Working with Words: Anthony Morris
Film writer and reviewer Anthony Morris has been writing about film and television since he was a student, writing for free (and paying for his own tickets) for the university paper. These days, he’s DVD editor for The Big Issue and freelances for several publications, including Empire.
We talked to him about being horribly opinionated for a living, why there’s no point worrying about whether your writing is good or bad once you’ve handed it in to be published, and why writers should ideally marry rich (or find someone willing to support them).
What was the first piece of writing you had published?
It was a film review – I can’t remember which film exactly, though I know Miller’s Crossing was one of the first films I reviewed – for the Deakin University paper, The Planet. I was studying journalism there and our teachers told us we had to get practical experience. As the uni paper didn’t pay I figured reviewing movies would at least involve free tickets. It didn’t.
What’s the best part of your job?
Being horribly opinionated and expecting people to care what I have to say?
What’s the worst part of your job?
I’m not really that opinionated? It’s hard for me to say what the best and worst parts of my job are, as it’s all I’ve ever done as adult employment. Plus when your job involves going to see movies for free it’s a bit difficult to expect people to care about whatever other problems you might have. I’m very lucky to have been able to find paying work in this line of business.
What’s been the most significant moment in your writing and editing career so far?
It’s all been baby steps to date, I’m afraid. Probably becoming the DVD editor at The Big Issue, because The Big Issue is a great publication. And also because it was steady work that meant I could actually focus a bit more on writing and not just on trying to make money from writing.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing or editing?
The best advice I was ever given was that once you’ve finished a job there’s no point worrying about whether your writing is good or bad – the readers will make up their own minds. You do the best job you can, but once it sees print (or goes online), it’s in their hands not yours. I think that’s an important approach to take as a freelancer – you write something to the best of your abilities and then you move on. There’s no money in looking back.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?
Probably the most surprising thing would be the time I was offered a job based on a column I was writing for a street press magazine. Unfortunately I was writing the column under another name and the place offering me the job was The Big Issue, so I had to explain to the unsuspecting editor that I was already working for them.
If you weren’t making your living by working with words, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
I have no idea – the only other job I’ve ever had was working at a one-hour photo processing lab, and they don’t have them any more.
There’s much debate on whether writing can be taught – what’s your view?
I think it can be taught but if you’re going to be any good at it you really should have started seriously writing before puberty. It takes so long and is so hard to internalise the lessons – to not only know how to write, but to know it automatically so you can focus on what you want to say rather than how you’re going to say it - that unless you’re someone who was writing for fun as a child the chances are you’re never going to get caught up. And there goes any chance I might have had cashing in by teaching writing courses.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer or editor?
They’re really two different jobs, aren’t they? I always seem to have editors who are barely into their twenties while even a really young writer seems to be late twenties at least. Perhaps that’s because being an editor is a proper job for serious people while being a writer is a crazy hobby only people unsuitable for any other line of work fall into. Anyway, my advice for writers is to marry someone either rich or willing to support you full time. That’s not a joke.
Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?
Oh God I buy books every way possible. I buy them from bookstores, from op shops, from Geelong’s excellent Barwon Books, from mail order stores based in Australia like Slowglass Books, from online sellers in Australia, from Amazon, from The Strand and Powells, from eBay, from various self-publishers, from comic companies like Fantagraphics and Rebellion (who publish the Judge Dredd and 2000AD collections), from publishers who sell direct like Subterranean Books, from those sites that sell industrial amounts of second-hand books… if I’ve missed anywhere, please write in and tell me.
If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? And what would you talk about?
Parker, from Richard Stark’s series of crime novels – only Parker doesn’t really go in for chit-chat, so unless we were planning some kind of heist he wouldn’t stick around for his side of the conversation.
What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?
Much as I wish I could name-drop some weighty tome or powerfully moving work of fiction (and I’m sure plenty of them have had an impact), it would probably have to be Joe Bob Briggs’ Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In, the first collection of Joe Bob Briggs’ drive-in movie reviews. It taught me that trashy movies could still be good movies, that a good film review could be entertaining in and of itself, and that ‘heads roll’ was the kind of information about a film that the general public needed to know.