Queerstories 2019: My Father Haunts Me

I’m known around the traps as the guy who got a book deal in high school, but I’m usually pretty guarded about one of my strongest motivations. This piece illuminates that and was originally performed at Mudgee Readers’ Festival (‘Queerstories’) on August 17, 2019, alongside original pieces by Cadance Bell, Faith Chaza, Benjamin Law, Maeve Marsden and Hajer. Enjoy. My new urban fantasy novel Monuments is out now, and Mum spent her lunchbreak yesterday in the display window of Dymocks Sydney conducting an impromptu photoshoot with the Monuments display. She’s earned it.

My Father Haunts Me

My father haunts me. It’s not that he’s dead. He’s not. I mean, he could be, but as far as I know, he’s not. I see him wherever I go. In the faces of passers-by. In cars. Ugh. He’s the tightening of my chest when a white truck that could be his drives past. He is everywhere and nowhere.

Even my writing career, which blossomed in his absence, is haunted by him. My mother’s father was the one who waited outside newsagencies before they opened to buy me fresh lined paper as a kid, but my father was the reason I was sending manuscripts to publishers before my thirteenth birthday. When my parents’ marriage ended, our house was a shell, half-renovated, the ceiling was a mess of wiring, and the kitchen was a leaky fridge, and a sink propped up by a plank of wood.

There used to be an aluminium bench and some chairs. To give you a measure of the man, when my parents divorced, my father collected his half of the furniture, as was his right. Then, he returned to halve it again, claiming that he hadn’t yet. He took our bikes, our boardgames, and the aluminium bench he fashioned in his factory with the accompanying chairs.

Mum worked hard, too hard, to keep us in school and to fill that house. One night, she collapsed walking up the stairs to her bedroom, and instead of working less, she sent us to live with our grandmother so that we wouldn’t see the toll it took on her. Slowly, she made that shell of a house a home. She installed a ceiling. She bought furniture to replace the pieces my father stole, and then some.

And I wrote. Every day. From Year Seven, I sent manuscripts to publishers, each time convinced that that manuscript would be the one to earn a JK Rowling-sized advance and mean Mum didn’t have to work as hard. That drive that saw me earn a book deal in Year Twelve … that was me trying to step into my father’s absence and provide, or at least, ease the burden he had placed on Mum’s shoulders.

His absence didn’t just inspire my drive, it inspired my output. My first novel began its life as a thinly veiled Parent Trap-style revenge fantasy. In an early draft of my second novel, The First Third, a character tracked down their absent father and said everything I wished I could have said to mine. I remember my then-editor Clair Hume, congratulating me for getting it off my chest before suggesting I cut the scene. When I asked why, she asked if I’d ever tracked down my father. I said no. I cut the scene.

I toured the book. Students who study The First Third try separating fact from fiction. Am I Billy? Is the mum in the book my mum? The grandmother? The brothers? Did this all really happen? One afternoon at a school in Sydney’s outer suburbs, a hand shot up in the middle of one of my talks. The student asked if I had ever tracked down my father. I said no. Another hand shot up. That student asked why. And I didn’t have an answer. I was a quote-unquote grown man now, mid-20s, I was perfectly capable of finding my father and expressing everything I wanted to. I didn’t need to do it in fiction.

So, I set out to find him.

I guessed his address. Suburb. Street name. House number. All of it. Unbelievable right? I mean, I could say I worked at a polling place one election, was entrusted with a tablet featuring the electoral roll, searched my surname, miraculously found his entry, and memorised his address, but that would have been a crime. And it didn’t happen like that. I can’t overstate how much it definitely didn’t happen like that.

I had his address, but I wasn’t going to show up on his doorstep. I typed the address into Google and Google returned a White Pages knock-off that featured his phone number. I sat on the edge of my bed and dialled. One ring. Two rings. My heart thumped. My chest was in a vice. My brain stung. I hung up, set my phone down and took a breath. And another.

I refused to believe a man I hadn’t seen in over ten years still had this much of a hold on me. I dialled his number again. One ring. Two rings.

“Hello?” I didn’t recognise the voice.

Heart thump. Ragged breath.

“Hi, I was wondering if I could speak to Stephen please.”

“Speaking.”

Heart thump. Heart thump. Heart thump.

“Hello Stephen, this is William …”

Heart thump.

“As in, my son?”

“That’s the one.”

Heart thump.

“What, um, why are you calling?”

“I just think it’s about time we had a chat. In person. Does Thursday night suit?”

It didn’t. We tried for the following Tuesday. He cancelled on the day, rescheduled for Friday. He called when I was walking to the train station to change the venue and push our meeting back an hour. He told me to meet him at Rockdale Station. He waited by the turnstiles. I walked right past him, but he caught the edge of my eye. I turned and stared down an older, semi-sundried version of myself. The same curly hair. The same stubbly beard. The same posture … Even though I had built myself in his absence, I had become him. He was inescapable.

I said hello. He said he thought I’d be taller. That’s what he led with. And now that I was closer, I could see he hadn’t even changed into a clean shirt after work. I hadn’t been worth a quick tidy.

He walked me to a nearby Thai restaurant. We took our seats. It was surreal, sitting opposite him as he browsed the menu. He was alive. Every day and every night he didn’t make contact, he lived. He visited Thai restaurants, browsed menus … He cleared his throat and said it was nice to have me back after my “bitch mother turned me against him”.

I was stunned. That was how he was going to start. I didn’t flinch. I told him I didn’t remember her picking up my brother and throwing him against a wall.

He denied that ever happened, then said he didn’t know why we were doing this, this was a mistake. He still ordered, mind you. My voice shook every time I spoke. We were on edge, combative. He set the tone, and I met it. Again, he said he didn’t know why we were doing this.

I knew. He wasn’t aware, but every time his mother was sick, my mum found out, and she snuck us into the hospital to visit her. Mum took me to the nursing home to see her just before she died. We resolved everything. I was here, at dinner with my father in case he got hit by a bus tomorrow. And I told him so.

He wore my words like a slap, and I teed up the rant that I’d been slow-cooking for years. I was ready for some poetic evisceration … I managed three sentences before I realised he wasn’t worth it. I didn’t want to itemise my grievances, list all the ways he’d hurt me, because he wasn’t worth the words. He didn’t deserve the satisfaction of knowing he’s responsible for any part of me.

There is only one person in the world who deserves that satisfaction. As much as my father has haunted my life, he has never cast a shadow over it, because I have sat perched on one woman’s shoulders and she bore the brunt of it so I would never go a day without feeling the sun on my face.

My mother doesn’t haunt me. She never left.

This piece was originally performed at Mudgee Readers’ Festival (‘Queerstories’) on August 17, 2019, alongside original pieces by Cadance Bell, Faith Chaza, Benjamin Law, Maeve Marsden and Hajer. My new urban fantasy novel Monuments is out now.

Fan Fiction: Ronald Weasley and the Authorial Intrusion

This piece was originally performed at Melbourne Writers Festival (‘YA’ll Are Thirsty’) on September 1, 2019, alongside original pieces by Alison Evans, Jes Layton, and CB Mako. Enjoy. And a gentle reminder: my new urban fantasy novel Monuments is out now, signed if you follow that link quickly enough. You don’t need to write fan fiction to experience the boys in that book kissing, but writing thirsty fan fiction about them is totally encouraged. In fact, just by reading this, you are now obligated to.

Ronald Weasley and the Authorial Intrusion

The last trace of steam evaporated in the autumn air. The Hogwarts Express rounded a corner, taking Albus, Rose, Hugo and Lily with it. Harry’s hand was still raised in farewell.

‘He’ll be all right,’ murmured Ginny.

As Harry looked at her, he lowered his hand absent-mindedly and touched the lightning scar on his forehead.

‘I know he will.’

The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.

All was not quite as well for Ron Weasley, who had just extracted a Muggle device from his jeans pocket. He squinted down at its screen. The Author had tweeted. She liked to tweet little retcons. It was her way of reminding them that she was still there, looming. Ron found her posts equally endearing and baffling, mostly because they never seemed to concern him.

Today’s post concerned him. And it … concerned him.

Throughout their time at Hogwarts, Ronald Bilius Weasley harboured an intense crush for Harry James Potter.

He dragged his finger down to refresh the tweet, in case she had posted it by accident and since deleted it. She hadn’t. There had been no mistake.

Harry glanced back at him and smiled. The same Harry from the tweet. He knew because the Author had used their middle names. She only did that when she was serious.

Ron’s heart pounded against his chest. It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be.

Somebody seized the back of his shirt and pulled him into a seat. Ron was no longer on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, but in the Great Hall, a glass of pumpkin juice raised to his lips. He had no idea where that had come from.

Hermione spoke sharply. ‘Don’t drink that, Ron!’

Flustered, he followed Harry’s gaze until he too was looking up at her.

‘Why not?’ said Ron. He set down his glass. This was familiar. He remembered this. He had been here before. It was some kind of memory.

Hermione was now staring at Harry as though she could not believe her eyes. She was about to tell him that –

‘You just put something in that drink.’ Ron mouthed the words as she said them.

‘Excuse me?’ said Harry.

‘You heard me. I saw you. You just tipped something into Ron’s drink. You’ve got the bottle in your hand right now!’

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ said Harry, stowing the little bottle hastily in his pocket.

‘Ron, I warn you, don’t drink it!’ Hermione said again, alarmed.

Ron knew he should listen to her. She was his wife, after all. But Harry … Ron felt something stir deep inside of him when he looked at the boy who lived. That scar, those spectacles … His heart fluttered. That was a weird thing for it to do. Had it always done that? Throughout their time at Hogwarts, had he harboured an intense crush for Harry James Potter?

Ron told himself that he couldn’t entertain the thought. He was married. He had made a vow. He and Hermione had children together.

Not yet. This was a memory. He was a teenager. Hermione was his future wife.

Ron picked up the glass, drained it in one and said, ‘Stop bossing me around, Hermione!’

She stormed up the table away from them.

Ron’s shirt was seized, and he was pulled back once more. A roar of sound greeted him. He was in the common room, surrounded by his Gryffindor peers. They were celebrating something, someone. He glanced down. He was holding a goblet of Butterbeer and had spilt half of it down his front. A hand gripped his shoulder.

‘Congratulations, bro. Keeper! I can’t believe it.’

Ron recognised the voice immediately and it was difficult to breathe. ‘Fred,’ he gasped.

‘That’s my name,’ his brother, who was very much still alive, said before the crowd swallowed him.

Ron scanned the room, searching for a familiar face. He needed to tell the Harry from his memories what was happening to him. And that he might love him. The Author said so.

The Fat Lady swung forwards and Ron identified the slightly younger Harry. He cleared the distance between them, beaming all over his face and slopping Butterbeer down his front.

‘Harry, I –’ Ron was pulled backwards onto his bed.

‘What d’you mean, congratulations?’ said Harry, staring at Ron. There was something wrong with the way Ron was smiling, it was more like a grimace. Like he’d dropped into the conversation at the midpoint and was trying to figure out when and where he was.

‘Listen,’ added Harry, ‘I didn’t put my name in that Goblet. Someone else must’ve done it.’

Ron raised his eyebrows. He had his bearings. Fourth Year. The Triwizard Tournament. Harry had just been announced as the extra champion. Ron was hurtling through his memories, and he had no way to control it.

He wrenched the hangings shut around his four-poster and attempted to collect himself, leaving Harry standing there by the door, staring at the dark red velvet curtains. The thought made his heart pang.

Ron needed to get a grip. Of his feelings and of time more generally. He couldn’t love the boy who lived, and he couldn’t keep reliving memories. He had to return to the present, to Platform Nine And Three-Quarters.

He was propelled deeper into his memories. He was a Third Year in Professor Lupin’s Defence Against The Dark Arts class.

Hermione put up her hand.

‘It’s a shape-shifter,’ she said. ‘It can take the shape of whatever it thinks will frighten us most.’

‘Couldn’t have said it better myself,’ said Professor Lupin, and Hermione glowed.

Ron’s chest was in a vice. The Boggart. When Professor Lupin let him out, the Boggart would immediately become what Ron feared most: Harry discovering his crush.

He shut his eyes and was forced backwards once more, this time into the hard seat of his father’s Ford Anglia 105E Deluxe, which burst out of the clouds into a blaze of sunlight.

It was a different world. The wheels of the car skimmed the sea of fluffy cloud, the sky a bright, endless blue under the blinding white sun. He couldn’t think of anywhere else he would rather be. And he was here, with Harry. He was speechless.

‘All we’ve got to worry about now are aeroplanes,’ said Harry.

Ron’s brow furrowed. That wasn’t right. If this was a memory, he should’ve been the one to say that. Not Harry. It then dawned on him that he wasn’t simply reliving memories. Harry hadn’t actually laced the pumpkin juice with Felix Felicis, but Ron felt like the luckiest boy alive. He had been thrust into the past, the actual past. He might love the boy who lived, and might have a chance to act on it.

And he wasn’t afraid of Harry discovering his feelings. He wanted him to.

The two of them looked at each other and started to laugh, for a long time, they couldn’t stop.

Ron peered down at the Hogwarts Express below them and was yanked backwards into the seat of one of the train’s compartments. He knew this moment, he had replayed it over and over in his mind for years – the moment he met Harry Potter and his life changed forever.

The Author was tormenting him. She wasn’t going to give him his chance. She was going to dangle the past in front of him, show him what could have been, but shy away from two boys kissing.

Ron just had to fill in the time before she yanked him away.

He went through the motions. ‘Are you really Harry Potter?’ he droned.

Harry nodded.

‘Oh – well, I thought it might be one of Fred and George’s jokes,’ said Ron mechanically. ‘And have you really got – you know …’

He pointed at Harry’s forehead.

Harry pulled back his fringe to show the lightning scar. Ron stared. His heart fluttered.

He waited for the Author to seize him by the shirt and drag him back to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, but she didn’t. Harry asked Ron if he wanted to sit beside him so that he wasn’t riding backwards.

‘Are you sure?’ Ron stuttered.

‘Yeah, there’s plenty of room. You’ll get sick otherwise.’

Ron didn’t need to be asked twice. He climbed over the table and the two boys spent the journey in nervous conversation. At one point, their hands brushed together. Neither pulled away.

And Ron understood what was happening. The Author was giving him a second chance.

All was well.

This piece was originally performed at Melbourne Writers Festival (‘YA’ll Are Thirsty’) on September 1, 2019, alongside original pieces by Alison Evans, Jes Layton, and CB Mako. Another gentle reminder: my new urban fantasy novel Monuments is out now, signed if you follow that link quickly enough. You don’t need to write fan fiction to experience the boys in that book kissing, but writing thirsty fan fiction about them is totally encouraged. In fact, just by reading this, you are now obligated to.

TOUR: Monuments 2019

Monuments is here! I’ll be touring Australia to celebrate, and I’d love it if our paths crossed. If you can’t make it to any of these events, don’t despair. Booktopia has a stack of signed books, and you can order one here.

ADELAIDE

SEPT 17 6.30PM: Dymocks Adelaide.

I’ll be joining the YA Circle to discuss Monuments as well as signing books and chatting with readers. RSVP NOW.

 

CANBERRA

SEPT 27 6PM: Paperchain Bookstore.

Claire Eva Reads will be interviewing me to celebrate my first-ever Canberra book launch. Email info@paperchainbookstore.com.au to RSVP.

GIVEAWAY: Win an audiobook!

2018 saw the release of both The First Third and The Sidekicks on Australia’s Audible store. I’ll be giving away the choice of either to one lucky subscriber of my author newsletter. Simply sign up before February 15 for your chance to win.

What can you expect to feature in my author newsletter? News, sneak peeks, special offers, giveaways, book recommendations … It’s going to be my main way of communicating the readers while I gear up for the release of Monuments later this year.

More soon.

TOUR: Want Will Kostakis to visit your school?

You’d think, after years spent working as a web journalist, I would have learned not to headline a post with a question that could easily be answered with thousands of “No!” comments, but hey, apparently not.

Hi. If this is the only way you get Will Kostakis news, you haven’t heard from me since … shrieks while scrolling … Okay, that’s bad. It’s been two years since my last update. Those years have been spent writing and rewriting and rewriting my new young-adult novel, Monuments, and touring schools in Australia and the United States. While I get to work writing (and then rewriting and rewriting) Monuments 2, I want to be better at keeping in touch.

That means regular updates and soon, a newsletter (click here to subscribe) jam-packed with exclusive news, offers and giveaways.

What sort of offers will the newsletter feature? Well, those of you who’ve been following me for a while know that I’m a big believer in getting out and visiting schools, especially those restricted by locations and budgets. With the release of each book, I tour select schools around the country for free. This is the sort of thing my newsletter will eventually feature, but since my subscriber base is currently just my mum, I figured it’s only fair I involve you, my abandoned website visitors in it too.

To celebrate the re-release of 2014’s Stuff Happens: Sean in a collection of four awesome Stuff Happens stories (A Lot of Stuff Happens), I’m hitting the road in the first half of 2019. If you would like your Australian primary school to host a free author talk and meet-and-greet, email me. I will accommodate the first 15 schools to get in contact, and on the off-chance there’s more, I will try to visit as many as humanly possible.

Stuff Happens: Sean isn’t the year’s only re-release. Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOZYA Anthology has been released in B-Format, complete with a summery makeover. To celebrate (you guessed it), I’m hitting the road in the first half of 2019. If you would like your Australian high school to host a free author talk and meet-and-greet, email me. I will accommodate the first 5 schools to get in contact. If there’s more, you’ll be first in line for the Monuments tour later in the year.

Oh … yeah. My new novel Monuments is in stores this September. More on that soon.