As soon as we had copies of The Mermaid Boy in our hands, staff were intrigued – the cover announces that the collection is ‘non-fiction stories’. Our interest was piqued – not essays, not fictional prose, but something in between. We had the opportunity to learn a little more about what these stories entailed at the book’s launch.
Our patch of Willis Street became both a place of celebration and of stormy shelter on Thursday 8 May, when we welcomed John Summers, members of the Hue & Cry Press team and John’s friends, family and readers in from some particularly inclement Wellington weather. A sombre Smiths soundtrack was a world removed from the excited crowd, full of readers and writers alike.
The Mermaid Boy is the fourth book from Hue & Cry, and their twelfth publication overall when their eponymous journal is included. Sarah Jane Barnett, author of H&C release A Man Runs Into A Woman, acted as speech-making proxy for Chloe Lane, the currently Florida-based publisher at Hue & Cry Press. Chloe/Sarah raised an imagined glass of bourbon in toast to the debut author, saying ‘that’s how we do it in the south’. Lawrence Patchett spoke next, as the editor of the book, explaining some of the experience of working with John and with his writing.
Then the author himself took to the mic. After the usual thank yous to the people involved in the book’s creation as well those at the launch, John shed a little light on the background of some of the stories, including his partner asking him ‘you’re already thinking about writing about this, aren’t you?’ after a particularly sticky situation travelling in Russia. The reading that followed provided a glimpse into the clear and cutting prose of the collection – the story “Real Life” opens The Mermaid Boy and takes us into John’s first flat, in a damp corner of a bad neighbourhood in Christchurch.
Copies of the book were swiftly grabbed after the formal part of the evening wrapped up, and John did his duty at the signing end of the middle counter. The mingling continued over last glasses of wine and everyone had their chance to catch up with and congratulate the man of the hour. Beautiful blue books were bagged, 11-for-10 cards were stamped, and book-lovers went happily into the night.
The Mermaid Boy (Hue & Cry Press) is $30 and available in store now or from our online shop HERE.
Photography by Matt Bialostocki, review by Briar Lawry.