Over the last few years I’ve read piles of unpublished Australian writing, both fiction and non-fiction. While, unsurprisingly, the quality of this work varies, I feel privileged to have had access to the ‘underbelly’ of Australian writing — in other words, to have some insight into what the vast array of unpublished writers are writing.
Very occasionally, as I read all this unpublished work, I experience a fizzing sensation — I don’t know how else to explain it — that indicates something genuinely good, genuinely assured, genuinely fresh, genuinely different. That I experience this sensation only very occasionally isn’t, by the way, an indictment on Australia’s writing scene. Rather, it’s a measure of how hard it is to write well. Besides, it’s personal: one person’s fizz is another person’s ‘nup’.
I got this fizzing sensation when I read Nicole Smith’s Sideshow. The story — the words — leapt from the page and slapped me. I first encountered the manuscript when I was one of the judges of the inaugural (and now defunct) Writing Australia’s Unpublished Manuscript Award. While I stand by the manuscript my fellow judges and I eventually chose as that competition’s winner — a book you might have heard of, Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites — I loved Sideshow. It deserved its place on the shortlist.
I read Sideshow again when I came to judge Seizure’s Viva la Novella 2 competition. I loved it again — or, more accurately, I loved it still. I can break down my enthusiasm for the manuscript to several distinct elements: it’s hilarious; it captures something about the art, craft and grunt of performance; and it paints a vivid picture of the relentlessness and drudgery of living and working on the road. Perhaps most importantly, it meditates on how to live differently — how to be different. The narrator, the Courtesan, paints gloriously sardonic and yet sympathetic portraits of her fellow performers — and of herself, for that matter.
All of these elements combine to make something bigger, something that — in simple and complex terms — makes Sideshow my sort of story. It does its own thing. It makes up — and sometimes breaks — its own rules. And — did I mention? — it’s hilarious.
I hope you’ll find it your sort of story too.
Patrick Allington, May 2014, Adelaide
Winner of the 2014 Viva La Novella Prize
See the latest review! 'A rock’n’roll "on the road again" book with an eccentric cast'
From Rio to Oostend to Amsterdam and beyond, a troupe of acrobats travel the world, performing miracles in the air, enthralling audiences. In between gigs, they drink, play and taunt each other. They get bored. They get up to no good. Then they jump on a plane to do it all again somewhere else.
Sideshow is an hilarious and rollicking take on the thrill and drudgery of a life on the road and on what it takes to perform day after day after day …
Nicole Smith was first published when she was twelve in the local paper for a science fiction short story called ‘Just Another Day In Space’. Since then she has realised that there are no days in space.