On the Java Ridge
Interview with author, Jock Serong
1. Jock, you write on some big issues. Do you decide to explore a topic or does the story come to you?
It’s hard to know which comes first sometimes, but I think it’s the latter: I think of a story, and whether by instinct or otherwise, it seems to lead into a discussion of a theme. With The Rules of Backyard Cricket, I was just captivated by that expression: it literally sounded like a name for a book. So I went looking for a story to lend to my title, thought of brothers in conflict, asked myself why were they fighting and came up with the notion that it was a corruption thing. Somewhere in and under that I got interested in having someone reflecting on their life while they were trussed up in a car boot, and once I welded all those things together I had the plot, with its background themes about men and corruption in sport and the role of the media.
On the Java Ridge started out as a debate I was having with myself over whether I would ever write surfing into my fiction (I write a lot about surfing in non-fiction, and had thought for a while they would remain separate). Then I happened upon the idea that surf charter boats in Indonesia often ply similar routes to the ones used by asylum seeker vessels. What if they met? That possibility was both a good hook for a thriller (amplified by placing the meeting in the shadow of a federal election, a la Children Overboard), and also a valuable opportunity to explore my own thinking about asylum seekers. So maybe the plot came first, but the moral question was the stone in my shoe…
Either way, I think if you started with a topic and said “I’m writing a novel about that”, you’d run a risk of just writing a dissertation on the topic with thin characters that have to shoulder the burden of carrying it all around. Sometimes non-fiction will explore a topic more effectively: conversely, sometimes a plot and great characters will bring people to the topic who might not otherwise have read it. Horses for courses.
2. In 'On The Java Ridge' you combine surfers, border security and asylum seekers. Who do you think the book will appeal to?
I’m reasonably confident the book won’t appeal to current and former immigration ministers. But I suppose the people I had in mind were surfers who find themselves wondering about the geopolitical issues that sometimes go hand in hand with surf tourism; readers with views about immigration; and those who just like a political thriller. Most of all I would love to know that it reached a handful of reluctant people for whom this subject matter is too thorny. I know that’s not a commercial ambition for a novel, but that would feel worthwhile to me.
3. Which authors or books do you enjoy reading? And does this give us an idea of your writing style?
My reading is an out-of-control donut truck careering down a hill with severed brake lines. I’m all over the place. I love to read classics, especially the Russians (Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Pushkin) and Americans (Conrad, Poe, Bellow). But becoming a writer has introduced me to all sorts of brilliant contemporary Aus writing – some of it I have to read because it relates to a panel discussion or something I’m reviewing, but some of it is just well-informed book people pressing something into my hands because they love it. In this way I’ve discovered Emma Viskic, Favel Parrett, Mark Brandi, Robert Gott, Mark Smith, Angela Savage…in fact more than I can name. I recently read Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End and Cormack McCarthy’s Blood Meridian back-to-back, and although they’re two of the finest books I’ve ever read, I felt like I’d been hit with a brick. You need some Sedaris in between.
Amid the furious ocean there was no human sound on deck: some people standing, watching the wave, but no one capable of words. On the Java Ridge, skipper Isi Natoli and a group of Australian surf tourists are anchored beside an idyllic reef off the Indonesian island of Dana. In the Canberra office of Cassius Calvert, Minister for Border Integrity, a Federal election looms and (not coincidentally) a hardline new policy is being announced regarding maritime assistance to asylum-seeker vessels in distress. A few kilometres away from Dana, the Takalar is having engine trouble. Among the passengers fleeing from persecution are Roya and her mother, and Roya's unborn sister. The storm now closing in on the Takalar and the Java Ridge will mean catastrophe for them all. With ON THE JAVA RIDGE Jock Serong, bestselling author of The Rules of Backyard Cricket, brings us a literary novel with the pace and tension of a political thriller-and some of the most compelling, heartstopping writing about the sea since Patrick O'Brian. Jock Serong's debut novel Quota won the 2015 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Novel. In 2016, The Rules of Backyard Cricket was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier's Literary Award. On the Java Ridge is his third novel. Jock teaches law and writes feature articles in the surfing media and for publications such as The Guardian and Slow Living. He lives with his wife and four children in Port Fairy, Victoria.
* Major author tour in Australia and New Zealand * Author profile in a leading weekend supplement * Bound proofs to be available to the trade * Street lightwall advertising - high-visibility in capital cities * Cinema advertising in key art-house cinemas in capital cities * Widespread online advertising on news and current affair websites such as the Guardian * Major online promotions including social media advertising and giveaways targeting booklovers on Goodreads and via Text's website and social media channels * Book trailer to be promoted widely on social media, YouTube, and to be made available on Text and bookseller websites * A digital chapter sample to be circulated via social media and featured on Text and bookseller websites * Advertising in literary and current affairs publications such as ABR, Monthly, Big Issue, and on their associated websites * Advertisements in bookseller newsletters, websites and Father's Day catalogues
Long-listed for Indie Book Award for Fiction 2018 (Australia).
'Beautifully written and acutely observed, The Rules of Backyard Cricket is a noir tour de force.' -- Sue Turnbull Sydney Morning Herald 'Serong's writing displays wit, insight and occasionally, splendour.' Books & Publishing 'Blow me down if I didn't hang on every word.' -- Clare Wright Weekend Australia 'A compelling literary novel dissecting toxic sporting culture and its fallout.' -- Paddy O'Reilly Australian Book Review 'Jock Serong creates a sense of foreboding from the very start of his third novel, and then constantly ratchets up the tension with a keen sense of pacing.' Books + Publishing
Jock Serong's debut novel Quota won the 2015 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Novel. In 2016, The Rules of Backyard Cricket was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier's Literary Award. On the Java Ridge is his third novel. Jock teaches law and writes feature articles in the surfing media and for publications such as The Guardian and Slow Living. He lives with his wife and four children in Port Fairy, Victoria.