Arts marketing volunteer Isabella Colton reports on her highlights from the Fremantle Press Great Big Book Launch
Under the night sky and twinkling lights of the gothic Fremantle Arts Centre, some of WA’s talented authors and artists gathered to launch 19 new books and commemorate 45 years of publishing. The Great Big Book Launch, hosted by Fremantle Press, provided authors and book lovers alike with a warm, supportive place for important local stories to be heard, alongside delicious food and drinks.
Jayden Boundry of Ngalak Nidja gave an acknowledgement of country in Noongar language while Ash Penfold-Garlett performed the Welcome Dance, the Wirren (Spirit) Dance and the Nyambi (Celebration) Dance.
Minister for the Arts, David Templeman, spoke on the importance of the written word, its magic, beauty and power that comes with sharing human stories. He said, ‘We should be grateful that we can be here to cherish authors of new books.’ The dynamic MCs, Deb Fitzpatrick and Yuot A. Alaak, were packed with puns so awful the audience couldn’t help but laugh. My personal favourite from Yuot – ‘She snailed that pitch’ – after Helen Milroy pitched her wonderful children’s book Backyard Bugs.
The creators were given two minutes each to pitch their books to a packed audience. First up, James Foley pitched his children’s picture book Stellarphant, about an elephant determined to become an astronaut, despite her critics. A video with his illustrations accompanied him on stage as he discussed how this story teaches children about discrimination, equality and determination, showcasing that ‘heroes’ come in all shapes, sizes and species.
I was glad to see inclusivity and representation throughout the night with Jessica Walton and Aśka’s graphic novel Stars in Their Eyes, about a bisexual amputee with chronic pain and anxiety. As a bisexual amputee herself, Jessica described the novel as a gift to herself, something she is seeing more writers do: ‘writing themselves into the gaps they saw as kids’. It’s something that I would’ve loved to have available as a young teenager and I know this will allow other young people who face marginalisation and discrimination a character to identify with and a space to feel heard.
Maria Papas, winner of the 2020 City of Fremantle Hungerford Award, pitched her novel Skimming Stones, a novel based on her lived experience. ‘Stories are difficult to tell that are difficult to experience,’ she said. Skimming Stones follows a paediatric oncology nurse facing memories of her sister’s illness, illustrating the profound and lasting impact for families, when a child is diagnosed and undergoes hospital treatment. I was touched. My family’s lives and perspectives were forever changed by cancer, and I can relate to this emotional aspect of Maria’s novel. She described it as an ideal read for people wanting to finish a book feeling a sense of emotional release.
I found Leigh Straw’s pitch to be very intriguing. Her non-fiction novel, The Petticoat Parade, revealed a part of Perth’s history I was unfamiliar with. The historical account of the Roe Street brothels and red-light district existing near the railway tracks delves into the lives and stories of the women who lived and worked there, specifically Josie De Bray, who was Perth’s most famous woman in the bungalows.
The large attendance for this event emphasises the demand for diverse voices sharing unique and often powerful messages and perspectives. It reinforces the value of local stories and the significant role that Fremantle Press play in supporting Western Australian authors. I can’t wait to read some of these wonderful books over the summer and gift them to my family and friends for Christmas.
About Isabella Colton
Isabella Colton is a first-year student studying a Bachelor of Arts and Commerce at Curtin University. Her love for books and all things creative sparked her interest to pursue the majors of Professional Writing and Publishing, as well as Public Relations. As she continues her degree, she is eager to build her skills as a writer and get involved with all the Perth writing community has to offer.