Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in Devonport, on the north-west coast of Tasmania. It was pretty and quiet, not at all like myself. When I was ten, we moved to Hobart. I lived, studied, worked and married there then came to Queensland in 1986. I now live in Brisbane.Where did you go to school?
I went to four different schools in Tasmania. My father was a deputy-principal and university educator, so we moved about a little bit when I was a child. I completed Year 10 at Rose Bay State High in Hobart, then went to Rosny Matriculation College. I matriculated in one year and went straight to university — never actually doing a Year 12. The rules have changed since then, for good reason. I was sixteen when I began university, which was far too young.Did you have a nickname?
Several, depending on who you asked. Generically I was Yax. Clever, hey? My football mates called me Tortoise. Apparently I got knocked over during a match and lay on my back, waving my arms and legs in the air. It could’ve been worse, I suppose — cockroach.What were you like in school?
I was a bit of a pain, actually. As a teacher now, I would have hated to teach myself. If I liked the subject, I gave it everything. Loved English, for example, read and wrote voraciously. If I didn’t like the subject I was either withdrawn and resentful, or prone to argue for the sake of argument, or just plain silly.
I still have a report from Year 9 that says, 'Richard spends most of his time trying to amuse us all, generally successfully, but to the detriment of his studies'. That was in German. Farewell to that elective.What is the naughtiest thing you did?
I stole a pen from a newsagent once (I was about nine) just to see what stealing felt like. Then I went outside, looked at the pen, decided I felt guilty and didn’t want it and took it back. It wasn’t a brilliant crime by any means. Strangely, it was much harder to return the pen without being seen than to take it in the first place. Karma, perhaps.What was your favourite book growing up?
So many. As a child — anything by Enid Blyton. There was also an English schoolboy series about two characters called Jennings and Darbishire that held great appeal. My parents owned abridged Reader’s Digest copies of the classics; I remember loving The Call of the Wild
and David Copperfield
. But probably the book that held greatest sway for me, and the one that fuelled my desire to write, was Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia
. A beautifully balanced, articulate, gentle book. I still love it.Who is your favourite children’s author?
For me, it’s not so much the author as the book. I’ll admit to a preference for traditional styles and structures, which is probably reflective of my age and experiences. I greatly admire those children’s authors, like Jackie French, who use a small amount of prose to say a large amount of story. The art of economy in writing is so difficult.What is your favourite food/colour/movie?
Barbecued lamb. All shades of blue. Dead Poet’s Society
.Who inspired you to write?
My Grade 6 teacher, Miss Chappell, used to run an ‘experimental’ contract-based class whereupon you were given the weekly contract of work on Monday and time during the week to finish it away from standard lessons. If you finished early, you were able to negotiate your own projects. I worked like a Trojan to finish by mid-Wednesday so I could write and illustrate my own stories. I gave them to her on Friday afternoons and she returned them on Mondays. She was very encouraging. She told my parents that I would be a writer.How did you get started?
I always wrote stuff. When I was very young, my brother and I wrote and illustrated a series of books about Merv — Merv the Mechanic
, Merv the Magician
. The last one, fittingly, was called Merv the Maniac
. I think Merv had had enough of job-shifting and gone mad.
I also remember being given an electric typewriter when I was about fourteen that I was supposed to use for school assignments. Instead I wrote dodgy poems to give to the girl up the road and began a long plotless saga that read like a demented Dickens.
Actually getting started in the industry and learning to see myself as a writer took a long time. Writing stories and plays for schools was the real kick-off point, although I’d already been writing for many years before that. How old were you?
In my twenties. But I can’t actually remember not writing. I’ve always been into words. I remember spelling ‘ocean’ correctly on a piece of paper — this was before I was going to school. My mother was very impressed. Unfortunately I took that as a licence to show off my new-found prowess and scribbled ocean all over the newly painted walls of my bedroom. Literacy has its burden.Why did you want to be a writer?
Because I thought — and I still do — that writers are so strongly connected to our understanding of what it means to be a human being. I am constantly learning about people and our lives together on this mad planet, and my writing allows me to explore that learning. How do you think up ideas?
I don’t so much think them up as actively seek them. There are ideas everywhere. As a writer, you have to learn to have extra-special story-receptors which are like antennae. Whenever an interesting character pops along, the antennae quiver. Notice — I wrote character. For me, all stories begin with characters — who then create the shape and style. It doesn’t happen the other way around.Do you have a special place where you write?
I have a quiet space. I need quiet. All barking dogs should be given sedatives. All cars should be electric. Anyone who plays doof-doof should be sent to the moon.What is the best thing about being a writer?
The freedom to create and explore. The chance to add to Australia’s incredibly rich resource of writers and writing. Hearing from readers who enjoyed your work. The loveliness of starting a new piece; the glow of completing that piece. There are many benefits.Have you had any funny or embarrassing moment as a writer?
Years ago I wrote a play about four men starting a garage band. The play was put on at a local theatre and I was cast as one of the men. So I was acting in my own play, which was pretty cool. However, I decided it would be better to take my name off the script so the rest of the cast didn’t feel that they had to be ‘nice’ about the play, just because I was there.
At our first rehearsal we had a reading. Afterwards we gathered outside for a debrief. The leading character said, 'Script’s a bit weak, can we do something with it?'
I said, 'What did you have in mind?'
'Oh, burn it,' he said. 'Load of rubbish.'
He was very embarrassed when he found out the truth. But it was okay. The play did well, nothing got burned and we became good mates.What do you do when you are not writing?
I work in a school, teaching English and analysing data. I really like doing something numbers-based and analytical because it’s very different to the writing process; exercises other parts of my brain. I love to travel and walk, usually at the same time.What would you have chosen to be if you were not a writer?
Probably a visual artist. Or an actor. Something expressive and high-level human.Which famous person from the past would you like to talk to?
Oh, Shakespeare. Question 1; come clean Bill, did you really write all those fantastic plays? Question 2; how did you write all those fantastic plays?
Or maybe Harry Chapin, the American singer-songwriter-storyteller. Genius taken too early.Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?
I’m actually pretty shy. And my secret love is arithmetic.