Brendan’s top tip for authors: Diversify. Write short fiction. Write poetry. Seek to get published in smaller outlets. If you’re writing novels, allocate time in your week/month/year to explore other forms. Publishing shorter work not only broadens your skills, but gives you the encouragement to persist, and stay the course.
Brendan Colley was born in South Africa. After graduating with a degree in education, he taught in the UK and Japan for 11 years before settling down in Australia in 2007. He lives in Hobart with his bookseller wife.
His debut novel The Signal Line won the Unpublished Manuscript Prize in the Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Awards.
Why do you write?
My reasons for writing have changed over time. Essentially, it’s something I must do at the end of every day. I had a passion for scribbling words on paper, so I started writing stories. That evolved into a wish to be read, then to be published, and after many fruitless years, a desire to create something I loved. These days, the act of fetching something down is organic to who I am. I’d write if nobody read what I wrote. There’s a pay-off in the discipline, and that’s the thing I learned after 25 years of rejection. Writing is its own reward, and I couldn’t have known that if I’d been published earlier.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?
I have a day job, so writing occupies that extra time that might otherwise be spent on a serious hobby. If I didn’t write, I’d probably learn a musical instrument (piano). My wife also writes, and if we both didn’t write I’m sure we’d do something together, like learn a language (Japanese). We met in Japan, where we were both working as English teachers. We never became fluent, as we spent all our free time on our creative projects. That’s always been a regret.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?
My passion for writing is greater than my talent for writing. The imagination and ideas were there from the beginning, but the craft took a long time to develop. Fortunately, I can outsit anyone if I love something enough J
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover?
Transit Lounge, my publisher, has been a true gift to me. My novel has received so much love and careful attention. At every point of the process I had an active voice: but the team that helped bring this novel into the world understood what it needed, and I tried hard to let go of my preconceptions and defer to their judgment as much as I could.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life?
That I can depend on it. My wife writes in the early morning, and tends to retire early; I write in the evenings. Regardless of what the day has been, writing is there waiting for me at 9 p.m. All I need to do is have the discipline to sit in the chair, and things will arrive that entertain me, mystify me, heal me, or make me suffer (in a beautiful way). It’s the surprise gift I get to interact with at the end of every day; and I need it.
I say ‘no’ a lot. I could have travelled more, seen more, met more people, socialised more. My wife and I live in a TV free house, and prioritise reading as much for our writing as we do for the pleasure of reading. I treat my 9 p.m. writing start time as seriously as I do the start time to my working day. I’ve lost count of the social invitations I’ve turned down over the years. It’s not something I’m proud of; and it isn’t useful. The well needs to be filling to have something meaningful to write about, and the tension between having the discipline to cut yourself from the world to write, and releasing yourself from the chair to make connections and have experiences, is a constant struggle for me.
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?
Diversify. Write short fiction. Write poetry. Seek to get published in smaller outlets. If you’re writing novels, allocate time in your week/month/year to explore other forms. I’ve always been drawn to the longer form: feature length screenplays in the early years; and the novel. As such, I only got to test the quality of my work every 4-6 years. Two decades can pass with a room plastered in rejection slips from less than a half-dozen projects. Publishing shorter work not only broadens your skills, but gives you the encouragement to persist, and stay the course. Importantly, it will add detail for the bio paragraph in your query letter when you produce something that is ready.
How important is social media to you as an author?
I’m only recently published, so I’ve never thought of social media in terms of publicity. On the other hand, it’s great for sharing my writing journey with friends and family.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it?
I don’t know if I believe in writer’s block; although I certainly experience stretches of time where a scene or a project feels like it’s at a standstill. My way of pushing through these moments is to stay in the act of creating. If I can’t commit words to my work-in-progress, I’ll spend the session writing something else: a poem; a typed letter to a friend; a shorter piece; or play around with an idea I’ve been collecting notes for. In this way, I’m keeping the channel open. Like anything worthwhile, writing is hard, requiring a significant output of energy, so there’s an expectation at the start of any session that there’s a pain barrier of sorts to push through. But though it’s challenging, there’s a satisfaction to be gained; and if there’s none, that’s usually a sign for me to write something else for a bit.
How do you deal with rejection?
Over the years I’ve developed a habit of starting my next project on the same day I finish my current one. I always know what I’m working on next; so there’s an excitement for that first session. It involves A4 sheets of paper, index cards, coloured pens, and the sketching of schematics. That first session – though I may have been collecting notes on the project for years – is momentous. Everything’s possible, there are no mistakes to be made, and it hasn’t started to hurt yet. It builds anticipation for the second, third, and fourth sessions. In this way, as I go through the heart-wrenching process of querying my manuscript, I’m bit-by-bit gifting my creative spirit to something else. It doesn’t soften the blow of rejection, but by drawing life from another inspiration, I’m reminded that the act of creating something is the thing I need most.
In three words, how would you describe your writing?
Quirky, strange, heartfelt.
If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life?
Diane Samuels is an author and playwright. I only learned of her last year, on a podcast in which she was in conversation with Paul Kalburgi on The Writer’s Toolkit. The way she approaches creativity, and how she articulates it, resonated deeply with me. She writes with a spirit and an attitude that is a true example. I’d love to with talk with her about it. One jewel she shared was a question someone put to her early in her journey:
Do you want a writing career; or a writing life?
I wish someone had challenged me with this question when I was starting out. For so many years I wrote with an angst that was counter-productive to the spirit of creating; when all along I had what I was looking for.
Brothers Geo and Wes are testing their relationship now that their parents have passed away. Geo and Wes rarely agree on anything, especially not the sale of the Hobart family home. Geo needs the money to finance his musical career in Italy. For Wes the house represents the memory of their father, and what it means to live an honest, working life.
But then a ghost train appears in Hobart, often on the tram tracks that once existed, along with the Swedish man who
has been pursuing it for 40 years. Everyone it seems is chasing their dreams. Or are they running from the truth?
The Signal Line is a warm-hearted, unforgettable novel about what we are all searching for, even when our personal dreams and aspirations have collapsed: love and acceptance.
You can buy the book here.