Having read your online bio, I have to ask: do you really have trained monkeys? How much do you wish you did? Would they communicate telepathically with you so all your work remains authentically yours?
Ah, the trained monkeys have prompted quite a bit of interest here and there. I actually got rid of them quite recently, as they had begun to get sloppy and, yes, were taking credit where it was not due. We didn't communicate telepathically (that is impossible!) but, rather, I would dictate to them and they would type away and eventually we would come up with something decent. But the work was always entirely mine.
Your story 'The Middle of Nowhere' in Griffith REVIEW 34 is in the vein of the 'new gothic' yet it contains subtle elements of humour – was this a conscious decision?
It wasn't a conscious decision to include humour in that story – however slight it might be – but, having said that, it is something I am keen to experiment with. I admire and enjoy sly humour in fiction and it's something I would like to fool around with a bit more. I think it's also important to be able to change registers, as it were, so that a work – especially a lengthy one – has variety. As much as anything, it's about mixing up what I do – I don't ever want to write to the same thing twice, if I can help it.
The junkies in the story are looking for escape, and this is perhaps a link to the edition's 'island' theme. What propelled you to write this story?
That story has been sitting in the back of my mind for nearly twenty years. I experienced a similar excursion myself – when several friends and I piled into a car and drove to Sydney for the funeral of a friend who had died of a drug overdose. It was, of course, a terrible journey, chaotic and sad. That road-trip premise always suggested itself to me as a good basis for a work of narrative fiction but it took me several years to chisel it into something workable and, hopefully, something enjoyable to read. I hasten to add that I have never shot anyone in real life. Maybe.
You were born and bred in Melbourne and have said there are qualities of that city and its environs that infect your writing. What are these qualities?
That's a good question. I think there is something slightly mournful in Melbourne's character – those long, grey winters. It's something of a cliché but I think the weather actually informs the type of activities that can take place in a city. In the case of Melbourne, I suspect the weather tends to promote a certain introspection which, in turn, fuels the creative process. There is also a certain bleakness to Melbourne that certainly pervades my work.
How has being a father influenced your writing, both stylistically and in your process?
Hmmm. I'm not really sure. Parenthood has certainly focussed my attention. I generally have so much less time now that I'm no longer in the position to sit around waiting for inspiration – not that I think such a thing really exists. I'm not as inclined to waste time. One of the other unintended consequences of parenthood is that it forces one to really examine what one thinks about the world, and decide what is important. I suspect this can only be a good thing when it comes to being a better person and, tangentially, a better writer. Although I don't tell my own life-story in my fiction, I try very hard to apply a sort of honesty to what I do, if that makes any sense.
What do you like about writing as a process?
I enjoy most of it at the moment. If I didn't, I wouldn't bother. But what I really like is those little discoveries you make on the way through a (long or small) work of fiction – the moments when a narrative takes off and you can actually see just far enough ahead to know it will work as a whole. Nailing an image or metaphor is also extremely satisfying, especially if it has taken some time to perfect.
Looking back on your writing – apart from winning your many awards! – what's been the best thing about it for you?
One of the best things about my writing life so far has been seeing how I have improved – even in the past five years or so. I feel I am getting better and better and having a little bit of success allows me to devote more time to the craft which, in turn, helps me improve again. I increasingly feel that I'm in control of what I'm doing, after years of struggling to find a voice and craft a style that suited the stories I was trying to tell.
You say that you would like to write a coming-of-age story next. What defines a 'coming-of-age' story, for you? When did you 'come-of-age'?
I guess a coming of age story is one in which our hero or heroine learns something about the world (for good or ill) that forces them into a new maturity. The great American writer Joan Didion memorably wrote that innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself, and I suspect that a loss of innocence is certainly at the heart of coming-of-age narratives. As for me – I came of age when I decided to get rid of those damn monkeys and branch out on my own.