We are extremely excited to feature writer Nick Earls on the Milligram blog this week. If you’re somehow unaware of his work, Nick Earls has written twelve novels and numerous shorter works. His most recent novel, Analogue Men, was published by Random House Australia in July 2014.
He is the winner of a Betty Trask Award (UK) and Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award. Perfect Skin was the only novel to be a finalist in the Australian Comedy Awards in 2003, and was adapted into a feature film in Italy (Solo un Padre, Warner Brothers/Cattleya). 48 Shades of Brown was a Kirkus Reviews (US) book of the year selection, and was adapted into a feature film in Australia (Buena Vista/Prima). Five of his novels have been adapted into stage plays.
He has also written for newspapers, including the New York Times, the Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald.
Nick Earls will be kicking off the Moleskine Endless Story competition on the MWF website, beginning 21 August. The MWF endless story starter Nick Earls will also be presenting at MWF.
Book to see Nick present at the 2014 Melbourne Writers Festival. Moleskine is a sponsor of MWF.
Your latest book is called Analogue Men. Are you more an analogue or digital man?
Some days I think I’m analogue at heart, trying to drag my way to digital. On others I think I’m digital, but selectively. I’ve reached a point where imagining a pre-digital world takes effort, so I must have made some kind of transition.
You’ve been a writer for 20 years – do you have any tips for budding authors out there?
This is a job for people who can’t talk themselves out of it. It’s not a rational career choice, but on its better days it’s the best job in the world.
If you want to be a writer, be a reader. Work out what you love about the books you love best. See if there’s a version of that in you. Don’t expect the stories to arrive fully formed. Value small ideas and don’t lose them.
Do you have a particular writing process you follow each time when creating a new story?
I accumulate small ideas that catch my interest and at some point some start to stick together. Not perfectly, but working on that fit only gives me more. I get a sense of something developing and, at the right time, I start to ask who it’s happening to, and why, and where it might go from here. The questions aren’t genius questions. I create possibilities. I think divergently and then convergently. When the time’s right I start making decisions, mapping out plotlines from the shapeless mass of ideas and turning them into an outline. Then, one day, I click on that outline document and start writing the novel into it.
Did you ever receive any writing or storytelling advice (or read a book/saw a speaker) that proved invaluable? (And anyone you’re looking forward to seeing at MWF this year?)
I got Spalding Gray’s Monster in a Box for my birthday in 1993. It was written as a live monologue as well as for the page, and it’s a masterclass in voice. It was like eavesdropping on the narrator’s thoughts. It felt utterly unwritten and totally human. I started aiming for that, and my writing and luck changed.
If you had to recommend one of your books to someone who’s yet to read you, which one would it be?
So, what are you into? If you’re of middle years and occasionally flummoxed – or at least outpaced – by this century’s approach to change, Analogue Men is for you. Actually, if you’re any age and want a human story enlivened by crass gags for smart people, Analogue Men is also the choice. If you want me at my more literary and you’re into smartly observed stories that go quietly to work in your brain, Welcome to Normal has been my best attempt at that so far.
And who else are you enjoying reading right now?
I’ve just been touring with a bunch of writers and I’ve been listening to them read from their work. For the purposes of this question, I’m classifying that as a series of ‘live audio books (abridged)’. They were a talented crew, all of them. I think I learned something about craft every time I listened to Ashley Hay and Craig Sherbourne (reading, respectively, from The Railwayman’s Wife and Tree Palace).
Several of your books have been turned into plays – how different is storytelling via a play than a book?
Dramatically different in some respects. If you give the lead character in a play the same narrator privileges that they get in a first-person novel, you get a play that’s ten hours long with eight hours of soliloquy. And that would be bad. You have to find new ways to reveal your story, and you have to bring as much of it as possible into the moment.
Do your think good ideas need to percolate/kick-around for a while?
Plenty of people don’t believe that, but plenty also do. I’m a big big percolator. Some people jump in and start writing early, but a lot of them end up throwing out or reworking things extensively. I like to sort out a lot before I start the thing I view as my first draft.
Do you make writing-related notes on paper or only on your computer?
My preference is paper, often scraps of paper – backs of envelopes, boarding passes – since that gives the idea the freedom to be rubbish too. If I have no paper, I’ll use my phone. And then transfer to paper later (or to a document on my laptop, if the idea is for something I’m already working on). Notes will only go directly onto the laptop if they’re for something that’s already on there.
Now we have to ask – Do you have a favourite notebook?
Okay, this is where this starts to look like a set-up … For twenty years, my preferred notebook has been … drum roll please … the Moleskine. That’s actually true. I’ve had several and carry one in my bag whenever I’m on the road. Some ideas need more than a boarding pass. I picked the Moleskine at first because of its writerly history, its size and maybe the band around it that would keep it shut. It can take some knocking around while travelling, and it remains the ideal size, I think, for substantial note-making.
And maybe a favourite pen or pencil?
I souvenir both from hotel rooms. I like the feel of a fine pen with a nib, but I’d hate to lose it or break it. Most hotels offer a cheap ballpoint that doesn’t last particularly long but, when it falls apart in my bag or conks out, it’s not much of a loss. I get more excited when hotels offer a quality pencil. I like pencils. I prefer to make notes in pencil and I edit in pencil, sitting on my back deck. I think differently away from the screen. My preferred pencil is unvarnished wood, with the hotel name on it, but any pencil is a good acquisition. I’m currently dividing my time among a green pencil from The Opposite House in Beijing, a brown one from the Sofitel in Melbourne and a red one that tells me to dial 000 in case of emergency.
Finally – What can we expect from this year’s MWF #EndlessStory14 project?
Expect anything. Actually, don’t have expectations, other than preparing to be surprised. I’ve aimed at an opening line that has mystery and a hint of menace – maybe there’s something out there, in the fog (if there’s fog – have we decided on fog, people?). I wanted to create possibilities and ask some questions that are the kind I’d like to watch being answered. I really want to see where people take this.
The Endless Story Project runs throughout the Melbourne Writers Festival, 21-31 August 2014. For more details visit www.mwf.com.au.
Note: Moleskine is an official sponsor of the Melbourne Writers Festival.