When Colts Ran by Roger McDonald

by |November 4, 2010

Publication Day by Roger McDonald (from the Random House Australia blog)

It is publication day and I’m feeling exposed, out in the open, caught in the spotlight and struggling to sound wise.

What is your new book about?

“The broad stream of life narrowed down to seventy years of Australian existence, and structured around the life of a drunk.”

Can I say that?

I hear the publicity clock ticking. There is a great silence out there, where I trust copies are being read by booksellers and reviewers, interviewers and opinion-makers, but I haven’t heard a peep from anyone.

No doubt a critic/reviewer is, at this very moment, somewhere in Australia, scoring my penetration of the national psyche, if that’s what I’ve even attempted.

I certainly had in mind a character to this country we can’t escape taking on: expansive, far-sighted, welcoming – or narrow, bitter, and dry. Words themselves have organic origins, more than you’d think. The Australian accent evokes a landscape in its vocabulary. It speaks of endurance and scorns false expectations.

On “background” I can talk, if need be, all day. But on meaning? Reading is for enjoyment, emotion, indefinable satisfaction. Meaning is for critics.

It’s a mistake to think of writers knowing about meaning, the way critics know what they know about a piece of work once it is done.

Writing a novel is mostly about solving problems that might be called technical. But a novel cannot be constructed logically. Ultimately it comes from mysterious place in the writer, which is disclosed to the reader dramatically. This idea frustrates the intellect, which believes in creativity as a concept, but finds it unforthcoming face to face. It does not help (during the writing process) that a persistent feeling of failure is often a sign that things are going well, because it’s also a sign that they aren’t. Welcome to the world of the writer.

Talking about a new book is hard because several years’ work resists summary in a few sentences. The book has been written, re-written, polished, edited with care, designed, printed, and distributed. Now I want it to speak for itself.

For the first few days after ripping open the padded bag on the Post Office steps I hold my glorious, irresistible baby all to myself: When Colts Ran, smooth dry touch of the pages, rich colours of the cover design, intricate tickle of the typeface, which runs from beginning to end with a beguiling chuckle.

Now I have to kick it out into the world.

Publisher’s description of book:

When Colts Ran by Roger McDonald

‘There was nothing more definite when it came to promise than the worn old earth.’

In this sweeping epic of friendship, toil, hope and failed promise, multi-award-winning author Roger McDonald follows the story of Kingsley Colts as he chases the ghost of himself through the decades, and in and out of the lives and affections of the citizens of ‘The Isabel’, a slice of Australia scattered with prospectors, artists, no-hopers and visionaries. Against this spacious backdrop of sheep stations, timeless landscapes and the Five Alls pub, men play out their fates, conduct their rivalries and hope for the best.

Major Dunc Buckler, ‘misplaced genius and authentic ratbag’, scours the country for machinery in a World War that will never find him. Wayne Hovell, slave to ‘moral duty’, carries the physical and emotional scars of Colts’s early rebellion, but also finds himself the keeper of his redemption. Normie Powell, son of a rugby-playing minister, finds his own mysticism as a naturalist, while warm-hearted stock dealer Alan Hooke longs for understanding in a house full of women. They are men shaped by the obligations and expectations of a previous generation, all striving to define themselves in their own language, on their own terms.

When Colts Ran, written in Roger McDonald’s rich and piercingly observant style, in turns humorous and hard-bitten, charts the ebb and flow of human fortune, and our fraught desire to leave an indelible mark on society and those closest to us. It shows how loyalties shape us in the most unexpected ways. It is the story of how men ‘strike at beauty’ as they fall to the earth.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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