2019 Fogarty Literary Award longlist: Will Jacobs

Will Jacobs is a writer, engineer and Sydney Swans supporter from Perth. Here he talks about how his manuscript, Jeffrey, first started life as a song, and the important lessons he’s learned from storytelling.


Describe your manuscript in your own words.

If you boil it right down, Jeffery is a story about addiction, and how it threatens to tear apart two families. There’s an alcoholic, a junkie, a prostitute, a madam, a bouncer, a barmaid, a farmer, a dope peddler, a blue heeler, a tabby cat, a seamstress, a childhood sweetheart, a fig tree, a carpenter, a banker, a cop, a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters.
Jeffrey is largely set in Fremantle. There’s a pub, a swingers club. A Port, a storm. An old bridge, an anchor. A Holden Kingswood, a Toyota Camry. A red XF Falcon. A red rose, a black swan.
It’s a story of growing up, and searching for truth, beauty, and love while navigating anxiety, depression, and loss. At its heart, it’s about family.

What inspired you to write it?

Music had always been my main interest. I’d been writing songs since I was about fifteen. I’d written a few poems and short stories, but no extended prose. I only really began exploring literature about five years ago. I set myself a reading list – all the classics – and read something like 150 books in two years. I had a three-month gap between finishing an engineering contract and travelling America, and decided to give it a go. And here we are, three years later!
I started with a song I’d written called Jeffrey, about a heroin addict finding his son and having to ask for help. It was a powerful image for me and I wanted to flesh it out. I had tried to distil this fictional family saga into a four-minute song, and thought it would be interesting to do the opposite. To start with something dense and concise and to let it explode outward and see where it went.

What does it mean to you to make the shortlist of the 2019 Fogarty Literary Awards?

It means a lot to know that someone from the industry has read my manuscript and seen promise in it. It’s almost a sense of relief and vindication. That my hard work is leading somewhere and is justified.
I’m a proud West Australian, and have spent a lot of time travelling around our great State. The fact that this award is endowed by a foundation that stands for education and youth leadership in WA makes it all the more meaningful. I think any initiative that encourages young West Australians to read and write is valuable. Literature has helped me so much, and I think it’s important to get across the message that storytelling is something that anyone can do. This project was something I did for myself. It allowed me to pull everything together and catalogue my thoughts and to try to make sense of it all. It taught me the importance of honesty and authenticity. I’ve learnt so much about myself just from reading and writing, and I look forward to the opportunity to share my story.

Read an extract

You ring the bell. A male voice gives you a brief interrogation through the intercom. He buzzes you in. You swing open the wrought iron gate and close it behind you. You walk along a short brick path and up the entry steps. One, two, three, four. A silhouette moves towards you in the stained-glass door pane, bevelled at the edges. You turn the brass knob.

You are greeted by Sharon. She has shoulder-length grey-blonde hair and an hourglass figure. She conceals her large, natural breasts beneath a conservative blouse. She is composed and intelligent and polite. She is beautiful. She shows you to the parlour and offers you a drink while you wait for the girls to assemble. The parlour is furnished with antiques. Two men and two women play doubles on a billiard table. A green light hangs over the table with tassels around the edges. The men offer a welcoming glance and a brief salutation. Nothing is strange. The bigger of the two men leans down and steadies for a shot. His back spreads like a continent. He draws back the cue and his shoulders expand and ripple like hands of bananas. A thick strap of muscle twitches under his shirt and the eight ball rockets across the clean, green felt and into the corner pocket. One girl cheers and climbs him like a tree. He is 6’6” and built like a fridge.

The bartender places two sweating pints of cold lager down on the bar mat and calls out. The girl climbs down off the mountain and skips to the bar to collect the beer. The other girl consoles her date as he racks his cue, opens a mahogany darts cabinet, and dusts the scoring chalk. The giant lays his cue on the table and looks at you. He walks over. Barrel-chested and shovel-jawed. Wrap-around sunnies on his buzz-cut head. Earring – left ear. One hundred and ten kilos of muscular virility testing the old floorboards. He extends his right bucket-hand and introduces himself as Dale. He smiles, displaying a missing tooth, and its nicotine-stained siblings. You recoil from the vice-grip handshake and survey the bleeding green ink of the stick-poke gaol tattoos that decorate his forearms. The girl comes back from the bar and hands Dale a pint.

The blues music finishes and there is the loop of the last groove on the record. Hissss ca-chunk, hissss ca-chunk. It’s the same sound that the freight trains make outside. Sharon walks over to the record player and lifts the needle. She is the picture of grace and elegance. She removes the record and places it back in her collection. She selects an Otis Redding record, slips it out of its cover, and removes the plastic sleeve. She places it on the platter and drops the needle. There is the delightful crackle of static. The music drifts out, and a soulful voice mourns from the speakers.

The barman’s name is Blue. He is a man of few words. He stands in a nook in front of a wall of liquor, his skin hard and crinkled like papier-mâché. Another man drinks at the bar with a girl by his side, sipping a lager and stealing glimpses of the cricket on TV. He makes a comment to Blue, and Blue counterpunches with a quick jab of banter. Blue has worked in country pubs all his life. He purses his lips and inhales through his teeth before answering a question. You take a seat on a red leather Chesterfield couch. A young girl comes and sits on your lap, and you feel a swelling in your pants. Blue prepares your drink and sets it down on a cork coaster on the sideboard. He sizes you up to gauge whether there will be any trouble. Blue’s duties are many and varied. When he is not tending bar, he is a handyman, a cleaner, a friend, and a father. And if one of the patrons is high or violent or if one of the girls feels threatened, Blue is also the security. Although he is a small, wiry man of fifty-something, Blue was the State lightweight champion from 1976 to 1981. He has a broad, flattened fighter’s nose and is as hard as a cat’s head. Blue keeps a wooden baseball bat under the bar, but rarely has course to use it. In his time, Blue has broken eight noses, three cheekbones, two jaws, and countless ribs. He ruptured one man’s spleen, and made another man piss blood for two days. But Blue is no thug. He is a fair and well-respected man. There will be no trouble. In the event of a conflict, you would be honoured to have his back.

There is a brief discussion of services. You remove your wallet and count the bank notes. You hand Sharon a small wad of cash and the young girl takes you by the hand and leads you upstairs to her room.

About Will Jacobs

Will is thirty years old, and was born and raised in Perth. He is an engineer by trade, and has worked in a broad range of industries, from mining to ports to film. He has lived all over WA – as far south as Esperance and as far north as Port Hedland. Will had his final year thesis published in a number of academic journals, but don’t worry, he won’t bore you with it. Growing up, he wrote songs, and played in a handful of short-lived bands. Jeffrey is his first attempt at writing a novel. He enjoys camping and fishing. He likes the bush, but prefers the beach. His road trip playlist includes Paul Kelly, Nick Cave, and Kurt Vile. He sometimes dreams of being a heavyweight boxer. He supports the Sydney Swans and his favourite beer is Swan Draught.

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