Working with Words: Kimberley Thomson
Kimberley Thomson is a journalist, editor and publisher from Melbourne. She is a co-founder of Swampland, an Australian music publication that aims to feature intelligent, long-form criticism. She spoke with us about film structure, Greta Gerwig and the heroes of music journalism.
What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry?
I’m interested in funny writing much more than anything too earnest; it might be because of my English streak, but overt sentimentality makes me gag.
The first thing I remember finding blatantly hilarious was a British children’s book series called Jeremy James by David Henry Wilson. It’s about a mischievous kid trying to navigate the adult world and getting into various scrapes.I listened to the series on audio cassettes from the local library and I probably re-borrowed the same titles about fifty times. Drifting off to sleep with the soothing click and whirr of the cassette player is a nice memory.
In hindsight, this probably set me up to seek out other funny writers (Marieke Hardy, David Sedaris, etc.) when I was older.
Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?
I have a distinct memory of my Grade One class being asked to each write a page-long story about anything we liked. I ended up spewing out about twenty pages about a talking dog and cat who are trying to escape the farm on which they lived. I think I plagiarised the whole plot from a British television show. I got a scratch-and-sniff sticker and the teacher said I would end up as a journalist. (I didn’t believe her.)
In high school, I wrote some bad poetry and then got into music and weird cinema, so started writing about that.
What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?
Closely observing the narrative structure of movies and learning to describe the visuals, sound and characterisation is an interesting exercise to prepare for journalistic feature writing.
A lot of my early jobs revolved around the movies: I worked behind the Candy Bar at the local multiplex and as a video store clerk at multiple shops. I have also worked at a discount bathers shop, a cafe and a street poster company. More recently I have been a journalist and editor for an industry publication, and a university tutor.
How has this all influenced my writing? To continue the cinema thread: I’ve thought a bit about the influence of my interest in film – in terms of the subject matter I like covering, but also in a formal way – and I think it has proved surprisingly useful. Closely observing the narrative structure of movies and learning to describe the visuals, sound and characterisation is an interesting exercise to prepare for journalistic feature writing, I think. I’d recommend it.
If you weren’t writing and editing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
In high school I wanted to be a movie director, but I never quite worked out how to begin. Journalism seemed like a more stable option (cough).
Which classic book do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?
Not an underrated book, but a relatively underrated writer I like is the cultural and music critic Ellen Willis. She deserves to be up there with the agreed-upon heroes of music journalism (Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, etc.) but because she also often wrote about feminism, she seems to be relegated to a different corner and is less celebrated. I just recently started reading her stuff properly and it is brilliant. Her writings on feminism and gender from as far back as the sixties and seventies sound incredibly fresh today.
Ellen Willis deserves to be up there with the agreed-upon heroes of music journalism.
Do you have any strange writing habits, customs or superstitions?
I tend to write in a very fragmented way, which I think is how my brain works generally. (Really, I’m a rather scattered individual.) I dash off a lot of notes and thoughts in a haphazard order and then slowly piece it all together into a coherent piece of writing.
Have you written or published anything in the past that you now wish you could go back and change?
Yes. Of course.
Which artist, author or fictional character would you most like to have dinner with?
I tried to think of someone particularly cool and obscure, but didn’t get anywhere. Perhaps Greta Gerwig as I have been listening to interviews with her recently and she is fantastically charming. I would just sit there and inhale her sense of enthusiasm about movies, art and philosophy. Then I would ask if we could be pen friends.