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Working with Words: Wayne Marshall

Read Monday, 14 Jan 2019

Wayne Marshall is an Australian writer and musician. He spoke with us about scoreboard operating, handwriting first drafts and angsty grunge music.

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

Photograph of Wayne Marshall

As far as laughs go, it would have to be Paul Jennings’s short stories. They had a massive impact on me when I was young. Not only in the warped (and very Australian) sense of humour, but also the fantastical scenarios Jennings was so great at dreaming up.

I don’t remember the first piece of writing that made me cry. But I do remember reading Last Exit to Brooklyn at 18 and just being shattered, over and over again. Such a brutal novel.

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

Aside from one horror story I had published in my high school yearbook, I didn’t write much prose until my mid-twenties. Instead, from my mid-teens I wrote song lyrics for the bands I sang and played guitar in. It was all pretty angsty stuff, influenced by the grunge music I was listening to at the time.  

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

For the last six years I’ve been a full-time stay-at-home parent. The chaos of that situation has forced me to be very disciplined with my time. I’m up early most days, writing before my daughters wake. 

A lot of what I know about men and sport and outer-suburban life … I gleaned from the window of that aluminium scoreboard on Saturday afternoons.

As a boy, some friends and I had a job operating the scoreboard at the local football club. They were long days: from the under-18 game at 9am till the end of the senior match at 5pm, $20 each and all the food we could eat from the canteen. It only occurred to me recently that a lot of what I know about men and sport and outer-suburban life  all the themes that have come to dominate my work  I gleaned from the window of that aluminium scoreboard on Saturday afternoons. 

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

Probably still playing music. Somewhere along the line I found I couldn’t pursue both writing and music. Not in any serious way, at least.

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

Ryan O’Neill’s advice of never looking back until the first draft is complete has been invaluable. I used to waste so much time endlessly re-writing first paragraphs. These days I handwrite first drafts. It’s a bit of a chore to transfer to the computer afterwards, but if I’m typing a first draft I know I’ll revert to wanting to perfect the language and sentences first time through.

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

No, I’ve never kept a diary. Although I do have books and books of story fragments and ideas. 

Which classic book/play/film/TV show do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?

I used to waste so much time endlessly re-writing first paragraphs. These days I handwrite first drafts.

Underrated: the entire body of work of American writer Steven Millhauser. Magical, strange, sublime. Millhauser would probably be my favourite short story writer. Sadly, he’s almost completely unknown in Australia.

Closer to home, Wayne Macauley’s collection Other Stories ought to be far more widely appreciated than it is.  

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

When I’m on a roll with a story I do have a thing of starting each writing session with some push-ups (ten, to be exact, and even that’s a struggle). 

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

Obviously there are some dodgy pieces left behind on the road to becoming a semi-decent writer. But I try to keep looking forward as much as possible.  

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

My favourite book growing up was Space Demons by Gillian Rubinstein, in which a video game becomes real for a bunch of Australian kids. I remember so badly wanting to be part of that world. Twenty-five years on, I’d still love to go there. Forget the awkwardness of adult dinner conversation. I want to go hang out with those kids, take the ride with them into Space Demons.

Wayne’s manuscript, Frontier Sport, is shortlisted for the Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2019.

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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.