Richard Yaxley with his award-winning book, Drink the Air.
Richard Yaxley with his award-winning book, Drink the Air.

Teen fiction a success story

SCHOOL teacher Richard Yaxley is not often lost for words but hearing his name announced as a winner at the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards left him speechless.

“I was genuinely dumbstruck,” he said.

Richard’s self-published novel, Drink the Air, took out the Young Adult Book Award and its $15,000 in prize money.

The awards ceremony, held at the State Library in Brisbane this week, was “kind of like being at the Emmys”, he said, with a big crowd, a big screen and a professional voiceover.

Richard said it was daunting but also special to be in the company of well known writers from around the country such as J M Coetzee who took home the fiction book award.

Judges said Drink the Air was a beautifully nuanced, gentle and moving tale about grief and love.

“Tom and Zooey have each lost a loved one and have struggled to cope,” the judges’ comments read.

“The two teenagers are both locked into a pattern of remorse that they can’t escape from, until a school production of The Tempest brings them together – and the love of those still with them, and also those whom they’ve lost, helps them both to get through.

“Written in a lyrical and yet vigorous style, this is a simple and profound little book which is charmingly conceived and executed.

“Set in Hervey Bay, the place is an important part of this narrative journey.

“This is a genuinely effective and yet unprepossessing work, which surprised and impressed the judges with the authenticity of the emotions conveyed, the author’s literary skill and his poetic control of his material.”

Richard said he wrote it in blank verse because the story came to him in pictures, like a photo essay, and the poetic style just happened.

Pialba’s Mary Ryan’s Bookshop has copies of his novel and he’s hopeful it will be picked up by a national publisher.

He plans to use the $15,000 prize money to “buy some time”.

Working full-time as a drama, English and religion teacher at Xavier Catholic College leaves him snatching time to write during early mornings, on weekends or on holidays.

His home is littered with bits of paper with scribbled notes about ideas and his wife Carol even bought him a dictaphone on a key ring so he could record his ideas on the run.

“I’d really like to have an opportunity to grab some solid blocks of time to write,” he said, adding that he saw Drink the Air as the first book in a trilogy.



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