Rhett Davis on ‘Hovering’: First Book Club

The Kill Your Darlings Podcast
The Kill Your Darlings Podcast
Rhett Davis on 'Hovering': First Book Club

Each month we celebrate an Australian debut release of fiction or non-fiction in the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club. For April that debut is Hovering by Rhett Davis (Hachette), a powerful and kaleidoscopic story about three people struggling to find connection in a chaotic and impermanent world. Rhett discussed the novel with our First Book Club host Ellen Cregan at a live event at Bargoonga Nganjin, North Fitzroy Library on 7 April.

Our theme song is Broke for Free’s ‘Something Elated’. Sound production by Nial Hosken.

Further reading:

Read Ellen Cregan’s review of Hovering in our April Books Roundup.

Read about Rhett’s favourite books and reading habits in this month’s Shelf Reflection.

Hovering is available now from your local independent bookseller.

Stream or subscribe: Apple Podcasts / Google Podcasts / Spotify / Other (RSS)

Let us know what you think by rating and reviewing in your app of choice!


Ellen Cregan: Welcome back to the Kill Your Darlings podcast. I’m KYD First Book Club host Ellen Cregan, and today I’ll be bringing you our April First Book Club interview. Our pick for April is Hovering by Rhett Davis, out now from Hachette. Rhett Davis is from the Wadawurrung country of Geelong and its nearby coastal towns. He is published in places like The Big Issue, Meanjin and the Sleepers Almanac. Winner of the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award, Hovering crosses genres, literary styles and conventions to create a powerful and kaleidoscopic story about three people struggling to find connection in a chaotic and impermanent world. The interview you are about to hear is from an event we hosted in partnership with Yarra Libraries with Rhett in conversation with me.

And yeah, we’ll get started. So just to begin, we are going to start with a reading. So I’m going to get Rhett to read from his book, and just take it away whenever you’re ready.

Rhett Davis: All right. How’s that?

Lydia had lived in Fraser her entire life. She didn’t think of it as a city. It was larger than that. It was a country filled with cities. The theatres and once palatial bars of Guthrie Street were a city. The winding Almond Boulevard with its protesting palm trees and seaside cafes and kiosks was a city. The river restaurants and the twinkling lights that lined the Avenue Elms were a city. The Japanese district, the Italian village, the Irish pubs, the Indian Street, the Greek side, the Turkish thoroughfare, the Sudanese corners, the Chinese lanes. Fraser was a country with cities as foreign to her as Las Vegas or Madrid. She kept to her well worn paths: Embley, the quiet suburb in which she’d grown up; the sprawling mall on its outskirts; the business park a couple of suburbs away. She occasionally went to lunch with Amy and Jacinta, two of her university friends, and they always met at the same cafe nearby. She never needed to leave, so she didn’t.

The first shift she noticed was ten years ago. She was walking on Ormond Street when she saw her neighbour, Aramis Cacciola, standing in his front garden. She said hello and he waved back. He pointed to a new letterbox planted incongruously in the middle of his yard. It had been installed carefully. It even had the correct street number on the front.

‘Bloody kids,’ he said.

She shook her head with what she hoped looked like empathy.

The next day, the front door of Fay and Luis Montana’s house had been moved several metres to the left. It now opened on their bedroom. Fay stood at the door in a Malinda Banksia festival 20— t-shirt, looking out at the street in some confusion. Lydia waved and shrugged. Fay—who hadn’t acknowledged Lydia’s presence in the three years the Montanas had lived there—glared at her as if she might be responsible.

These minor incidents continued. Nature strips became tiny swimming pools. Formerly white houses were painted a lurid red overnight. Telephone and internet cables crossed streets in baffling configurations. Reports came in from all over the city. Fences became hedges. Tiled roofs became corrugated iron. Footpaths became concrete when they had been asphalt and asphalt when they had been concrete. It was mostly laughed off. People tried to catch the culprits on their phone cameras, but they never could. Whoever was changing things didn’t want to be caught. Rumours of child pranksters gave way to rogue teams of connection workers, prowling the streets as part of a sick game to frighten the populace.

Lydia was alarmed by the changes but dealt with them like everyone else. One morning, five years ago, something felt different. She felt it at her feet, a discontented hum. She left for work, drove a few kilometres, then turned left. The traffic was heavy. A man in a van at a set of stoplights looked around as if he didn’t know where he was. She drove for a few hundred metres, then turned right. A red sedan passed her, its driver looking flustered, then a blue ute passed, its fluorescent-vested occupants arguing. Only then did she realise she was in the middle of an industrial zone she didn’t recognise. There was an oil refinery. She didn’t even know Fraser had an oil refinery. She stopped and got out. Lines of cars were parked beside her, their occupants standing by their vehicles, staring at the refinery. She hadn’t missed a single turn. She was sure of it. So, where was she?

Ellen Cregan: Thank you, Rhett, that was great. So, for people in the audience who haven’t had a chance to read your book yet, can you give us, like, an elevator pitch, a brief rundown?

Rhett Davis: Sure. I’m always really good at these. That means I’m not. So it starts with Alice, who is arriving home, or fleeing home to a city in southern Australia after being away for about 16 years under fairly mysterious circumstances. She’s there to meet her sister, Lydia, who quite frankly doesn’t really want her to be there, and would rather she doesn’t come home at all. And in this mix is also Lydia’s son, George, who’s kind of lost in a world of his own, his own sort of digital world. And as this kind of weird, awkward family reunion starts to sort of happen, Alice realises that the actual city itself is starting to move. So as I was talking about there, streets start to move overnight, buildings go to different suburbs. And that’s when it really starts to escalate and get a little bit weird. And to say too much more probably to spoil it a little bit, I think, at that point. But that’s the setup, that’s the premise.

Ellen Cregan: I think that’s a very good elevator pitch. So I was lucky enough to read this book for the first time, as a manuscript that you entered in the VPLAs, the Unpublished Manuscript Award, which of course you won in 2020. Can you speak a bit about the prize, the experience of entering and winning, and how it was publishing a book after that? Because I know it can get very heated in those publishing sales after you’ve won that prize.

Rhett Davis: It’s life changing. First of all, I think the first thing to say there was that I hadn’t obviously expected anything to even be shortlisted and get anywhere near being shortlisted for it. And at that point it becomes a pretty life-changing sort of thing. I was suddenly, within a day of being shortlisted, I think, I had a couple of agents and publishers wanting to see the manuscript, and it becomes a very, it’s a very manic sort of month or two leading up to the actual ceremony itself. It’s wonderful, but there’s a lot going on. And suddenly you’re going from this point of having no one interested in what you’ve been writing to having a few people interested in what you’ve been writing. And it was tricky, but I had a few people to sort of talk to, a few sort of friends, and my sister, who is a writer as well, was really helpful just in navigating that. And, yeah. But really, it was life changing and basically all the shortlist of people in that award, Allee Richards and Emily Spurr, also went on to publish wonderful books. So that’s really quite a good sort of alumni, I suppose, to be in that sort of mix. So, yeah, it was amazing. And as I say, it’s life changing.

Ellen Cregan: Just some behind the scenes on that—your book was the only book we could all agree on, so it was me and two other judges and we had really different tastes, and we had about four or five that we all sort of liked, but yours was the only one that we were all unanimously like, ‘that’s the best one, we all agree on that.’ So we were very excited when it came through the—because you do read a lot of manuscripts and they’re all, like, pretty good, but yours we were all very excited about to begin with. So one of my favourite things about the book is the way that it uses form, and it’s quite experimental at certain points. Can you tell us about these experimental parts, and why you wanted to do this with your writing?

Rhett Davis: I’ve been thinking about that a lot, because I’ve been asked that a lot too. I don’t actually know. I think I just really love books that surprise me. I like a lot of books, but I love books that really kind of make me go, ‘oh, this is something I haven’t maybe seen in this way before’. And because it’s such a—I suppose a digital, there’s a lot of digital kind of culture in the book, I felt like it needed to kind of reflect a little bit of that culture, and a little bit of that… a lot of the form decisions were about kind of reflecting the hyper-ness, or whatever you want to call it, of the current kind of age, and the way we live our lives online, a lot of it online. And I really wanted the book to kind of be a bit of a reflection on that—not to the point that it was unreadable, that was my concern, that was going to make it far too unreadable. And there are a few bits in there that might be challenging still, I think. But I did want to kind of thread a nice story through it as well. But certainly that’s what I was trying to do, was to sort of just reflect the way we are living at the moment in ways that I hadn’t quite seen done as much in books. The one book that I really took a lot of inspiration from, which I’ve said before so forgive me if you’re hearing it again, but it was Jennifer Egan, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, which was—not quite as much stuff in there as this one, but that really, the form of her kind of PowerPoint slide in the middle of it really made me very, just, that was one of the books that really surprised me and inspired what I was trying to do here.

Ellen Cregan: Yeah. I was going to say the PowerPoint—perfect. So you’ve kind of led into my next two questions, actually almost perfectly. So a phrase that often gets thrown about when a book like this comes out is that it’s a ‘challenge’ to readers, which I think is always meant as a compliment, and I think you can take it as a compliment, but I’m just interested to hear what you think about that in terms of what it reveals about how publishers think about how readers engage with books, and how the reading public should be engaging with books, and what they even want. So, yeah, what do you think about this notion that books that experiment with form—because in your book, it’s not overwhelming, it’s definitely—you know, it’s pretty—I don’t know if mild is the right word, but it’s not on the extreme side, but that’s automatically going to be a challenge for the people who are going to read your book?

Rhett Davis: Hmm, how to talk about this without getting into trouble. Yeah, it’s tough. I think, as I said, I personally love books that do this sort of stuff, and I can’t really reflect on anyone else’s tastes. And I think what publishers are trying to guess, and they’re educated guesses as to what people want to read, and so I understand that. I understand why this would be a book that would be initially sort of like, oh, what? What are you trying to do here? But I also really believe deep down that in particular, the Australian sort of reading public is a really kind of sophisticated reading public, and can sort of take this sort of stuff and run with it. And there have been books that have done this sort of things. The one that sort of comes up for me is Ryan O’Neill’s, sort of The Weight of a Human Heart, which was a few years ago. But there’s plenty of books that sort of do this. I mean, form, playing around with form is really just another way of doing another, writing a book, I think Michelle De Kretser’s book Scary Monsters, that’s quite a different story, and very, it’s a different sort of form challenge she’s coming up with there, two sort of sides to this book. I think it’s an example of something that’s come out recently that, again, is playing with form, that publishers have sort of gone with. And really, I think she’s really successful really well in that.

Ellen Cregan: I do have to say I just feel like a crazy spike of power. When we chose your book as the winner, I was like, ‘the publishers are going to have to take this book, and they’re going to love it,’ because I think you’re right—the Australian reading public is actually really adventurous. And then to add to the list you’ve already given us, like Sean Prescott’s The Town and things like that, people actually love it. And I’m always so surprised when you see publishers being—not hesitant, even, just very like, ‘oh, this is something that’s going to be really intense for the readers’. Because it’s not necessarily, I think people are bold. So I want to go back to what you were saying before about these different technologies that we have in the book. So we’ve got video games, virtual reality, and there are even some passages which I loved that the reader experiences from the perspective of voice recognition software, which was so cool to read. Did you do a lot of research for these parts, or are you just kind of organically techy person, you already knew?

Rhett Davis: Yeah, I’m organically techy, I suppose would be the way to put it. I’m sort of naturally, I mean, I’ve worked in the tech industry a bit, and so a lot of that stuff, while I’m not really a programmer or anything like that, I’m sort of familiar with the area a little bit. But honestly, that sort of stuff was all, as in the voice recognition software, is kind of a pseudo code that I invented that was just kind of, see where this goes. It vaguely looks like XML or HTML, or whatever you want to call it, but it’s really just me going ‘oh, we’ll see what this looks like’. I didn’t really want to go and try and replicate anything that was real too much, because I didn’t want to—a, I didn’t really want to spend the time researching it, I really wanted just the story to be the main thing, but I kind of wanted to abstract it a little bit anyway, just to disguise it, as I’ve done with the city as well, I didn’t really want the city to be anywhere in particular, even though it’s clearly around here. Yeah, so a lot of it was just really kind of spontaneous, almost stream of consciousness sort of stuff that was happening, which was a lot of fun. Those sections are probably the most fun things to write I’ve ever written. There was, yeah, the exchange with the voice recognition software was a lot of fun, just getting all the coordinates—you can actually look at the coordinates and the coordinates point somewhere, but I won’t say where.

Ellen Cregan: Well, that’s a project for when we all go home. (Rhett laughs) As a person who knows enough about coding to code a MySpace page, I really liked it. I don’t know anything about computers, but I really enjoyed it. It was fun. So I personally understand video games—there’s a lot of video games in this, and Lydia is quite preoccupied with a video game—and I’ve always understood video games as a vessel for storytelling. But this book made me feel really empathetic and understanding towards people who see video games as like an alternate life. I was just wondering how, like, whether that was something you consciously wanted to do, to sort of put maybe the non-video game people in that mindspace, because you do feel a bit sorry for Lydia, but generally it’s a lot of empathy that I felt for her.

Rhett Davis: Yeah. I think the main thing there was that I wanted video games to be reflected in there as the way they’re actually, they are, they exist. They’re a massive… I was doing a bit of academic work around the novel as well, I was investigating interactive fiction and various other things, and I was kind of, as I was writing it, that was kind of reflecting back on the fiction itself. And I was getting kind of, a little frustrated that I wasn’t finding video games as part of books as much as I would have liked. And given their cultural weight—and sometimes controversial cultural weight, too, must be said—but they are an enormous narrative medium, but also, almost a therapeutic medium. And Lydia possibly takes it a little bit far, I think when you look at George and Lydia in the book, George has a, he was obviously younger, but he has a much more calmer relationship with technology and video games. But Lydia is possibly using it as a bit of a way to stop, not look at reality too much. And that can be a bit of an issue. I just wanted to really, all the digital stuff in there, I think I really just wanted to reflect life as I feel it’s being currently lived, or at least half of life feels like it’s being lived online. Certainly during the pandemic years, most of it seems like it’s felt online, isn’t it?

Ellen Cregan: Yeah, definitely. So let’s go back to the characters. So we’ve got three equal protagonists, I guess, Alice and Lydia Wren, who are these estranged sisters, who we saw Lydia when you were reading, and George, who’s Lydia’s son. Why did you want to write about siblings? Because they’re kind of central to it.

Rhett Davis: He says, looking at his sibling in the audience. It’s… I just think it’s an interesting dynamic. There’s nothing really of my own sort of experience in there, there’s an estrangement between these two siblings that plays out over the novel. There’s nothing in my own experience there. But it’s, for me, I saw that as a way of exploring, that relationship between the two sisters as a way of exploring more my own feelings of home and away, I suppose, being home and being away. So Alice is someone who has kind of rejected the place where she’s from, and moved overseas and stayed there for a long time, and is forced back, whereas Lydia’s stayed and hasn’t really gone anywhere. And that, to me, is a dynamic that’s sort of existed in myself quite a lot—I really love where I’m from, but I also love getting away as much as possible. And so it was almost a problem that I set myself at the start of writing the book, where I was trying to kind of work out what I felt. The answer is I don’t know any more than I knew before I started, but that was really where that dynamic came from. It was really just trying to explore that internal kind of tension, I suppose, rather than any reflection of anything else.

Ellen Cregan: I’m going to do the worst thing for a podcast recording and I’m going to hold something up. But I think, I think just at the end of the book we have these sort of passages where it’s Lydia and Alice together, and it’s just kind of their stream of consciousness. So sorry for podcast listeners, but I’m holding this up, you guys can see. And I think that this part is like, it’s these parallel lives, like you say, that idea of home and away, and I think it kind of just all comes together at the end so nicely with these parallel thoughts. Were these parts fun to write as well?

Rhett Davis: Everything that wasn’t standard prose was a lot of fun to write. The standard prose was just like, just get through it, but those, there are tables, there are, as we said, the little code segments, there are radio scripts. All that stuff was a lot of fun. Part of the reason I want to do it is just because it made the writing experience a lot more fun to sort of have a little bit of that to look forward to. I like writing generally, but certainly the tables were—the only thing I’d say about the tables is from a typesetting point of view, that’s really where it bit me a little bit at the end, because we had to go through quite a few iterations of getting—because every time we typeset it, something would slightly, if you made one edit, one word got removed, you would go up a line. And so, but they had to be on the same, so I was just like doing this, like, I think I did it about ten times and Hachette were very patient with me, but I felt very sorry for the typesetter, but it was so much fun to write, yeah.

Ellen Cregan: I’m going to get ahead of myself because you just reminded me of something I really want to know. The government response in the shifting city that we saw in the book is so convoluted and like, so bureaucratic, and we do get these press conference scripts throughout and they felt very familiar. So did the real life government response to COVID and particularly the Dan Andrews conferences, because honestly, they were very realistic, your conferences—did that inspire your depiction of the Fraser government?

Rhett Davis: Well, it’s weird because as you know, the manuscript was basically submitted in 2019 so—and it changed, but it hasn’t changed that much since then. So those government responses are already there. It was weird sort of meeting Dan Andrews that night, actually, on those… Of course! Oh my God, I forgot about that. Yeah, that was that an odd experience. Anyway, but yeah, it’s been really strange to see, there are a few things in the book that feel like they’ve played out in—not realistic ways, but just like the government responses and things like that. It was yeah, just strange. And the sort of the idea of the shifting city as well was a really, sort of, a thing that I felt started to feel very real in some sort of way. I don’t know how I feel about that, because I was, as I say, I was writing it sort of in 2017, 2018 and before all this. But I think also you would say that maybe government responses don’t really change very often, no matter what the government is.

Ellen Cregan: Yep. So the book is kind of in this implied near future. We don’t really know exactly when the book is set, but the sense of malaise feels pretty contemporary. And we could perhaps call George a member of Gen Z, I don’t know if that’s fair, I guess, in relation to the rest of us. How did you approach writing a teenage perspective?

Rhett Davis: Hmm, yeah. I’m sadly Gen X, so I’m a few generations removed from Gen Z, so I would feel fairly, a bit strange about it. But also to me it was just a case of reflecting on my own, for me as a 16 year old, what I would have been kind of feeling really. There’s not too much difference in George (Laughs) in terms of his mental sort of state, and myself at 16, I think. So there’s a little bit of sort of biography in there in a weird way, but obviously this is a different world. My real understanding of that is based more around the idea that…I think younger generations clearly sort of accept whatever the situation is a lot quicker than older generations, and particularly with technology. And you can just, he’s very calm with it, despite sort of knowing some of its problems, he’s also a little bit reticent to sort of engage in it too much. That’s kind of what I was going with there. But it wasn’t really any particularly, through any sort of knowledge of my own, (Laughs) to really understand what he was about—but hopefully it comes across okay. Not sure.

Ellen Cregan: I think it definitely does. And I think he has this sense of calmness that the teenagers I know definitely have. Like, they’re sort of a bit—I feel like they’re smarter than I ever was, and just better than I ever was as a teenager. I feel like I was chaotic. Speaking of chaos—so the book ends with quite a lot of chaos, and we won’t spoil the ending, but I think that’s fair to say. But I think the very last scene has like a slightly positive or hopeful tone. Do you think that this book has a happy ending?

Rhett Davis: Yes. Yes it does, that’s my take on it. I did see it’s been, someone called it, sort of, at various points of like, dystopian, and that was very much not what I was trying to do. This, to me, is a version of a utopia that can’t exist. So if that makes sense, utopias are impossible and can’t exist for various reasons, but, because everyone wants something different. But to call it dystopian was really kind of, I felt that really doesn’t quite get it. To me it is hopeful, it was about sort of people—I can’t really talk about the end…(Laughs) how to talk about the end without talking about the end. Look, no, I think it is hopeful. That was the note I was going for anyway, and I hope that’s what comes across.

Ellen Cregan: Definitely. I think—I read it, closed the final page and felt hopeful, for sure. And my next question, funnily enough, was, ‘do you think you’ve written a dystopian novel?’ Because I agree with you that it’s not. And I keep seeing people calling it a dystopian novel. So I wonder—why do you think people see a book like this that—it’s not sci-fi, but it has these elements of sci-fi to it—why do you think people are so sort of desperate to typecast something like that as dystopian?

Rhett Davis: I’m sorry for stealing your question. (Ellen laughs). Yeah, no, I think it’s easy. I mean, it’s been an easy sort of label to apply to anything that’s not realist, possibly near future. Look, we’re living in a dystopian sort of world, right? So I struggle to understand what it even means anymore. It’s sort of, I feel it meant something a little while ago as a label for these sort of things. And people have called it science fiction, that’s okay, I don’t mind that. But I also think there’s a lot of books around that are difficult to classify like that, and that should be okay. Examples, I would say, like Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven was a big influence, that’s a classic sort of—and it’s got very sci-fi elements, but it is really clearly a very well constructed, very character-driven book. Sci-fi or literary fiction, does it matter? I don’t think it really does. But I also understand why we have to label things. And from a publishing point of view, it makes sense to sort of help people make their decisions. But I also think we should possibly be okay to get beyond that sometimes.

Ellen Cregan: This comes back to my issue with the word ‘challenging’ as well. It’s like, it’s this assumption that people who read sci-fi just read sci-fi and people who read literary fiction just read literary fiction. And I just don’t think that’s true at all, because yeah, Emily St. John Mandel is a great example. And also she wrote a book about shipping routes after the Station Eleven. And what’s the next one going to be about? Very excited for that. So something that I find mind numbing and stressful is this tendency that humans have to sleepwalk into these chaotic and dangerous situations. So pandemics, for example, and climate crisis, which I think your book really engages with ideas of climate crisis. Because what it captures is this kind of business as usual mindset. Was that difficult to get done in a subtle way, because it is kind of boring, like, in essence.

Rhett Davis: Yeah. I didn’t really want to write it about climate change, absolutely not. I think there’s a lot of—there’s a lot of people writing about that in lots of different ways, and that’s great. (Laughs) We need to think about it. I wanted to write about it as if it had already happened in some way, or it was happening. And so, but I didn’t want it to be obvious, if that makes sense. So they’ve got sort of…intimations of islands that may be struggling, and some sort of—well, it is, I guess, a bit of a dystopian idea that corporations have created islands and put resorts on them. There’s a few of those little ideas that sort of filter through it, but I certainly didn’t want it to be about that. I just think it was more about, in the same way that I wanted having digital stuff in there, it’s about accepting—let’s get beyond whether or not this is happening or not, this is the way it is and let’s look at the world as if this is happening, because it is. And that’s really what I want to do. I didn’t want to kind of be, too… I didn’t want to wag the finger at anyone either, it was just like, this is reality.

Ellen Cregan: And I think what you captured so well is, like, the way people act in the face of that reality, which is to sort of pretend that things aren’t happening, which they are. So something else that you engage with quite a lot in the book is living on stolen land and colonialism, particularly through Alice. So I just wanted to ask if you could talk a little bit about Alice and her artwork, and how you wanted to write that really difficult subject into your book.

Rhett Davis: Yeah. It’s a really, it’s a hard one to talk about as a white man, but it’s something that I really… I mean, I fundamentally feel there’s a brokenness to Australia that Alice is really talking about. I think in her art, that is something I feel as well, I think most of us probably would, but because of what has happened and what refuses to be done, and to be acknowledged in any real significant way. And what Alice is really doing, I think, is she’s fed up with that sort of way of looking at the world, and her art talks back to that as some kind of, in some sort of way. I don’t have a lot to really add about the artwork, I’m not too…but I think one of the main things I felt with it was really the city itself is that kind of unstable city. And that to me is really where the—I wouldn’t say it’s a reason for anything happening in the novel, but it’s certainly an underlying sort of feeling of this wounded city, this wounded place that is never going to really settle unless something really drastic happens. That’s really what I was trying to kind of do. And that’s a colonisation thing that’s flooded throughout the book. And then I guess Alice is really angry about all that, and is trying to reflect that in her artwork as much as she can, even if it is kind of anonymous.

Ellen Cregan: Yeah, I think that comes back to that sibling thing again as well, is that Alice has this real, like, active anger, and Lydia has this more kind of inwards anger. Because she does get angry towards the end, but her reaction is not to do anything, but it’s kind of to retreat and to seek oblivion, I suppose. So we haven’t talked about the city yet, really, which is kind of one of the main, almost like a character in the book. What makes the city such a compelling subject for fiction in your book, and I guess more broadly? Big question. (Laughs).

Rhett Davis: You’ve stumped me, it’s a really good one. Look I, for me, cities are fascinating places. That’s a fairly obvious statement. But they are the centre of our kind of civilisation. I don’t have anything very smart to say about that, unfortunately, but what I would say is one of the reasons, and I’m always going back to books that I was reading while I was actually running this one, and Invisible Cities was one, by Calvino, that really kind of informed this. And just his kind of view of cities being these multitudinous places where even for one person, they can just be a different place at the same time. With something that really heavily influenced me and really maybe want to explore that kind of the way that cities can just shift kind of magically a bit. It’s a very vague kind of response I’m giving you right now. Basically, I think cities are just these amazingly complex machines that are quite beautiful and awful and have lots of problems with them, but they’re quite incredible at the same time. So, that’ll do.

Ellen Cregan: We’re too in sync tonight because you just predicted my next question again. I was going to ask if there are any books that you found central to writing Hovering. But also this was my last question before it’s time for you guys to have some questions. So do you have any more books you want to talk about?

Rhett Davis: I can talk about one more.

Ellen Cregan: Okay, cool. Well, I’m just going to stick with that question that you’ve already answered. So if anyone has any questions, have them in your brain, we will bring the mic around. I might ask Meaghan to do that. Oh, yeah, there you are. So, yeah, other books that were really important to writing this one.

Rhett Davis: Yeah, there’s a couple more. Lauren Elkin wrote a book called Flaneuse, and that is just a brilliant book about women walking in cities. And it’s really, I guess, a feminist take on, or rethinking of the whole 19th century flaneur which was, who was always a male, always a European, and obviously pretty wealthy. And so she took that and has gone through different, lots of different writers and women writers that weren’t doing—and presenting the difficulties, I think, that women and people of other identities have, going through cities. It’s not as easy as it is for someone like me to wander through. And that was really formative. Alice is someone who is trying to kind of reconnect with the city that she’s grown up in, but hasn’t been in for a while. And that was really informative to that. I suppose Lincoln in The Bardo, which we were talking about earlier. It’s a very different book, but what I was just fascinated by with George Saunders was how he just captured this central narrative with all these kind of voices going everywhere, probably dozens if not hundreds of them, I think—and he managed to get this all into a novel that was really quite captivating and had a central thread through it. And that’s really something that really inspired me, I suppose, for some of the later parts of the book in particular.

Ellen Cregan: All right, guys, time for some questions. Who has a question?

Speaker: I actually have two questions, if that’s okay.

Ellen Cregan: Yeah.

Speaker: I grew up in Melbourne, and so a lot of the descriptions of Fraser really kind of recognised the parts of Melbourne that was in that, which I really enjoyed relating to that. I was just wondering if you’ve heard from any readers from interstate or overseas who have read it, because it is also fairly ambiguous. Like, if you’re from Melbourne I think you really appreciate all the little nods to Melbourne. But if you’re not—I’m just wondering what people’s responses to Fraser were.

Rhett Davis: That’s a very good question, thank you. I had someone today actually say it reminded them of London, which was really interesting. Now I’ve lived in London for a little while, and so that was weird, just the way it shifted and changed. But the other thing I’ll say is that it’s actually—yes, there’s Melbourne in there, but there’s also Geelong in there, too. And there’s a bit in Alice’s little monologue or interview or something, where she talks about this artwork being everything, all these cities she’s visited, all these things. I think at some level it’s also, it’s that too, it’s nowhere in particular. But you can obviously see there’s a Trades Hall somewhere, I think, in there, and there’s a few little Melbourne things in particular, and Geelong things. But yes, no, I haven’t heard too much other than that. But yeah, I was hoping it was going to be more ambiguous. That was why I renamed it completely. But of course, I just ended up saying where it is. (Laughs) And did you, was that…

Speaker: Yeah, I do have another question if that’s okay. This is more of a question on behalf of my husband. He hasn’t read it, but the whole time I was reading it I was just, like, sending him little photos of passages, because yeah, he would really enjoy it. And it’s just like very obscure. But I love the bits about the football league, just loved it. And I was just wondering, was that based on the AFL in particular? Because my husband has this massive gripe with the AFL and their constant rule changes, and just with having the… (Ellen laughs) hundred players on the field and then losing the ball for nine minutes, and I just thought it was hilarious. And I sent that to him and he was like, ‘thank you’. He’s like, ‘somebody understands!’

Speaker 2: That’s my favourite bit of the book.

Rhett Davis: That’s also my favourite bit of the book. (Ellen laughs) I think I need to meet your husband, I think that’s about right. Yeah, look, it is—it’s clearly AFL, but that turned up to 31 or something. It’s, yeah, it’s a little bit of being cheeky towards it really. (Laughs) I come from a sporting family, and footy was certainly part of it. And I’ve watched Geelong, my Geelong team, play a lot. But lately I’ve been a little bit less inclined to, but just because I’m finding the rules frustrating and I look at my father over there, who is probably going to shake his head at me, but yeah, that was one of the little things in there that I wanted to talk about. I wrote a whole story on that at one point, somewhere in my catalogue of unpublished things. It’s about a 10,000 word story about this whole league that was playing out. It’s not going to go anywhere, but it was fun.

Ellen Cregan: I have another question. I actually want to ask you about the cover of the book, because it’s so beautiful. If anyone hasn’t seen the cover yet—who did the art, and did you have much say in it? It’s just such a beautiful, beautiful cover. And it really is like, I don’t know. It’s so wonderfully generic as well, which I think is very Fraser.

Rhett Davis: Yeah, I love it. I kind of, I was initially surprised by it when my publisher sort of showed it to me, but then I was like, it took a few seconds to sort of get in there, and I was like, ah, okay, yeah, that’s it. It’s by Kenton Nelson, who is an American artist. And it was difficult to get—we originally, I threw around people like Jeffrey Smart as an idea, and that was going to be too difficult, I think. But when Vanessa found out, and then the title going down the side, I was like, that pretty much does it. Yeah, it was, I didn’t have much to say. All I really did was say ‘here’s some images of things that I think it might look like’, and it was so far from what I ended up looking like. I had, (Laughs) the sort of person I am, I had Joy Division, Transmission, you know, or it’s Unknown Pleasures, whatever that one is with the lines—that album cover on, obviously not on the actual cover of the book, but just that as an idea for what we could make. And that would not have, this was so much better. So yeah, I’m happy with what they did, I had nothing to do with it.

Ellen Cregan: Does that mean that the soundtrack to this book is Joy Division, and that ilk of music? Love that.

Rhett Davis: Yes. I’m a bit of a nerd like this, I tend write -or I tend to compile playlists for certain characters. So Alice has a playlist and Lydia has a playlist, and Alice has quite a few Joy Division songs in there, yeah.

Ellen Cregan: One of my most listened to playlists is actually the playlist that was made for A Room Called Earth, which was a book we did for KYD First Book Club last year or the year before. So you gotta make that public. You need to let people see those playlists. Does anyone else have a question before I ask my final question? Last chance. Meaghan’s got a question.

Speaker 3: A somewhat self serving one. I know you’ve mentioned a lot of really great books that were inspiration in some way for Hovering. Are there any other books just generally that you’ve been enjoying recently that you’d like to give a shout out?

Rhett Davis: Come up with something different than I haven’t already said? Look, I’ll just repeat The Candy House by Jennifer Egan, that’s coming out, or it’s already out I think…

Ellen Cregan: Yeah, it’s out.

Rhett Davis: Maybe this week. Mind blowing. And I’m reading Australiana by Yumna Kassab, I can’t remember how… which is fantastic, I’m halfway through, she’s doing something quite extraordinary with it. It’s a novel, but there’s sort of many stories throughout, going through all the different characters in this town. That’s quite magnificently done. And I could talk about the books that I would like to talk about for a long time, but I’m not going to.

Ellen Cregan: We do have another question.

Speaker 4: I’m not allowed to ask questions, but I will. (Ellen laughs)

Rhett Davis: He’s going to ask a question!

Speaker 4: Could you just take us through your writing journey, given that neither your mother nor I, initially anyway, were into writing—and how this developed and evolved, and the impact you’ve had on some other people in your family.

Rhett Davis: Always good to get a question from your father. (Ellen laughs) So we grew up in Bellbrae, which is near Torquay, and we didn’t have a lot of people around us, so I read a lot of books. And I invented a lot of games, and I wrote things and I made cartoons, because I was bored most of the time. (Laughs) Probably a little bit harsh, but…

Speaker 4: Good parents!

Rhett Davis: That’s not quite true, it’s a bit of an exaggeration. But look, I was always just fascinated with stories from a young age, and I really—probably was The Lord of the Rings, I think, that got me starting to write things for the first time, not because I thought I could do that, but I wanted to try. I stupidly tried writing a lot of dragon things, a lot of dragon things. That was about eleven, and I’ve got about several years worth of that material somewhere. But it was just something that I really—if I could, I probably would actually have been a visual artist. I’m just not that way inclined, and I like words, and I like painting pictures with words, but that would have been a much more kind of, the sort of things that I have in my head I would have preferred doing visual art, but I’m in the literary space instead. There you go, that’s your answer.

Speaker 4: Two out of ten.

Ellen Cregan: Finishing with a dad question, that’s the first here.

Rhett Davis: Absolutely.

Ellen Cregan: Loved it. So I’m going to ask last question, sorry. So, do you think you’ll write more about cities, or is it time to move on to something totally different? And if you are moving on to something different, can you tell us what that is?

Rhett Davis: Thank you. I wouldn’t write about cities in the same way. I would like to try and do something quite different with the next one, but in terms of what that is, that’s still kind of working out. I’m always going to be probably doing absurdist, vaguely science fiction kind of ideas in a literary sense, so—but I’m not really writing about cities, it’s more about, this one’s more about…how to say without saying much. Well, it’s going to be a first person kind of book to start with, and it’s got a central premise that’s strange, and that’s probably the main similarity—that is telling you absolutely nothing, I’m sorry. (Ellen laughs). But no, I won’t be right about the city in the same way.

Ellen Cregan: I’m just excited for the space around that answer, I think, regardless of what it’s going to be. Thank you so much, Rhett, it was so lovely to talk to you. Thank you, everyone for your questions. If you’d like to buy a copy of the book, we have them over in this corner of the room and I’m sure you’d be happy to sign books. I’m just promising that. And thank you to Yarra Libraries for having us.



Ellen Cregan: That was the April First Book club edition of the Kill Your Darlings podcast. We’ll be back soon, but while you’re waiting for our next episode, you should check out our website for more commentary, criticism, memoir, and more. You’ll also find information about our wide range of writing courses. Thanks for joining us and see you next time.