Patrick’s top tip for aspiring authors: Write about the first time you really hurt someone. That will knock the conviction that you’re a wonderful misunderstood genius out of you. Then you’ll be on your way.
Why do you write? I think if you boiled it back to its essence, the answer would be because there is something healing – restorative – about the creative act. With luck and discipline, you can discover beauty and order in chaos.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I would be a farmer and a composer. I still aim to become a composer one day. I’ve composed a few little pieces. And I’d have land and run cattle. Or else I’d be a hairdresser. All the girls at my hairdresser’s seem to have a wonderful, carefree life day to day.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? To be honest I never had any difficulty. The first few things I sent out were recognised by prizes and were published by default. The difficulty isn’t getting published, it’s making your work really worthwhile. Emerging authors being so focused as they are on publication baffles me – with that focus you’re almost certain to become a creature of the market. And the novelty of seeing your name in print will quickly wear off. Write what you most want to read. Then try to shape it even more to your own desires. None of us are all that unique, you’ll still find an audience, and you’ll have your authenticity intact.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? That I get to use my imagination daily, always trying to discover something more strange and beautiful and true than yesterday.
—the worst? The many years of watching your friends buy new cars, houses etc, while you, in the world’s terms, languish.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Pay less attention to what other people thought I was doing, and more about what I thought.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I’m glad I was never told the truth. If a writer truly knew how hard it was going to be at the outset, I doubt they’d start.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Hemingway’s from the intro the The First Forty-Nine Stories …
In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you’ll dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dull and know I had to put it to the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well-oiled in the closet, but unused.
Writing isn’t violin playing or calculus. You can’t just practice and study and get good at it. You need first hand experiences of life, and the more, and more varied, the better for a writer.
The last bushrangers in Australian history, James and Patrick Kenniff, were at the height at their horse thieving operation at the turn of the 20th century. In One, troops cannot pull the Kenniff Gang out of the ranges and plains of Western Queensland – the brothers know the
terrain too well, and the locals are sympathetic to their escapades. When a policeman and a station manager go out on patrol from tiny Upper Warrego Station and disappear, Sergeant Nixon makes it his mission to pursue the gang, especially, Jim Kenniff, who becomes for him
an emblem of the violence that resides in the heart of the country.
It asks what right one man has to impose his will on another, and whether the written law can ever answer the law of the heart.
One is available here.