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Working with Words: Patrick Mullins

Read Sunday, 2 Dec 2018

Patrick Mullins is a Canberra-based writer and academic. He spoke with us about observing politicians up close, preposterous essay advice and the power of YouTube videos of rain.

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

Photograph of Patrick Mullins

What was first I have no idea. What stuck out most when I read this question, however, was memories of reading P.G. Wodehouse for the first time on a train in Italy: I laughed my socks off, much to the disapproval of fellow travellers. 

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

I wrote God-awful angst, about god-awful angstiness. It was very, very, very bad.

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

When I was studying I worked as a waiter in one of the dining rooms at Parliament House. Seeing the politicians up close was fascinating – as the old journalist Alan Reid might have said, in an ‘animals in the parliamentary zoo’ sort of way. It prompted, I think, my interest in politics and the character of our politicians.

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

Reading. 

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

Don’t use ‘I’ in an essay. Absolutely preposterous advice.

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

Never. It’d be too boring to warrant doing.

Which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?

The Quest for Corvo is obscure and a gem: it turns biography into a detective story, with the elegant and intrigued biographer, A.J.A. Symons, chasing the story of the mad, bad charlatan Frederic Rolfe.

I listen to rain. Those three-hour videos of it on YouTube are a godsend. I don’t know if that’s strange.

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

I write early, in my office at work, before people are around. Once they arrive, I listen to rain. Those three-hour videos of it on YouTube are a godsend. I don’t know if that’s strange. 

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

I would write and rewrite everything I have ever written, given the chance. Re-reading my writing prompts the same thoughts I have when I see photos of myself in high school yearbooks: ‘Ugh, what was I thinking?’ 

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

Leo Tolstoy – but in his pre-peasant stage of life.

Patrick is the author of Tiberius with a Telephone, a new biography of prime minister William McMahon, out now through Scribe Publications.

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