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Working with Words: David Metzenthen

Read Monday, 5 Jun 2017

David Metzenthen is one of Australia’s most prolific and celebrated authors for young readers. He’s written dozens of books for children and young adults, including award-winning classics, Johnny Hart’s Heroes, Boys of Blood and Bone and Jarvis. His most recent book, One Minute’s Silence, won the Children’s Fiction category in the 2015 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. We spoke with David about Kerouac, creativity and playing your cards close to your chest. 

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Photo of David Metzenthen
Author David Metzenthen

What was the first piece of writing you had published? 

The first piece of writing I had professionally published was a short story in the Australian newspaper’s ‘Literary Review’ …

it was so long ago I can’t remember the title, but the editor, Geoffrey Dutton, helped me along and I will never forget that.

What’s the worst part of your job?

The worst part of the job of a writer is having to think about money (or maybe that’s just the worst thing about being an adult). 

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

The most significant point of my writing career was probably having my first story accepted by a publisher whom I admired, as it gave me the confidence to think that I might be able to pursue a career as writer.

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

The best writing advice I have ever received was not given but discovered by me: and that is to write the story you love, because only this will give you the energy to write and re-write it until it is as good as you can make it … and then it might please other people as it pleases you.

Write the story you love, because only this will give you the energy to write and re-write it until it is as good as you can make it.

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

I guess I am never totally surprised when I hear stuff about my work, because every writer’s work and life is one good and bad surprise (often it seems the bad surprises come out on top) after another. These surprises require you to be clear-headed about good and bad news … and use both to hopefully make your next piece of work something you dearly love.

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

If I wasn’t a writer, I might have liked to work on a farm, or a ship, or have been a psychologist. I am fascinated by the human brain but my talents fall way short of me ever being able to work in that field. 

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

I don’t think creative writing can be taught but I do think a person’s writing can be vastly improved by hard work and intelligent assistance. This is not to say that a person might never have a creative idea. That’s not true; I believe that anyone at any time might find a story that could light up the world.

Cover image of the book 'One Minute's Silence'
<em>One Minute’s Silence</em> won the Children’s Fiction category in the 2015 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.

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

My advice to would-be writers is to write the story that excites you more than anything. Then work on it until you can work on it no more. And do not tell people much about projects you have not done. This is not because they will take your ideas (they won’t), it’s just your stories will lose power. Oh, and to actually put words down and then be proud of yourself, as it requires some sort of inner strength to do that (talk is cheap/writing is hard!). And find someone trustworthy to advise you every now and again.

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

If I could go out to dinner with a fictional character it would be … no idea, but if it could be arranged, I’d like to share a drink or two with ex-President Obama.

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

The most significant book in my life was Jack Kerouac’s Lonesome Traveller. I read it when I was 18, and it spoke to me deeply about the beautiful things of life, travelling, and writing. It was like a runway for me to take off from and I am indebted to Jack forever, that he showed me that it was possible to look into the night, think my own thoughts, and live in a way where stories are important and writing is a meaningful thing to do.

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.