Working with Words: Garry Disher

We spoke with author Garry Disher about the magic of blue ballpoints, avoiding teams and using the senses in writing.

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

Photograph of Garry Disher

Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim made me laugh when I first read it many years ago, for it was easy to identify with working-class Jim surrounded by upper-class twits, but now I find Amis’s humour pretty sexist and conservative.

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

I started writing as a child, knowing from the start that I wanted to be a writer. I wrote Famous Five and Secret Seven-type adventure stories (Enid Blyton has a lot to answer for, if you start quizzing crime writers …).

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

A classmate told me that good writing makes pictures in the head, and the best way to do that is to appeal to the reader’s senses (of touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell).

I’ve written full-time for most of my working life, apart from ten years as a part-time teacher (TAFE and Adult Education). I learned a lot about what makes people tick, I guess, but all parts of life teach you that – not only one’s working life. I also realised I loathe working as part of a team …

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

Perhaps working with wood? Something solitary. 

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

I received my best advice on a writing scholarship to a US university, when a classmate told me that good writing makes pictures in the head, and the best way to do that is to appeal to the reader’s senses (of touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell).

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

I have never felt the need to keep a diary. It would be writing on top of writing. I keep it all in my head, the material I might place in a diary.

Which classic book do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?

Magnus Mills’s The Restraint of Beasts is a very strange and funny novel about two itinerant Scottish fence builders/repairers. Peter Carey called it ‘a heaving cauldron of black humour’. 

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

I think all writers are superstitious. I need to write with a blue ballpoint on the backs of old manuscript drafts (the magic would leak away if I used a black ballpoint).

I think all writers are superstitious. I need to write with a blue ballpoint on the backs of old manuscript drafts (the magic would leak away if I used a black ballpoint). I never type the first draft.

Have you written or published anything in the past that you now wish you could go back and change?

I want to change everything I’ve written, which is why I never re-read it.

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

None of them. I’d feel awkward around them (but would like to eavesdrop). 

Portrait of Garry Disher

Garry Disher has published fifty titles across multiple genres. His last standalone novel, Bitter Wash Road, won the 2016 German Crime Prize, a prize he has previously won twice. He’s also the recipient of two Ned Kelly best crime novel awards and last year he received the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award. His latest novel is Peace.

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