Feature Week 30: Brisbane Writers Festival
Week 30 of the National Year of Reading coincides with the Brisbane Writers Festival. It's a great opportunity to feature Nick Earls and Suzy Wilson, who are both involved in the celebration.
Nick claims that his work space is not usually as messy as it is in the picture of his office. His father has said more than once that a tidy desk means a tidy mind, to which Nick replies, "What tidy mind ever wrote a great novel?"
The storytelling armchair costume was made for Nick by his mother and worn when Nick won the Shell Warana Young Performers' Award at Brisbane's festival in 1989. This led to an appearance at the Brisbane Writers Festival and eventually to his first book.
Nick was born in Newtownards in Northern Ireland, and at the age of nine migrated to Australia with his family, settling in Brisbane. Before becoming a full time writer, Nick was awarded a medical degree from the University of Queensland and practised as a GP.
Nick is the author of 15 novels and story collections. Much of his work is set in Brisbane, and several of his books have been adapted for stage and films. He has written for a number of newspapers including the New York Times, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian.
Nick has written many books for adults and teenagers. His latest works include:
'The fix' a story about a PR 'fixer' who can spin any client out of trouble. It has been nominated for the People's Choice section of the Queensland Literary Awards to be announced on 4 September.
'Welcome to normal', published in 2012, this is Nick's third collection of short stories.
'Word hunters: the curious dictionary' is being released during the Brisbane Writers Festival. The first in a trilogy, and Nick's first book aimed at children. For years Nick has loved the stories behind the origins of words and phrases. He harnesses this interest in his journey through time with twins, Al and Lexi. Take a look at the following trailer to the 'Word hunters':
Nick's thoughts on reading and the National Year of Reading
Reading is still an unbeatable way to connect with a story, and I hope this can be a year when lapsed readers are encouraged to pick up the habit again, and when we all put time into showing the young people in our lives just how exciting books can be. Watch this clip to find out what Nick likes about reading:
Nick's reading habits
- When do you read? I read in the evening. There's only so much cooking against the clock that I can bear on TV.
- Which book is by your bedside right now?
Richard Ford's 'Canada'.
- What's your perfect holiday read?
My perfect holiday read is the same as my perfect read at any other time. I know I'm swimming against the tide here, but I don't ever read to give my brain time off. I love a book that engages me, and is brilliantly written and that I can devote hours to. I'm not looking for big things to happen in it. Richard Ford, Michael Redhill, Wells Tower - I read fiction writers who have really spent time getting everything right, while managing to keep all the hard work out of view.
- Print books, ereader or both? I accumulate books faster than I read them, and hence currently have a mighty backlog of paper books that makes the question moot for now. I'm quite okay with ereading in principle, since it's no longer the same as staring at a computer screen. While I may not be reading a lot of ebooks at the moment, I've put a lot of time into understanding them over the past couple of years, since a writer not doing that would be like a carriage maker a hundred years or so ago giving no thought to cars.
- Do your ever cheat and read the end of the book first? Never. I know plenty of people who do, but I figure the author put some thought into the way they revealed things and I'm going to back their judgment. Also, if there's some kind of wow on the last page, I want it to work the way it's supposed to. I don't want to pull the fuse out.
- Do you skim the boring bits or read every word? I don't skim. If I find myself skimming or I detect boring bits, the book's not for me. Thea Astley once told me that the idea that people took courses to speed read mystified her and that, if she could take a course to teach her to read more slowly, she would. I think I would too. I really want to soak a book up and make the most of every bit of it. I'd rather read a few great books slowly than rush my way through five times as many.
- Do you remember learning to read? Yes. I can remember several steps along the way. I can remember sitting with my parents, with the whole family reading. I'd have a sentence or two on each page and pictures to help me, and I'd sound every word out. My parents had no pictures and pages and crammed with words, and their lips didn't even move. I thought that was awesome. I wanted to read like that.
- What's the first book you can remember reading or having read to you?
Dr Seuss's 'Green eggs and ham' was certainly one of the early ones.
- Was your family a reading family? Definitely. A reading family and a storytelling family. There's a direct connection between those bedtime stories and the job I do now.
- Did you like to read as a child?
Yes. It was the natural progression from being read to. And I lived in a cold, wet climate with limited TV options and limited tolerance for jigsaw puzzles. I learned early on that a book is an outstanding vehicle for a story. I read my first Biggles book before I turned five.
Nick's favourite reads
While I could list plenty, there are two that stand out from all the others as times when I know I learned a big lesson.
In 1993, a friend gave me Spalding Gray's 'Monster in a box'. At that time I'd been trying to be as clever as I could with my writing, but perhaps I hadn't been clever enough. 'Monster in a box' was also a dramatic monologue and, perhaps because of that, the voice was clear and consistent and completely convincing. It felt like being in someone's head. I wanted to see if I could create that effect, and it changed my writing. Suddenly, I wasn't trying to look clever - I was trying to make the characters feel true. It let readers in, and my books started to sell.
In 2001, I was at the writers' festival in Vancouver and I read on the same program as Richard Ford. After hearing him, I bought the book he'd read from ('Women with men' - I read all of them within weeks) and tried to work a few things out. He had rhythms I wanted to catch and a great instinct for the right details. I learned a lot about the choices I could make when working on my own stuff.
I'm convinced I'm a better writer and a writer with more options because of those two experiences, and I can't find another one that quite ranks with them.
The Pyjama Foundation
Along with other National Year of Reading ambassadors, Nick is an ambassador for The Pyjama Foundation, and believes that their work sending reading angels out to kids in foster care provides a really valuable program. He explains the significance of the program: "I wouldn't be a writer without Green Eggs & Ham, without Biggles, without the kick along my imagination got from taking in stories as a child. Reading to children sometimes creates writers, but it's more important that it regularly creates readers, questioners, learners and thinkers. It's part of creating adults who can imagine and who can solve problems, and who can confidently find their way in the world. Hours on a PlayStation will never do that. Being read to, and then reading, are an important part of our start in life, and something everyone is entitled to. Some kids risk missing out. That's where The Pyjama Foundation comes in."
Here's just a few pictures of Nick representing the Pyjama Foundation:
More information about The Pyjama Foundation can be found on their website:
Brisbane Writers Festival
In 2012, the festival celebrates its 50th year and runs from 5-9 September, with the theme 'Celebrating the heart of the story'. Nick is taking part in four events during the festival,including an all night 'Literary love in', 'Word play' sessions for younger readers and a free event on Saturday 8 September when he will be talking about his short story collection 'Welcome to normal'. Further details about all of Nick's events can be found on the festival website:
Many other National Year of Reading ambassadors and friends are taking part in the festival, including William McInnes, Gary Crew, Libby Gleeson, Gerrard Gosens, Roland Sussex, Andy Griffiths, Anita Heiss, Alison Lester, Boori Monty Pryor, Alice Pung, and Jeff Sparrow. Search the festival program for details about their specific events:
Riverbend Books is organising a literary outing to the festival on 7 September, promising a feast of books, ideas and authors. For more information about the event, go to the Riverbend website:
Want to know more?
- To learn more about Nick and his work, take a look at his website, twitter and facebook pages:
- You might also be interested in reading about Suzy Wilson, our other featured ambassador this week:
- If you want to see the other National Year of Reading ambassadors, go to our ambassadors page.
- Other featured ambassadors can be found on the ambassador feature week listing.