Emily O’Beirne’
Emily O’Beirne

Claire Pearson, the protagonist of Emily O’Beirne’s beautiful debut novel A Story of Now reminds us what it’s like to be at that turbulent period between high school and adulthood when life is a dizzying array of possibilities and the stakes couldn’t feel higher.

Set in Melbourne, the new adult novel takes the reader on a bittersweet journey that is equally frustrating and sublime, but worth every moment. We recently buttonholed A Story of Now author Emily O’Beirne to talk about her novel, about what inspires her, and about choosing to write a story set in her native land of Australia.

For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m from Melbourne, a city I love. I spent a lot of years working in hospitality and travelling a lot. Then I finally stopped, went to university and got my Bachelor’s degree, Masters and PhD all in a row. I now teach part-time in academia and write whenever I can. The rest of the time I spend catching up with friends, hanging with my dog, eating out and seeing films whenever possible.

This is your first novel. When you talk about the book to friends, how do you describe its plot?

It’s about a girl who is kind of stuck in stasis after a rough year. She is trying to work out what to do with her life and how to become independent from her parents while still living at home. And in doing that, she meets some new people who help give her a sense of a different kind of person she could be. And she also falls for a girl who kind of forces her to put herself out there more than she has ever had to before.

What sparked the idea for the book?

To be honest, I just started it knowing I was going to write about two people who start as friends and become something more. I had characters, I had some ‘moments’ or scenes in mind, and then I just let it happen. I think I was lucky with this story. Plotting is not always easy, but that was the element that came naturally with this one.

Claire, the protagonist, is a nineteen-year-old university student in Melbourne. That puts this novel right on the threshold between the young adult and new adult genres. What did you enjoy and what did you find challenging in writing about someone that age? 

I love writing about that period of time, because it is when you are just this giant ball of reaction thrust out in the world, reacting to stimuli. It’s exciting and daunting at the same time. It creates some of the most magical moments but also some of the great disaster periods of your life. You’re trying to be a grown-up, but you still have a long way to go

The hardest part was becoming a little bit young and ‘dumb’ again to write the characters truthfully in terms of their ages. The characters in this book make mistakes and behave in ways I would never consider now, especially when it comes to their emotional lives.  But I had to remind myself that back then I would have done many of the same things.

Claire’s voice is such a strong one in the book. Which traits of her do you love? What do you think are her foibles or weaknesses?

I love Claire. Of course. She’s a sassy, hilarious little brat who probably gets away with more than she should because she’s beautiful. She’s judgemental and defensive, but she’s also capable of kindness and empathy. I really hope I have created a character who, despite the fact she can be brittle, readers can sympathise with, because you can also see why she might have become like this. She has had a lot of expectations placed on her, and she struggles with that. A lot.

Do you see bits of yourself in Claire or in any other characters in the novel?

No, for me the fun of writing characters is writing people who are unlike me. Otherwise, it would be like being one of those actors who always just play themselves. Where’s the challenge in that?

This book is set in Melbourne, where you live. Tell me more about your connection to the city.

I grew up in Melbourne. We moved around a lot when I was younger and then later, in my teen settled in the cultural wasteland that was the outer Eastern Melbourne suburbs. I moved to the inner-city the moment I finished high school and, although I travel a lot, I have always lived here since then. I love this city that is a bit too big for its own boots. It’s not a physically beautiful place like Sydney, but we have great arts and culture and food (and we know it!).

Are there any ways in which you feel the novel has a uniquely Australian feeling or a particularly Australian perspective?

I think the ‘voice’ of the writing is quite Australian. I know I had to say to my(non-Australian) editor ‘we just say it like that’ quite a lotto explain certain turns of phrase or sentence structures. Also wanting to write in a more speech-like tone is probably due to some Melbourne writers.  Some of my earlier writing influences were urban contemporary writers like Christos Tsiolkas and Leonie Stevens. I also loved very Melbourne books like Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip. They wrote in that style.

The story has a bit of an open ending that made me want to find out what happens next to Claire. Is there more to come?

Yes, it is deliberately open-ended because Claire’s story continues in the next book, The Sum of These Things. There’s still a lot more of Claire’s journey to come. Also, it turns out I am massively long-winded when it comes to novel writing, so this story had to become two books!

Get it on Apple Books