Tania Chambers, Nick Verso option Holden Sheppard gay coming-of-age novel

Holden Sheppard.

Feisty Dame Productions’ Tania Chambers and writer-director Nick Verso have optioned Invisible Boys, Holden Sheppard’s debut novel which follows three 16-year-olds as they come to terms with their homosexuality in a small town in Western Australia.

The protagonists are Charlie, a hardcore rocker who’s not as tough as he looks, Hammer, a footy jock with big AFL dreams and an even bigger ego, and Zeke, a shy over-achiever who is never macho enough for his family.

All three boys hide who they really are. According to the publishers, the novel “depicts the complexities and trauma of rural gay identity with painful honesty, devastating consequence and, ultimately, hope.”

Sheppard fielded a number of offers for the screen rights. “Nick and I clicked really well. Nick is also a gay man, and we spent time over the phone and on Skype discovering that we both have very similar ideas about the kinds of gay stories we would desperately love to see more of in the world,” he told OutinPerth.

Verso has written the Bible for a TV series and intends to set up a writers’ room for the pilot, giving opportunities to emerging voices.

“When I read the book it was the first time I had been hit in the gut by a gay story since I saw Ana Kokkinos’ Head On 20 years ago, which was raw, gutsy and truthful,” Verso tells IF.

Keen to collaborate in development with the author, he said: “Holden has a great eye for character, voice and drama.”

The project adds to Chambers’ busy development slate which includes Renée Webster’s How to Please a Woman, Time to Tango, a feature inspired by Miranda Edmonds and Khrob Edmonds’ short film Tango Underpants, and What Would Suki Do?, a comedy-drama for the ABC about the adventures of a Sikh girl growing up in Perth, inspired by the life of writer/producer Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa.

Verso’s credits include Itch, which was co-produced by Chambers, The Unlisted, Grace Beside Me, Nowhere Boys and the feature Boys in the Trees, which was acquired by Netflix and Stan.

Published in 2018, the semi-autobiographical tome won the $15,000 City of Fremantle Hungerford Award, which is presented biannually to an emerging WA for his or her first full-length, unpublished work of fiction or narrative non-fiction.

Last year it won the Kathleen Mitchell Award and the WA Premier’s award for an emerging writer and earlier this year was shortlisted for a Victorian Premier’s literary award and the Readings Prize.

Sheppard said winning the Hungerford Award has been a boon for his career and made “industry people and readers sit up and take notice.”

Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt said: “We are really proud to be encouraging young authors through our sponsorship of the Hungerford Award and are thrilled with Holden’s success with Invisible Boys.

“The City is also pushing to have film studio established here to support more film and TV productions, so it would be amazing if the film or TV adaptation of Holden’s book was shot here in Freo.”