It’s Sunday. I’m having breakfast at Seven Seeds with a new friend, drinking coffee and eating French toast with banana and mascarpone.
“When I was a teenager,” I say, “I always thought writing novels would be a good way to impress girls.”
Apparently in some cases this is true. But generally, not so much. For most people it’s a poor way to make money, and money probably does a better job, on average, of impressing girls.Â Sitting at your keyboard, or with a notebook, pen in hand, scribbling away, is a solitary thing, and it tends to take your attention away from people who want (and sometimes deserve) it. Again, not so impressive.
No, writing is best thought of as an aesthetic or spiritual pursuit. We do it in the service of beauty, truth, humanity, and–sometimes tragically–for love. Against everything, my compulsion to write brought me to this point: my first volume, Kiss Me, Genius Boy, came out on 10 September 2011, just five days after my thirtieth birthday.
Here is the novelist I am, as seen in my Amazon author bio:
I was born in 1981 in Rosebud, a tourist town on the Mornington Peninsula, about an hour and a half’s drive from Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne. The son of two art teachers, I grew up in a large house in nearby Tootgarook, filled with books and art and paints and paper and love.
My first novel–Kiss Me, Genius Boy–includes a lot of autobiographical material. It’s set in the culturally isolated bayside area where I grew up. Like me, the main character, Joshua Rivers, learned to read very young, and skipped two grades in primary school. He endures a lot of unhappiness in love (all his own fault), but also has some undeserved good luck in that area, which he’s frequently ungrateful for. His favorite book and mine are the same: The Dispossessed, by Ursula Le Guin.
But my characters are not exactly me, or the people I know, and the stories I tell aren’t exactly the stories of our lives. The kind of fiction I write is a mashup: bits cut out of reality, rearranged and spliced with outright fabrications, in the service of telling a story and exploring the deeper truths in life. In this case, what’s fascinated me over the past few years I’ve been working on this first novel, and the two further volumes of No More Dreams that follow it, is the peril of living solely for one’s dream of a perfect future.
I like to read a wide range of things: aside from Le Guin, I’m deeply attached to Kundera, Tolstoy, Laozi, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Leonard Cohen, and Ayn Rand. But the author who’s influenced me the most is the Japanese Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Ã”e, author of A Personal MatterÂ and The Silent Cry. It’s Ã”e that I’ve taken my present semi-autobiographical approach from, and Ã”e that inspired me not to gloss over the ignoble and grotesque things that we think, that we do, and that are done to us and others.
As I grow older, and as I confront the world through art, it strikes me more and more that as humans we are united in suffering, in death, and also in love. My mission as a writer, should I have one, is not just to disseminate whatever small degree of vision or wisdom I may have, but also to remind people that in their alienation and their darkness, they are not alone.
May you find, in the pages I have written for you, something to light your way in the night.