‘Lucid…beautiful…tender’ are three words that have been used to describe the writing of today’s guest author. Roger Averill joins me to talk about the why of his writing and how he channels his great-grandfather, a bricklayer, to do the work.
Roger Averill is the author of Exile: the lives and hopes of Werner Pelz, the novel Keeping Faith, and a travel memoir Boy He Cry: an island odyssey. Exile won the Western Australian Premier’s Prize for Non-fiction in 2012 and was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards. Roger lives in Melbourne, Australia.
Why do you write? I write because I have to. Because I feel compelled to. Not constantly, but regularly. Beyond that, I write because it gives me pleasure and because it provides me with a vehicle to explore the world and my responses to it. It gives me a chance to create some glint of beauty, which, if published, might also bring pleasure or meaning to someone who reads it.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d probably be doing what I’m currently doing to support myself being a writer, that is, teaching at a university. I might’ve been doing that at a higher level, perhaps. Or I might have fulfilled my teenage ambition to become a tram driver.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? After publishing a few poems in journals in my early 20s, it took me another 20 years to have a book published. The main obstacle was having the right publisher read my manuscripts. In terms of craft, I knew I’d written a publishable novel by the time I was 30, but the mid-1990s was the time of grunge fiction and no one was interested in my gentler offering. As it turned out, Transit Lounge published that manuscript as Keeping Faith 16 years later.
How involved have you been in the development of your books? Do you have input into the cover/illustrations? The people at Transit Lounge have very kindly sought my opinion about the look of each of my books. I really like all of them as artefacts, though I’m not sure my input has been that helpful. All I have to offer is the view of someone who’s bought way too many books over the years. I prefer to let the professionals do their job. The covers of all four of my books have been designed by Peter Lo. I think he’s brilliant.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? I actually love everything about writing. The idea of it has given my life direction, although for 20 years that sometimes felt like a misdirection, and the craft of it has allowed me to work at improving the one thing I already had some talent in. It’s great to always feel challenged, knowing that you might be progressing further along the road to mastery but that you’ll never arrive there. Each new sentence, let alone each new book, raises its own unique set of questions, and knowing the answers to the last set only helps so much.
—the worst? Well, it’s not really an aspect of writing so much as an aspect of trying to get your writing published – rejections. I have a bulging manila folder stuffed full of them. Unless you are one of the blessed, rejections are an unfortunate part of the writing experience. Only those compelled to write push beyond them.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I probably wouldn’t do anything differently, because then I wouldn’t be me. If, however, I were advising someone very like my younger self, I would tell him he should mix more in literary circles and enrol in the best creative writing course that will take him. If I were that almost young me, I’d politely listen to that advice and then do my own thing, thereby becoming me!
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I’m extremely fortunate to have a friend and writing mentor, Chris Eipper, who, being 14 years older than me, generously passed on to me everything he’d learned about writing, surviving rejection, and being published. I think Chris told me everything I needed to know.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? The best advice Chris gave me, which he did by deed as much as by word, was to embrace the editing process. That’s where you learn the craft. If you don’t learn to love editing and re-drafting, you’ll end up not loving writing.
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Well, apart from embracing the editing process, it would be to find at least one very skilled, highly critical, and deeply supportive trusted reader. In other words, someone like Chris. You don’t need to agree with that reader’s opinions on your work, you just need to respect them and to know they are given with your best interests (or the best interests of your work) at heart.
How important is social media to you as an author? Unfortunately (at least for my publisher), I’m a fossil formed by the print age and I’m yet to fully find my feet in the 21st century. I write lots of emails … Don’t suppose that counts?
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? No, I’ve never experienced it. One of my great-grandfathers, William Richard Averill, was a bricklayer. I feel I channel him: each word, each sentence, another brick. Just lay the bricks.
How do you deal with rejection? Feel crappy. Suck it up. Move on. There’s no other option.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Lucid. Beautiful. Tender. (I cheated: these are words others have used to describe it. I’m too close to it to know.)
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? There are so many I would love to yarn with, and my choice would be different on a different day, but just because I’ve recently returned to his brilliant and profound sonnets I will nominate Jorge Luis Borges. I wouldn’t ask him anything. I’d just listen to whatever he chose to talk about. Of course, I’d have to learn Spanish to understand him. Then again, with a brain the size of the world, I’m guessing old Jorge had a passable knowledge of English.
Michael and Marjorie Madigan refuse to be interviewed by biographer Sinclair Hughes for his new book Inside the Lion’s Den: The Literary Life of Gilbert Madigan. This is not surprising as Gilbert is Marjorie’s ex-husband and Michael’s mostly absent father. He is also Australia’s first Booker Prize winner, a feted and much lauded author that the UK and US now like to call their own. Michael cannot escape his father’s life and work, and at times his own life seems swallowed by it. His father’s success is a source of undeniable pleasure but also of great turmoil. In a world that increasingly covets fame and celebrity, Relatively Famous subtly explores notions of success, masculinity, betrayal and loss, and ultimately what it might mean to live a good life.
The book is available here.