Ep 124 The biggest mistake writers make when applying for jobs. And Nathan Besser, author of “Man in the Corner”.

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podcast-artworkIn Episode 124 of So you want to be a writer:  Discover the biggest mistake writers make when applying for jobs and 5 common plotting errors. What happens when a client wants you to deliver more than what was agreed on? Moleskine have opened a Moleskine café! Win a copy of Rebellious Daughters and learn the meaning behind antediluvian. Meet debut novelist Nathan Besser, author of Man in the Corner, who shows that you should never give up. Plus: find out what works for your author platform, and much more!

Click play below to listen to the podcast. You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher Radio. Or add the podcast RSS feed manually to your favourite podcast app.

Review of the Week
From BK Haych from Australia:

This is the podcast I needed. I’ve been floundering for years in writing my first novel; a month ago I “discovered” the delightful Val and the sassy Al and things have gone from strength to strength. Five thousand words down (they’re mostly rubbish, but a first draft isn’t a Hemingway masterpiece, I’ve learned) and I’m on my way. Thank you so much. And keep the good times rolling!

BK Haych!

Show Notes
A veteran magazine editor says this is the most glaring mistake writers make when applying for jobs

5 Common Plotting Mistakes to Avoid When You’re Writing a Novel

A New Place in Town: Moleskine Cafe for Your Daily Fix of Inspiration

Writer in Residence

Nathan Besser

nathan besser authorNathan wrote poetry and short fiction from the age of 16. After completing high school he worked in various jobs. During this time he wrote for various publications and had three stories published in the Best Australian Stories collection.

After failing to find a publisher for his first novel, he devoted his time solely to business for several years, buying and starting several small businesses.

Following the birth of his second child, during a short holiday in Japan, he decided to begin writing again. He set to work on what would become Man in the Corner, his first (published) novel, which has also been optioned for film by Simon Baker and Rebecca Rigg. He is currently working on another novel.

Platform Building Tip

Try lots of different things to discover what works for you and your platform.

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WIN “Rebellious Daughters”!

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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Interview Transcript 

Valerie

Thanks so much for joining us today, Nathan.

 

Nathan

My pleasure. Nice to be with you.

 

Valerie

You’ve written your debut novel, Man in the Corner. For those readers who haven’t read the book yet, can you tell us what it’s about?

 

Nathan

Well, yes, I can. Essentially it’s a modern novel. It’s set in Maroubra in Sydney. And, what it essentially deals with is a man living… he’s married with two children. And, I would say through a few turns of circumstance he finds himself in a very different position than he could have imagined. After a few months he has some medical issues and a few revelations in his life that he wasn’t anticipating.

 

I think it’s a difficult thing for a writer to pigeon-hole or describe their own work exactly as a reader might like them to. But, yeah, that’s the premise I would say.

 

Valerie

How did the idea for the book form? When did you start thinking, “I might write this story about this guy in Maroubra and so on?

 

Nathan

Well, as with these things it’s very difficult to pinpoint an exact moment.

 

Valerie

Sure.

 

Nathan

And often I think for writers your initial point, which is where a story begins, isn’t always where it ends up beginning, once you finish writing it. But, I took a long time off of writing, and at some point when I decided to begin writing again, this particular character’s moment of recovering from an illness was the point of departure for me for the story.

 

So, that was, for me, the moment I guess you’d call it some sort of moment of inspiration or departure for the narrative.

 

 

 

 

Valerie

Had the character been swirling around in your brain for some time? Because he is a man who lives in Maroubra, has a couple of kids, he’s married, had that idea or had the medical issue been swirling around in your brain for some time?

 

Nathan

No, in a word. I don’t think that… for me, I think beginning something is a very exciting time in the writing process. And, I wouldn’t say that — any particular part of the story or what ended up forming the novel was present before it happened. It just sort of came as it went, I would say.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Nathan

I mean certainly once you start working on something the character and his surroundings or her surroundings become very much a part of your own world and your own internal world. But, yeah, I don’t think that I had a particular character or setting in mind until such a time as I started it.

 

Valerie

Now, let’s just backtrack a bit, because you mentioned that you took some time off writing and you did a lot of writing when you were younger, what I find fascinating is then you worked in a whole series of different jobs and also ran different businesses. According to your bio you worked as a delivery driver, a security guard, a clinical trial participant, a hotel manager, a call centre operator, but you’ve also bought and sold several small businesses, including a restaurant delivery company, an online alcohol delivery company, a cold change logistics service and two lingerie stores.

 

So, you’re a very busy man. Now, did you write some of this book while you were running some of these businesses?

 

Nathan

Yeah. A lot of those odd jobs listed there I was doing in my ’20s, while I was… it was a way of supplementing my writing. And, so, yeah, and I was very into writing. And then when I got married and had kids I took several years off of writing. I focused on business and that’s when all of those sort of businesses that you just listed came and went. Some of them are still going.

 

And, yeah, and I’ve been operating businesses while I wrote Man in the Corner. And, yeah, it’s obviously a very busy… it’s a very busy thing to do, to run a business, but as most writers will know it’s not an enormous money spinner, so you need to make ends meet.

 

Valerie

So, I’m interested to know why you took the time away from writing?

 

Nathan

Well, it was I would say two things. One was I became disheartened with the failure of the first novel that I wrote. So, about I would say ten years ago, something like that, I wrote a novel and I couldn’t get it published. This was after writing a lot of short fiction and poetry, and I got some of that published, and I put a lot of time into writing a novel and I couldn’t find a publisher for it.

 

And, right at the time I found that out I was about to have my first child. I sort of thought to myself, “Well, this certainly isn’t making me any money, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere in general. Now whilst I still want to keep on doing it,” but I couldn’t really justify it to myself.

 

So, I thought — and I was working as a delivery driver and an opportunity arose to get into the business, so I took that. And, I pretty much just pushed my aspirations to be a writer as far away as possible.

 

Valerie

Wow, so did you actually think, “OK, I’m taking a break,” as in it’s temporary, or did you think, “That’s it, I’m done.”

 

Nathan

I would say I said to myself, “I’m done. That’s it.”

 

Valerie

Really?

 

Nathan

Yep.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Nathan

I really pushed it away. I didn’t… I tried not to read anything. I just… I was pretty extreme, I guess.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Nathan

I just completely shut it off.

 

 

Valerie

Wow, OK. So, then obviously the itch came back. What businesses were you operating at the time when you decided, “You know what? I’m going to start writing again.”? Tell us about what made you decide to start writing again.

 

Nathan

Well, at the time I was running a restaurant with a great company. I’ve done — yeah, I have done another business in that time as well. What happened was I was missing not reading, really, because I would look at books I wanted to read, you hold a book in your hand with a nice cover or an author that you like and what I was doing in that time was just, you know, I would look at the book and then I would say, “I’m not doing that anymore.” And I would put it down.

 

And eventually I went on a holiday, I went to Japan for a week with a friend of mine, and I thought, “Well, I can’t go away without a book.” And I started reading and what I read wasn’t particularly, for me, formative or… it wasn’t some incredible piece of literature that changed my life. But, just the act of reading just made me incredibly curious to start writing again. It had probably been about four years that I hadn’t done it.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Nathan

And that was… yeah, I remember sitting in a small laundromat in Tokyo, waiting for my washing to be finished and thinking, “Oh, I’ve got to start writing again.”

 

So, and that was kind of the beginning, I guess.

 

Valerie

And so did you actually… when you were reading those books while you were on holiday, did you think, “I could write better than that.”

 

Nathan

I definitely didn’t think I could write better than that, but it’s just… reading and writing go hand in hand to me. So, anytime I read anything I think about… obviously I get absorbed by a story as well, but I often think about the craft and what’s gone into and how it’s done.

 

I don’t really have any formal training in it. So…

 

Valerie
Sure.

 

Nathan

I don’t read as maybe I should, but — yeah, it just went hand in hand. So, reading it made me think about writing and then I started writing.

 

Valerie

So, when you were sitting at the laundromat and you thought, “OK, I’m going to start writing again,” what did you do to start writing again? Because I assume the premise for this novel didn’t hit you in the laundromat. Like, did you just start writing other things, or…?

 

Nathan

Yeah, I started writing other things. I had an iPad with me. And, so I just used that to start jotting, I guess, I ideas. So, I guess you would call it like a diary.

 

And then it — yeah, and then from there it began the novel.

 

I would have never been able to… I guess it goes back to an earlier question you asked, “Was it swirling around?” I probably wouldn’t have committed myself to start a novel at that stage, because of the previous years anyway. In a sense maybe that made it easier, because I didn’t have any pressure on myself to actually make it a complete piece of work.

 

Valerie

Can you give me some timelines? Approximately when was the Japan holiday and then approximately how long did you just write random thoughts before you then started the novel?

 

Nathan

I started what would become the novel pretty soon after. That would have been a few weeks or a month after that. Started getting the urge, I guess as a lot of writers know you have the urge to sit down and do the work. So, once I begun satisfying that urge it became a daily one.

 

So, yeah.

 

Valerie

And how frequently did you then write? Like, did you have a word count target or…? Yeah.

 

Nathan

It’s always nice to write to a target, to meet your KPIs, as they say in the business world. But, and obviously being very busy with children and a business, I couldn’t do it as much as I would like. In an ideal world I would work every day. But… so, yeah, I guess I was working four or five mornings a week, something like that, sometimes three mornings a week, sometimes no mornings for a couple of weeks and then I would just do as much as I can.

 

Valerie

And how long until you had your first draft?

 

Nathan

I would say — a first draft, probably about 18 months or 12 months, something like that. And, then started reworking it.

 

Valerie

Take me through while you were actually writing the book, the first draft, take me through a typical day. Because you’re a bit different to a full time writer in that you’re running a business and all of that sort of stuff as well. So, what kind of routine did you get into so that you were actually able to get it out?

 

Nathan

Well, instead of — the bad thing about running a business and being a writer is that running a business takes up headspace. It’s a lot better in some sense to just have a job where when you leave at 5:00 PM you don’t think about it. The good thing about running a business is you can be your own boss. So, you can turn up when you want. So, instead of turning up to work at half past 8:00 or 9:00 I would turn up to work at half past 10:00 or 11:00. And, so I would get up and go sit in the garage and work from the morning until half past 10:00 or 11:00, and then I would go to work.

 

So, just a few hours in the morning, essentially, would be my solid work time. And, then obviously you steal time when you can as well. It might be in the evening or the afternoon, or if you’ve got a few days off for the weekend. But, that would be more my solid time, and still is.

 

Valerie

So, you sat in the garage?

 

Nathan

I sat in the garage, yes. Yeah.

 

Valerie

With your laptop?

 

Nathan

Yeah, with my laptop. Yeah, I didn’t record everything to memory.

 

Yeah, I’ve got kids, so the house wasn’t a particularly peaceful or appropriate place to work. I think John — was it John Cheever or Raymond Carver one of those because he started work in the car with the notebook on the dashboard, to get away from the family.

 

So, you just work wherever you can.

 

Valerie

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

 

Nathan

I was pretty interested in it from I would say late teens, maybe 16/17, something like that. I was interesting in pursuing it.

 

Valerie

And so this book is — there’s a bit of crime, it’s a bit of a psychological thriller. It’s been described on the cover by none other than Simon Baker, “A brilliant, modern noir, an intriguing thought experiment and addictive read.”

 

It’s quite — it’s a brilliant book and it’s quite complex in a sense, did you plot this out in your brain before you started writing the critical mass? Or did you sort discover what happened as you went along?

 

Nathan

I think the latter.

 

Valerie

Really?

 

Nathan

Yeah. I think — was it Murakami, I think, who I once read, he said something like… because he writes quite — I don’t know if you would call them complex or insane or books where the plot goes in all sorts of directions and can lead back. It’s almost like a maze. And he said, “Well, if I knew what I was going to write it wouldn’t be very interesting writing it, would it?”

 

So… you kind of write to discover what’s going to happen yourself. So…

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Did you have to do much research for this book?

 

Nathan

No, I wouldn’t say that I had to do much, but obviously there’s settings in it that I researched, drove around, took some photos and thought about.

 

But, it’s not a — it doesn’t require much research.

 

Valerie

The sense of place is very obvious in this book, because when you are reading about particular areas in Maroubra… you really feel like you’re there and you really feel like what’s going on is very, very real.

 

You have a great way of describing that sense of place. How did you develop that?

 

Nathan

Well, I guess there was, like you said, there was some research that went into it. And otherwise I think just through drafts, you know? I can’t remember the other writer I’m thinking of who said, maybe it was Hemingway, I don’t know, it was someone famous, that the most important that a writer can have is a bullshit detector. I’ve certainly written a lot of bullshit. I guess it’s important to read over and be ruthless with yourself as to when something feels… if you want to get across a place that’s a real place, like … or Maroubra, you have to try and really make it like those places.

 

So, yeah, I hope that is the case.

 

Valerie
You were disillusioned previously, when you were writing this book did you feel, “This one is going to make it.”? Or what?

 

Nathan

No, I don’t think I did, but you always hope. You’ve got to have some degree of hope and self-belief to continue. And, yeah, I mean I actually remember the night. It was a night, I had been working at night. I was on holiday again. So, I guess — saying this I’m realizing holidays are pretty important to me as a writer, because I actually get some time to really think about it.

 

And I had been working, it was quite late, and I went for a swim, and I thought, “God, I’m putting in an enormous amount of work into this novel, and I really don’t want what happened with the last one to happen with this one, where it’s just going to go nowhere.” And I thought to myself, “What if that happens?” And I sort of committed to myself, “Well, if that’s what happens, that’s what happens, but I’m still going to do it.”

 

So… yeah.

 

Valerie
So then tell us about your break, how did you then get it published?

 

Nathan

I went through what I guess you’d call the regular channels. I contacted agents and they negotiated with publishers. I mean a standard kind of process, which is — I imagine some people that would be listening to this would — that would be a — I mean I used to do a lot of research and think a lot about it in the past, “OK, who’s going to be the agent?” “Who’s going to be the publisher?” These sorts of things, “Will it ever happen?” “How do I do it?” “What’s the best way to go about it?”

 

But… yeah, it’s just a matter of focusing on the work, I think. And then hopefully if you’re lucky you’ll find an agent who’s willing to represent you and then you’ll find a publisher who wants to —

 

Valerie

So did you find an agent?

 

Nathan

Yes.

 

Valerie
OK, and they then shopped it to various publishers?

 

Nathan

Yes — well, that’s right, yes.

 

Valerie

I understand that — well, not only has it been published, obviously, but Simon Baker and Rebecca Rigg have snapped up the film rights, after only reading the first draft. What did you think, firstly, when your agent told you that someone wanted to publish it? And secondly when you heard that the film rights had been auctioned?

 

Nathan

Well, it’s good news, I was very happy. I was… yeah, a little bit of disbelieving and very happy. Yeah, I guess, you know, I have had a lot of rejections from my writing over the years, and that kind of becomes what you get used to, so it’s always a little bit weird if it’s not that.

 

So, yeah, those were good days.

 

Valerie
Yeah, fantastic. Did you ever anticipate it would have film interest?

 

Nathan

Well, that aspect wasn’t through my agent, that was actually through — yeah, so it was just… my wife work with Rebecca’s mother many, many years ago, and they’re friends. And, the manuscript was passed to them, because this lady, Mary, was an avid reader and I trusted her judgement, I knew her, and so I asked her to read it as a friend, actually, just for some feedback. And not thinking anything of it, and she really liked it and recommended it to Rebecca and Simon and they read it and thought it would make a good film.

 

So, that was, I guess, a bit of luck as well.

 

 

Valerie

Fantastic. Now, you have a very, very strong voice, and also because you’ve got, you know…

 

Nathan

You mean how I’m talking now, or…?

 

Valerie

No, I mean in the book. Your actual voice is perfectly fine. But, in the book it’s a very strong voice and it is certainly one that you don’t think, “Oh my god, it’s this guy’s debut novel.” It’s like you’ve been writing for a long time.

 

There’s a couple of main characters in it, and you’ve had to get into the heads of those main characters. And, without giving anything away you’ve had to write in their voice very much, from their point of view, I mean. What did you do to get to know your characters so well? Did you just think about them, or did you create files on them? Or, imagine their whole backstory? How did you get to know your characters?

 

Nathan

I think you definitely need to know who they are, you need to know what their backstory is to some degree. I think different writers do it different ways. I’m certain that some writers don’t know who their character’s father is or mother is, or what they weighed when they were a baby and brothers and sisters. Some characters act as vessels, I think, for ideas or a narrative that you want to explore. And then some characters it’s very much about who they are and not so much the decisions they make, but the way they deal with what’s given to them. And, I think in those sorts of situations when you’re really inside the mind of someone else maybe it is more important to know a lot about them.

 

So, I think it depends on the character and the story that you’re trying to tell. But, it’s certainly… it’s impossible to write about someone and not know a little bit about them and if you’re not curious about them then you’re probably not going to be able to write particularly well about them, I think.

 

Valerie

Sure. But, did you actually document all of that so that you didn’t forget? Or did you — you know?

 

Nathan

I make continuity mistakes all of the time where I get things wrong and I’ll say one thing about them and their middle name changes, and that does happen to me. But, you obviously pick it up or your editor picks it up, or a friend picks it up.

 

Again, I think for me I would get bored if I knew everything about the person from the beginning. What would be the point in sort of writing about it?

 

Valerie

This is your debut novel, well, you wrote a novel before, but this is your first published novel. After your first draft and you sent it to the publisher, to what extent were there edits and structural edits?

 

Nathan

I wouldn’t say that it was a first draft, because I had done substantial redraftings of it myself. I think first time writers who are looking to find a home for their book don’t have the luxury that established writers do, where they can seek the opinion of an editor early on after they’ve completed one or two drafts. I think it’s important to really go through a book. I would have redrafted it four or five times from beginning to end, different tenses, different voices, different points of view, and… yeah.

 

And so in that sense by the time — there was a lot of important stuff that the publisher provided to publish it, but I would say that the core of the book was pretty established.

 

Valerie

Now that you can look back on the… because you’ve had success with this novel, now that you can look back on the previous novel, which did not get published, do you feel that you want to try again with that novel? Or is that novel done and dusted?

 

Nathan

At this stage it’s done and dusted. It might be something that I read over at some point and think, “Oh well, there’s an idea that I’m still interested in.” You know, you’re always writing about what interests you at the time that you’re writing, otherwise you wouldn’t be writing it. So, if parts of that hold my interest again, then maybe I would at this stage… I don’t think it holds interest to me.

 

Valerie

What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

 

Nathan

I’m working on another novel.

 

Valerie

Different characters? Different —

 

Nathan

Yeah, completely different book.

 

Valerie

How would you describe it?

 

 

Nathan

Well, it’s set some time ago. So, this one requires a bit more research. But, I wouldn’t describe it really… I’m still discovering it myself. So, I don’t know if I can tell you much about it.

 

Valerie

Are you still juggling your business and the restaurant delivery company?

 

Nathan

Yeah, I’ve got — I don’t have the restaurant delivery company anymore. I’ve got a couple of other businesses that I’m running, together with a business partner. So, yeah, I’m actually sitting amongst a few pallets of alcoholic cider. So, I’m definitely still juggling.

 

But, I’ll do it the same way I did previously, which is I will get up early and work in the mornings and —

 

Valerie

In the garage?

 

Nathan

Yeah. Well, I don’t have a garage anymore, so — I’ve sent the baby off to sleep with his brother, so I’ve taken the baby’s room for the moment.

 

Valerie

You’re even busier because now you’ve got a couple of businesses that you’re running as well as writing your next book?

 

Finally then what’s your advice for aspiring writers who may be feeling like you did, you know, like before when you decided, “Oh my god, I’m going to give up.” What’s your advice to them?

 

Nathan

Well, I did give up. And I ended up going back to it. I think ultimately it’s something very personal, and if you’re writing to become famous or to see your name in print on a bookshop and you have some sort of fantasy around that, I don’t believe that can stand the test of time and the grueling nature of the occupation.

 

But, if you have a genuine love for literature and for reading and writing, then you will end up back at the desk, and that’s really all you need. Certainly resilience and having some degree of faith in yourself and the work that you’re producing and to continue doing that. But, it is very hard. I mean I started trying to get published when I was 17, in different formats. I’m now 35, so that’s how many years — 18 years.

 

So, if you’re starting at 30, then, you know, something should start happening by 50. That’s the reality, so…

 

Valerie
Sure.

 

Nathan

Yeah.

 

Valerie

But, also not everyone necessarily is quite as busy as you.

 

Nathan

Yeah, that’s right. But, I think — yeah, and that can either help or hinder.

 

Valerie

Yeah, that’s right. It might actually compel you to carve out the time.

 

Nathan

Yeah, I mean you have to… I think how much you can produce is limited anyway. I think John Updike, who was a very prolific writer, he worked three to four hours a day. He didn’t write nine or ten hours a day. And most people… you can’t sit at a desk for 15 hours a day for 30 years. That’s just not how the work goes.

 

So, I don’t think having a job or doing other things means you can’t do it. It would be nice to just write. I would love it, because I would basically just read more, or watch movies, or other things that I think are important to do. But, yeah, I don’t know if it would make the work any better.

 

Valerie

With your book, the pacing is very important because the reader needs to see things unfold, the reader does see things unfold at a certain pace and is constantly kept wondering, “Oh my god, where does this lead?” “Oh my goodness, where does this lead?” “What’s going to happen next?”

 

Is pacing something that just came to you naturally? Or did you have to go back and make sure that it was unfolding in the right way?

 

Nathan

I think that is something that I realized was going to become a part of the book. As the plot started to develop and I started to realize that there was stuff going on that was outside the control of the characters or of some characters, but not others… and once I started realizing that and I realized that I did need to pace how it came about.

 

So, yeah, in drafting that… the book… how it begins was not originally how it begun. So, I moved things around and hopefully found a way so that it does leave you wanting to continue reading, because that’s the joy of reading, is not knowing what’s going on and wanting to continue.

 

I think some people might scoff at genre fiction or things, but if a book holds you I think that’s a great achievement. So, I definitely tried to get that across in the different drafts and end up with something that does that.

 

Valerie

So there is a mystery that lies at the heart of this and that’s why the reader is kept wondering. Now, of course, with a mystery you don’t want the reader to guess early or at any point, really. You want them to discover it at the end. Did you have to go and sort of take out clues or anything like that, that would potentially make the reader go, “Oh yeah, it’s going to be that…”?

 

Nathan

Yes.

 

Valerie

That’s interesting.

 

Nathan

Yeah, I mean once, in its current format, it was finished I was happy with the, I guess, the arc of the story in rereading it and going back over it, and this is something that the publisher was fantastic at, was really looking at the continuity of it and asking, “Does it make sense for this person to do that?” “Does it make sense for the reader to know this at this stage?” “Is this a slam dunk for this question? Shouldn’t we leave it a bit more ambiguous?”

 

Valerie

Brilliant. OK, wonderful. Great book and best of luck with it, but I certainly enjoyed reading it. And thank you so much for your time today, Nathan.

 

Nathan

Thanks for chatting with me.

 

 


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