Adrian Stirling on ‘The Comet Box’

Adrian Stirling sat down with Off the Shelf to talk about his new book The Comet Box.

The Secrets and Lies of Suburbia

Time is Adrian Stirling’s biggest enemy. The secondary school teacher whose impressive first novel, Broken Glass, was reviewed as a “unique debut, one heck of a good read,” had to take a year off work to find the time to write it. He’d saved up, but still had to live on a “pretty strict” budget. “No holidays or going out for dinner – it still wasn’t easy though. I ran out of money and had to do some emergency teaching. I wanted to commit to writing instead of treating it like a hobby – if I treated it like a hobby then that’s all it would ever be.”

From the suffocating small town setting of Broken Glass, Adrian has shifted his focus to suburbia in his second book, The Comet Box. It opens in 1986, when Halley’s Comet is hurtling towards earth and is a moving, at times, funny coming of age story that exposes the heart of darkness behind the white picket fences. “Everyone wants slightly different things and sometimes the different things people want can hurt others,” says Adrian.

The Comet Box, told through the eyes of adolescent Andrew whose troubled sister Amelia has run away, is a story with a secret that’s like a ticking time-bomb waiting to go off. “It’s about finding out about other people’s secrets and the burden of that,” says Andrew who doesn’t believe the darkness in the novel will trouble teenagers unduly. “I think it’s easy to underestimate what teenagers can handle in a story. If you just write the story they can make their own judgements.”

While Adrian still struggles to find the time to write, his job as an English teacher of Years 11 and 12, is not entirely unhelpful to his writing. “It gives me the chance to get involved with books and writing every day.” And gives the 34 year old insight into how teenagers see and deal with the world. “As a teacher I really notice the affect some family dramas can have on teenagers and I guess this is where some of the darkness in the story comes from. A lot of people turn into Amelia – and worse.”

The son of two school-teachers, one of three children raised in a beachside suburb outside Melbourne, Adriansays his own background was much sunnier. “I have a great family.”

Adrian’s way to encourage kids who don’t read: “Find something they like – a lot of kids will read once they have a favourite writer.”

Three things you didn’t know about Adrian:

His favourite author as a child was Roald Dahl

He collects vintage amplifiers.

He had a canary called Herman while growing up.

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