Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why author Jon Doust is going To The Highlands

ABC Radio National

Do you remember your first job, your first year away from home? Jon Doust remembers, and his new novel To the Highlands is loosely based on his time as a bank clerk in Papua New Guinea. 

To The Highlands is the second book in Jon Doust's Jack Muir trilogy. The first, Boy on a Wire, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award, and told the story of Jack's troubled time at his private boys school in Perth. This time it's 1968, Jack is 19. He's dropped out of school and he's about to set off on an adventure that will change his life.

Jon talks with Suzanne Donisthorpe: Books and Arts Daily

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

RN Tweets

. says he tried to live a life of manliness that was foreign to him. He depicted this in his earlier novel
. says at 19 he 'was a troubled boy' just like his character Jack Muir.
And now... with author . Jack is 19. He's dropped out of school & setting off on a life changing adventure

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Drusilla Modjeska & Jon Doust
The University of Queensland Library
Date: Friday 7th September
Time: 3-4pm
Venue: Event will be held in the Library Conference Room, Level 1, Duhig Building, UQ St Lucia Campus


Panel discussion between writers Drusilla Modjeska and Jon Doust, Chaired by Professor Joanne Tompkins, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, Faculty of Arts, The University of Queensland. 
The focus will be on issues relating to Papua New Guinea, postcolonial PNG, and national/personal identity

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Barefaced Tale

Went down to Barefaced Stories at The Bird (Perth WA) last night and told the story of the first chapter.
The real story.
The first chapter is, of course, pure fiction.
Here it is:

The man on me moves.
I lie still.
He moves again. Maybe he’s embarrassed to be murdering a sobbing, bleeding, blubbering man who has no power, no strength, no will, no future. He rolls off me. I squeeze my eyes. Lungs suck great chunks of air. I hear him stand and walk away. I don’t know where to but I hope it’s far, so far I can’t see him when I get up off this floor because then I might stumble down the stairs to the kitchen, take one of the houseboy’s long knives, walk up the stairs to his room, open his door, find him lying on his bed exhausted from the attempted murdering and stick him – stick the knife into his musclebound body more than once, maybe as many times as the murder I heard about on Radio Australia last week when one man stabbed another to death because of a sweet potato deal gone sour.
I turn my head to the floor. The crying spreads. I am emptying, pouring out, everything is leaving me. I know that if I cry long enough and hard enough there will be nothing left but a wet patch of tears mixed with blood, and when he comes out of his room to check on me, or someone climbs the stairs, all they will see is a small pool of what was once me.

You can read another coupld of chapters on the Fremantle Press site.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The first launch

no sleep.
too much happening inside.
the Albany Town Hall glowed and pulsed.
the sound and light boys - Mark Pemberton, Dave Nile and Victor O'Connor - did a magnificent job.
the music boys - Rod Vervest, Bob Lapinski, Craig Sinclair - sang from their souls.
the readers - Simon Woodward, Rachael Rastrick - read with their lives on their sleeves.
Lester Coyne was humorous and regal.
the MC - Simon Simon John Smale - was perfect.
Andrew Wenzel was deep, meaningful and cuddly.
the wine - FAT TIRE, Oranje Tractor - was surperb (so said the drinkers).
the food from Karin Marsland at 14 Peels Place was better than home cooking.
and Charlie Lehman spoke with insight and compassion.
the author? well, he did what he does.
many thanks to the city of Albany and Adam Cousins, Brian at Albany Amcal, Garth at Solomon Merchant and Paul at IGA Albany.
you can't do this stuff without help.
if you've never been to Albany,Western Australia, this is how it is, just like a multitude of small communities on the planet.
if only we could stay small and stay connected.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Questions questions questions

One question constantly asked is: Are you Jack Muir, the protagonist of your two novels, Boy on a Wire and To the Highlands?
The answer is: No.
Jack is a character in two books. I am a living human being.
Do our lives bare any comparison? Yes, they do.
I was made to join a bank because I failed school and the bank sent me to the Pacific, specifically, Papua and New Guinea.
After one year I came home a bloody mess and within two months my entire life had collapsed and my doctor supplied me with powerful medications.
Jack Muir is forced to join a bank because he failed school and he is then sent to an unnamed Pacific island where his life plummets and he has a breakdown.
My breakdown certainly changed my life.
Will it change Jack's?
We all hope so and a number of readers have yelled at me: Jon, give the poor bugger a break. How much misery can you pile on a bloke? For god's sake, can we have a happy ending in the next book?
But that's the way, often, isn't it, the only way a bloke will change is if you pile on the pressure. Jack has  been a bit slow coming to terms with his true self, he's been living a lie, so I had to lay it on hard, fast and thick.
Don't think for a minute I don't love the fella, I do. He's the son I should have had, my father might have said if he'd lived long enough to meet Jack.
Here's the promise: The next novel in the trilogy will have a happy ending.
I can do nothing more.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Albany Advertiser 19/7/2012

During this book launching process a number of publications have sent me questions. Once they have appeared, I will copy them here.

How do you describe To the Highlands?
It is the second in a trilogy about the life of Jack Muir, now a reluctant employee of The Colonial Bank of Australia and dispatched to an unnamed colonial outpost somewhere in the Pacific to the north of Australia. It’s 1968 and the western world is at odds with itself.

Where does it compare with Boy on a Wire? How’s Jack changed and grown since readers last saw him?
Jack is still Jack ─ witty, battling the bullies, grappling with questions he doesn’t understand. In Boy on a Wire he was often the victim of others, of outside forces. Now he’s a young man and making his own choices. Badly. There are still pressures, of course, but Jack has lost his way.

Boy on a Wire is most often described as a “dislocated memoir”. Being a sequel, to what extent is the same true of To the Highlands?
Also true, but I have taken greater license in To the Highlands. It is based on a year I spent in Papua New Guinea, a year I did not spend wisely and during which I was often “tired and emotional”.

It’s no secret that Jack Muir is, more or less, you. Does it take a lot of bravery to share some of these stories in a book?
Indeed. The books I write are very personal and leave me exhausted, bruised, yet smiling a faint, knowing smile.

Can you tell me a little about the significance of the setting – 1960s Papua New Guinea?
1968 was a mad and crazy year. For those who were never there, or cannot remember, let me remind: Robert F Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated; an attempt was made to assassinate Charles de Gaulle; Russia invaded Czechoslovakia; students rioted in London, Paris, New York, Chicago; The Beatles split up. One very important issue students always seemed to hold high was what they called “Free Love”, the freedom to have sex without wedlock. Gen Y would laugh their heads off if they knew Baby Boomers had to fight for such a right.

You pay tribute to Randolph Stow’s To the Islands in your title and acknowledgements. What influence did his work have on yours?
To the Highlands was not a book I had planned but then I read Stow’s To The Islands and re-read Joseph Conrad’s Heat of Darkness and I knew I had to get my own year of living darkly off my chest.

Boy on a Wire saw your name pop up on the Miles Franklin long list and attracted quite a bit of praise. Do you worry about the expectations around its follow-up?
It did make it hard to get started, to believe I had more than one book in me. I have a hope that this book will do well enough for people to begin referring to me as “the new Craig Silvey”.

How would you describe your writing process?
At the start, intensely disciplined. I go at it as though I have a job. I set myself targets, goals, timelines and because I am then the opposite of my natural self – which my partner would describe as chaotic – I become dysfunctional around the house. Once I have the first draft I revert to type and write and re-write on inspiration.

Does your partner read your books? (I’m asking this because of the “is it because his partner has said she is not sure she wants to read it?” part of your blog.)
Ms Doust only reads a book after everyone else in the known universe has read it, all the reviews are in and Mr Doust has left the house on an extended holiday.

What do you hope readers will take away from it or get out of it?
I hope they will take something, anything, but in particular that they will understand Jack, empathise with him and know his pain and the pain of young men like him in a brutal and unkind world. I also hope they will be both amused and disgusted in the appropriate places.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


This book will be out and about from August 1.
The author is nervous. There are ructions, internal, external.

- is it all about the "second novel" syndrome?
- is it because the book is personal and this makes him fear almost any responses to it?
- is it because his partner has said she is not sure she wants to read it?
- is it normal writer-anxiety?
- is he only asking these questions to fulfil a blog commitment?

Here is a photograph of the author (right side of front row, on the end, almost cut in two), outside the Bank of New South Wales, Goroka, Papua New Guinea, 1968.
It's not the bank building, it's the building we lived in, the one we called the "bank mess". And it was a mess.

Do not fear

This book - To the Highlands - will be released for the lap in both forms: book and electronic.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

From the author

When reading To the Highlands, Josef Conrad’s Heart of Darkness comes to mind, and of course, as you state in your own acknowledgements, so does Randolph Stow’s To the Islands. Can you comment on the influence or connection these works have with your own?

This was a book I never thought to write and probably never wanted to write. I seemed sure my next book would cover this stage of my early life in a cursory manner and I would not have to explore it in any detail. But on reflection I realised I could not escape the plunge into what were the two darkest years of my first 30 – 1968 and 1969. Before I stuck my head down for the final plunge I re-read Heart of Darkness and To the Islands. They gave me courage and made it clear to me that none of us in that mixed-race island group were Conrad’s Kurtz, the lost mad soul up the Congo, or Stow’s Heriot, the lost and wandering missionary. Some of us, however, were a mix, certainly one with a bit more Kurtz and others with a bit more Heriot.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012



To the Highlands (Jon Doust, Fremantle Press, $29.99 tpb, ISBN 9781921888779, August)

What is a man and how does a boy become one? Jack
Muir was searching for the answers to these questions
in Boy on a Wire, the first book in Jon Doust’s semiautobiographical
coming-of-age trilogy, set in an
exclusive boys’ boarding school in 1960s Perth, which was
longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. Readers return
to Jack’s story in To the Highlands. It’s 1968—a year of
global revolution. Jack still has his sense of humour, he’s
finished school and he’s off to work in ‘the islands’ for
the Colonial Bank of Australia. Obsessed with losing
his virginity, desperate for love but only just discovering
lust, and consumed by inexplicable rage and a desire for
revenge, Jack is initiated into the expat lifestyle and it
swallows him whole. There are more big issues in this
book, including racism, misogyny, domestic violence,
alcohol abuse, the entitlements of white colonialism and
the emerging political independence of an island nation.
Named after Randolph Stow’s 1958 Miles Franklin
winner To the Islands, this is a compelling, unsettling
and confronting sequel to Boy on a Wire. There is a
relentless rawness to this book that makes its moments
of tenderness hit their mark even more keenly.
Paula Grunseit is a freelance journalist, editor
and reviewer

Sunday, May 13, 2012

From the author

Jack Muir’s views and those of his contemporaries might be seen as anachronistic – in particular, as racist and sexist. Was it difficult to negotiate these potentially unpalatable qualities in a way that would keep the reader on side?

Not only was it difficult, it was heart rending and soul wrenching. Remembering a nastier time when so many attitudes were repugnant and violence commonplace and, in particular, the small part you played out in the middle of it all, was not assuaged by simply writing about it. During the writing process other measure had to be taken in order to maintain a balanced life. Whatever the consequences it was vital that the story be written in order to reveal what I call ‘universal truths’. Finding the right tone and balance, yet not disguising the raw reality, may well have been an impossible task. Some will think I have succeeded and others will be sure I have failed.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

From the author

Boy on a Wire has been described as a ‘dislocated memoir’. Is To the Highlands similarly a dislocated representation of your own experiences?

This second novel is much more than dislocated because during my one year on the unnamed island I was often drunk and disorderly, kind of manic and all too eager for adventures and new experiences and, as a consequence, exact memories are not easy to access. But I also remember it being a very troubled time in my life and the thoughts, feelings, ethical dilemmas, confusions and guilt complexes that ran rampant during my late teens seem to have remained clear.  A number of incidents are deeply etched, including my final “breakdown”, which hit me hard and with a deep and lasting vengeance after I arrived back in my home town.

Monday, April 30, 2012

About the book

Jack Muir, the son of disappointed parents, and reluctant employee of The Colonial Bank of Australia, is dispatched to the capital of a regional outpost, in an unnamed island somewhere to the north of Australia. Like the capital itself, the country’s highlands – to which Jack is subsequently demoted in further disgrace – have a familiar feel to them. One suspects, very strongly, that this place might be Papua New Guinea.

In 1968, the greater world is full of upheaval and protest, warring and lovemaking. Its events are a million miles away from Jack’s sleepy and complacent Perth. But on the island, Jack falls into his own kind of revolution as he is lured by the irresistible promises of a sometimes brutal hedonism: on the island Jack comes to lose (at last!) his virginity and many of his inhibitions.

But if Jack and his compatriots are there for sport, there are locals for whom the precipice of independence is a serious matter indeed. So Jack meets the beautiful, talented, and unattainable Margaret Baker, being groomed to assume her rightful place amongst the classes of educated and elite, and he meets George Kanluna, powerful and impressive, watching and waiting for the moment his country will seize independence.

To the Highlands is a book set in a time and a place where a clear-sighted interrogation of colonialism could scarcely be expected of the white people who worked within its system. Jack Muir comes to the island with no more insight than many of his contemporaries, but his growing discomfort in a murky moral terrain becomes a mirror for the relationship between two countries poised (though to varying degrees) on the verge of maturation.

This novel is more than the story of one boy’s journey to man: it is an unflinching metaphor for a less than salutary chapter in Australia’s colonial history, laying bare, as it does, uncomfortable aspects our own national identity.