In conversation with rising star and Green Dot author Madeleine Gray

Ultimately, this is the kind of book that will have you staring into space after you finish it. As one Goodreads user so eloquently put it, "This book was beautiful but destroyed me and now I don't know what to do or think or say to anyone." I do. Read this book now.

For some people, COVID and lockdown meant sourdough. Others, like my family, learnt the flags of the world and the order of the Olympics. But for Aussie writer Madeleine Gray, things looked a little different. She spent her lockdown writing a novel, after time in Manchester spent doing a PhD in literary theory was derailed by the pandemic. It's her first. For someone who's spent a decade of penning literary criticism and understanding other people's books through quite an intellectual lens, this was an experiment. Could she take those skills she'd spent so long honing and turn them to creative writing? Yes reader, yes she could.

The original plan was just to keep herself entertained, to make herself laugh, and give herself something fun to do to stave off boredom and loneliness. But then, with a completed manuscript sitting on her laptop, she took a leap of faith and made the bold move of sending it to a literary agent just to see what she thought. It was meant to be dipping a toe in the water and when she got an out-of-office reply, Maddy was strangely relieved. And then, a second email came through. The literary agent was interested in reading the book, which she eventually did. She then followed it up with every author's dream question; Would Maddy mind if she tried to sell it while at the London Book Fair?

Days later, publishing deals were made, first in the UK, then Australia and shortly after, the promised land of literary greatness - the US. Fast forward to now and sales are gangbusters, the Sydney Morning Herald called it "2023's book of the Year" and plans are currently underway for a film or TV adaptation which Madeleine will hopefully write. It's a long way from being the bookseller who was fighting for her workplace to unionise so they could be paid barely above minimum wage.

I gulped Green Dot down in one sitting, the kind of reading that normally only happens when I'm sitting on a plane and have nothing else to steal my attention. That's how captivating I found the story of Hera, a 24-year-old woman who works a menial job moderating comments for a media company. It's something Maddy describes as a "pretty existentially draining and soul-destroying way of earning money" (as a 15-year-old who once had this as part of her job description, I concur), but it's the only job Hera's ever really been able to hold down, and her life just feels so damn stuck compared to her friends.

So of course, when the opportunity appears, she starts an affair with her much older, married male (the male bit is significant because prior to Arthur, Hera has only ever dated women and spends a lot of the time trying to wrap her head around the ideas and presentation of heteronormativity) colleague Arthur. Just to feel something. Just to do something with that bloody one wild and precious life we supposedly have, according to poet, Mary Oliver. And obviously, she gets her heart skewered along the way. By the way, that's not a spoiler. Hera tells us herself on the very first page.

Having 'the other woman' narrate the story of her own affair, the choices she makes, the parts of him she has to settle for, and the parts of herself she loses along the way is a rare perspective. Interestingly, I found myself unexpectedly rooting for Hera. Instead of my desire for her situation to stop and change, stemming from any moral dubiousness, I found I only wanted it to stop because of how much she was being destroyed by it. You'll see what I mean when you read it or even if you venture deep enough into the podcast to hit the part where a bunch of spoiler questions and decisions get asked and unpacked.

For decades, the world has been easily gripped by stories of infidelity, passion, lust, danger and 'choosing the wrong person'. Maddy herself admits to a "fascination with the trope but particularly with the idea that it always seems to be young women falling for older men." Under her pen, however, she wanted the trope to be queered and to make sure that "Hera's queerness was an active and really large part of the story. How would this dynamic work differently if someone has never dated men before?" For one thing, the threshold for shitty male behaviour might be higher if you've never confronted it before or don't even really know what constitutes it in the first place. As Maddy puts it, "She's coming to straightness for the first time at 24, so has to figure out what's normal and what's not."

Ultimately, this is the kind of book that will have you staring into space after you finish it. As one Goodreads user so eloquently put it, "This book was beautiful but destroyed me and now I don't know what to do or think or say to anyone." I do. Read this book now. Confront how you think about relationship power dynamics. And then join me in begging Madeleine Gray to write more, as fast as her fingers will type.