Ep 59 The couple who is suing because their engagement photo ended up on an erotica novel without their permission, how to crowdfund a novel, famous book titles rewritten as click bait, the wonders of Textexpander and we chat to Writer in Residence and movie star Matt Nable.

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In Episode 59 of So you want to be a writer: the couple suing after their engagement photo lands an erotica novel cover, crowdfunding a novel, famous book titles rewritten as click bait, why a bad review is not the end of the world, the book ‘How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times’ by Roy Peter Clark, lessons from 15 years of blogging, Writer in Residence and movie star Matt Nable, how to type more with less effort, writers beware: the most common literary scam, and more!

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Show Notes

Couple Sues After Their Engagement Photo Ends Up on Erotic Gronk Novel

Guest Author – Danny Scheinmann on Crowd-funding his second novel

14 Classic Novels Rewritten With Clickbait Titles

10 Savage Original Reviews Of Classic Works Of Literature

How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark

15 lessons from 15 years of blogging

Writer in Residence

mattnableMatt Nable is a writer and actor. He stars in The Killer Elite alongside Clive Owen and Robert De Niro, and 33 Postcards alongside Guy Pearce. He wrote and starred in The Final Winter (2007), an independent Australian film that has since been released internationally, and appears in the upcoming series of East West 101 (SBS Television). Two of his screenplays are currently in development. With his wife and three children, Matt divides his time between Sydney and Los Angeles. He is the author of the novels We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2009), Faces in the Clouds (2011) and Guilt (2015).

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Allison Tait
Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

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Transcript

Valerie

Matt, thanks for joining us today.

 

Matt

Pleasure.

 

Valerie

Matt, for listeners who aren’t yet familiar with your latest novel, Guilt, can you tell us what it’s about?

 

Matt

It’s about a group of five teenagers in their last year of high school set in 1989. And so what we do in the novel is we go from one chapter set in 1989 on a specific day, one day, and then every other chapter is 2009, 20 years later and dealing with the same characters. And how it unfolds is basically something happens on that night in 1989 and these characters are dealing with the incident and how it’s affected their lives. So, we sort of swap, like I said, every other chapter, between 1989 and then 20 years on from that.

 

Valerie

Where did this idea for this particular book come from?

 

Matt

I was really fascinated… I really wanted to write about the last couple of years of school, that period as a young adolescent where you’re about to make your first imprint by yourself. And there was a real, for me at least, there was a real — very, very strong sense of freedom and being free.

 

It was also the first time in my life that I felt anything sort of euphoric. And so those memories are still very vivid to me and that’s a time in my life that not only that I enjoyed, but the bonds of friendship are so strong and form so strong over those couple of years that when you’re living in the moment you think it’s going to be like that forever, that these friendships will endure and they’ll always be the same, and obviously that’s not the case just through either location or where you end up living or how your life pans out. But, it was still a very nice comforting feeling while it was going on and while it was happening. So I wanted to write about that.

 

I also wanted to write about — there was an incident that happened while I was in year 12 and I had often thought about what perhaps had come of those people that were involved, because it was such a life-changing type of event. I had often wondered about how their life might have turned out compared to where they thought it was heading at that time of their life, like I said, when it was all before them and it was all so bright, with this sort of limitless type of possibility.

 

That was the genesis of it, and I guess it just sort of moved along from there over the years.

 

 

 

Valerie

The incident that occurred in real life, out of interest, did you ever find out? Did you ever go and investigate yourself? What happened to your friends?

 

Matt

No.

 

Valerie

So this is what your imagination has come up with, kind of thing?

 

Matt

Yeah. When you’re dealing with tragedy, there are very specific types of behavioral aspects that everyone will sort of go through, move through. Not only that, but also just the whole sense of a lost life, a disappointment that it didn’t end up the way you perhaps wanted it.

 

I think for a lot of people that happens. People become content with their lives, they can still be very, very happy, but it doesn’t often pan out the way that you see it back then when you’re 17 or 18. It very rarely happens that way. For these unfortunate people something that happens at that age and goes so horribly wrong then their lives and their track is altered much more than it would be in a normal case.

 

For me, it was exploring it, but also knowing people who have been through trauma and how it’s affected them and observe how it’s affected them and how it’s molded their lives and changed their lives.

 

I think there is a lot of observance that goes on. I don’t know whether it is conscious or not, but you certainly — there are incidents that happen everyday that change people’s lives, often those incidents are tragic. But, inevitably for me, it was just supposing what it might have ended up like.

 

Valerie

You say that it’s a little bit of an exploration into did your life end up where you expected it to be. I suppose that’s my question to you, has your life ended up where you thought you would be 20 years after your year 12? Or a bit more than 20 years?

 

Matt

No. No, certainly not where I thought it would be.

 

Valerie

Where did you think you would be in year 12?

 

Matt

All I wanted to do was be a writer. So, that was something that when I was going through year 12 the only available way to become a writer really back then was to do a degree in journalism and then begin writing, I guess, at a newspaper or something, and then cross over into fiction, writing a novel. I really didn’t know, but that’s what I wanted to do.

 

In saying that, I didn’t expect to be — I certainly didn’t want to be an actor. I had no inkling whatsoever or passion to do that. And now that’s how I make a living. In saying that as well, it certainly didn’t pan out the way I thought it would pan out, but I’m still remarkably lucky. My family are all still alive, my immediate family, my brothers and my sister and my parents, and so I haven’t had to deal with a whole heap of tragedy in that way.

 

Certainly at different stages, 20 years, it’s been rough at different stages. I think for all adult human beings, moving through your 30s and into your 40s can be a really tumultuous time. You get to where you are, and I’m very happy and very lucky to be where I am, but it’s not without its scars and it’s certainly not without its moments where you do realize how tough life can be.

 

Valerie

I want to come back to your career in a sec, but I just want to come back to the book. The book has a number of characters in it. And, you’ve mentioned we meet them in 1989 and also 20 years later in 2009. Now, all of these characters are interrelated, but I will say that the story is never confusing, the way the story unfolds, despite having all of these characters in different timeframes, is very clear and very compelling.

 

How did you keep track of all of these characters and the different points in their life, in terms of the process of writing and creating characters? Did you have dossiers for all of these characters and timelines or anything like that? How did that work for you?

 

Matt

I think it’s very different… when you’re writing it yourself… when I look back at it and I think, “There’s quite a few characters…” there’s five essential characters in 1989, plus you’ve got their parents and you have in the 2009 thread more characters coming to it. When you’re writing it, for me at least anyway, I never got confused, simply because you’re in it, and you know those characters so well by the time you’re in the meat of the story that I didn’t find myself losing my way. You redraft and you change things, but the central characteristics of all of those characters never wavered from 1989 to 2009, they’re still obviously very affected by what’s happened, but the core characteristics sort of maintain and stay the same.

 

I honestly believe, I think at a certain age in your adolescence you are what you are. I was able to, I think, just maintain that and stay true to it so I wasn’t meandering off or writing things that weren’t ringing true about the people. But, I think it’s just over — this was written over a period of six years, I kept going back and the more hours that you spend with these people and write about these people, as a writer you get a very clear discernable line, an outline of what they are, and it’s easy to sort of go in and go out and approach it that way.

 

It was a concern in saying that when you go to edit with a publisher, knowing that there are so many characters that you make it… so it’s not blurred or confusing.

 

Valerie

Were you clear from the outset, from the start of your six years, what was going to happen with the story, or did some of that unfold as you went through the process?

 

Matt

A lot of it unfolds, particularly the character development in where they are, and, I guess to the point of how you hear them vernacular-wise and their behavioral aspects. They change and they take on a life themselves once you’re into it. The way it was going to end I always knew, that was always very, very clear. For me, at least, that’s always… the novels that I have written, the previous two as well, I’ve always known where I was going to start and where I was going to finish and in between that is trying to make it compelling, I guess, and make it so… which is a challenge, but I’ve always known that’s where I was going to start and finish.

 

Valerie

Reading the book was a little bit like watching a movie unfold. I don’t know if you’ve seen the television series The Affair, which is told from different points of view. You have a background as a screenwriter, you’ve written a screenplay. Was that in the back of your mind when you wrote this book that one day it could lend itself to being adapted into a movie or on the screen somehow?

 

Matt

No, not at all. I mean I think when you’re writing a narrative that’s got different aspects and different points of view, then that will always lend itself to something that perhaps is either cinematic or good for television. I can certainly recognize in this story as opposed to the other two books that I’ve written that there’s a possibility that something like this could be something that might be interesting as an adaptation to those things, but it’s never something that crosses my mind.

 

I like multi-layered character-driven sort of narratives, both as a reader and as an audience member to watch something. I guess you’re sort of influenced by what interests you yourself type of thing. But, yeah, I can certainly see where this story lends itself to something that could be put on as a different medium, definitely. We’ll see what happens, yeah.

 

Valerie

In your writing there are so many just little nuances about human behavior and just these little observations ranging from the way someone’s lips are when they laugh or something that they do with their hands that are just so tiny, but they speak volumes about the character or what’s going on. Is that something that you consciously try to add in? Or is that something that just comes to you naturally because you — you must be very full of observation in terms of watching the way people behave.

 

Matt

I’ve always been a very, very good watcher. My observations tend to stay with me very clearly and vividly. A lot of them are little things. I might see the shape of someone’s mouth as they’re resting. Like I said, how they move their hands or the little ticks that they might have. Those things, for me, just help build the character and they’re the things that I have watched and observed over a long period of time that I have found fascinating, or I’ve looked behind or tried to scratch beneath the surface as to why that might be the case, or why they behave that way, particularly if there’s a behavioral aspect to someone that keeps repeating itself and I see a correlation to the situation when it tends to repeat itself. I wonder what that’s about or where that might be stemming from — is it pride, or is it shame, is it embarrassment?

 

Often that will lend itself into something physical that they do as well. So those are the little things that will turn me on and switch me on. I think as a writer when you write things like that, for a lot of people, though it’s not a conscious level they will hear something, they will read something, and they go, “Oh, I know someone who does that….”

 

Valerie

Yes!

 

Matt

Or, “I’ve seen that before…” and that might be the first time they’ve actually ticked onto the fact that, “Oh, actually, I’ve seen this before… I know what he’s talking about.” So, I think that’s one of the great joys of reading, when you read something and you’re exposed to something that’s been sitting there for quite a long time and you go… “Oh, yes! I know that…”

 

I do that often because it happens to me quite often… I tend to sort of work those moments in when I can, when it feels right and true.

 

Valerie

I think this is going to be very popular with book clubs because members of book clubs are going to see themselves in this book, or they’re going to know people who are characters in this book.

 

This is your third novel, the others are We Don’t Live Here Anymore and       Facing the Clouds. When you’re writing you’re actually thinking, “I’m writing a novel now…” as opposed to acting or doing something else, tell us about your writing process. Is it, “I’m setting aside three months and that’s all I’m doing.”? Or do you have to fit it in with your other gigs? Is there a certain way, you have to sit at a particular computer or something, for it to work?

 

Matt

When I’m writing a novel then what I’ll try and do or what works best for me is that I’m not on anything else, so I’m not acting, I don’t have another project in some form, writing. I might get a chunk of a month or a month and a half where I can really commit to it and then I will be disciplined in the sense that I will try and write between 1500 and 2000 words a day, of new material everyday, in that period that I get. I don’t get that much time in between what I’m doing, so when I find the time… for me, at the moment… I’ve started another novel and I won’t get to that until towards the end of the year where I’ll give myself a space of maybe six weeks. In that six weeks I’ll get a fair chunk of it out. Then midway through the year I might get back to it, and then midway through the year after that I might get back to it. It’s just a matter of finding the time for me that I can set aside and do that and nothing else, and they’re moments that I really look forward to in my life, because they’re painless.

 

Valerie

Painless?!

 

 

 

Matt

Yeah, well, to sit down everyday and write and to — they certainly leave their scars, but it’s painless in the sense that I’m not concentrating on more than one thing. So, I’m not remembering lines, I’m not trying to figure out a character specifically, so once I’m on camera and that character has been established then you really can’t move too far from that. So, there’s always that I’ve got to deal with.

 

With this, particularly a first draft of a novel, you’re so free. You can go and do whatever you want to do. So, those periods for me are remarkably appealing and I feel very — it’s a very happy period of my life when I get to do that. They’re moments that I look forward to, because of that I certainly set that time aside and once that’s set aside then I’m really strict and adhere to it and can be quite selfish with the time.

 

Valerie

You said that you always wanted to write, in year 12 of school you wanted to write. You actually became an NRL player in the ‘90s and you played some games for Manly and Souths. If Wikipedia is reliable, then some years pass and the next thing you know you’ve written and starred in a screenplay in 2007, so The Final Winter, and it’s then cast in a Hollywood telly movie shortly thereafter. And not too many years later you’re in a movie with Jason Statham and one with Vin Diesel. It seems like such a leap.

 

What are some of the gaps that Wikipedia might be missing? How did you go from school thinking, “I want to be a writer,” and then, “Oh, let’s play for Manly…”?

 

Matt

I think if you look back on anyone’s life, regardless of what they’ve done, if they’ve achieved some sort of level of perceived success, at least, and there are those holes. For me, I was just a very physical kid. We grew up in an Army environment. My father was in the Army, so I was on barracks until I was like 14 or 15. He was what they call a physical training instructor. He was a very physical man and had a very sharp outline of what we could really aspire to, so that’s what we were. So, we played sport, we played rugby league, and we boxed. I think at that age you’re looking for approval from your father, and that’s what he was. So, we excelled at those things.

 

But, writing, at the same time… I was a good student at school. I did well. But, creative writing was always something that I just loved. You love the things, and usually love them more, because you’re good at them and because you get positive feedback from them and you’re encouraged, and I guess that’s the law of nature.

 

When I got to play a little bit of first grade at Manly and Souths that was never a career, when I was playing I was still working five or six days a week and you just play on the weekends type of thing. It was a very different era and it was a long time ago. I got out of that when I was in my very early 20s. I did whatever I could in between that, you know? Until I really got to a point… I always figured I would go back to writing, but I remember being mid-20s thinking, “OK, now would be the time to go…” but, I just didn’t really have anything to say. The absolute desire was there, there was just nothing there to write about.

 

I just lived. I just worked and did what I needed to do, honestly, to make a living. Your 20s are a pretty good time, you know? Not a great deal happens except good stuff. Like, good fun. And, so I lived that type of a life until I hit towards my late 20s I picked writing up again and it really became quite overwhelming.

 

I had grown a lot. I was looking at the world very differently than I had the years before. The acting was just something that had happened. I had written a manuscript many years before, I think 1995 I had written that manuscript and then that was 20 years ago now. And then at the time of The Final Winter, when I first wrote that, it was a loose adaptation of that manuscript. My naivety and ignorance into the film industry was the reason that I ended up acting in it. I just thought, “Well…” I didn’t know any better. I thought, “I will give this a shot myself,” and I was working with two other guys, from a producing point of view, who had never done it before. The world was our oyster in the fact that we didn’t surround ourselves or have anyone telling us that we couldn’t do it, so we made it happen.

 

The acting, you know, it seems like a meteoric type of rise, but in fact it hasn’t been. There’s thousands upon thousands of auditions that I had gone for that I didn’t get. And, so I certainly came out of the box very fast, but I think in between that, and then becoming comfortable with the actual craft of acting and actually even calling myself an actor there has been some very lean times and times that most actors go through.

 

But, in between all of that it was just doing what I had to do, you know? And just living.

 

Valerie

You obviously have talent as a writer and talent as an actor. In part, as you say, some of your pursuing that has been as a result of your naivety, but what have you done for yourself so that you write better, or so that you act better? What sorts of things have you done in terms of your own self-development to improve your craft in those areas?

 

Matt

This is my take on it. I think the arts, for a lot of it, is very innate and intrinsic, you can either do it or you can’t. And, that’s not to lessen what it is. I just wholly believe that’s the way, you can either write… there people who construct wonderful sentences, they’ve got degrees in creative writing, but they can’t tell a story. If you can’t tell a story you can write beautifully, but that’s not going to serve you any good.

 

There are a lot of people who move into other areas of writing. If you can tell a story you can tell a story, if you can act you can act. If you can hear a music instrument and play a music instrument, that’s very innate. If you can draw and paint, that’s innate. So, there’s a big part of it, I think, right from the start that’s there. And, to fall into that and actually be able to explore that, that’s the luck that serves you well.

 

There’s hundreds of writers out there who never get an opportunity to explore what they might be good at or how good they might be, or how good they would be as an actor, or who have never picked up an instrument who might have been wonderful. To find that with the resources that we have, because we live in a very lucky world… I’ve been very lucky in that way.

 

But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get exponentially better by approaching it certain ways, by understanding some of the methods and systems people use as an actor. I use what I’ve learnt from other actors and from being on-set and observing and talking to other actors, you certainly get better and inform yourself as much as you can so that you’re, as far as an actor’s concerned anyway, to be present in the moment. And, really that’s as much as you can hope for, is making it real is to be present.

 

There’s lots of different things in that situation that can pull you out of that. So, learning the techniques and the methods to keep you there are really, really important. And, so I’m always asking the questions, I’m always observing, I’m reading where I can.

 

As far as writing is concerned, the best way to get better at writing is to keep writing. Like I said, to write a novel it’s about telling a story, it’s not — I think I went through this as well, where you overuse words and it sounds extraordinarily descriptive and wonderful, you can get carried away. Most writers’ journey is going through that, and you’re influenced by the people that you read and you want to be seen a certain way, but inevitably to get better at writing first of all I think you have to find your own voice, something that you’re comfortable with and that you’re not striving consciously to create, it’s just there, and then continuing on that path and writing as true to your voice as you can. Then getting better also is by virtue if you have got a good story to tell. So, if it’s a good story then the writing itself is often better.

 

For me, I read. I don’t read as much as I should, I don’t think. But, that’s also a catch 22, or a double-edge sword a little bit, because I think you can be influenced by writers at different stages. Although I’ve written three novels and I have my own voice and it’s quite unique, there are still similarities with other Australian writers, it’s always going to be that way.

 

For me, to continue to write is the best way to get better.

 

Valerie

If someone said to you, “Matt, right now you have to choose between writing and acting,” would it be an easy decision? Would it be a clear decision?

 

Matt

Well, it wouldn’t be an easy decision because I make more money as an actor.

 

Valerie
Would it be a clear decision, if money wasn’t an issue?

 

Matt
Yes, it would be a very easy decision.

 

Valerie

What would it be?

 

Matt

It would be writing, 100 percent. Like I said, I mean, writing is — when I get to write particularly in this form is a real — it’s where I feel the best about myself as a person, because it gives me such an identifiable, or a very, very strong feeling of identity. I know what I am, and this is what I feel very comfortable with. I know that this is coming from within me and this is who I am.

 

Acting… often you’re pretending to be other people all the time, so that sometimes is — you can get lost in that world a little bit sometimes, and that’s not a place that I like to dwell that often. Sometimes the role calls for you to take on certain things, and if you’re going to do it to the best of your ability, which I think we should, then sometimes you can just get a little bit lost. I can find myself getting a little bit lost, and I never feel that as a writer. The older I get… your perspective changes, your responsibilities change, and what’s important changes. For me, being at home with my wife and children and to live a real simple life is very appealing. Writing fits right into that.

 

Unfortunately, that’s not the way it is at the moment.

 

Valerie

Tell us what was the most challenging thing about writing this novel.

 

Matt

There were quite a few challenging things about writing this novel. I put it away for a long time. I put it away for about two years, I didn’t really revisit it again, I tried to and couldn’t. I guess I was at the point in my life where some things might have been happening and I wasn’t comfortable going back to it.

 

I just had to get over that and I think to come at it from a different perspective. That was difficult, because it was such a long gestation for this book, I guess, for this book from start to finish.

 

That was challenging. I hadn’t really experienced that before because the other two books that I had written I was in a situation where I guess I was able to write more prolifically and larger chunks of material closer together. I didn’t have those moments away from it where I had to get back into. Over six years your perspective changes and life change, and experiences change. Because of the lengthy period, from start to finish, that was definitely a challenge.

 

Valerie

Did you ever feel that you wouldn’t be able to get back into it? That you might give up?

 

Matt

No, I was never going to give up, because I had sold it. I had to finish it.

 

Valerie

You couldn’t.

 

Matt

I started fairly early back with Penguin, so it wasn’t finished, but, yeah, I was always going to finish it, and wanted to finish it, because I wanted to tell that story, or explore that story. I was always going to finish it. But, yeah, it was a challenge at different stages, and that’s something that I hadn’t accounted for.

 

Valerie

What was the most rewarding thing about writing this book? Apart from finishing it.

 

Matt

I think being able to revisit that time in my life, and really revisit it and speak about it and remember what it was like to have these crushes and these jealousies, this wonderful anticipation of how life was going to unfold, where it was all going to head. And have these beautiful friendships, these wonderful friendships that you just hang onto so tightly.

 

To talk about those things… I hope the people that do read this, that everyone has that adolescence, that time of their life, I hope that people will find a thread in there that can make them feel good. There were certainly parts of this book while I was writing that I felt wonderful.

 

Valerie
This book was my adolescence, this was in the northern beaches, but I grew up in the ‘80s in the Shire. So there were so many parallels, and I just knew all of these people. And the other interesting part is I know them now as well, because it’s 20 years later kind of thing. So, it was quite… it was amazing to read it.

 

If you will indulge me, and if listeners will indulge me with this one question, because you are in Season 3 of Arrow, and I am Australia’s biggest fan of Arrow —

 

Matt

Are you? OK.

 

Valerie

I have to ask, what’s in store? Even though it’s got nothing to do with writing.

 

Matt

We just filming, I finished filming on Friday. So, I left Vancouver on Saturday morning. I finished Saturday morning and left Saturday afternoon, so I’ve been over there for three months. I’ve been on that job for six months.

 

Yeah, it’s a wild type of an end, there’s plenty of twists and turns coming. It was great fun doing that show. It was such a removal from some of the stuff that I’ve done, I’m usually raping people or killing people, as a character. So, this was completely fantastical and wonderful, it was something that my kids could watch as well.

 

It’s very interesting. The people who write this are very clever people and they know their audience very, very well. The fan base, you know, they’re fanatical. I can certainly say, Valerie, they won’t disappoint. It will live up to all expectations, that’s for sure.

 

Valerie

When you’re on a job like that for six months, can you fit in any kind of writing, or are you thinking about, or plotting out your next novel, which you’ve already obviously got in your head?

 

Matt

I won’t write a novel or attempt to write a novel in that space, but I will certainly be working on — I just finished a pilot script for John Edwards, who I did Gallipoli with, producer. So, I finished that, I’m back writing a screenplay for an Australian producer, which we’re funded for, but we need a rewrite, so I’m doing that now. In the middle of a job like that I will always be writing something, but it will never be a novel.

 

Valerie
Do you prefer writing screenplays or novels?

 

Matt

I really prefer novels. I mean screenplays are different. Screenplays are so governed by structure, it’s such a collaborative effort. After the first draft you really want someone trusted to come in and pull it apart and inevitably it will make it better. A novel is a much more intimate experience. A novel is far more exposing as well. There’s that anticipation that goes with it, and I guess a level of anxiety when you’re writing it. It’s just a much more intimate experience, it’s something while you’re in it and while I’m doing it I feel very comfortable with myself. I really do enjoy — I enjoy both, but I certainly enjoy writing a novel. I think that’s probably where I’m most adept at and where I’m most comfortable.

 

Valerie
I certainly hope that we don’t have to wait six years for the next one.

 

Matt

No.

 

Valerie

If listeners are thinking about whether to buy this book, absolutely get it. It is very powerful, it is beautifully written. I have no doubt that you will enjoy it.

 

Thank you so much for your time today, Matt.

 

Matt

It’s a pleasure, Valerie. Lovely talking to you.


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