When Jay Carmichael’s publishers, Scribe, sent his debut novel Ironbark off to Christos Tsiolkas (The Slap, Barracuda) Carmichael was thrilled when the eminent author wrote back with a glowing tribute.
“A work of great and simple beauty, so good it made me jealous. And grateful,” wrote a clearly impressed Tsiolkas.
“His work has always meant so much to me,” Carmichael said.
Ironbark is essentially a coming of age novel about a young boy who is trying to come to terms with his homosexuality in a small country town.
Now 24, Jay Carmichael said he didn’t come out as gay until he was 19.
“Being gay in a country town is a more isolating experience than if you are living in the city,” Carmichael said.
“I experienced prejudice and discrimination.
“I was trying to protect myself and didn’t talk to anybody about my feelings.”
He said everyday he had to armour himself, and present as someone who he wasn’t.
“When I did move to Melbourne and found people like me it was like finding a whole new world, it was liberating and wonderful,” he said.”
The scenario of Ironbark is quite different to Carmichael’s personal story but what is recognisable is a palpable, authentic tension as the fictional protagonist, Marcus, tries to reconcile his homosexuality with his small-town environment.
Such is the alienation Marcus feels from his family and friends, he may as well be living on Beteljeuse.
Set in a country town suffering through a depressing drought, Carmichael’s prose is restrained and lifted by the occasional metaphor which he absolutely nails.
Tension is centred around the mysterious disappearance of Marcus’ music-loving friend Grayson.
Carmichael is an alumnus of the highly regarded RMIT Professional Writing and Editing school.
And while Ironbark was written over several years and under the mentorship of Tiffany Carrie and Toni Jordan, the result is seamless.
Jay Carmichael will be appearing the Bendigo Writers Festival, August 10,11,12, bendigowritersfestival.com.au or the Capital box office on 5434 6100.