Ep 320 Meet Andrew Stafford, author of ‘Something To Believe In’.

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In Episode 320 of So You Want To Be A Writer: Meet Andrew Stafford, author of Something To Believe In, a memoir of music, madness and love. What you should NOT expect from an agent. The Children's Book Council of Australia announces Book of the Year Notables 2020. Plus, we have 3 copies of Cops, Drugs, Lawyer X and Me by Paul Dale and Vikki Petraitis to give away.

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Show Notes

Children’s Book Council of Australia announces Book of the Year Notables 2020

Working With a Literary Agent: 6 Things You Shouldn’t Expect Them To Do

So You Want to Be a Writer? Seminar

Writer in Residence

Andrew Stafford

Andrew Stafford is an Australian author of two books (Something To Believe In, UQP, 2019; also Pig City, UQP, 2004, reissued in a third edition in 2014), and freelance journalist (The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, The Monthly, Griffith Review and others).

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Interview Transcript

Allison

Andrew Stafford is a freelance journalist and the author of Pig City, a musical and political history of Brisbane, first published in 2004 by UQP. He has written for The Age, The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Monthly. Something to Believe In is his second book and it is out now with UQP. Welcome to the program, Andrew.

Andrew

Nice to be here, thank you, Allison.

Allison

All right, so let's talk about how you got started in this game. Because I've read your book, which I very much enjoyed and would very much recommend. And you sort of started out as something of an accidental writer. Can you tell us how you got into this game?

Andrew

Well, it goes back to the early 90s. And I was working in a supermarket with a friend of mine who had started in a street paper in Brisbane called Time Off. And he was doing a journalism degree. I was not. I was… We were both at the University of Queensland and I was doing an Arts degree, really, with a double major in English. And a few media studies subjects, which has stayed with me in all that time since.

But my greatest passion was music. And that was the same with my friend. We were like a couple of monomaniacs. It was pretty much all we talked about in the tearoom.

And Time Off was a free weekly music paper and he said, ‘come along to a gig and review it and we'll see where we go from there'. I guess he must have spotted something in me.

And from there, it just snowballed, really. And I started writing very quickly for the Australian edition of Rolling Stone which gave me my first national exposure. And that sort of took me through the 1990s. I had a little bit of time in Sydney and then sort of came back to Brisbane with my tail between my legs.

And this is moving the story forward quite quickly, but when I did come back to Brisbane, which was in the year 2000, I needed a reason to be back in Brisbane, and so I started writing Pig City as a result of that.

Allison

Okay, well, I do want to talk to you about that. But first of all I want to go into the music writing aspect a little bit. Because, okay, so you went along and you reviewed a gig. Now, obviously you've a lot of gig reviews at this point in your life so you have an idea of what a gig review looks like.

Andrew

I did, yeah.

Allison

But I'm just sort of… I've always thought, like, I read a lot of different types of writing and obviously I'm interested in music myself so I've read a lot of that sort of thing. And to me, I've always felt like one of the most difficult things about music writing is that you are trying to capture an experience for an audience that wasn't there. And you're describing a bass line, like, really, okay? Or a guitar solo or whatever. How do you go about doing that? And did you instinctively know how to do that? Or is that something that you've just really built? Because it's a craft in itself, I think.

Andrew

Yeah, it is. And I think there are a few things to touch on in that question. I think the first thing is that if you want to write about music or any artform you really need to be able to write well in the first place. And I think… You know, in terms of traditional journalism, people who write about the arts tend to get looked down on a little bit, to be honest, by the news breakers and gatherers in the business. And arts sections of newspapers tend to be the first to feel the axe when times get tight.

But they tend to involve some of the best writers in the business, because it is a very difficult thing to capture. The usual phrase about writing about music, of course, is that it's like dancing about architecture. I can't remember exactly where that phrase comes from, because it's actually been attributed to many people over the years.

And the other quote about music journalism comes from Frank Zappa, who by the way I think has always been one of those people ascribed to the quote about dancing about architecture. I think it also was credited to Elvis Costello. No one's quite sure.

But I can tell you one thing that Frank Zappa did say about music writing. His quote was that most rock journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read.

Allison

Haha! I love that.

Andrew

Yes. That's Frank Zappa at his most acerbic. But look, I think more seriously, you really do need to be able to write to write about music convincingly.

And the way I've gone about that is simply to try to use very plain language. And not to try to overcomplicate things. I think you do need an ear for poetry and for metaphor. But the biggest danger that most young writers, the biggest trap that most young writers fall into when they're starting to write about music, is that they show off. And I think the trick to writing about music is as far possible not to show off.

There's an awful wannabe Lester Bang's out there. Lester Bangs, for those who don't know, was kind of like the Hunter S. Thompson of music journalism. He had an instantly identifiable gonzo style. And he's had a lot of imitators.

But the first thing is to be yourself. I would also just say on this question that the writers that really inspired me and stayed with me the most, in terms of writing about music, were some of the early practitioners.

There was Paul Williams. Paul Williams was the first kind of really serious rock journalists. He founded a magazine called Crawdaddy in 1966. And he was a big Bob Dylan obsessive, wrote heaps of books about him. But he was basically trying to find a language to write about music when, at that stage, the form was embryonic. And he just kind of kept it simple as well.

And the other thing that I really appreciated about him was that he was unafraid to write in the first person, as well. And that wasn't something that I started to cultivate until a bit later and really took to extremes in Something to Believe In. But I think the key lesson I learned from that and another early music writer called Paul Nelson, and he was the second person I was going to mention, both of those two men were unafraid to be vulnerable. And I liked that.

Allison

Okay. Well, that's also something I want to talk to you about. But just before we move on to that, one of the things I think about music writing that can be… I like to call it ‘death by reference'. But it's like where the music writer is showing off how much they know about 75 other gigs that they've been to that they can reference to describe this particular gig. And is that something that you think that newer writers fall into? Or is that something that you develop more as you have more references to talk about?

Andrew

No, I would say it's more of a trap for young players. So the first, rather than the second.

Allison

Okay.

Andrew

As I said before, the big, the main traps that writers fall into in writing about music is trying to show off and writing a whole lot of overcooked prose and yes, trying to show off their wide knowledge about music. I think a certain amount of… I mean, a certain amount of referencing when you write about music is absolutely inevitable.

Allison

Yep.

Andrew

And indeed, to a degree, it's necessary because you need to be able to place what you're writing about in a broader cultural context. And to that extent, I think having a deeper knowledge of music and whatever you happen to be writing about, where the piece of music or album or artist, where that's coming from. I think that knowledge is essential.

But there's only a certain amount that you can spend writing about that before you actually have to write about the subject at hand. And of course, you run the risk of losing your readers if you're referencing a whole lot of stuff that they can have to research for themselves.

Allison

That's right.

Andrew

Or have never heard of.

Allison

All right. So let's talk about you. Let's talk about your first book. How did that come to be published?

Andrew

Well, I was pretty lucky with Pig City, actually. Because I think my timing was very fortunate in a couple of ways. One was it was an interesting time in Brisbane, the turn of the millennium. And we had a number of other writers, Nick Earles, John Birmingham, I think probably most notably and certainly most influential on me was Andrew McGahan, all started not just writing about Brisbane but starting to get interested in Brisbane's colourful past and Queensland's colourful past.

And the most influential book on me to that extent was Last Drinks by Andrew McGahan, which was his third novel. That was a much more political book. On the other hand you had, you know, Zig Zag Street by Nick Earles had come out a few years before then and was much lighter. I don't mean lightweight, just to make that very clear, I thought Zig Zag Street was a beautiful book. It had a really deft touch about it. And was more a kind of, if not celebratory about Brisbane, was at least comfortable with coming from there and comfortable with placing itself in that very suburban milieu.

And I had come back from Sydney. As I mentioned before, I needed a reason to be back in Brisbane because I kind of got kicked in the arse by the Emerald City. And I'd had this idea floating around for a little bit to write a bit about Brisbane and its musical past and how that intersected with the politics of the time under Joh Bjelke-Petersen. And I started sketching it out after I saw Savage Garden play the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games.

Allison

Oh yeah.

Andrew

Which sounds kind of funny for a guy that'd grown up on punk and The Saints and so forth. But that was where it was. It amused me. I thought that Brisbane, it said something about Brisbane that Savage Garden had come from there and were reaching this enormous audience.

And so I wrote this kind of coming of age book. And I think Brisbane at that time really wanted to hear that. So timing was in my favour.

But it came out in 2004 and the other thing that was in my favour timing-wise was University of Queensland Press, in 2002, so a couple of years before publication, I actually took the first couple of chapters to them and the outline. And they were really, Madonna Duffy, the publisher there, was keen and she took a punt on me. I think it was actually the first book that she signed up.

And UQP at that time was in something of, you know, it was going through change as well. Peter Carey who was their flagship author had left for Random House and taken the publisher with him. And Madonna had come in with a brief to sign up new work and new author. And I kind of lobbed in with this new idea and I really only had a track record in writing for magazines and street press behind me and she obviously thought it was a good idea and she picked me up.

So I got lucky. I had a contract with them, I think it was the second publisher that I approached. I actually approached Text Publishing first and I was told by one of the editors there that she had no interest in fanzine-level journalism. So that stayed with me and spurred me on, it must be said.

Allison

Oh that's interesting!

Andrew

But I got much luckier with UQP after that, and I was very grateful for the opportunity.

Allison

All right, so if Pig City was a coming of age book in 2004, sixteen years later we have your second book, Something to Believe In, which is out now and is probably more of a mid-lifey kind of book. It's also a very personal, personal story within a universal framework. So you're using music as a universal framework.

But there's a lot of vulnerability. And you mentioned vulnerability earlier. But you are sharing your own story here, including your mental health struggles. Was that a difficult thing for you to work through?

Andrew

No, it was the easiest thing in the world.

Allison

Oh! There you go! Okay.

Andrew

Honestly. I really mean it. It took two… Effectively it took two months to write. And there's a bit of back story about that. But essentially, it got written in one big blurt. And it was the most… It was like channelling, really. And whereas Pig City had been kind of chipped out over four years and is a very heavily researched book, this one obviously I was just, it was written on the fly, very spontaneously with no great plan until I kind of realised what I was actually doing.

Something to Believe In really honestly did come about more or less by accident. And it wasn't until I had maybe four or five thousand words that I kind of realised what I was doing. And at that point I did sketch out a chapter outline and then just kind of followed it through from there.

So it was a very intense and very rewarding creative experience in that way. There were certainly some sections that were more difficult to write than others.

Allison

Yeah.

Andrew

But fundamentally… And probably not the bits you think, by the way.

Allison

Okay.

Andrew

But yeah. Look, it was an intense and rewarding creative experience to write that book. And in some ways I can only hope that I am similarly touched to write something that fast again.

If I had my time over, mind you, I would probably do some things differently.

Allison

Okay.

Andrew

I think the fact that it was written so quickly kind of meant that there probably wasn't time to overthink it.

Allison

Yep.

Andrew

And maybe that's a good thing and I think it's also possible that there are some drawbacks as a result. But that's okay. I can live with that.

Allison

So like any memoir, one of the things you have to decide with a book like this is what you put into it and what you leave out of it. It doesn't sound like, that to me sounds like you've just done that on an instinctive level. Or was there a process of editing where you went, hm, maybe I don't really want to say that, and took bits out?

Andrew

Well, there were a couple of bits like that, but very few on the whole. I think I was trying to skirt the edge of too much information all along the way. I had a couple of mantras. One was radical transparency. And the other was relatable content.

So I threw in a story about – and his is far from the first time an author has done it of course – but I threw in the story about losing my virginity because relatable content, you know.

Allison

Fair enough!

Andrew

And there was a musical link to it, and that was key. And you know, really Something to Believe In… Look, like Pig City in a way, they're only ostensibly books about music. When I talk about Pig City these days, I usually simply describe it as a book about Brisbane.

Allison

Yeah.

Andrew

So in fact, music is actually a Trojan horse, if you like, to kind of talk about a whole lot of other stuff about the city. And similarly, Something to Believe In, it looks like a book about music, it is in a sense about the healing power of music, that's its fundamental theme. But again, it's like… It's a sneaky way to talk about a lot of other things.

Allison

Which it does really well. But the interesting thing, as I said to you, I read it, there's definitely that universal framework of music. And there's a lot of music references scattered throughout the book and you have little sections, chapter break sections about specific songs or specific artists. How did you decide what they were going to be? How did you choose those? Were they just an instinctive thing as you were writing it? Or was it something that you went back later and went, oh, this would illustrate that well?

Andrew

Well, that was probably… The chapter outline that I mentioned earlier remained fairly… I followed that fairly closely certainly in terms of the story of my life progression, that followed the formula pretty well. But in terms of the songs and albums that I discussed in between chapters, that was an interesting device. It actually came about because initially I worried that the book in progress looked like it could be a bit thin. And quite frankly I saw it as a way of padding it out a little!

And it was also informed by Tim Rogers' memoir, Detours, where he had these little chapters between chapters that he called bagatelles, just where he was riffing and digressing on little minor topics that had no main relationship to the narrative but were amusing afterthoughts that still reflected back on the text in some way.

And the songs and records that I wrote about, they did change along the way. Sometimes I realised that something I thought I would write about in a breakout, actually fitted better into the main text. Picture This by Blondie was one example. I thought I would write about 800 words on that and it ended up being just a short notation within one of the chapters itself.

That was how that came about. And actually, those sections ended up being some of my favourite passages of writing in the book. And I liked the way that they did reflect back on the relevant sections of the text.

Allison

Yeah.

Andrew

So for example, I really liked the bit on (We Are) The Road Crew by Motörhead which comes after a chapter where I was effectively a roadie touring with a Brisbane band in Europe.

Allison

Yeah, that was an interesting chapter in your life. I found that fascinating. It was a bit like, well here's gonzo journalism, I'm gonna go and do it. I've been writing about it for years and now I'm going to do it. And I thought that was a very interesting aspect. And do I actually want to keep up with this? Maybe not.

Andrew

Yeah that… Go ahead.

Allison

I was going to move on to the fact that your family and your friends do appear on the pages of the book quite often. Did you have to run it past them before the book was published? Or did they have any reactions to it, at all?

Andrew

I certainly ran it past my brother and my father and one of my cousins as well. And they were okay with it. I think my brother said that it was weird, because he'd heard me tell many of those stories before and it was like being… He said he felt like he was inside my own head for the time that he was reading it.

My father was very generous about it. I thought there could be some things for him that were very hard to read. But he had the attitude that it was my story and I had as much right to tell that as anybody else. And respected that we might have some different perspectives about certain aspects, but that was okay.

The person I couldn't ask, of course, was my mother. And that was the hardest because she wasn't… My mother suffers from end stage Alzheimer's disease. And so I was not able to ask her about writing her decline, her physical and mental decline. And that posed obviously an ethical dilemma for me, not being able to ask her permission. I had to ask myself a pretty tough question, really, about whether she would approve. And not whether she would approve now, but whether she would approve when she was well, if she would have consented to that in advance.

The most honest answer to that is I'm not really sure. The second question that I asked myself is would she be proud of me. And that was… I decided that on balance I thought she would be. And so I decided that that was an essential part of the narrative arc of the story and I think one of the main drivers for me to write the book in the first place. So I decided it was a story worth sharing and a story that many people would relate to. And so that formed an important part of the arc of the book.

Allison

So the interesting thing about writing a book like this, and particularly a very personal book like this is I imagine it's quite cathartic to kind of get it all out there, but then you've actually got to put it out in the world, and then you have to go and promote it. Which means you then have to talk about it all the time. And I just wondered how that was for you?

Andrew

You're absolutely right. The promotion side of it and the talking of some of these aspects of the book has actually been far more difficult than writing it in the first place. Because as I mentioned before it was very quick to write, quick and dirty. It felt like it was being channelled. And then, yes, you've got to go and do interviews, like this one. But particularly immediately after it came out, it was more difficult trying to find a language to talk about it, being confronted with some more difficult questions that kind of plonked me back into some fairly difficult situations. And then having to talk about those things in front of an audience was harder than just writing it for myself when it was a cathartic experience, to be honest.

I mean, that is a cliché when it comes to writing about personal content, but in this instance I can't deny that it was true. I'd had a fairly bumpy few years and I think I guess these clichés exist for a reason. There was a therapeutic element about writing this stuff out. It was a healing experience in some ways to write the book.

Allison

Okay, so let's switch gears. Your work as a freelance writer has taken you in a range, has taken in a range of your interests and passions including AFL. How do you manage to work across a range of subjects without being pigeonholed into, say, music writing? Because I think that's something that happens as a freelancer. Because I freelanced for many years. And you become someone who writes about certain things and you're the go-to person for those kinds of things. But if you want to then branch out, it can sometimes be more difficult. So how do you manage to keep all those balls in the air?

Andrew

Well, I think I figured out reasonably quickly that writing about music for a living was a career limiting move, to say the least. And as much as I still enjoy it, and I do still enjoy it, I've always had a really broad range of interests. And I didn't want to be stuck writing about one thing. I wanted to be able to feed those different passions and share them with other people.

And look, as I said earlier, it can be hard if you're writing about music to be taken seriously by editors, other than by arts editors, of course. And so I started fairly early on to try to branch out. And it was difficult. I had interests in the natural world, wildlife and natural history, I started to pick up some work in environmental publications quite early on.

But the biggest break that I got was in 2006, courtesy of a sports writing friend of mine, John Harms. A vacancy had opened up in The Age to write about AFL in Queensland, mainly the Brisbane Lions and the Gold Coast Sun. But I'm originally from Victoria so I've grown up with sport. And also meant, just by the by, that I had come to writing Pig City as something of an outsider to Brisbane, which caused a degree of angst, but that's another story.

And The Age took me on more or less sight unseen on the basis of that recommendation. It was the first time… You know, I didn't have many contacts. I didn't know many other journalists, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. And so I knew nothing about the internal job market.  I had realised it was very much again about who you knew rather than what you knew. And finally I had someone who had picked up Pig City and really appreciated it and said, you know, you really should get this guy, he knows a bit about Brisbane and he knows a bit about footy, and he can write. And so they took it on.

Allison

Great.

Andrew

Or took me on. And that was really lucky. And the other thing that was great about that was for the first time it was working in a really high intensity environment in terms of having to hit deadlines, really, really tough deadlines, when I would be writing about a match as it was unfolding and filing 600 or 700 words of copy within a couple of minutes, or five minutes at most of the final siren sound. Sometimes before the final siren.

And so it was a real sink or swim kind of scenario. And I was petrified about it when I started, of course, because I'd never done anything like that before. And I'd been a bit of a stonecutter as a writer. So to be thrown in the deep end like that just meant that there was no time to overthink anything. And I gained a great deal of confidence from that. Because, you know, then… It would come out the next day and if I get hold of the paper I'd read back on it and go, ‘well, under the circumstances, it's actually not too bad'. And by the next day it would be forgotten. You know? It would be chip wrapping, really.

And look it just gave me, to be honest, it gave me a bit of a sense of perspective more than anything that I wasn't really all that important. The world would move on.

Allison

And so now you also have a Patreon account and you acknowledge your subscribers by name in the back of Something to Believe In, which I loved. Can you explain how and why that started?

Andrew

Out of desperation.

Allison

Desperation is a great driver.

Andrew

At the beginning of 2018, look, I'd had a couple of wretched years in 2016 and 2017 personally. And I was… But what I was doing during that time was I was kind of breathing life into my freelance career, which had been dormant for quite a long time. I'd been continuing to do the AFL footy round, I'm about to start my 15th year of that. But I wasn't doing a whole lot else other than caring for my mum and driving a cab. And I was driving a cab for a long time, partly out of habit and partly because it was very flexible, and partly because it was a guaranteed income at least until Uber came alone and started to eat everybody's lunch.

And so I got out of that. I actually handed over the keys to the cab on the same day that I handed over the keys to my mother's house, after that was sold and she was moved into an aged care facility. And I didn't know what else to do so I just literally threw myself back into freelance journalism full-time, and I just thought it's now or never. And I just decided to have a red hot go at it.

But I was in debt. And, you know, the summers were very hard in particular. I had the backstock of football writing during the AFL season. And then in summer I would inevitably slide into debt. And so I started Patreon really as a way to try to desperately scare up some money during the summer months. And I fairly quickly attracted about 80 to 100 patrons. And, you know, initially that was enough to at least pay for food at the end of the month or pay a bill. Pay a utilities bill or something like that.

So that was the first driver. I had seen a few other writers doing it successfully and I was frankly shocked that a few of them were doing it successfully enough to pay their rent. And I felt it was worth a go. And the first thing that I wrote was under the headline ‘I Am Just a Teenage Dream' and it was about having a couple of guitars at home that I didn't really play and yet I wrote about music. It was about being a wannabe.

Allison

I found that aspect of your, when I read that in Something to Believe In, I was surprised by that. Should I be surprised by that? I don't know if I should. But the fact that you had those guitars and you'd held on to them all of those years and you didn't really play them.

Andrew

Yeah, that's right. And again, I thought relatable content.

Allison

Very relatable content.

Andrew

It was, you know, there's a lot more people love music and cherish it and are guided by it, they don't necessarily play it. But I was also sketching out, okay, this is what I do, this is who I am. And that became the first chapter of Something to Believe In, or at least became the introduction.

And I started to… I didn't want to stay limited to that for similar reasons to what I was outlining before. So I started writing about other things. I'd write a politics piece or an environmental yarn or something like that. And then I'd keep on circling back to music. And the second thing I wrote was about hearing my dad, my dad who is a very accomplished singer, and I would hear him singing around the house as I grew up. So I wrote something about that. And about him making his first album at the age of 77.

Allison

Yes. Which I loved.

Andrew

And that became the second part of Something to Believe In. And follow it through a little bit later and then there was a piece about early memories of watching Countdown. So that was when I started to see a thread of memoir emerging and that was when I sat down and sketched out a chapter outline in February of 2018. And a couple of months later I had a fully finished book.

Just sticking to the theme of Patreon, that has become quite successful page for me. And in fact, and your writers will be, your audience will be interested in this, now is a really significant part of underpinning my own income. I've got about 280 patrons now and it is indeed enough to pay the rent.

Allison

Wow.

Andrew

So it's become a game changer for me. And I'm in a very fortunate position, now I'm doing some of the most interesting work of my career, now, which I'm very grateful for. And certainly not all of it is about music. But Patreon's been the great enabler, in a way. It has turned me into a far more prolific writer than I ever was, because I have a subscriber-based serve. And it's also been the difference between being a full-time freelance journalist and needing to get a day job somewhere else.

Allison

So you find it helpful? Like I often wonder whether or not it feels like a burden sometimes, knowing that you've got people who are waiting for your output.

Andrew

Sometimes it is. I mean, I'm actually supposedly on holiday at the moment. I'm taking four or five weeks break ahead of the football season starting, after finishing off a very big assignment for Griffith Review over December and January. And after that I was just like, look, I just want to take a break, because I'm probably not going to get much of a chance to have one again for the rest of the year. And yet, I'm still churning out stuff for Patreon twice a week.

But look, that's a time investment of about, usually about five to six hours a week. And I can deal with that.

Allison

All right. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Andrew Stafford. People can find your book Something to Believe In out there in the world. And you have a website, I believe? What is your website address?

Andrew

Well, it is indeed Patreon.com/andrewstafford.

Allison

Excellent.

Andrew

That's the best way to find a whole lot of new and original and exclusive content from me. I also maintain an archive of my work simply at AndrewStaffordBlog.com of work that has been published elsewhere.

Allison

And we'll find you on Twitter as well.

Andrew

You'll find me on Twitter @staffo_sez. But you actually won't find me there at the moment as I have the account deactivated for the time being while I am on holiday. But generally, yes, you will find me @staffo_sez.

Allison

Excellent. All right, before we finish off and let you go back to your holiday, could you share with us our last and exciting question for every interview: your three top tips for writers?

Andrew

The first one is be yourself and nobody else. Trying to cultivate your own voice is probably the single longest and hardest journey of any writer. It usually takes a while to find it. But it is the single most important thing that you need to have, something that is unidentifiably your own.

When I was very young, one of the first writers that I absolutely adored, whether it was writing for children or for adults, was Roald Dahl. And in his book The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, which was a collection of short stories, there was story called ‘Lucky Break' where he sketched out how he became a writer. And he took a visit… Roald Dahl was a war veteran. He had been a fighter pilot in the second world war and had been shot down. I can't remember exactly where he was shot down over enemy lines. But anyway, he'd come back and he had taken a visit from C. S. Forester who was seeking out war stories. And Roald Dahl submitted him, you know, they went to have some lunch and he was supposed to give Forester a whole pile of notes and instead he submitted him this finished story. And Forester then said, look, this is marvellous, I haven't changed a word of it. And I think submitted it to the, it might have been The Saturday Evening Post, and they published it and that was Roald Dahl's lucky break.

And anyway, so he told this story as part of The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, one of the stories in there. And he had seven dot points at the end of that sketching out his tips for people. And one stayed with me particularly. You must have a degree of humility. The writer who thinks that his work is marvellous is heading for trouble.

And I'm bringing that up to say that you must be able to work with editors. If you cannot work, if you cannot forge good working relationships with editors, if you are going to fight with them about every comma and semi-colon, you are going to be a nightmare to work with, and that is only going to make your working life more difficult. You have to understand that you're not always going to get your own way and sometimes you're going to have to just suck it up. There is a time to push back. But learning to pick your battles is very important.

So that would be number two. First is be yourself. Second is have that degree of humility and be prepared to work with editors.

The third, oh… Goodness. I'm struggling to think of a third. But maybe… I think you need to have an almost fanatical level of desire. I think that that would be the third that I would nominate. No writer can afford to lose sight of that. You need to have that inner drive. And particularly if you're going to do something, if you're going to do books, which is long form, you need to have that inner drive, that will just not let go of you.

I'm sure you will have heard yourself, people say, oh yeah, I want to write a book one day, I've got a book in me. And it's like, oh well, yeah, you need to get that surgically removed.

Allison

So true.

Andrew

If you're saying that, you're probably not going to write one. You need to have that inner drive that is actually forcing you to do it in a way. I don't know what else I would do if I wasn't writing. As I said before, I went back to freelance journalism because I literally did not know what else I could do if not write. And I think that's probably… It's taken me a while to get to this third point, but I think that's the most important one. You have to almost be forced to do it.

It's similar with music, by the way. And I think with other artforms. And I remember David Byrne from Talking Heads saying into an interview that it was almost like someone shoved him up there on stage. It was like he had to; he had no other choice. And I think for most writers, career writers, it's the same.

Allison

Excellent. Well, thank you so much for your time today. It's been a pleasure. And very best of luck with your book, with your AFL, and with your holiday. And we look forward to seeing what you do next.

Andrew

Okay. Thank you very much.

 

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