Graeme Simsion had a huge international hit with The Rosie Project which won ABIA Book of the Year in 2013 and its sequel The Rosie Effect. His latest book is The Best of Adam Sharp, about love, music and coming to terms with the past. He talks to Better Reading about endorsing books – and nominates twelve of his favourites.
One of the duties and joys of being a published author is to help other writers – typically but not always those who are still behind you on the ladder of sales and prizes – by writing an endorsement for their latest work: those quotes you see on the cover. I get a couple of requests every week, many from publishers about to launch a new author.
I remember how important endorsements from established authors like Matthew Quick (The Silver Linings Playbook), John Boyne (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) and Marian Keyes (too many to name) were in launching my first novel, The Rosie Project, and I do my best to pay it forward. As a bonus, I get to read some great books I may not have seen otherwise. On the downside, it’s uncomfortable to write the ‘not one for me’ emails. But here are twelve books I’ve been delighted to endorse – in no particular order. They’re all recent, of course – my book-cover cred. is recent! And they’re all books that the publishers thought would appeal to readers of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect.
1. The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach
A debut novel from the US that hasn’t yet found a local publisher, partly, I think, because the protagonist is only seventeen (so Young Adult, right?) but the themes are squarely adult. Some readers find the protagonist’s sexual thoughts—and behaviour—confronting, and I wonder how much that reaction is related his disability. Because Ivan is one of the casualties of the Chernobyl nuclear accident—born with a range of serious deformities and health problems that have confined him to a life in a hospital forgravely ill children in Belarus. Then an able-bodied teenage girl —with leukaemia—arrives at the hospital. The blurb says The Fault in our Stars meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I said: Compelling, intelligent and moving. The love story is executed with unflinching honesty and dark humour.
2. Our Tiny Useless Hearts by Toni Jordan
My endorsement is only on the UK edition: Toni doesn’t need any recommendation from me in Australia. She’s perhaps best known for Addition (a book with similar themes to The Rosie Project, though published before it). Toni is one of the few novelists who can do laugh-out-loud humour, rather than just witty narration. Her latest book is an engaging bedroom farce, and the perfect beach read. Chick lit, I guess, but the sort that blokes will see lying around and end up reading to the end.
I said: Witty, observant, laugh-out-loud funny.
3. True Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia, Volume 2 by David Hunt
The follow-up to the deservedly-successful Girt, the first volume of David’s Hunt’s History of Australia. These are the books I should have had at school: it’s impossible to avoid being educated and challenged while you’re being entertained and astonished. The sort of book that will have you interrupting conversations around you with ‘listen to this.’ I said: An engaging, witty and utterly irreverent take on Australian history.
4. 100 days of Happiness by Fausto Brizzi
Lucio Battistini’s life is a mess. For a start, his wife has discovered his affair and thrown him out. Then he discovers he has cancer—and 100 days to live, give or take. It’s the mother of all wake-up calls. It’s an easy read, distinctly masculine, Italian and funny as we follow Lucio’s journey to fix his life before it’s over. And like the best comedic writing, it has heart and truth. I said: Funny, moving. . . I defy anyone to finish this story without tears in their eyes
5. A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart
I approach books that centre on autistic characters with some trepidation—particularly if that character is a vehicle for the growth of the ‘normal’ person we’re asked to identify with (think Rain Man). But Keith Stuart’s debut has the stamp ofauthenticity, and young Sam, the autistic son, has a proper arc of his own. In the same breath, I need to mention Jem Lester’s Shtum–even though I wasn’t asked to endorse it (at least I don’t remember being asked). Another novel about a father and his autistic son, drawing on personal experience—but here the boy is a much tougher proposition—and the book is accordingly harder edged. Read them both. I said (about A Boy Made of Blocks): Funny, expertly plotted and written with enormous heart.
6. Switched on by John Elder Robison
While we’re on autism / Asperger’s: when I was writing The Rosie Project, I deliberately avoided textbooks on the subject: I was interested in individual experiences rather than generalisations. But I did read a few memoirs—and the best, by far, was John Elder Robison’s Look me in the Eye. So, it was a privilege to review his story of being the subject of an experimental treatment. I said: John Elder Robison is an extraordinary guide, carefully elucidating the cutting-edge science behind this revolutionary new brain therapy, TMS, alongside the compelling story of the impact it has on his relationships, his thinking and emotions, and indeed his very identity. At the heart of Switched On are fundamental questions of who we are, of where our identity resides, of difference and disability and free will, which are brought into sharp focus by Robison’s lived experience.
7. Dead in the Water by Tania Chandler
This is Tania Chandler’s second book, following Please Don’t Leave me Here. Her heroine is a cop’s wife—an ideal narrator for exploring the personal impact of crime on those charged with preventing and investigating it. And she’s as flawed and troubled as any hard-bitten dick. I said: The domestic drama is as compelling as the crime investigation. 8. The Waiting Room by Leah Kaminsky It’s always nice to one of the first to have the chance to appreciate a big new novel. Not only did I get to endorse it; I launched it earlier this year. This story of a day in the life of a (female) doctor working in Israel under terrorist threat, with echoes of the Holocaust, won the Voss Prize. I said: Compelling, moving and memorable. The Voss Prize judges did much better: https://vossliteraryprize.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/voss-
9. The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ! Years Old
The mysterious Hendrik Groen (it’s a pseudonym) already had a hit with this quirky and smart novel of life in a nursing home in his native Netherlands by the time I got to endorse the English translation. By turns funny, sad and challenging, it’s a window into a stage of life that many of us are approaching, and many of our relatives may already be living.
I said: Funny and frank: a story with a great deal of heart.
10. My Last Continent by Midge Raymond
It’s a love story, and will probably go on the shelves as Women’s Fiction. But it’s set in Antarctica with scientists and technology and penguins. And survival stuff. I really enjoyed it. I said: An original and entirely authentic love story. I should have mentioned the penguins. 11. Whiskey Charlie Foxtrot by Annabel Smith This story of different, competitive brothers—twins—didn’t take off in Australia to the extent it deserved to. Then the US publisher asked me for a quote. The rest is history. Well, there’s probably not much cause and effect there, but it was nice to be involved in what became an international success. I said: Uplifting without being sentimental. A finely crafted novel that keeps us reading because we care about the characters. 12. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick Payback time. Silver Linings Playbook author Matthew Quick wrote a very kind endorsement for the US edition of The Rosie Project and it was a pleasure to be able to endorse his new book. Like Ivan Isaenko, this is a story with a teenage protagonist, but older readers (and I’m much older) shouldn’t be deterred. Leonard is a weird guy (why did they ask me to endorse this book?) who decides, on his 18th birthday, to do something terrible. I wrote a long and positive endorsement, but the bit they selected aligns with my first rule of writing: first, engage the reader. I said: I was with Leonard on every page.