From fire to gold

No one was ready for 2020. Least of all us here at Stormbird Press. Despite carrying-out exhausting fire preparation efforts over the previous decade, Kangaroo Island’s devastating wildfires blindsided us. Then came COVID-19, and the ensuing fear and uncertainty about how both crises would affect our work, lives, and families.

What the twin crises of a pandemic and climate change—temperature, fuel load, dryness, wind speed and humidity all affect fire risk and are dramatically compounded by global heating—did do, was instilled a sense of responsibility in Stormbird Press to publish brave, honest, and memorable stories that cut through politics, science, prejudices and denialism. Of course, stating that literature can save the world is a stretch, but if writers weren’t helping readers make sense of isolation, pain and loss, the last six months could have been a whole lot worse.

Early in the year, working from the one remaining shed on our farm, we pressed ahead to release Amy Barker’s next book, Paradise Earth, a deeply haunting story that follows an island’s struggle to find purpose after confronting unimaginable trauma.

We believed Amy’s work was important, but with book stores across the world closing their doors we had low expectations. To help compensate, we released a video to garner online interest. Many of you found your way to us because of this video.

What we didn’t anticipate—and we tried to keep from public view—was the sustained attack from the duck hunting lobby who took issue with the video. We spent a few weeks dealing with their hostile backlash, but maintained our position—that hunting is a human construct and it can be dismantled too.

Life then settled back into the peaceful cycle of a publisher.

Imagine then our surprise when Paradise Earth picked up a gold in the Independent Publisher Awards. Then, two weeks ago, Amy was honoured as a finalist in the literary fiction category of 2020 International Book Awards, again for Paradise Earth.

In retrospect, we shouldn’t have been surprised at all. Amy is a genuinely rare talent. And the reviews for Paradise Earth have been stunning from day one.

Peter Bishop, the writers’ advocate and former Creative Director of Varuna, the Writers’ House wrote: ‘A task fraught with dangers: to be an honest and unflinching guide to this most terrible of Australia’s hauntings. Amy Barker reminds me of the young Dostoevsky, how in his novel of a Siberian prison camp he could descend the ladder of humanity step by step because even in the most degraded there must still be the divine spark. Not a safe place for writer or reader—but a novel of blazing and humbling integrity.’

From fire to gold. Paradise Earth has masterfully met this year’s clarion call for bold literature that not only helps us to heal, recover, and survive, but empowers us to thrive in the post-COVID-19 world when that day unfolds.



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