Working with Words: Claire Christian

We spoke with It's Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake author Claire Christian about dual narratives, writing to a deadline and alternative reality versions of herself.

What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry?

Photograph of Claire Christian

Photo: Kate Lund

Image of the cover of Claire Christian's book, It's Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake

A book called Come Together by Emlyn Rees and Josie Lloyd. It's a nineties dual narrative rom-com about two twenty-somethings meeting and dating. I got for it for my 16th birthday from my favourite uncle, and it was the first book that really made me laugh out loud. Plus, it was the first book I’d read with sex scenes in it so I thought it was the best. I’ve read it so many times over the years and still adore it. It’s what inspired Beautiful Mess, my first novel, to be a dual narrative.

Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?

I’ve always written. It’s how I make sense of the world and what I think. My thoughts make more sense to me when they’re written down. The earliest novel I have evidence of is one I wrote in grade two about having to have the class pet come to stay on the weekend. It was a snake called Bronson. My mum hated it. The fictional snake. Not the novel. My mum is very, very supportive of everything I do.

I participated in the brilliant Queer Stories earlier this year and read sections from a novel I wrote when I was 15 called Dreams Do Come True – it’s so deeply embarrassing. Sweet, sure. But ultimately horrifying.

What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?

My first job was at the deli at Woolies, which was fun because the people I worked with were funny, and you can hide from customers in the cold room if needed. But I had to clean manky meat-filled drains, and olive juice gave me a rash. Plus, I cut part of my finger off on a meat slicer.

I’ve been a receptionist for a construction training facility. I loved that job. I’ve been an elf taking Santa photos. And a high school drama teacher, too. I find people fascinating. I love observing people and hearing them talk about their lives. I have a dossier in my head of the traits I’ve noticed, or stories I’ve loved, which absolutely weave their way into my writing.  

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

There’s nothing else I’d be doing in this lifetime – that’s for sure. Writing, and telling stories, is my first love. But I like thinking that there’s some alternate reality versions of me. I think one would definitely be an avant garde florist, making wild installations. And there’s absolutely a hairdresser version of me, for sure. 

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

The best is – 'writing is re-writing'. I feel like we can get trapped by notions that things have to be perfect the first time, or we can only write when we’re inspired and that’s just not the case. What makes you a writer is you sitting your arse in the chair and writing. 

Have you ever kept a diary? Do you keep one now?

I have boxes of diaries and journals that document my whole life. I don’t write with any frequency. But I buy a journal every year and write in it when I need to process how I feel about something, or unload my, often very full, brain. 

I have a dossier in my head of the traits I’ve noticed, or stories I’ve loved, which absolutely weave their way into my writing.

Which classic book/play/film/TV show do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?

I’ve not watched, or read, a lot of classics. A lot of the things that people I work with find horrifying I’ve not consumed, but I don’t buy into the guilt, or shame, of the things we 'should' read or watch. I’ve never read any Jane Austen. I haven’t seen any of the Star Wars movies. I don’t really vibe with Shakespeare. I’m unabashed in my love of romantic comedy, and will happily speak to the cinematic perfection of Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit to anyone who will listen. 

Do you have any strange writing habits, customs or superstitions?

If I’m writing to a deadline, I need to write every day. Often a word limit a day. It’s currently 1,000 words a day. I often will write in the notes app on my phone too – messily and without punctuation – just to get the words down. I’ll then clean up the mess later. 

Have you written anything in the past that you now wish you could change? 

A script I wrote in grade nine drama, when I thought the most perfect, and poetic, artistic choice I could make to express a character's true feelings about the loss of their friend, was to make them sing an a cappella version of a Human Nature song at their graveside. 

Which artist, writer or character would you most like to have dinner with?

Can it be a dinner party? I’d invite Elizabeth Gilbert, Oprah, Idris Elba, Lindy West, Mhairi Mcfarlane, Pacey Witter, Beyoncé and my nan who passed away when I was five. What a time we would have. 

Portrait of Claire Christian

Claire Christian is a storyteller: a writer, theatre-maker and facilitator. She has had four plays published by Playlab, including Lysa and the Freeborn Dames, which debuted at La Boite in 2018. She has also had the great joy of directing Michelle Law’s smash-hit comedy Single Asian Female. Claire’s debut novel, Beautiful Mess, won the Text Prize in 2016. It’s Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake is her first novel for adults.

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