Open Page with Tony Birch

May 2012, no. 341

Open Page with Tony Birch

May 2012, no. 341

Why do you write?

I become preoccupied with images and memory pictures. Eventually, if they hang around long enough, these images become the cornerstone of a short story or a scene in a novel. If I did not write, I would never be able to make sense of them.

Are you a vivid dreamer?

Oh, yes. I dream most nights, and, depending on my mood, these dreams can be poetic, or occasionally surreal and violent. For instance, I had a dream recently that I was badly beaten by a carload of failed jockeys.

Where are you happiest?

When it’s quite cold and still, and I’m out on a long run, and I haven’t a thought in my head other than enjoying the moment.

What is your favourite music?

I grew up on the three-minute pop song and continue to love the genre. When I’m writing, I usually listen to Bruce Springsteen’s earlier albums: Darkness on the Edge of Town, Born to Run, or my favourite, Nebraska.

Which human quality do you most admire?

Knowing when you have done wrong, and being prepared to admit it.

What is your favourite book?

Alistair MacLeod’s collected stories, Island.

Who is your favourite author?

It has to be a triple dead heat between Per Petterson, Anne Enright, and Ron Rash.

And your favourite literary hero and heroine?

Anne Enright’s women. They’re tough and flawed and can smell bullshit a mile off.

How old were you when your first book appeared?

I was ancient. Forty-nine.

What, if anything, impedes your writing?

I find endless excuses for not writing; running, reading, watching movies, going to the football, washing and ironing, hanging out with my family.

How do you regard publishers?

Naturally, I love them.

What do you think of the state of criticism?

Most reviews are not that interesting. This is largely a problem of space. There’s not much that can be said in a few hundred words, other than a summary of a book. ABR often provides more engaging reviews, essentially because the pieces are longer and the reviewer can write something more substantial.

If you had your time over again, would you choose to be a writer?

I’m not a writer – as in a career choice. I have worked full time since I got my first job as a telegram boy at the Richmond Post Office. I come from a very poor background and would always choose full-time work over writing, unless I could be guaranteed an income (which most writers cannot be). I know it’s a conservative view, but security for my family and myself drives most of my decision-making. I fit the writing in when I can. And I’m happy to have made that choice.

What do you think of writers’ festivals?

I like them. I get to meet other writers, and realise that most of them are pretty much everyday people who have this vocation and some talent for it. I’m not too keen on the idea that writing is ‘special’ or a ‘calling’. If I wanted to do something special, I’d be a midwife.

Do you feel artists are valued in our society?

They’re not. And they should be. I have learned a lot about how the world does (and doesn’t) function through artists. This doesn’t mean that artists should say ‘We’re not valued by society.’ That’s really putting a gun to your head.

What are you working on now?

A contemporary crime novel set in inner Melbourne, post the recent ‘Gangland Killings’.

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