Musa's moving on up

QUEANBEYAN'S Omar Musa is moving up in the world. The 30-year-old poet and rapper is about to add 'author' to his repertoire with the launch of his debut novel, Here Come the Dogs, on July 23.

The prolific tweeter (21,000 and counting) already has two poetry books under his belt (The Clocks and Parang) but this is his first foray into long-form fiction.

It was a walk into unknown territory and Musa is the first to admit it was often a frustrating and excruciating experience.

"I like to be quite spontaneous, write it all in one go ... this was totally different. This was hard, hard work - structuring, revision, editing, grinding away. It was sort of challenge I set for myself, 'can I do this?'. And I'm almost surprised that I did," he said.

"It really drove me crazy at times. It's not fun - there are certain parts that are fun, exciting and inspiring but for the most part it's just hard, hard graft. It's painful."

Musa's book follows the lives of three young men - Solomon, Aleks and Jimmy, growing up in suburban and multicultural Australia.

It has been written in a combination of first-person verse and prose.

"It's about three friends who grew up in the flats in unnamed town ... influenced by Queanbeyan in some ways, in other ways not," Musa explains.

"They're all dealing with powerlessness, frustration and violence in their own ways and staring at the darkness.

"The book is a portrait of madness, powerlessness and masculinity in Australian society. It also covers gentrification, hip hop, graffiti culture." 

The novel isn't for the faint-hearted, with liberal sprinklings of profanity (including a certain 'c' word in the very first line). But Musa owns his work; he's never apologises for it and doesn't believe in sanitising his art to make it palatable.

Here Comes the Dogs has been included in the Sydney Morning Herald's list of 'must-read books for 2014' and has been praised by writers Irvine Welsh and Christos Tsiolkas.

Does he feel pressure to deliver?

"What's a life without pressure? You have to have pressure, pressure makes diamonds," he says.

"I really expect a lot of myself, I was trying to create something new, something that hadn't been done before."

Musa said he never set out to be an author - he considered acting, journalism or law once upon a time. He concedes he came from an artistic family with a poet father and art journalist mother.

And he has a love of words.

"If I didn't have words, I would go crazy if I wasn't able to express myself in that way. The thing about language, it's not just a way of communicating with others but a way of understanding ourselves and our surroundings.

"Language is my refuge in a lot of ways, somehow trying to explain and understand the madness around me and within me."

Musa sets the bar high. He is an Australian Poetry Slam winner, was invited to give a TEDx talk and was panellist on ABC's Q&A, all before he hit his third decade.

He even has his own Wikipedia page. But despite his achievements, he's impatient.

"If anything, everything's happening too slowly ... I thought I'd have a novel written by the time I was 18," he said.

"I remember when I was 19, I spent New Years Eve with a Japanese family. They made us write what we were going to acheive in the next year, this was in 2001 or 2002, and I wrote 'I am going to write a novel. And 13 years on...I've finally done it!"

So, what's next for Queanbeyan's rising star? He's working on a play titled 'Bone gatherer' for the Street Theatre which is set in Queanbeyan Hospital during 1890. He hasn't been deterred from writing another novel; this time about blind, transgender Malay sea captain leading a journey back in time.

"I think I'm on my way, I think I've got a lot more to achieve. I haven't even really hit my stride yet. It's been a cumulative thing, I've been working for years and years," he said.

"People act as if I've just appeared on the scene ... there's definitely a ground swell which is exciting and gratifying because of all the hard work.

"There's still a long way to go."

Here Come the Dogs will be available as a hard copy or can be downloaded as an ebook from July 23. Omar will be hosting two book events. The first at The Chop Shop (25 Lonsdale Street, Braddon) at 6.30pm. The second is at the National Gallery of Australia on July 28 at 6pm. RSVP is essential to both events.

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