Working with Words: Wayne Macauley

Melbourne-based novelist Wayne Macauley stands by his full stops.

Photograph of novelist Wayne Macauley

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

I’m sure I must have laughed a lot when I was a kid, but I have no memory of it. Isn’t that funny? As an adult, the opening pages of Beckett’s Mercier and Camier have always got to me, as has just about every page of Don Quixote. But probably the funniest – and perhaps the most brilliantly written – comic work I’ve ever read is Gogol’s The Government Inspector.

As for crying, I don’t know; maybe I’ve been reading the wrong books?

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

Until I was about 16 or 17 I’d not read many books at all, except boys’ science-y things. So I had no real interest in literature until then. At about 16 (I think) I sent a poem in to a competition run by the Melbourne Herald and got a letter back on official paper saying it had been highly commended. I told no-one about this then, and have told no-one since. At the time I was amazed that such a thing could even be possible.

If you don’t feel happy with your full stops, you might as well give the game away.

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

The job that, in retrospect, had the biggest influence on me was when I worked from my late teens to mid-twenties as a farm labourer at a market garden in the outer east of Melbourne. I worked mostly alongside an Italian gang, half my height and twice my girth. The work was tough, physical, relentless – and I’m sure it was responsible for the crazy work ethic that still drives my writing life today.

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

A town planner.

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

Write, write, write till your fingers break! – Anton Chekhov in a letter to Maria Kiselyova, September 1886.

Cover image of the novella Simpson Returns by Wayne Macauley

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

I have kept a diary since my early twenties, which now runs to a thousand-plus pages. Most, if not all, of my published work has had its origins there, in the form of a quickly sketched thought, observation or image. I won’t say it contains the best stuff I’ve written, but it certainly contains the most.

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

I’m a little uncomfortable with this question. Underrated or overrated by whom? And on what basis? I’m not sure these value judgements tell us anything of much importance. It’s like me saying, I like green – so why do you like red? Every book speaks to its reader or it doesn’t. Every book is different, as is every reader, and every book speaks to these multiple different readers in multiple different ways. That’s writing; that’s reading. That’s it. 

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

Up early. First coffee with breakfast. Second coffee at desk. Peppermint tea at 10.30am. A piece of fruit at 11.15am. Twenty laps. Lunch no later than two.

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

A comma, occasionally. Sometimes a semi-colon. My full stops I mostly feel happy with. If you don’t feel happy with your full stops, you might as well give the game away.

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

Oscar Wilde? The colour of the wallpaper?

Portrait of Wayne Macauley

Wayne Macauley is a highly acclaimed novelist whose works include Some Tests, Demons, The Cook, Caravan Story and Blueprints for a Barbed-Wire Canoe. His latest work of fiction is a novella, Simpson Returns, published in April 2019 by Text.  He lives in Brunswick, Melbourne.

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