How good is life for first-time author Trent Dalton right now? Hot on the heels of a string of literary awards for his bestselling debut novel Boy Swallows Universe, and this week’s announcement of a television series, comes today’s news that the book is set for the stage.

Sam Strong and Trent Dalton. Photograph © Luke Marsden

Queensland Theatre has announced that it has snared the theatre rights for a co-production with Brisbane Festival. QT’s Artistic Director Sam Strong will direct an adaptation by Tim McGarry, which will have its world premiere at the Brisbane Festival in September 2020 as part of Louise Bezzina’s first program as Artistic Director. The co-production will be one of the pillars of Strong’s final season at QT, and a highlight of QT’s 50th anniversary.

Since Dalton’s captivating, coming-of-age book is set in Brisbane in the 1980s, the Brisbane Festival is the ideal location to launch the production. Inspired by the real-life events of Dalton, a Brisbane-based journalist and author, Boy Swallows Universe tells the story of the imaginative, perceptive 12-year old Eli Bell. His beloved mother is a recovering heroin addict and doing time in jail, his brother is mute, his stepfather is a drug dealer, and his surrogate father-figure, Arthur ‘Slim’ Halliday, is a convicted murderer. Eli sets out to meet his real father, rescue his mother from Boggo Road Gaol, and face the criminals who tore his world apart.

“The novel is the hottest property in Australian storytelling, deserving every ounce of the praise that has been lavished on it and all of the incredible success it has achieved,” said Strong.

“Moreover, Trent’s book is absolutely ripe for adapting to the stage: featuring larger-than-life characters, an effortless combination of magic realism and crime-thriller, unforgettable set pieces written with a cinematic visual flair, and dialogue that just leaps off the page… I am more excited about the theatrical version of Boy Swallows Universe than any of the 30 odd shows I have directed for the Australian mainstage. I cannot wait to direct this landmark Brisbane story on a Queensland Theatre stage.”

Trent Dalton. Photograph © Luke Marsden

Dalton said that everything about the production is “perfect. It had to be staged here. This glorious, complex, sweltering city is in my blood and my blood is in that book. It was the people of Brisbane who took that wild, strange book and ran with it first and that book belongs to them now and this production will belong to them, too.”

McGarry, who has adapted the novel for the stage, said that he read it in less than 24 hours while on holiday in North Queensland. “I could barely put it down. There were times I could barely breathe. I was completely captivated by Eli Bell, his journey, his charisma, his desperation to try and better understand the dark world he inhabited. I was captivated by the magic and wisdom of August. I found the characters so richly rendered. The complex world Trent created just leapt off the page. Collaborating with Sam Strong and his team on this particular work is mind-blowingly exciting for me,” he said.

On Thursday, it was announced that Boy Swallows Universe is also heading to the small screen with Australian actor Joel Edgerton named as producer, and Dalton himself as an executive producer of a television series.

Published in July 2018, Boy Swallows Universe has now sold over 160,000 copies. Earlier this month, it became the first book to win four gongs at the Australian Book Industry Awards taking home Book of the Year, Literary Book of the Year, the Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, and Audio Book of the Year. On Wednesday, it was announced that the book is in the longlist of the prestigious Miles Franklin Award. Dalton has also won the UTS Glenda Adams Award for new Writing, the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for New Writer and People’s Choice, the Indie Book Awards Book of the Year, and the MUD Literary Prize.

On long service from his job as a writer for The Weekend Australian Magazine, Dalton is currently completing his second novel.

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