Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Charming, heart-breaking and heart-warming new novel from Emma Neale

Billy Bird
Emma Neale
Vintage - RRP $38.00

Creating her imaginary family has been the best hard fun shes ever had as a writer, says novelist and poet Emma Neale.

Celebrated for her astute observations of human nature and relationships, Neale often looks at what it means to be different and the way we accommodate the atypical within everyday society.

At the heart of Billy Bird, her charming, heart-breaking and heart-warming new novel, is a quirky and delightful young boy who is not the norm. Billy is intelligent and sensitive, but reacts to tragedy in an unusual though within his world perfectly plausible way. The novel tracks his parents, at a loss with how to deal with his peculiarities, while trying to find a path through their own grief.
The novel takes you on an emotional roller-coaster with a family who become all too real. A sudden loss threatens to tear the family apart. Wife Iris becomes overly anxious, husband Liam withdraws, and Billy escapes into a fantasy world in which he believes hes a bird.

Neale says she wanted to experiment using different literary modes to reflect shifts in mood and emotional development; so the work moves in and out of narrative prose, complete poems, a mock stage script, lists, and even doodles.

‘Increasingly, as I grew more immersed in this imaginary family, it felt to me that flick-flacking in and out of styles reflected the constantly ducking and diving energy, the swerves of focus, in a busy household: not only its daily kitchen-sink mini-dramas, but the larger drama of three people dealing with how to recalibrate themselves individually and as a family after significant crises – ranging from professional/economic to personal,’ explains Neale.

Ironically, although Billys quirks are frustrating as he crosses the line with his avian mimicking behaviour, it is his delightful imagined bird world that also helps to get the family through their heartache and come out the other side.

It’s an emotional and at times heart-wrenching read, but it’s also uplifting and entertaining, thanks to Billy’s idiosyncrasies. Neale says that creating ‘an ebullient, highly intelligent, quirky and yet vulnerable child character as one of the lynch pins in the novel meant that there was a lot of room for hijinx and madcap joy, too.’

Ripe with playfulness, yet also unforgettably poignant, this novel will unstitch — and then mend — your heart several times over.
About the author
EMMA NEALE is a poet and prose writer, was born in Dunedin and raised in Christchurch, San Diego, CA, and Wellington. After gaining her first literature degree from Victoria University, she went on to complete her MA and PhD at University College London. She has written five novels — Night Swimming, Little Moon, Relative Strangers, Double Take and Fosterling — and a number of poetry collections, and has edited anthologies of both short stories and poetry.

Neale won the Todd New Writer’s Bursary in 2000, was the inaugural recipient of the NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature (2008), and was the 2012 Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago. Her poetry collection

The Truth Garden won the Kathleen Grattan Award for poetry in 2011, and Fosterling was shortlisted for the Sir Julius Vogel Award in 2012. Her collection Tender Machines was longlisted in the inaugural Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. She teaches, works in publishing and looks after her two children.


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