Former Nelson Bay resident Daniel Davis Wood's second novel shortlisted in Miles Franklin Literary Award

ACHIEVEMENT: Former Nelson Bay resident and author Daniel Davis Wood has had his second novel included in the 2021 Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlist.
ACHIEVEMENT: Former Nelson Bay resident and author Daniel Davis Wood has had his second novel included in the 2021 Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlist.

An award-winning author who grew up in Nelson Bay has just had his second book, a six-year labor of love, shortlisted in the2021 Miles Franklin Literary Award.

Daniel Davis Wood grew up in Nelson Bay where he attended Tomaree High School before moving to Sydney when he was 18 then to Boston, Edinburgh, Oxford, Melbourne, the Swiss Alps, before returning to Britain and settling the hills of the Scottish Borders.

Last week, the Copyright Agency's Cultural Fund announced at the State Library of NSW the shortlist which features six books all reflecting the "rich and diverse fabric of Australia's cultural landscape".

Among the six titles was Wood's second novel, At the Edge of the Solid World, published in 2020.

It comes after his debut novel, Blood and Bone, won the 2014 Seizure Viva La Novella Prize.

"To be recognised with any award is both an incredible honour and incredibly humbling. It's really just amazing to know that someone out there is paying attention to my work, since I'm always convinced that nobody will," Wood said.

"I've never had a book deal in advance of writing, and my style makes a lot of demands of the reader, which no doubt some readers will find off-putting - so, ultimately, I write my books with no expectation that they'll ever be published, let alone read, let alone receive recognition through awards.

"And that's especially true of At the Edge of the Solid World. It's so big, so unwieldy, so dense, that I'm sure some people won't make it through to the end, and it was published during the age of lockdowns, so in all honesty I expected it to sink like a stone and receive not a word of praise from anyone. The fact that it has defied these expectations leaves me agog, to be perfectly honest."

At the Edge of the Solid World is the story of a child's life cut short after just one day, of a mother and father bereft at the loss of the future they'd imagined, of an unspeakable crime, public outrage, anguish on the streets and a media frenzy that engineers heroes and villains, martyrs and scapegoats.

The other shortlisted book are: Amnesty by Aravind Adiga, The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott, The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey, Lucky's by Andrew Pippos and The Inland Sea by Madeleine Watts.

Wood said he is now working on a new book that is "lighter, gentler, and more generous" than his second novel.

"It's about an elderly woman and her adult son, and his acceptance of the fact that he must take care of her - and his realisation that this may involve making himself vulnerable, to let her feel that she can still take care of him, to give her a sense of purpose that she may have lost."

The six books shortlisted in the 2021 Miles Franklin Literary Award.

The six books shortlisted in the 2021 Miles Franklin Literary Award.

One on one with Daniel Davis Wood:

Tell us about your inspiration in writing At the Edge of the Solid World, how long it took you to complete?

It took me six years to complete At the Edge of the Solid World. The novel begins with the birth of a child, followed by a series of complications, and much of that early material was drawn from experience -- some of it mine, some observed; some of it actual, some only possible without becoming real. But most of the novel came from some questions of morality that I'd been turning over in my head for years, even more than a decade. In particular: when there are so many crises in the world on any given day, when there is so much misfortune and suffering to contend with now and throughout history, how much value does the private grief of one person actually hold, objectively, even though it may be so intense to them that it darkens their entire world? That's a dense question, not easily answered, if indeed it can be answered at all -- so perhaps it's no surprise that it took so long for me to wrestle the book into existence.

Do you think you have a writing style? If so, how would you describe it?

In a word, the style I'm aiming for is one I'd call "incantatory". I pay close attention to the sounds of words, the stresses and falls, the rhythm of the prose, the length and brevity of sentences, and I use a lot of repetition with minor variations, ideally to build up a momentum that sounds something like a prayer or incantation. Again, it's not for everybody. It's definitely not the sort of transparent prose that allows a reader to forget that they're reading a book and feel like they're watching a movie in their head. It's a style that constantly makes the reader aware that they're interacting with another consciousness, and part of the interaction involves prompting the reader to be aware of how words work to enchant as well as mislead or misconstrue the meanings of events.

Has the pandemic affected your writing?

The pandemic has definitely affected my writing in the sense that there's a lot less writing getting done! Other than the practicalities, though, I'd say that it also probably gave me the push I needed to clarify the aims of the new book: caretaking and caregiving have been front-and-centre in the culture over the last eighteen months, and I'm sure that fed into my contemplation of what is driving the relationship between those two characters.