Working with Words: Gideon Haigh

Gideon Haigh has been a journalist for over 30 years, writing on subjects as diverse as business, literary criticism - and cricket, for which he is especially renowned. (The Australian has called him ‘the finest cricket writer alive’.) He’s been published in publications around the world, including the Guardian, the Age, the Times of India (Mumbai) and Good Weekend. He is also the author of several books; the most recent is On Warne.

We spoke to Gideon about being called vindictive by Barry Humphries, why journalism can’t be taught and listening to Tristam Shandy.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

A one-paragraph in brief for the Age about an escapee from Fairlea Women’s Prison. (Co-written with my friend Jim Schembri.) We were about a week into our cadetships in 1984. How we toiled. Seldom can two journalists have sweated so much over so few words. From memory, a sub completely rewrote it.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Dorothy Parker was right when she said that she hated writing but loved having written.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

I can’t say any of it has been all that significant. But from a professional perspective, the moment was probably when I left daily journalism in 1995 to become a freelancer.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

‘Write about what you know.’ Total bullshit.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?

Barry Humphries once called me ‘a vindictive philistine of the Melbourne press.’ If the cap fits …

If you weren’t making your living by writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

It certainly would not be by cricket. And by now, I suspect, I’m unemployable doing anything else.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

I don’t have one, although I’m fairly certain that journalism can’t be taught.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Sinclair Lewis was once asked this question by an aspiring writer. ‘You want to be a writer?’ he replied, ‘Learn how to type.’

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

By osmosis.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be? And what would you talk about?

Tristram Shandy. And I’d just listen.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

The Cricketer Annual of 1974-75. I know it by heart.

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