An interview with Troy Bramston

April 2022, no. 441

An interview with Troy Bramston

April 2022, no. 441
Troy Bramston (photograph via Penguin Random House)
Troy Bramston (photograph via Penguin Random House)

Troy Bramston has been a senior writer and columnist with The Australian newspaper since 2011. He was previously a columnist with the Sunday Telegraph. He is the author or editor of eleven books, including Robert Menzies: The art of politics (2019) and Paul Keating: The big-picture leader (2016), and he co-authored The Truth of the Palace Letters (2020) and The Dismissal (2015) with Paul Kelly. His most recent book is Bob Hawke: Demons and destiny (2022).


If you could go anywhere tomorrow, where would it be, and why?

Florence, Italy. The city of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, Galileo, Dante, Machiavelli, and the Medicis. I was married in the Palazzo Vecchio a few years ago.

What’s your idea of hell?

An airport terminal or airport hotel with a long flight delay or stopover.

What do you consider the most specious virtue?

Tribalism. It infuses our politics and parts of the media. Social media has energised it. We are a better people when we respect and appreciate other views and allow ourselves to be persuaded by their merits.

What’s your favourite film?

Back to the Future (1985). It is filled with courage, imagination, and humanity. It mixes adventure, romance, comedy, sci-fi and drama – what more could you want? I was thrilled to interview co-writer Bob Gale a few years ago.

And your favourite book?

Probably Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson (1982–) in four volumes with a final volume to come. He’s the master of political biography. I would love to spend ten years writing a book. But I’d go broke.

Name the three people with whom you would most like to dine.

Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Robert F. Kennedy.

Which word do you most dislike, and which one would you like to see back in public usage?

I dislike ‘trending’ which is seeping its way into public discourse. I have always liked ‘inexorable’, as in unremitting and inescapable, which should be used more.

Who is your favourite author?

Again, probably Robert Caro, and Michael Beschloss. But I love Clive James, Robert Hughes, Donald Horne, Graham Freudenberg, and Christopher Hitchens. I got to meet them all and had a dialogue with Clive, who was very generous to me. Graham was my friend.

And your favourite literary hero or heroine?

I loved Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels as a teenager. Going back to Casino Royale (1953) last year, some of it doesn’t hold up well. I still love the movies, especially those of the Daniel Craig era.

Which quality do you most admire in a writer?

The ability to be impartial, and balanced in making judgements. And to write something new and fresh, to illuminate my thinking with their idea or an argument on a page.

Which book influenced you most in your youth?

First, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr’s A Thousand Days (1965), an insider account of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, told by a historian. Second, Paul Kelly’s The End of Certainty (1992), which set the standard for writing books about Australian politics. 

Name an early literary idol or influence whom you no longer admire – or vice versa.

I enjoyed William Shakespeare at school but developed a real liking for Jane Austen and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. I couldn’t stand Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) – garbage.

Do you have a favourite podcast?

I love listening to Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend.

What, if anything, impedes your writing?

The seeming need to read emails and text messages immediately, and the urge to see what is making news.

What qualities do you look for in critics, and which ones do you enjoy reading?

I want critics to read the book – you can usually tell when they have – and really engage with the subject. I always read Neal Blewett in ABR

How do you find working with editors?

I’ve been blessed to work with many great editors. Some editing suggestions can be hard to take, but editors are always on your side.

What do you think of writers’ festivals?

I love writers’ festivals, especially if there is a diversity of views and respectful discussion.

Are artists valued in our society?

Yes, but not enough.

What are you working on now?

Trying to have a break from book writing for a while, having had five books published in just over six years. But I’m always bursting with new book ideas. Stay tuned.

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