Trent Dalton in Conversation with Kat Feeney

April 14, 2020


It was a beautiful 30 degrees in Brisbane, perfect beach weather, but we were all at home.That was okay because I was excitedly waiting in my library to listen to ABC radio’s Kat Feeney . Kat was interviewing Trent Dalton on his bestselling debut novel Boy Swallows Universe. One Monday each month Kat hosts a book club on ABC radio and listeners can send in questions for their favourite authors to answer.

The book club chat that followed was honest, uplifting and hopeful, the very best medicine in these stressful times. I have been lucky enough to interview Trent myself and this award winning journalist and author is always charming and funny. If you haven’t read Trent’s book now might be the time,  for its message is one of love and hope and we all need more of that right now.

Kat described the book as one of drugs, crime, suburban Brisbane and LOVE. She asked Trent if he was surprised by the reaction to his book and the way it has resonated all around the world.

Trent says, “ I was terrified of some of those things coming out. Fearful for my Mum, my three  brothers and my dear Dad, who is loved by so many people. I think I underestimated novel readers. They understood that humans are complex, not just black and white. My dear Mum was one of the first to read it and she read it in 24 hours. She said that the story was beautiful and bigger than us and I’m very grateful for that.”

Trent continued, “ It’s really the people of Brisbane who made this happen first. At events people would come up to me and thank me for telling the story of their Mum or their Dad who came from a Housing Commission home.”

Kat points out that Boy Swallows Universe has featured in the New York Times Review.

She asked, “ How did you feel when it went global? “

Trent laughs, “ It was nuts. It’s set in Darra, Boggo Road Jail and Brisbane City Hall. I kept wondering how would that translate into Jewish, into Korean or Chinese. Now my Mum is a warrior figure to me but she loves Oprah and I remember her watching Oprah. Oprah chooses it. Nicole Kidman selected it as her favourite book. I came to realise that our beautiful city is just as beautiful as a book set in Berlin or London.”

The book is about HOPE and shows the triumph of optimism over alcoholism, poverty, drugs and domestic violence and Trent says he should have his message tattooed on his forehead, “ It gets good. It always gets good.”

“I was the kid growing up in the sunshine, eating Billabongs, Sunny Boys and riding bikes with my brothers. As August keeps saying throughout the book, Just get through this bit and it will all turn out.”

I totally agree with Trent’s next piece of advice, “You’re not allowed to let the hand you’ve been dealt define who you become. Keep going on adventures. Life gets good. I have a wife, two kids and a great life out in the Western Suburbs.”

Trent’s babysitter was Slim Halliday, the Houdini of Boggo Road. He had been convicted rightly or wrongly of killing a cabbie. He plays a pivotal role in Boy Swallows Universe. The advice he gives Eli Bell in the book is pertinent for us all now when dealing with isolation. “Do your time before it does you.” 

Slim said that you could bend time to suit you and Trent agrees that time is a massive part of his life.

“I grew up with Back to the Future, Steven Hawking and my character August seems ‘ out of time ‘ compared to the rest of the world. I worshipped my older brothers and in a way as a kid I really did think they were magical. I wanted to write the book as a kid who is thinking those thoughts.” 

For those of us  patiently waiting for Trent’s next novel Under Our Shimmering Skies we will have to manipulate time, as the release date has been pushed out from June until late September. I know it will be worth the wait. The cover alone sparks joy.

 But remember Trent’s advice. It gets good, it always gets good. Before you start being annoyed by the family think, “ What would my life be like without them? “ This was the fuel Trent used when writing his novel and I think that’s how we will get through this time in our little bubbles. I know I’ll be reading, writing, listening , watching and spending time with those I love most in the world. 

If you missed this interview you can revisit it at ABC Radio. Afternoons Virtual Book Club runs from 2 to 3pm every Monday. Watch out for your favourite authors and even some children’s authors to beat the holiday blues.

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