Dominic Knight: Freelance writer, blogger and author

Share on Pinterest
Share with your friends










Submit

image-dominicknight200Dominic Knight is best known for his work with the comedy team, The Chaser. In 1999 he founded The Chaser newspaper with Julian Morrow, Craig Reucassel and Charles Firth. Following on from that were the ABC television series CNNNN, The Chaser Decides and The Chaser’s War on Everything, the third series of which is airing on ABC currently.

He has also worked extensively as a freelance writer and has blogged for The Sydney Morning Herald and also writes his own blog. His debut novel is Disco Boy, the story of Paul Johnson, a part-time DJ working in a job he hates, living with his parents, and trying desperately to get his life moving.

Click play to listen. Running time: 24.59

Disco Boy

Transcript

* Please note these transcripts have been edited for readability

Valerie
So Dominic thanks for joining us today.

Dominic
No worries.

Valerie
Now you spend a lot of time doing The Chaser and now you have written Disco Boy. Tell us where the idea came from for Disco Boy in the first place.

Dominic
Well, I’m not sure. I had a friend who used to work as a Moby Disc DJ playing all manner of 21st and harbour cruises and things like that. But I think that I found that funny at the time so that kind of stuck in my mind.

But I don’t know I just had an assignment to do for a writing class at UTS and at the last minute this character popped into my head and he was trapped in a sort of limbo playing terrible music at parties. I thought that it would be fun to get inside and so I did.

Valerie
You usually write satire and comedy. How different is it to write something that is fictional? It’s quite a different genre.

Dominic
Yes, well particularly the thing that I did which is quite a sweet romantic comedy really. There are a few little nasty jokes in there but for the most part it is quite a different feel from The Chaser stuff. I really enjoyed that change actually. But also fiction, the long format is really different and I had to try and learn how to construct the longer narrative and work on characters and all those things. Because usually its just 30-second comedy sketches.

Valerie
That’s right. So it is usually much shorter and even when you write for your blogs or in smh.com.au it’s a much shorter medium. So how did you sort of train yourself to get into writing a much longer piece like a novel?

Dominic
Well, I had a master’s degree at UTS where I studied kind of narrative structure and the kind of narrative arch. There is a whole other theory with that, but also I guess I just planned it out and wrote it. I’ve read a lot of books in this sub-genre so the very things that you have to learn like your characters have to change.

You can’t have them the same at the end and the beginning. It’s got to be good moments, bad moments. You have got to have the sort of high and low thing going on. So it was quite a lot to get my head around about how to make it different.

Valerie
So did you actually plot it out or are you one of those writers where you just let it all come and see what happens?

Dominic
Strangely I kept having different university assignments where I could get very, very expanded. So I did 1000 words and then 6000, then 30,000 and then 60,000. You know I almost had a novel so I just kept adding to it and kept having to add middle to it because I had a beginning to it and an end. The end came too quickly but that was all because of an assignment so it was a bit of a weird way to do it.

Valerie
It’s obviously very handy that you had a series of assignments that enabled this to eventuate.

Dominic
Yes.

Valerie
Did you have some kind of writing process or something to get you into the groove? Did you have a typical writing day at all when you were working on this?

Dominic
Well, not really. I’m a very last-minute kind of a person which was why I did the degree just so that I had deadlines to actually force me. I was paying all this money out to the federal government and I don’t want to not have the work done. That actually worked psychologically but the way that I write is a little strange.

I basically go to a café with a laptop and no Internet connection and just force myself to write. I’m so lazy that I don’t know always feel like going and doing work but I do always feel like going and having a coffee. So I kind of trick myself into doing that.

Valerie
How much pours out do you think in a one-coffee session?

Dominic
I normally try and write 1000 words before I go home. That’s normally my aim for a coffee session. Otherwise it seems like I haven’t done enough.

Valerie
That’s not bad.  Does it get longer if there is the banana bread involved or anything like that?

Dominic
Sometimes it does. Gelato is a weakness in summer.

Valerie
Take us back to when you first started writing satire and comedy. What was appealing about founding The Chaser newspaper in the first place all those years ago?

Dominic
There were a few strands to the original Chaser newspaper and it isn’t widely known that it was actually supposed to be a serious newspaper in some ways. So there was this bizarre thing of wanting to change the world and kind of be like national view and you know stick to those in power and we never really did that through our journalism. We were far too lazy but we did enjoy doing the satire writing.
We used to just sit around and do all matters and try and write news articles and that was quite a hard art to master but it was really fun to write an article that sort of skewered something that you felt strongly about. We kind of taught each other and edited each other’s work and went from there.

Valerie
Have you been surprised at how amazingly popular and successful The Chaser has become obviously with the television show and everything else?

Dominic
Oh, yes. Perhaps a few people at the start had kind of these wildest dreams going on but I never thought we’d be a sort of comedy show particularly a prime time comedy show that was reasonably popular in a way that things like The Late Show was for us. I think that we seem to be the sort of The Late Show of the next generation of people who are a bit nerdy but interested in politics and stuff as well as with a bit of a cruel bent of humour, let’s be honest. It has been surprising and very gratifying. It will probably end fairly soon the way that we are going but it’s been a wonderful thing and I will certainly always remember it.

Valerie
Has your career taken the direction that you expected it to take when you were at university?

Dominic
No, I was a law student and a lot of the book actually refers to this. I went and did Law and there were these strange miss apprehension in society that you had to do a serious degree if you get into one that you have to go and grow up and put a suit on and go and work long hours. That’s just really an important thing that you have got to do.

It took me ages to break away from that. But for The Chaser I might not have and so The Chaser helped me to do the thing that I most wanted to do, which was write a novel. I might well have just been a guy sitting in a shiny tower all day hoping for something better.

Valerie
And so you always wanted to write a novel. When did this finally become a novel, when did you finally knew this is it? Describe that feeling.

Dominic
I was absolutely elated. You always dream of a novel, it’s something someone wants to do, everyone wants to try that, a lot of people think they have a novel in them and probably do but it’s a question of actually getting it out. So to actually have a solid slab of something that I could put my name on was very exciting.

Valerie
You describe yourself as an L plater novelist. What would it take for you to get your Ps or even your full license do you think?

Dominic
Oh, well, maybe a second one. If people like this one I will get on my P plates. There’s red Ps and green Ps now. So maybe now I’m on my red P after doing one and if I do one or two more, maybe I’ll be on my green P and I will be allowed to go 110 on the freeway.

Valerie
Do you have that second novel in your head?

Dominic
I’ve got the second novel in my contract. So there will be one or I have to pay back money that I really don’t want to pay back but yeah, I’ve got a few ideas that I’ve got to kind of talk through and work out which is the best. Both sort of Sydney stories I think. I think I can try and describe it as the world that I have grown up in because there aren’t many novels set in Sydney really.

Valerie
Will that continue the story of Paul Johnson, the part-time DJ?

Dominic
No I don’t think so. You never know I might return to him later but no, I want to try something new. He was great fun but it’s just a good first step I think.

Valerie
So doing The Chaser and writing, it’s a very busy time I’m sure. How do you juggle it all?

Dominic
Well, it is tricky particularly TV is unrelenting. There is nothing that you can do about those deadlines. I’m lucky because I’m not on the screen so my job is to come to writers meetings with ideas. So I have a bit more flexibility.

But essentially the novel writing happened because it was obviously a part-time hobby kind of thing. I had no idea that it would even get published. I kind of found free time, a couple of hours here and there to go and do my café thing. And often in the evening when the TV show was on a couple of years ago. So it is tough to juggle but I’m hoping that for this next novel I can actually take a couple of months to work on it a bit more intensely.

Valerie
You mean full-time so that you are concentrating just on it?

Dominic
I don’t think that I could do full-time. The way that I write is so intense that after an hour or two I’m completely over and want to go and do something else. So I think that I could maybe do that every day or most days of the week but I don’t know how anyone writes novels full-time but apparently they do. I think it’s exhausting.

Valerie
When you do satire you obviously have something to work with because you are actually commenting, making a commentary about something. But when you write fiction it’s all up to your imagination and a lot of people who are used to doing non-fiction or working with non-fiction find it hard to fire up made-up stuff. Did you find that at all or was that easy for you to conjure up this character in the stories?

Dominic
It’s definitely a different part of your brain because yeah, you do start with when you are writing a satirical scene or news article you do start with the real news articles and go from there. But there are some satirical articles where you kind of create a character.

So for instance if you are writing something about someone who’s determined to leave Australia after the election result, they think that they are going to leave Australia if the Tories win again. And then you have this character in your head as this kind of person who behaves in a certain way so I guess there is some commonality but with the fiction stuff it’s actually very liberating because you can make the characters do whatever you want. You can make them have good luck, bad luck, any of the things that you can’t control.

So I quite kind of enjoyed maybe having somewhat of a snow globe where you can control exactly what happens and how it is all built. I really enjoyed that and I don’t think I found that too challenging because it’s my own world. So it wasn’t like I was trying to imagine what it is like for a Bhutanese monk to deal with the rainy season. Just a guy in Sydney like me so it’s not the most imaginative novel in the world.

Valerie
How much of you is in Paul Johnson then and did you spend time behind the Moby Disc to get into the groove?

Dominic
No, I didn’t and it’s been quite fun because lots of people who have been DJ-ing have read it and said that I’ve got some of it reasonably right but I think that you can tell. If you go to enough terrible harbour cruises you eventually get a sense of what kind of music they play. I certainly did at uni.

But no, kind of the whole question of how autobiographically you kind of have fun with the public. So you end up blurbing everything because the guy is quite like me but there is the whole cliché of one’s first novel being semi-autobiographical but you never know how “semi” that is.

So look none of the things that happen to him have ever happened to me really. But our characters are reasonably similar I think. Hint enough to really struggle to work out how Paul would react because it’s pretty much how I would react.

Valerie
You probably knew quite a lot of Pauls.

Dominic
Yeah, there are a fair few Pauls at universities sort of slightly repressed cynical guys who hide away their sort of pure dreams of happiness.

Valerie
On your blog you have written about marketing your book because that’s an entirely new process to writing it. Do you think that you are getting the hang of it? How is your Facebook fan page going?

Dominic
I look at it like every other person who joins it but it’s interesting because there’s a sense in which you think this should be a pure process. I create my art and then I release it like a beautiful bird to fly out into the world and travel is all fine my lovely work. But that’s not how it works at all.

You have got to actually shift units. You have got to get up in people’s faces. There is no point in writing a book that no one wants to read. It’s just a complete piece of self-indulgence. In a career sense I’m quite keen to spend a lot of time doing this stuff because I really love it so for that you need sales.

That requires marketing so even though I joke about it I’m only too happy to do whatever the publishers thought will help to sell copies. Because ultimately like it or not that is kind of what it is all about. Not in money, not in terms of income but just in terms of getting it out there.

Valerie
Who inspires you as a writer, like who did you read when you were a kid?

Dominic
I think it’s pretty widely but I think it’s pretty clear that the setting of Disco Boy that the two Nick-es I like to call them, Nick Hornby and Nick Earles influences would be. I really love Nick Earls’ novels particularly Zigzag Street, his first novel was just one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. But also Nick Hornby looking at issues of masculinity and those kind of “man-children” characters and I kind of feel like I’m one of those characters in many ways.

Certainly Paul has that strange combination of worldly wildness and immaturity that you find in some of the Nick Hornby heroes. So I think they are influences but also just looking at how to make work humour into books is interesting. Writers like Kingsley Amis and P. G. Wodehouse, the kind of old great English comic novelists I read a lot of because I really think that books can and should be funny where they can.

A couple of people have said that they’ve laughed at things in my book and that’s a wonderful feeling because it just gives people a new level of experience. Obviously you don’t just want a joke book. I don’t want to be Kochie but if you can work humour into a novel I think that it’s a great part of the mix.

Valerie
When you were at high school did you enjoy English then? Was it something that you discovered then or did that come later?

Dominic
I was a huge English nerd. I used to wonder around and sit in cafes and read Elliot and think that I was terribly intellectual. But only Elliot understood my inner pain. So I did that whole thing. I did it at uni for a while as well before I ultimately majored in politics.

Valerie
You spoke about Nick Earls. Now he’s crossed genres from adult, young adult, that kind of thing. Is that something that you might be interested in down the track?

Dominic
Yeah, it’s entirely possible. I’ve read some of his young adult stuff and really enjoyed it. It’s funny actually. 48 Shades of Brown is a lovely book. But look that’s a whole kind of career planning thing and that would be premature. After all I’m still on my L or P plates.

But look, young adult book are great if they can cut through. I’d certainly be excited to have people in that demographic reading stuff and I think humour is probably a good fit. So who knows, maybe down the track.

Valerie
What’s next for you? You’ve got potentially a second novel in your head but I’m sure that you are busy with television. What’s next?

Dominic
We’ve got another series of The War on Everything and that’s going to be to the end of July and hopefully we do survive it. It’s a little bit in dispute at the moment.

So there is that and I’m hoping second half of the year to do some writing and really get back into the second book. The Chaser needs to sit down and figure out what the next move there is. But I’m hoping to continue to blend the two.

I really like being able to kind of juggle with two and have different things going on because I think that if you do lots of different kinds of writing at the same time that it works really well. It just seems to suit me rather than doing just focusing on one thing. I kind of like that way that it is set up.

Valerie
But isn’t it a bit schizophrenic. How do you switch hats so quickly because when you write as a journalist it’s one way. When you write as a novelist its one way. When you are writing comedy and satire for television its completely different way. Is it easy for you to switch hats like that? What do you do?

Dominic
I’m pretty used to it. I’ve always done lots of different kind of writing at once. Even for The Chaser there are always lots of different kinds of writing to do in the one newspaper. But I think ultimately both in the long term sense but also in the short term into how you plan your day. I often think of it in terms of lying fallow.

We know with television that we can’t, the end of the series or out of ideas. We’ve got to go away and wait for things to somehow regenerate. I think for me anyway it’s like that. I couldn’t just write fiction all the time or I’d get bored or I would lose my focus.

So for me it’s really about working for a very short, intense burst of time and then stopping and doing something else. The big difference between TV writing and which is very much conceptual in The Chaser. It’s really just why don’t we do this. That’s really my collaboration. It’s entirely ideas rather than actually prose. But I find that kind of a liberating change and I think if I had to do either of those things 24/7 I would probably just run out of ideas and run out of steam.

Valerie
So you need a bit of ADD kind of scenario around you.

Dominic
Yeah, I like going and doing different things. Plus you’ve got to read a lot. I’ve got to read lots of current affairs to be able to satirize it. I need to know what’s going on. And I’ve got to read lots of fiction I think to stimulate the ideas. But to know, to look at how other writers do it and once you start writing fiction you start analysing other novels in a whole other way.

You start looking at you can see a little bit behind the curtain hanging down itself. You start looking at how characters are introduced and how they are built and wondering about pacing and things like that. So no, I don’t know.

Look I’d love to think that I could just go and sit in a cabin for three months and come out with a novel that I’d spent every waking moment working on but I just don’t think that will work. I think that the real challenge with becoming a fiction writer is to just work out what your way of doing it is. There is no right answer. They are just giving in to that. So for me it’s all about cafes and short bursts and even though I would love to be able to work at a different way, I’m just grateful that I’ve found at least one way that I can work.

Valerie
The cafes and short bursts technique, the café and banana bread technique.

Dominic
Exactly.

Valerie
Tell us a bit about the collaborative process of writing sketch comedy. A lot of people would be interested. What happens? You all get together and sit around in a room and just say you know “How about we do this?” this week. What happens?

Dominic
We have incredibly long creative meetings basically that go for often half a day or an entire day. But everyone brings different ideas to the table so there are draft sketches. I come with these long lists of ideas of targets some of which are immediately dismissed as being rubbish and some of which people laugh at. You never know what they are going to like, what they are going to find funny even after all these years I can’t really predict it.

We often we make things better too. We very much are believers in group brain-storming. So often you will come in with an idea that doesn’t quite work and you will throw it around a bit and someone will come up with an idea. If we make each other laugh in the room our senses of humour are different that tends to work on screen.

So yeah, it’s really very collaborative. I think that the fiction thing is great because I can only answer to myself for once which is a great change of pace.

Valerie
So on that note then finally what would your advice be to someone out there who is listening to this and thinking you know I would really like to get that novel out? I’d like my first novel to be published. What would your advice be to them to get there?

Dominic
For me it is something that I had thought about for many years and talked about and but never really buckled down and done. I was a little bit scared I suppose because if you can’t do it then you discover that your dream isn’t going to work.

But for me it was all about saying, “Well, okay, let’s be honest. I’m not going to get up at dawn and write 1000 words before breakfast every morning with a great sense of self-disciple, if only I had that discipline that would be great. But I don’t so what do I know will actually make me do the work?”

For me that was going and doing a master’s degree which was great because there was brain-storming and group editing and all the stuff too in that class. But it’s about giving in to your own rhythms of how you work. When I figured out that cafes work for me and that having deadlines was necessary then I actually done a bit and it made all the difference for me.

So rather than just sitting in my room and dreaming I actually forced myself to do it and that was the only way that it was ever going to happen. I had to bully myself and sign up to a procedure whereby if I didn’t do it I would fail subject. That was finally enough to actually make me do the work.

Valerie
That’s a very practical approach isn’t it?

Dominic
Well, yeah, I mean otherwise I would have probably for the rest of my life just sat there and gone, “Ah, look I can write a novel. I’ve got 1000 words. I’ve started one.” So yeah, it had to be a practical because otherwise you just can’t do it.

Valerie
So whether its comedy or fiction which ever it is that you are doing at the time is there some kind of sweet spot or feeling of satisfaction where you just know that works or is it something that you actually need feedback on? Do you know it innately?

Dominic
It’s different according to the genre I think. I think with fiction I’ve found it amazing pleasurable to go and write and if I had a chapter that I felt worked I loved it. I was kind of writing it for myself as much as I think to get published. So yeah, that was very satisfying purely for myself.

With The Chaser stuff if you think of a funny idea that’s good but then you have got the fear that other people won’t find it funny. And humour is so subjective. Really just because you find something funny, I’ve got lots of things that I have loved that I have submitted over the years that only I found amusing. So its really if it is in comedy you really need to laugh otherwise you don’t have any confidence that its good. I think that it is quite different according to the kind of writing that it is.

Valerie
I have no doubt that Disco Boy is going to be a success and that it will find the sweet spot for a lot of readers out there.

So on that note, thank you very much for your time today Dominic.

Dominic
No worries.


Comments