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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Josh Donellan - YOUR SETTING AS A CHARACTER @jmdonellan

6:30 AM Posted by James Noel , No comments

Image of Joshua Donellan

What’s your favorite place in the entire world?

I’ve travelled extensively, but Ladakh in Northern India will always be a very special place for me. It just feels filled with magic and adventure and mystery, and I’ll never forget the sight of bright green and purple mountains. I can’t wait to go back again.

When did you first know you could be a writer?

When I was around eight years old I had the distinct realisation that I thought it was crazy that anyone who was even remotely capable of writing would want to do anything else. I was genuinely confused by the fact that there were enough dentists and accountants and interior designers to get those jobs done because OBVIOUSLY writing was the best job.

Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?

I’ve always thought it odd that this seems to be the one writing obstacle that people talk about. I have plenty of struggles to overcome in regards to writing, but fortunately writers’ block is not one of them.

My biggest struggle is persevering with edits, a task that I acknowledge is hugely important but I find to be comparable to having a very meticulous torture artist make thousands of tiny cuts with a surgical scalpel, then covering some of them in Band-Aids, making new cuts, removing the Band-Aids, salting the wounds, making further cuts, and then realising that he’s forgotten to fix the continuity error in the third chapter. I may have gotten confused with my metaphor there, but you know what I mean.

Have you developed a specific writing style?

I am very keen to be able to wear as many hats as possible when it comes to writing. As a musician I play blues, electronic, punk, pop, rock, hip-hop and enjoy all of those styles for different reasons. I approach writing the same way, I want to use the right style to fit the story. Long term I intend to write for both adult and younger audiences and swing from fairly dark and macabre material right through to ridiculous lighthearted books. I’m the kind of person who craves novelty and new experiences, so I would get bored very quickly if I tried to write in the same way over and over.

Describe the physical domain of your writing space…

I live in a weird and wonderful house filled with books, instruments, paintings and miscellaneous curios left by the various travellers and troubadours that have lived there over the years. My bedroom looks out over the little rainforest backyard that is usually filled with scurrying bush turkeys, possums and lizards so it’s a great place to write. I’m also lucky enough to be walking distance from some of the best caf├ęs in town, Java Longue and Black Cat are both around the corner from me so I’ll often tap away at the keys there if I get sick of working from home.

Worst source of distraction?

I love video games and sometimes get stuck in a digital K-hole, so I try to save that for when I’ve just completed a chapter or a big round of edits. The Internet is, of course, a double edged sword. It’s so invaluable for research, but I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve set out researching benzodiazepines or ancient shamanistic death rituals and ended up on a page about Charles Mingus’ cat training manual (true story).

How did you get started writing?

I wrote a lot of terrible crap when I was a kid, but it all counts towards the 10,000 hours so that’s part of the game. When I was in high school I wrote this trashy fantasy novella that plundered Tolkien pretty heavily and printed it out and passed it around to the kids at school. I was very low-tech back then. I also had chronic insomnia during my teenage years, and I used to spend a lot of nights just tapping away at the keys. This would leave me spaced out and disassociated at school, which meant that I was just always observing everyone from behind a kind of dreamlike haze. I got serious once I finished high school and started studying literature at the University of Queensland.

You look back at the first thing you had published and think…

I’m proud of my first novel, A Beginner’s Guide to Dying in India, but the central character was very closely based on me and a bunch of (mis)adventures I had while travelling. It meant that I could have fun with it and just relax, but these days I’m more interested in blending a whole range of influences and pushing the limits of my imagination. Mum once rang me and urgently yelped that I had to get Clint Eastwood to option the film rights to Dying in India because he’d be the perfect director for it. Sadly, I don’t have any contact info for Mr. Eastwood. But hey, Clint, if you’re reading this, get in touch.

Does writing change anything?

Writing changes everything. I get really frustrated with people who say that fiction isn’t important because it’s all in the mind, because the sum total of all our human experience occurs subjectively within the mind, that’s the only mechanism we have for experiencing our personal realities. The mind is everything. Ideas are everything. Truly great novels allow us to experience a virtual simulation of experiences beyond our immediate realities, which not only provide us with warnings, as in the case of Nineteen Eighty-Four, but also help us to understand and empathise with people from different backgrounds. In high school I had a couple of friends whose parents had fled from Iran after the revolution, but I learned more about the Iranian Revolution from reading Persepolis than I did from hanging out with them because it wasn’t really something that they wanted to discuss in great detail.

Writers change our minds about what’s possible. They help us forge a more complex, nuanced and diverse worldview. That in turn impacts the way that we interact with and change the world around us.

Contemporary writer in any medium you always read?

I love Charlie Brooker, he’s just so deliciously vitriolic. His column, his TV shows, his books, everything he turns his pen to is wonderfully insightful and hilarious. I also really enjoy people like Neil Gaiman and Miranda July who can write stories that peel back the skin of their characters and leave you staring at a naked soul, whether that be within a film or story or comic book.

Favourite author?

Tough call, but I’d maybe have to say Margaret Atwood. I remember seeing her speak last year and she was just so enthralling. I particularly loved that there were young women who stepped up to ask her questions who were really nervous, it’s great to see a role model who isn’t an actual model or popstar or some such. And I have a particular fondness for authors who write across a range of styles and formats. I love her essays and novels and spec fic and poetry and kids books and tweets and everything that spills out of her brain.

The book you should have read but haven’t?

Moby Dick. Recently I read two books and a graphic novel over the course of a fortnight that all heavily referenced that damn book and one day I will put it into my eyeballs and be done with it, but not just yet… stupid white whale. WHY DO YOU TAUNT ME?!?!

Do you have any advice for writers?

One question I get asked a lot is, ‘What advice do you have for someone writing their first book?’ I guess the main thing would be, however long you think it’s going to take to edit your novel, add 20%. Then double it. Then multiply that by ten (million). Then triple it. Then yell out the window like some kind of lunatic, before running around the room slamming your hands against your head. Then take a nap. When you wake up, you should be comfortable in the fact that what you are doing with your life is really weird. If you can’t do this, you may be more comfortable in a more ordinary occupation (like lion taming or extreme sports calendar modelling).

Zeb and the Great Ruckus

“What’s your favourite song?” If you answered, “Nothing, sir! Music is evil!” then you probably live in the land of Bravura, where the wicked Czar has outlawed music and all artists have been imprisoned or exiled. 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Alephs, magical creatures that eat music with their ears, are slowly becoming extinct. Fortunately, Zeb and his best friend Flip are armed with magic, courage and weaponised toffee and they are about to begin their quest to bring back the legendary musician Smokey Waters so that he can restore the land with his Ruckus Music. Along the way they’ll face the Czar’s admonishers, steelhawks, bewilderbeasts and the most fearsome creature of all, the cave-dwelling Ruttersnarl. At least they’ll have an excuse for not finishing their homework…

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Genre - Junior Fiction, Fantasy

Rating – G

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