My guest author this week is James Cristina whose debut novel, Antidote to a Curse, has been described as ‘an astute exploration of the nature of identity’ by the acclaimed author Janette Turner Hospital.
James Cristina was born in Malta. His parents migrated to
Australia in the late sixties and he grew up in Melbourne.
He has taught English in Australia, Malta, England, the
US, Jordan, Bahrain, Switzerland, Belgium, South Korea
and Oman. He holds a PhD in Creative Writing from the
University of East Anglia.
Why do you write? Because characters, scenes, plotlines and phrases materialise, take shape and evolve. It seems natural to want to write these down.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’m first and foremost a teacher. I’ve enjoyed my years of teaching at home and abroad.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? There were many obstacles. Developing a book-length piece of fiction to a level that I was satisfied with was possibly the biggest obstacle.
How involved have you been in the development of your books? Do you have input into the cover/illustrations? Working with Transit Lounge has been great. I am involved. The creative and professional direction has been inspiring and productive. I certainly appreciate the sincerity of the dialogue. Yes, I’ve been given a lot of freedom and opportunity to express viewpoints.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Seeing the characters and plotline take shape and eventually become independent of you. You essentially feel like you are making something.
—the worst? Feeling like you don’t have time to jot down ideas.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? While I think my teaching, my travels and experiences have been important, I wish I had given myself more time to write.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I think I was fortunate. From the very beginning, I met wonderful writers and academics who were sincere and generous.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? How far you go with any given piece is up to you and your internal critic.
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? It’s an individual journey, but if I had to give advice it would be to keep at it.
How important is social media to you as an author? The freedom to be able to use any social network is important, though till now I tend to work directly with people I have met in person over the years.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Not really. I don’t think I’ve had the time or freedom to pursue the number of ideas that have come to me. I’ve certainly reached an impasse or two with the novel Antidote to A Curse over the years, but there have always been other pieces, mainly poems, to pursue.
How do you deal with rejection? Try again.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Subjective, ambitious and exploratory.
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? I’ve been making slow progress with Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. I wonder if and what he would offer about writing this extraordinary epistolary novel. I certainly would love to know how this piece evolved. Would he meet up with me for a coffee?
It’s the ’90s. Silvio Portelli returns to Melbourne after
time spent teaching in England and rents a room from
the charismatic octogenarian, Nancy Triganza. Nancy is
having an elaborate aviary constructed to indulge her
passion for birds. At a city sex shop, Silvio meets the
mysterious Zlatko, a Bosnian immigrant and, in a previous
life, a collector of rare birds. Silvio becomes obsessed with
Zlatko, and his own journal and dreams begin to mirror
Zlatko’s past, and in time the reality of what happened
in Bosnia. Such revelations are counterpointed by Silvio’s
own tense wait to learn the results of his tests for HIV.
Bold in design, Antidote to a Curse is a story in which
the hunter becomes the hunted, the writer the subject,
and vice versa. Cristina lovingly captures Stalactites cafe
where Zlatko and Silvio often meet, and a city enmeshed
with Europe, both physically and in spirit.
Rich with images and allusions yet grounded in the
everyday Antidote to a Curse is a startling debut. Cristina
subtly draws the reader deeper and deeper into a state of
psychological obsession where only the truth can provide
a way out.