Working with Words: Kirsten Drysdale
Kirsten Drysdale writes, presents and produces for ABC TV’s The Checkout and SBS2’s The Feed, performs at Story Club, and is currently working on a book about the year she spent working as a colonial dementia carer in Kenya. We chat to her about Diggy Mole’s New Home, 18 hour work days, and the fine line between comedy and journalism.
What was the first piece of writing you had published?
A series of didactic panels detailing the life story of pioneering Australian solo aviator Bert Hinkler, for The Hinkler Hall of Aviation in Bundaberg, Queensland. (I worked for the company that designed and built the museum and created the content for its exhibits.) Does this count?
What’s the best part of your job?
For TV work, it’s laughing. I work with some very funny people and there really is a lot of laughter at the office and on set, which goes a long way to making the stress and hours more tolerable.
For other writing work, it’s being able to work from anywhere. Especially from home surrounded by animals.
What’s the worst part of your job?
In TV work, it’s the hours. When we’re in full production mode on The Checkout the hours can be horrendous. Like, go-home-at-3am horrendous. (Thankfully we get the second half of the year to recover.)
For other writing work, it’s the isolation.
What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?
Being lucky enough to get a spot on Project Next (Andrew Denton’s media recruiting experiment that became the ABC TV show Hungry Beast). It’s opened up doors for me that I’d have struggled to find otherwise.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?
Don’t censor yourself on a first draft. You can always pare something back through editing, but it’s much better to have that raw material to work with in the first place.
Also: be open to criticism of your work and don’t take it personally. That can be especially hard when you’re first starting out, but if you can learn to embrace criticism and feedback your writing will benefit.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself?
I always find it surprising when I’m referred to as a ‘comedian’. I see myself more as a journalist … but then, I do dress up in a lot of ridiculous costumes on The Checkout so it’s not like I’m trying to be taken seriously.
If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
Playing professional hockey (or trying to work out what to do as a washed-up athlete). That’s the direction my life was heading in before I got a lucky break into television in 2009 and had to give sport away. In hindsight, that was a fairly bizarre fork in the road … but I’m glad I went the way I did.
There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?
Generally speaking, I reckon you either have some natural ability for it or you don’t. But I also think raw talent is almost always improved by some formal training and practice.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?
Find a job that pays the bills, and do as much writing as you can outside of that. (If you can find a job that is a paid writing gig of any kind, all the better – but don’t hold out for that. There is nothing romantic about having zero dollars because you won’t contemplate doing anything outside of your craft.)
Also: Say ‘yes’ to as many different experiences as you can, closely observe the world around you, and be patient.
Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?
Both. Generally, I’ll browse bookshops for pleasure-reading and buy online for work-reading (usually because I need a book in a hurry). I prefer to read from a physical book, but have embraced ebooks for travel.
If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?
Ignatius J. Reilly (from A Confederacy of Dunces), and we would talk about hot dogs. I don’t think any other character has made me laugh so much off the page.
What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?
Diggy Mole’s New Home. It was the book my parents taught me to read with. We’d lie in bed every night before bedtime and read it all the way through. Apparently Dad would try to skip pages when he was really tired, but I wouldn’t let him. I’m sure it was a horribly tedious experience for them, but for me, it sparked a lifelong love of reading.