Working with Words: Kim Scott

Kim Scott is one of Australia's most celebrated novelists. He was the first Indigenous author to win the Miles Franklin Award (for Benang: From the Heart in 2000) and won a subsequent Miles Franklin Award in 2011 (as well as a Commonwealth Writers' Prize) for his next novel, That Deadman Dance in 2011. His new novel, Taboo, is out now. Kim spoke with us about persistence, resistance and the 'cogent, logical, and despicable' book that partly inspired him to write Benang.

What was the first piece of writing you had published? 

A short story in a ‘rural theme’ writing competition run by a now extinct country newspaper. I think the year was 1986. That same year I had a couple of poems published in Fremantle Arts Review (also extinct).

Cover image of the book, 'Taboo', by Kim Scott

Though I did have a poem published in my primary school magazine in about 1969. A few years ago, my teacher of that time – Don Mair – left a framed and typed copy of it at a place where I was running a workshop. Very sweet of him.

What’s the best part of your job?

Sometimes, something emerges in the writing that is unintended and surprises me. It’s a special pleasure to be able to pass that on to a reader.

What’s the worst part of your job?

The isolation; the long stretches of wilful persistence when the juice isn’t flowing and a story won’t come alive.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

Sometimes, something emerges in the writing that is unintended and surprises me. It’s a special pleasure to be able to pass that on to a reader.

Publication of my first novel, True Country.

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

'You ought to try writing a novel.'

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself?

'Dazzling and dangerous.'

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

Teaching, most likely. Though I am a wannabe musician, so ...

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

Yes – as with all arts and skills it can be honed, encouraged, assisted.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Persist. Put time aside to ensure you actually do it, rather than just talk or think about it. Read. Chain yourself to a desk.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

The linguistically adept Everleigh in Hal Porter’s obscure and uncomfortable story, ‘Everleigh's Accent’. I’d like to talk with Everleigh about where he’s from, about his life, about his representation in this story and if he’d be interested in rewriting it. 

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

Perhaps A.O. Neville’s Australia’s Coloured Minority: Its Place in the Community. A perverse choice this; the book is cogent, logical, and despicable. I couldn’t let it stand alone, and put some years into writing a sort of companion piece – Benang. This, among other things, helped me see the need for something other than just reactive ‘resistance’, and to recognise the folly of arguing in the terms set by another.

I might also offer the Jack Davis play No Sugar, although this is an unorthodox choice, too. I mention it because I attended a dress rehearsal in which children in the audience spontaneously leapt onto the stage so they could participate in a school classroom scene. The impact was in seeing the kids so ready and keen to take part in the story, and their perception that the story was one they wanted to identify with and which gave them a role to play.

Kim Scott is a Miles Franklin Award-winning novelist based in Fremantle, Western Australia.

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