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The Man Who Rescued a Book From the Rain: A Conversation photo

The Australian is my first novel—and first book. I hoped it would resonate with some people on a personal level. However, I never could have imagined the response I got from a perfect stranger, in the form of a Facebook message:

Hey Emma—You don’t know me but I happened to find your book The Australianon the side of the road in Park Slope. It had just started to rain and the cover caught my eye. Myself being an Aussie, I didn’t have the heart to leave one of my own in such conditions so I picked it up without much thought. I couldn’t believe how similar it was to my story of the internal struggle I had when first moving from Aus to New York. It was to the point that I started to wonder if I had told my drunken story to any writers in a bar some lonely night. I just thought I would reach out to you and express how much I enjoyed reading your book. Besides the nostalgia brought upon me, the way you flow different ideas throughout your writing is truly inspiring. I am not one to believe heavily in fate but there were definitely some strange forces that needed me to find your book that day. The US is a very different place from Australia. It can be very isolating for us sometimes and you portray this in your book perfectly. I wish you all the best in the future and I am sure you will get the credit you deserve. I really needed this story so I thank you.

My novel’s protagonist, a man who is only ever referred to as “the Australian,” is quite nakedly flawed. Throughout the twelve years of his life chronicled by the book, he vacillates between spectacular whimsy and emotional ruin, childlike in his grandiosity, neediness, and desperate fumbling toward self-awareness. At one point, he describes himself as “the patron saint of trying.” 

The man who had written me was not only willing but apparently compelled to step forward, raise his hand, and say: “I am the Australian.” This struck me as a powerful act of vulnerability and courage. I was curious and wanted to know more, so I asked the message’s author, Harry Scott, if he’d be interested in exchanging some emails. I’m grateful that he said yes, which led to the conversation that follows.


Emma: Thank you so much for reading and your willingness to talk with me. I’m excited for us to get to know each other better.

Where are you from? When did you move to the United States and why? And what is your life like here, now?

Harry: I’m from Sydney. I moved to the States two and a half years ago in search of something, but I wasn’t sure what. I’m a creative musician and audio engineer, so New York City seemed like a great place to be. I found a lot of enjoyment and solace in floating around the city without much direction when I first arrived. I have accomplished a lot, but while I feel like I keep getting closer, I have yet to discover exactly what I was looking for to begin with—much like the main character in The Australian.

Emma: I’m interested by the fact that, just like the Australian, you see yourself on a quest for something amorphous. Would you be willing to do a weird kind of experiment? Ok, here it is. Harry—please tell me about a life beyond your wildest dreams. 

Do want to live in a mansion, with just one roommate: a caribou? Or are you more inclined toward those “tiny homes” that people are inexplicably obsessed with? Perhaps you’ve always dreamt of doing a cannonball into a swimming pool filled with Jello. Or, maybe—just hear me out on this—might you be into taking long walks on moonlit beaches every night with the love of your life, while Kenny G. trails along behind you playing the sax, close but not tooclose, like the perfect distance so that you and your beloved can hear his smooth, smooth jazz being carried toward you on a gentle, salty breeze?

Harry: Your examples are almost Shakespearean to me and cover a lot of ground. I'd like to break them down and it might explain a bit about how I see the world.

Let's say the mansion is the ego. The feeling of attaining the mansion is never as great as the dream of it, because the more you feed your ego the bigger and more profound it becomes, to the point of separating itself from your true self. I imagine it to be the epitome of loneliness to have the world respond to a false projection of yourself rather than your true being. But I guess it works for some...or maybe not. Is that why my only friend is a Caribou?  He’s the only one that loves the real me!

I imagine the tiny home to be simple and under the radar—somewhere remote and out of harm’s way. It symbolizes the desire to play it safe and stay within one’s comfort zone. This may seem attractive, but as time goes on the tiny house will become smaller and smaller. As one feeds the desire to avoid anxiety, their ability to handle that emotion becomes weaker until it starts to control them. Almost like the ego turning on its creator.

I grew up in a fairly chaotic world where anxiety was a common part of life. It taught me a great cognitive lesson that has propelled me through life and kept me taking on new challenges: it's perfectly normal and healthy to fear a threatening situation, but what debilitates us is the fear of fear. We must retrain our brains to take on anxiety like a sport. It's truly incredible what can be accomplished with this in mind. As Hunter S. Thompson said, "Fun is in the unknown." We must be open to it.

The last example is my favorite and is the true meaning of successful life accomplishment in my opinion. The idea of sharing a moment with someone special whilst being able to leave the world behind resonates deeply with me. The older I get, the more importance I place on obtaining and maintaining special relationships and less on obsessing over career goals. I focus on studying my craft and creating the best I can whilst being my own toughest critic, but I don’t obsess to the point of it affecting other areas of my life like I used to. I have let a lot of relationships suffer in the past due to not investing enough energy. I had the mindset that friends, family, and lovers were just a distraction from my art. I’m thankful that I have discovered this at 28 and not 68 and the true pursuit of happiness is such an empowering feeling.

So, my quest is to have the money to support a space to create as well as the lifestyle. To create art that I am deeply convinced is the best I am capable of. But the most important part is the people that I can share it with. I'll take the beach and the girl every time. But I'll swap out Kenny G and his horn for BB King on blues guitar.

Emma: What are some of your all-time favorite books? How would you describe yourself as a reader?

Harry: I rarely read fiction. To be honest, I think the last novels I read would have been the Harry Potter series back in fourth grade. I like to learn about music, creativity, psychology, and history. I spend most my free time either making music or learning about those subjects.

A book that I really enjoyed and seem to bring up a lot when I’m ready to have an intellectual debate is the Arnold Schwarzenegger autobiography. He doesn’t seem to get much respect due to his terrible acting and adultery, but his story is highly inspirational for anyone trying to make their way through any capitalist hierarchy.

The message I got from reading Schwarzenegger’s story was you can do anything and exactly what you want if you are focused and don’t succumb to being merely “good enough.” Great man!! *Cue hate mail

Emma: Ha! Well, I admit I’m don’t know all that much about Schwarzenegger, other than his stint as Governor of California and having seen several of his films including Kindergarten Cop—Schwarzenegger’s magnum opus, in my humble opinion—so the hate mail won’t come from me.

Did your experience reading The Australian make you consider reading more? Have you read anything since? If yes, what was it? And if not, what’s one type of book (or a book title, if you have one in mind) you’d be interested in reading?

Harry: Reading your book made me remember the importance of escaping the grind of life to recharge the imagination batteries. Living in New York City can be hectic and it's easy to forget to take care of the brain you need to function. I still have been mainly reading nonfiction and psychology and philosophy to be honest, but I am eager to start reading some George Orwell classics, which I have regrettably never gotten around to. 

The next one on my bookstand is written by Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn recounting his story as a prisoner in a 1945 Soviet gulag.I’m also interested in Socrates, Carl Jung, and the psychologist Jordan Peterson who seems to be stirring up a lot of interesting debate at the moment. I am deeply fascinated by the dark side of the human mind. Hopefully I can remain sane during the discovery process.

Emma: What was it about The Australian that spoke to you most?

Harry: As soon as I started to read the book I instantly connected to the Australian. I couldn’t believe how similar his story was to the internal turmoil I had when moving from Australia to New York City. The character and I had a lot in common. Where did you get the inspiration to write about such an interesting character?

Emma: I based the Australian on a man I met in a coffee shop when I was 19. We went back to his place and did coke together, and he told me all about himself: he was a venture capitalist, he’d put himself through college dressing up as Superman and posing for tourist photos, and he didn’t mention his family at all. The conversation left me curious about why he’d left Melbourne, and in the novel it gave me room to create a family situation—absent father, oppressively adoring mother, and no siblings—that might simultaneously push and enable a young man to move halfway around the world.

Another thing that I soon noticed back in the Australian guy’s apartment was that he had several large bookshelves, all exclusively filled with self-help books. When I left, he gave me a book called Conversations With God and said, “This will change your life.” At the time, I was very troubled with unmanaged bipolar disorder and drug problems. Back at home, I read the book and took its message to heart: God was real, He was speaking to me through the book, and I needed change everything about my life. Forty-eight hours later, I was in a drug detox, and while I eventually left that book and its teachings behind, I found my way to a much more meaningful—and sustainable—way of living. Eventually, writing found its place at the center of my new life.

Somewhere in the many years spent figuring out who I was, I jotted down a character sketch entitled “The Australian.” Years later, during grad school, I found the file in my computer. The character I’d written about was intriguing and energizing to me. My memory of the man was spotty enough that I could fill in the bigger gaps of his life any way I chose, and also he brought with him this narrative voice that felt authoritative and humorous.

Harry: My father, just like the one in your novel, is a Scottish nomad. The mother in the book not only turned out to have the same name as my mother, Margaret, but also the same characteristics, like she’s also into spiritual healing. Your writing put into words a lot of the emotions that I had about our distant relationship and offered a strange, new perspective that I had never considered before. I imagine most people spend thousands of dollars on therapy for these kinds of results.

Emma: What kind of therapeutic results did you get from reading my book?

Harry: As I read of your character’s story and felt such a close connection, it gave me an opportunity to analyze my own situation from a perspective that I didn't have access to previously. It got me thinking about metaphorical truth as a form of truth. It actually made me read the Bible for the first time, and gave me a newfound respect for religion to be honest. Who is to say that a metaphorical story that improves people’s lives is any less important than fact? So, basically you're a modern day Jesus, Emma. 

There is a moment when you refer to the way in which Margaret treats her son in a “borderline incestuous” manner. I thought about your choice of words a lot here. I relate to this so much. While most may think this description sounds somewhat sinister, the dynamic you capture seems to me more the product of a woman who never really understood how to love, to the point where now she has only one mode: to love all the time, indiscriminately, from the same internal place regardless of relationship. I’m interested to know if this was your intention.

Emma: When I developed Margaret’s character, I envisioned her as a woman intentionally distanced from her family of origin and the single mother of an only child, and it seems natural in some way that she would have a special kind of protectiveness and even possessiveness of her son—a closeness that, especially since she’s the type of person with almost no boundaries, borders on incest. So yes, she doesn’t know how to love her son and also let him be his own person. Then, there’s the fact that he never knew his father. The lack of any formative guidance is what leaves him so adrift by the time he lands in New York City, despite the seeming clarity of his ambition (“to become a rich man”).

Harry: You constantly referred to the main character as “the Australian” and never his name—a really great technique in my opinion, but I still can’t figure out why it worked so well. Can you talk a bit about this?

Emma: Yes, thanks—I love this question. I wanted the reader to experience the Australian first as a “type.” In the United States, we have this conception of a grinning, burly (or at least fit), handsome, smiling, adventurous traveler—“the Australian.” Yet the character quickly becomes absolutely unique, a very particular young man with whom the reader, I hope, forges an intimate connection.

You mentioned to me that you are sending copies of The Australian to your sister and perhaps some other family members. How come? And what kind of responses do you think you'll get?

Harry: I was interested to see if my sister would connect to the characters as much as I did. I especially wondered if she would see any similarities between the Australian and myself. She is also living abroad, and I think it’s a great story for anyone in such circumstances.

Emma: If your sister ends up reading The Australian and visits NYC anytime soon, we should all get dinner. There’s a restaurant called The Australian in Midtown. It’s got good reviews, actually.

What’s up next with your music and career?

Harry: I’m in the midst of a few projects at the moment. I am working on an album as well as scoring for film. I’m focusing on incorporating some of the hip-hop, jazz, and electronic music that has influenced me while living in New York under the title Glowboat. I also run an open mic for music producers called Computer Juice and work as a live sound engineer around the city.

I am addicted to starting new projects and developing ideas. It’s work like yours that inspires and motivates me to see things through to their finished state and stay focused.

Emma: I have the feeling that perhaps I wrote the novel for you most of all. Do you believe there was some element of destiny at work the day that you found The Australian in that Brooklyn gutter? Was it fate that inspired you to save it from ruin?

Harry: Oh, yes. That is why I felt the need to reach out to you. There is definitely something we can tune into as humans that science is a long way from explaining—not to mention the extremely unfathomable idea of where the fuck creativity comes from! Who's to say that our energies didn't somehow link up or I didn't come back from the future like the Terminator to plant this idea in your head and save the world?

I have developed a lot of faith in the manifestation of answers to life’s big questions over the years. This book was such a strangely beautiful opportunity to be forced into my life at a moment when I needed it.

The drama of the rainy day and the possible demise of the book if not saved by the fearless hero (myself) is also too perfect a narrative to put to chance. But that’s a conversation to have over the course of a thousand beers, looking up at the stars and pondering the world’s mysteries. Sometimes I think the greatest philosophies have only been heard by the stars.

 It was really cool coming across your work and to be able to talk further with you about the process.

Emma: Thank you so much! It’s been a true pleasure. Pints are on me.


image: Emma Smith-Stevens