Ep 130 How to say “Yes” to your writing career. And meet actor, children’s book writer and illustrator Richard Roxburgh.

podcast-artworkIn Episode 130 of So you want to be a writer: Discover famous writers who had totally unrelated day jobs. Get yourself ready for NaNoWriMo success, and how to say “Yes” to your writing career. Valerie digs up the origins of the word “dinosaur”.  Meet actor, children’s book writer and illustrator Richard Roxburgh, and 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 Richard Gilzean:

Just caught the interview with John Birmingham, someone I have been following since I saw Felafel as a staged performance at the Bridge Hotel Rozelle back in the day. Agree with with views on creating a writing routine habit. AKA developing the Sitzfleisch muscle. Big fan of the Pomodori productivity tool as well. Need to get crackín on building that author profile. My website is in need of some new content. Great podcast series. regards for Richard (current AWC – novel writing student with Pamela Freeman)

Thanks Richard!

Show Notes

5 famous writers you probably didn’t know had unrelated jobs for years

How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo: Your 4-Week Success Plan

6 Big Ways to Say YES to Your Writing Career

Writer in Residence

Richard Roxburgh

Richard Roxburgh is one of Australia’s best-loved and most versatile actors. For his work in films like Moulin Rouge! to the lead role in TV’s Rake, as well as his many highly acclaimed performances with the Sydney Theatre Company, Richard Roxburgh has become a household name.

Richard has been successful on the other side of the camera too. He directed feature film, Romulus, My Father and was co-creator of the award-winning television series, Rake. Richard has always drawn and written stories to entertain himself, and has written Artie and the Grime Wave his first book for children.

Platform Building Tip

How to get your mojo back after bad feedback?

Answered in the podcast!

Competition

WIN “The Rook” and “Stiletto” by Daniel O’Malley

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

Share the love!

writer-ep-130-artwork

 

Interview Transcript

Allison

Welcome to the program, Richard. Very, very nice to have you aboard on your first exciting adventure and your maiden journey, shall we say, as an author.  

My first question for you, I guess, would be how did you come to write a book for children?

Richard

Well, I suspect it came through a variety of things. I was asked to write the odd column for the Sydney Morning Herald for the Spectrum Magazine. And just quite randomly I suspected. And I really enjoyed it, I thoroughly enjoyed the process of it and I had a lot of fun doing it. So, I think that gave me a little bump of confidence.

And then that combined with the fact, the matter of reading bedtime stories to my children for the last, you know, nine years now, and the great pleasure that was bringing me, especially at a certain point when the literature that I was reading was just so beautiful and it reminded me of the books that had made such a big impact on me.

And I guess I started then dwelling on the notion of doing some writing myself for kids.

Allison

When you were writing those first columns for the Sydney Morning Herald, is that the first kind of writing you had done since school? Or have you been doing other bits and pieces for yourself along the way? I mean because it’s kind of daunting. Like, “Please write us a column or two, off you go.”

Richard

I think it started out as a sort of theatre diary, that was probably the first one. And that was sufficiently entertaining or whatever for them to ask me back when, which Richard Glover overseas or something to fill in for his work.

Allison

That’s big shoes.

Richard

Yeah.

Allison

Ooh.

Richard

Indeed.

That was the first writing that I had essentially done since — yeah, since high school, I guess, or since essays at university.

Allison

Wow, OK.

So, you’ve now got Artie and the Grime Wave, which you’ve written and illustrated. Is this the first manuscript that you’ve actually ever attempted?

Richard

It is. Yeah.

Allison
Wow.

Richard

Absolutely. Look, having said that because of the nature of my work I’ve always kind of tinkered the periphery of writing film scripts and television scripts, but always came to the conclusion that I’m a much more collaborative person and this was a process and a line of work that I wouldn’t be suited to, because I’m so… I always need to be sort of shooting the breeze with somebody, really.

So, I’ve shelved so many of those things along the way and just decided, “That’s something that I can’t do.” So I think taking the departure into something completely diverse from my usual line of work was also an important step, because it relieved me of any sense of its association and its sort of… of the thing as a money thing.

Allison

Richard

So, it wasn’t associated in that way. And that was important for me as well.

Allison

How long did it actually take you to create the manuscript? Like, when did you start the process?

Richard

Not too long. Once I put my mind to it I guess it took around about five months. It happened it… it had to slide in around other work and it happened at a reasonably leisurely click. I would work for probably three hours a day when I was writing. So, yeah, it didn’t take all that long once I was underway.

Allison

Did you find… I guess having kids yourself, were you essentially writing the book for them as your kind of primary audience so to speak? Like, you had an ideal reader in your mind? Or were you writing something that you would have liked to have read as a kid? Or was it just one of those things where you had this random idea for Artie? Like what was the kind of process for the inspiration of it?

Richard

I suspect I was writing it both for myself and for my probably oldest boy, or the age that my oldest boy was at that time, which was around 8-8.5 years old.

Allison

Right.

Richard

So, he’s nine now. And so I suppose having him there was a very useful element in the writing, because not only could I test run it, but I knew exactly where he was as a kind of guinea pig for literature. I knew precisely the type of thing that would entertain him.

But, it really had to entertain me as well, otherwise there was no point in doing it.

Allison

Yeah, that’s very true. At what point did you think to yourself, “Oh this could be publishable.”?

Richard

Well, once I had a really substantial… because I’m a terribly disorganized person, terribly disorganized, what I thought I needed to do was to create a very substantial document, which was a comprehensive plot outline. And, once I had done that I felt comfortable in being able to then go to a publisher and go around with them and say, “This is it. And if you’re keen I can go ahead with this…”

Allison

Great.

Richard

So, then there was a deadline, which was a very important component as well.

Allison

Right, OK. Yes, otherwise you would probably still be working on it.

Richard

Indeed. It’s extraordinary the power of procrastination.

Allison

Oh yes.

Richard

Once you really put your mind to it it’s incredible how much procrastination you can do.

Having that deadline was great.

Allison

Well, I’m a writer, so I understand the world of procrastination.

Richard

Yeah. The house is spotless — yeah.

Allison

The fridge is clean. I get it.

Richard

Yeah.

Allison

So you had the whole story planned out in advance and you worked to the outline of that, basically?

Richard

I did. I thought that seemed like a fairly natural way of doing things. But, I have writer friends who assure me that’s almost completely insane, that they would never work like that.

So, you know, I guess it’s just whatever you need to get you through it, but for me it was having that really solid piece of architecture in place. It was absolutely critical. And I felt very comfortable then. So the writing itself became really kind of a delicious thing, it became quite, you know, like… just luxuriating it and savouring all of the sort of details and all of the fun bits.

Allison

That sounds like a nice way to work.

Richard

I tried to sort of tempt a novelist friend of mine into this method, saying it really was a great way. And she tried it momentarily and just said, “No… it’s balls. It’s nonsense. It doesn’t work at all.”

So… there you go.

Allison

As an actor you’re used to taking on the voice of whichever character you’re playing at any given time. But, as a writer you really have to tap into your own voice. Did you find that challenging at all?  

Richard

I didn’t really give it very much thought. It’s a really great question. I don’t think I gave it very much thought because I suppose I suspect that by the time I was writing it I knew what… or I could feel what the voice was going to be. I knew it was going have a kind of rollicking adventurous energy to it and I knew that it was going to have quite sort of outlandish characters. There was going to be quite a lot of jeopardy. So, I knew it had to really turn pages and be a lot of fun. So, I guess I was tapping into that idea.

Allison

My nine-year-old son has read and reviewed the book —

Richard

Great.

Allison

Oh yeah. And the one word on repeat in that particular review was ‘funny.’ Like I said to him, “What’s the book like?” He said, “Funny.” “What did you like about it?” “It’s funny.” You know, “Funny…” “Funny…” “Funny…”

Richard

Right.

Allison

Oh yeah, “Funny…”

Did you intentionally — because ‘funny’ is hard. And ‘funny’ for kids is actually a lot harder than anyone, I think, ever gives you credit for. When you’re writing are you — you talked about setting out to create a sense of fun and rollicking and all of that sort of stuff, but actually putting in the jokes and making it funny, was that an intentional thing? Were you thinking, “Oh yes, this is funny.” Or is it just what came out and then you kind of read it to your kids and hoped they laughed?

Richard

It’s a combination of all of the above, really. I knew I wanted it to be funny because that’s my — the fun of it is the kind of narrative life raft in a way that kids will be going down this river on. They will be carried along on a tide of chuckles, I’m hoping, because there’s other things in it. There are quite a lot of other elements.

In fact, my protagonist is having an incredibly difficult life. He has a mother, to all intents and purposes, the adult here has agoraphobia and he has a father who died. So, he’s in terrible straits, and a sister who’s the angriest 16-year-old in the world. So… and he’s picked on at school and he’s basically beating himself up and he’s terrified of life and of adventure. So, there’s a lot at stake there.

And so, for me, there was a very important emotional component to the work as well that I needed to make sure was in place, otherwise it would just be funny and that was not at all what I wanted.

The fun was a really important key, but it was important to try and create a balancing act of quite a lot of different flavours.

Allison

Well, I think that’s what engages kids too. Like, if you only try to engage them on that one level they often won’t even remember the book by the time they’re finished, whereas he’s definitely going through and read the whole thing, which is also unusual for a nine-year-old boy.

Richard

Great, that is great. That’s great.

Allison

And come back and said —

Richard

I love to hear that.

Allison

Yeah, well, I gave it to him and he read the back of the book and he saw that there was a character called Bumshoe, so of course you had him right there, because you can’t go past the world ‘bum’ when it comes to nine-year-olds.  

So, I guess there’s another question, are you just sort of unleashing your own eight or nine-year-old yourself in this sort of stuff as well, because there’s a lot of fun in that sort of ‘Bumshoe’ and that sort of stuff.

Richard

I think so. I think you have to. I mean I suppose I find myself having kids that age, you know, spending quite a lot of time unleashing that part of myself, because when we play I’m mucking around with them, I’m down on their level at times, quite a lot of the time. And, so I suppose it was something that became increasingly easy for me to access, that kind of — the nonsense stuff that kids love. They just love nonsense. And you can forget that and you can mistake the fact that they’ve suddenly grown, you know, six centimetres in the last three months for maturity and you suddenly start to think, “Oh god, they’re getting so…” they still love nonsense. They love pants down, they love ‘bum,’ they love all of that silly stuff. And so I was aware of that and trying to tap into that too. 

Allison

You also illustrated the book, which I admit I was surprised when I realised that you had done the illustrations as well. It was like, “Is there anything this man cannot do?” But, how important —

Richard

No, there are a lot — a lot of things, by the way.

Allison

We don’t need to go into that, that’s fine.

Richard

Yeah.

Allison

Was that an important part of the process for you, to do your own illustrations?

Richard

It was. In a way, if I’m thinking back I can’t — I mean, look, I had always been trying to find a place to park these little doodles that I had done, and it’s not like they’re the type of work that will end up in an exhibition or something, they’re not… they’re not substantial in that way.

They’re just fun, additional bits of creativity and expression I’ve always done. I’ve always done my little guys with big noses and my funny dogs and my… and also a sort of passing parade of caricatures of those around me.

So, you know, for opening night in the theatre I would do a sort of caricature, or some sort of a drawing of the characters, for instance, that my friends were playing in the thing. So, that’s always been there. And it always was going to be the case that I would do the illustrations myself, yeah.

Allison

Did you write the whole manuscript and then slot in the illustrations? Or did the illustrations develop as you went along? I mean how did you decide what to illustrate and where?

Richard

Well, that was an interesting voyage, that one. As I was writing I, at first, started imagining and inserting this would be a moment for an illustration. So I put in brackets ‘illustration.’ And after a while I got sick of that and I also thought, “Look, it’s going to change anyway,” so just don’t bother doing that, so I stopped that at some point.

Before I finally submitted the manuscript I went through and chose all of my places to put my drawings. Then working with my editor it became apparent that a lot of the places — that we disagreed on a lot of those places. So, it was an interesting process, I think I had to reach an understanding of the purpose of an illustration. It sounds so obvious when you think about it, but what I was in fact probably guilty of was doubling up. So, there would be a passage that was quite descriptive and then I would draw it, you know? And that’s not really the point.

So, there was some very useful things, because I’m virgin in this world, so there were a lot of useful lessons that I needed to get a grip of.

Allison

So as a first-time author, as a virgin, was there anything that surprised you about the process, like that really surprised you along the way about the process of getting a book published?

Richard

Yeah, there were quite a few things that really surprised me. I was surprised at the pleasure that I took in it. The sitting down and writing of it, because I guess I’d found my attempts at writing film or television or theatre a bit of a punish. So, I was really shocked at what a sort of unalloyed pleasure that part of it was. I was then surprised, I guess, in the editorial process by — there were just some things that blind sighted me.

There was a matter of point of view, which I had taken for granted this sort of authorial voice thing so that I could kind of tilt my camera around and look at a whole bunch of stuff that my protagonist couldn’t see. So, my editor at some point had to say, “You need to point your camera only where your protagonist can see, otherwise you’re cheating.”

Allison

No cheating.

Richard

And that seemed very strange to me.

No, exactly. It seemed very odd to me, and it’s a part of me that’s still bucking at it, because I suppose I’m so used to the way that we break the rules all of the time now in cinema and television. I think, “Well, can we break that rule too…” And I don’t know. I’m interested in experimenting with that, but it’s nonetheless an important… it’s a rule that’s there for very strong and important reasons. So, I needed to get myself across that.

And there were a lot of things that I had to learn in the whole of illustrations, because that is so sort of bound by matters of formatting and page size, the margins, there’s a whole lot of stuff and I’m innumerate, so that was just a struggle from my poor… my poor designer who’s brilliant. I mean she really helped me a lot. She was so great. And we worked out this great shorthand where I would finish an illustration and take a very high definition photograph of it, just on my iPhone and send it to her and within what seemed like minutes she could lay it up on the page and send it back to me as a PDF and say, “What do you think?”

I mean she was a master, it was great.

Allison

So you kind of got your collaboration after all?

Richard

I did. I really did. And, I think that made a world’s difference. I loved collaborating with the page layout and the design elements of it. I had so much pleasure in that.

She just did… Simone did such an extraordinary job with that.

Allison

As an actor you’re very used to putting yourself out there, because that’s pretty much what you do, but this is branching into a whole new area. So, do you kind of feel a sense of — with a profile like you have is there an added sense of pressure? Like, in the sense of, you know, success or failure? Were you worried about how it might be received or anything like that?

Richard

I think I was really fortunate that I didn’t care at all.

Allison

You’re so lucky.

Richard

I don’t care. Yeah, and I do understand the privilege of that and that’s it’s not obviously always that way for people for whom writing is their bread and butter. I guess I was doing it for different reasons. I just wanted to try another outlet for the simple matter of creativity, to try something that had always nibbled at me and I had always thought, “You could probably do that, mate, if you really pulled your finger out.”

So it was more about that and there was a part of me, also, that wanted to express something to my children about what you can do about… that you don’t have to be tied up in a box, in any one area of your life. That creativity is very a broad-range, expansive, wonderful friend that you have with you in your life and it can come out in an abundant variety of ways.

Allison

Which is an excellent lesson.

Richard

I think so. I hope that it’s — I hope that’s something that they take with them. That you can… because whenever I’ve seen that thing expressed I’ve always found it so exciting. I was giving the example this morning of sort of walking through a Picasso exhibition and just suddenly seeing these walls and walls of the most beautiful ceramics you’ve ever seen in your life, and they were obviously Picasso’s. But, at some point on some morning on a bright spring morning he woke up and thought, “Right…”

Allison

“Today I’m going to give that a go.”

Richard

“Now it’s ceramics.”

Yeah, and why not?

Allison

Why not?

Richard

So I love that.

Allison

Now that you’ve discovered this aspect of your creativity and it’s all going so well, will we be seeing another Artie book? Is there any more in the works?

Richard

I don’t know about another Artie book. I’m working on another book as we speak, although it’s kind of funny timing of late. But, yeah, I’m working on another work for sure.

Allison

Fantastic.

To finish up I’m going to ask you our famous last question, which is, Richard, do you have three tips for new writers?

Richard

I think one thing would be the most obvious thing that probably everybody says, which is you just write. You just have to write, you have to fill in those three hours. Set yourself a limit and stick to that limit.

You don’t have to stick to it, if you’re really on a roll, obviously, you know, keep going for god’s sake. But, just write and don’t fret about it. Just write garbage, if it’s garbage just write it. I had spent a lot of time second-guessing myself and that was my undoing along the way with trying to get into the whole writing thing.

Another thought would probably be another very simple thing, which is that you have to find the joy in the expression of it yourself. And, again, I’m aware that sounds like so blinding obvious, but you can lose that. So, there was something that was driving you in the first place to want to write, and I think you need to keep ahold of that, because that’s the pure thing that will carry you through.

And I guess you need to have a very clear relationship with where you are in the story, because that’s the way the story has a vulnerability to it and the vulnerability is everything. So, even in a story with the sort of whacky array of characters that Artie has, there is a rawness to it, there is an emotional rawness to it. There’s a mother who comes out of — without giving too much away, in case there are any nine-year-olds listening, but I doubt it.

Allison

Well, you never know.

Richard

There’s a mother who comes out of her kind of almost moribund state, who’s dragged out of that state by the terror of seeing her son in an awful predicament. And so, you know, you have these moments in there that are really strong and key. And so, that’s me in the story. And, look, honestly that’s me and my relationship with my mother.

So, no matter — what I found, I suppose, was that it’s surprising how autobiographical even the most whacky work is. And so find yourself, find where you are in the story and put yourself in it.

Allison

That’s a great tip — that’s a really great tip. Thank you very much for that.

That’s all for today. Thank you so much, Richard Roxburgh for your time today, and best of luck with Artie, may the grime wave take over the world and we look forward to seeing what it is that you come up with next.

Richard

Thanks, Allison. It was great.


Comments