Working with Words: Richard Broinowski

Richard Broinowski is a former Australian diplomat. He was Australian ambassador to Vietnam, South Korea, Mexico, the Central American republics, and Cuba. He became general manager of Radio Australia in 1990 and, on his retirement in 1997, became an adjunct professor, first at the University of Canberra and then at the University of Sydney. His fourth book, Fallout from Fukushima, has been called the definitive analysis of the Fukushima accident and its technical, economic, social, and political implications.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

The first substantial piece I wrote was called ‘Arms and the Shah’, for Foreign Policy Magazine (Number 31 of 1978), using the pseudonym Leslie M. Pryor, while on study leave at Harvard.

I wrote lots of reports, analyses and cables from various posts as a professional diplomat for 34 years. Writing as an individual for the public realm only occurred when I was on study leave, and following my retirement after 1997.

What’s the worst part of your job as a writer?

Marshalling facts, doing research – both the best and worst part of being a writer.

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

All four of my books are significant moments – especially when they are launched.

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

Henry Rosenbloom of Scribe told me that every book needs editing – the best advice I received.

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

That I write like Lord Thomas Babbington Macaulay, the British Whig historian.

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Playing golf, or leading a wild, directionless and dissolute life.

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

Writing can’t be taught, except through the example of reading good literature.

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

Most people have a book in them, and my advice to most of them would be to leave it there.

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

I’m a very physical person, so I like to buy books for their heft and smell from a physical bookshop.

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

You can’t be serious – there are too many fictional characters I’d like to dine with to make a choice. But if I had to, it might be John Updike’s Rabbit to talk about the women of middle America, or George Smiley, to talk about trade craft.

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

No one book has had the most significant impact, but I read for relaxation, so the works of Patrick O’Brian and George Macdonald Fraser are in there near the top.

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