How lucky we are for our first blog post to be about the night Brendan Cowell came to visit! When Megan suggested we read actor-writer-now author Brendan Cowell’s How It Feels for February book club I must admit there were doubts in the ranks. It may just have been a question of not knowing what to expect from a first-time novelist, but we needn’t have worried. Brendan is a born storyteller. A fan of his screenplays and plays (the only Hamlet who has kept me awake and enthralled throughout the entire play), I was eager to get into the story – especially since, by the time I picked up the book, Victoria had read it in one sitting (if one ever needs a recommendation, there it is). For me, it was well-written, fast-paced, engaging and raw, everything I love about a book – even if it did niggle at a few of my own wounds.
The minute discussion our group had before Brendan and his mum joined us saw a few differing opinions about the story but one prevailing thread – he could write. Even if the subject matter wasn’t to taste, the language rough and the themes sometimes disturbing, it was clear we had a book here that we all agreed had merit.
Brendan himself seemed both nervous but pleased to be with us discussing his work, admitting it was a dream to be invited to speak at a book club. We were thrilled to be his first. He answered questions openly and generously and after a while looked very at home in that small space with 12 women. When he read pages from his book I was torn between the worlds of Neil Cronk and Tom from Love My Way. His rugged voice with its unique intonations and expressions and genuine Sydney-ness brought Neil’s story to life and I could just then imagine a little more clearly which parts of Neil were Brendan and which were Neil’s alone. Brendan certainly has a way of breathing life into characters, showing us their beauty and ugliness, doubts and fears.
He said he wanted to capture that feeling of youth before he forgot how it felt. How It Feels identifies how hard young mens’ youth and relationships can be, their struggles with life’s big decisions and finding out the hard way what it is to be a good man. It was obvious these were personal themes, though he remained cagey about which experiences in the book were taken directly from his own past.
It’s also a book that shines a light on the Shire (Sutherland Shire) – in all its glory and horror. As an insider who wanted to get out and then an outsider who wanted back in, it seemed here some of Neil’s issues were stemming from somewhere personal for the author.
I won’t go too far into the plot (as Brendan himself would not want that – just read the book) but I will say it’s a story that will stay with me. I think we all agreed – whether we liked the story or not – that Brendan Cowell is a bloody good writer. We’re all now waiting for what Brendan does next.
In honour of Brendan’s visit, our March read is The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead – one of his favourites.
Written by Leila