two books since Song – one is a horror story for young adults, though with a healthy dose of humour, and the other is a book called Catch Me If I Fall, which will be published in November. It’s about identical twins living sheltered lives who discover something one night that will turn their lives upside-down and threaten their very existence.

If we were to take a look on your bookshelf, what kinds of books would we find there?
All sorts. I really read anything that I can get my hands on. Stephen King once said that “to be a writer you need to do two things – write a lot and read a lot.” I do both. At the moment, I am re-visiting Robin Hobb’s amazing fantasy novels, but I’ll read the ingredients list on a two-minute noodle pack if there’s nothing else to hand.

Any Territory writers you’re enjoying at the moment?
We’ve got tremendous writers in the NT – absolutely punching above our weight at the moment. But watch out especially for Sean Guy, the manager of The Bookshop in the Smith Street Mall. The second book of his Tower City series, Voodoo Games, is coming out soon and will be a fabulous read if the first in the series, Firebringer, is anything to go by.


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