A Night with Trent Dalton: A Literary event to remember: WORD Christchurch

I was fortunate enough to attend an incredible WORD Christchurch event featuring the iconic Australian author Trent Dalton at the stunning and glamorous Christchurch Art Gallery.

 The evening began with lively chatter, as attendees mingled, many clutching their beloved Trent Dalton books, eager to hear his story firsthand. The event was expertly hosted by Alex Casey, journalist and writer.

Trent is celebrating the release of his new work of magical realism Lola in the Mirror. Speaking about his books outside of Australia for the first time (besides a few posh dinners in London), Dalton praised our beautiful country, joking that Christchurch might just claim second place in his heart as the best city — right after Brisbane, of course.

Dalton's Journey: From Boy Swallows Universe to Lola in the Mirror

Though the event was primarily to celebrate Lola in the Mirror, Dalton delved deeply into the personal stories that inspired Boy Swallows Universe. It felt fitting to honour the novel that started it all and paved the way for more of Dalton's beautiful literary fiction. Boy Swallows Universe quickly became a best-seller and the fastest-selling debut novel in Australian history. His latest novel, Lola in the Mirror, has already earned accolades, including the ABIA award for Literary Fiction Book of the year (2024). National treasure Kim Hill described Dalton's writing as "glittering," a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with. Dalton's prose truly sparkles on the page.

Childhood Memories: The Roots of Dalton's Writing

Growing up in Brisbane, Dalton faced a difficult and sometimes frightening childhood. He spoke about his 12-year-old self and the innocence with which he viewed the world. As he matured, he sought to understand his city through journalism, drawn to writing about hard-hitting subjects. Dalton believes every patch of grass, pebble, and corner of a city holds a story. When he talks about Brisbane, it's like a love story, despite his tumultuous relationship with the city growing up. These experiences shaped him, and he poignantly described the "little black stone" in his belly, a symbol of his past traumas.

In his 30s, Dalton had a revelation: by polishing this "stone," it could become gold. This beautiful symbolism reminds us that we can grow from our traumas. It took Dalton 20 years, but he eventually harnessed his strength through writing, beginning with Boy Swallows Universe. For Dalton, writing was therapeutic, allowing him to express and transform his pain into incredible stories.

The Netflix Call: From Page to Screen

When Trent Dalton received that unbelievable phone call from Netflix, he was speechless. Humble and down-to-earth, Dalton has been pinching himself since the early days when more than five people were reading his book. The Netflix adaptation of Boy Swallows Universe was an opportunity to give back to Brisbane and the world, creating a show he would have needed as a 12-year-old boy.

Dalton poured his heart into his book, and with its transformation into a series, he felt a real sense of vulnerability, as his writing is semi-autobiographical. He shared behind-the-scenes stories, including a trip to Ipswich with Art Director Michelle McGahey to visit a childhood home that inspired the show. The current owner, who had a large staffie, showed them a "secret room," a pivotal element in the series.

Despite the pain associated with that home, Dalton always finds beauty in the mundane, like a kitchen where the scariest and most beautiful moments occur. That night, Dalton helped me reconnect with my city and find the magic in my own backyard, a feeling I believe resonates with many who fall into Dalton's world.

Lola in the Mirror: Dalton's Latest Masterpiece

As the evening progressed, the discussion shifted to Dalton's newest novel, Lola in the Mirror, a story that depicts homelessness and houselessness while serving as another love letter to Brisbane. The idea for this book stemmed from Dalton's experiences in social affairs journalism, where he encountered vulnerable women and heard their stories.

Dalton shared that the novel is deeply influenced by his mother's toxic and abusive relationships, with 'The Monster' serving as a metaphor for her boyfriends. 'The Monster' also features in the incredible illustrations by Paul Heppell. Dalton candidly explained that 'The Monster' haunted his dreams for 20 years, but writing helped him conquer these nightmares. He poured his soul onto paper, processed his emotions, and ultimately killed 'The Monster.' He won, and he wants readers to know that they too can overcome their monsters.

Trent Dalton's talk was not only inspiring but also a reminder of the transformative power of storytelling. His journey, from a challenging childhood to becoming a celebrated author, is a testament to resilience and the magic of finding beauty in the everyday.

Hapori, Tūranga

Books by Trent Dalton