David Malouf

Posted on Posted in David Malouf, Interview, Literary fiction, Miles Franklin Award, Writer

David Malouf is an internationally recognised Australian writer. He has received the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the International Dublin Literary Award, the Australian Literature Society Gold Award, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize. He was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Booker International Prize, and in 2011 was a finalist in the Man Booker International Prize for services to literature.

His body of work is long and distinguished, and includes:

  • Johnno (1975)
  • An Imaginary Life (1978), awarded the NSW Premier’s Literary Award
  • Fly Away Peter (1982), awarded The Age Book of the Year
  • 12 Edmonstone Street (1985)
  • The Great World (1990), awarded the Miles Franklin Literary Award
  • Remembering Babylon (1993), awarded the inaugural International Dublin Literary Award and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Miles Franklin Literary Award
  • The Conversations at Curlow Creek (1996), shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and The Age Book of the Year Award
  • The Complete Stories (2007)
  • Ransom (2009), shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award
  • The Writing Life (2014).


Astrid Edwards: David Malouf, welcome to The Garret.

David Malouf: Thank you.

Astrid: We find ourselves in Mildura at the Mildura Writers Festival, and I have to say, congratulations. You are the latest recipient of the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal.

David: That was a great honour.

Astrid: David, when I was researching your biography, I did find that I came to a moment where I thought, ‘I can't do this’. You have either been awarded or been shortlisted for almost every award there is, and it was a little bit overwhelming for me, I have to say. [Laughter]

So, I decided to focus on some of your works that have had the greatest impact on me, and I wanted to start with Ransom. David, I am, I admit, a former classics teacher, and I adore the Greek and Roman classics, and Ransom is your retelling of the latter part of the Iliad, the rage of Achilles, the death of Hector and Patroclus, the final acts of King Priam. What made you want to retell that story?

David: I can't quite answer that, because you never know, as a writer, what it is that's going to grab you in some kind of way. What I mean by ‘grab you’ is, it seems important to you, and writing the book is finding out the way in which it's important to you and why it's important to you. So, the book is the answer to that.

It goes back a long way with me, because when I was about 10 – and I wrote a poem about this – one afternoon, we used to, at my state school in Brisbane, West End, always play tunnel ball on those afternoons. One afternoon, we couldn't do that, and it was raining, and the teacher decided to read to us a version of the Trojan War. I was a big reader, but I hadn't actually discovered that story in quite that way, and what fascinated me about it, I suppose, was that she had to stop before the end, and that was a war that was suspended.

And I was actually – when I was 10, this is 1944 – I was living in the world of a war that was suspended, and so that was what I went back to in the poem. Years later, that material came back to me, and I decided to begin writing something, I didn't quite know what, and it got put aside. But I knew I wanted to concentrate on the relationship between Priam and Achilles, which is established so unexpectedly and against the grain of things. I think that is what is so wonderful about the work, I mean the Iliad, which I still think is the single greatest work...

Astrid: I have a…

David: … that Western culture has ever produced.

Astrid: I have a quote here for you, David. As I was researching your biography, you've called the Iliad ‘the greatest piece of writing ever offered to us’.

David: Yes.

Astrid: I thought that was a beautiful…

David: That's amazing that at the beginning of our whole literary culture there should be a work which has cast its shadow forward for 27 centuries and which, in some ways, has never been exceeded. When I was writing the book, I thought, ‘Oh, well, look, who's going to be really interested in this?’ But that's something you have to ignore when you want to write something. You say to yourself, ‘If it interests me, I'm not so strange that there won't be other people out there who will be interested.’

Of course, what happened was, I mean, that book took off in the most extraordinary way both here and especially in France and in Italy, in Greece, Germany, and I say I owe a great deal to Homer. Without him, that book wouldn't exist. But he actually now owes a great deal to me, [Laughter] because in the last years, I can't tell you the number of people who said to me, ‘After I read your Ransom book, I went back and read the Iliad itself for the first time.’ That's a great thing to be able to do.

Astrid: Oh, it's a wonderful thing, David. When you were writing Ransom, obviously you were drawing from Homer and the Iliad. Now, in this day and age, there are many different translations of Homer, many different into prose, into poetry. Did you consult multiple versions? How did you attack the idea of translation?

David: Over the years, I've read the Iliad many, many times in several translations. The one I always go back to is the one I began with, which is actually the very first Penguin Classic.

Astrid: Brilliant.

David: That is the E. V. Rieu prose translation, which I really love. But I was interested in a couple of other things. I was interested in the way… what Priam decides to do is something braver, in its own old man's way, than anything anybody else in the Iliad is…

Astrid: Had…

David:             ... doing.

Astrid: ... done on the battlefield.

David:             He's breaking all the rules to rediscover a way of working, and it's also a breakthrough in the moral world of the Iliad too, because Homer has actually seen it, but that's not his chief point, and that is that is that Priam is saying, ‘What if the world is different from the way we think it is?’ That, the thing that is most interesting to me in the work, really, is what I did by introducing Somax, a character who could not exist in the Iliad itself, but who I could create to be in conversation with Priam and to be Priam's educator in a kind of way. I mean, without Somax, Priam could not prepare himself for that meeting with Achilles.

Astrid: Achilles.

David: What I was drawing on there was another great book, really, which is essential to Western literature, and that's really Don Quixote, because the relationship between Priam and Somax is a little bit like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. That was comic, and I liked the idea of being able to introduce a kind of comic picaresque chapter into something which has a quite different form, because otherwise, that book really is constructed like a French classical drama in five acts and a single time and all the rest of it. I was playing around with the whole culture, as well as taking the Iliad and remaking it. At the end, I hoped, again, in a kind of playful kind of way, we're not quite certain…

Astrid: No.

David: ... that Somax isn't himself Homer. [Laughter]

Astrid: Yes. Yes. Now, I have to ask, David, the Iliad is, I guess, the first of three great epics that came from Greek and Roman heritage. Of course it is followed by the Odyssey and then, in a different language at a different time, the Aeneid. Have you ever considered retelling stories from either of those?

David: Now, look, I mean, large numbers of people have chosen to retell the story of Dido and Aeneas, for example. No, I was... I mean, perhaps it was because of the lateness with which I'm writing that.

I was very, very interested in the relationship of Achilles and Priam, because they're both people who know absolutely that they're about to die, so they're two people for whom mortality is the real truth that they are dealing with. One young, one old, they're dealing with that in their different kind of way. I think that's one of the things that draws people so much to the book. There's something very affecting about two people who, one young, one old, who, at the point of death, who recognise that what they share is a humanity that wipes out all the other antagonisms and all the rest of it.

So, I don't think I would find anything quite so close to my own situation [Laughter] in any of those things, great as they are.

I mean, the moment in the Odyssey which I'm, of course, as everybody is particularly drawn to, is the visit to the underworld. It's, again, both there and in the Aeneid. That's one of the high points of the work, and I think that's got something to do with the fact that if you're dealing with a culture, a warrior culture, in which people are fighting, but it's their moment of death that is really going to define them, that question of what comes after that, the visit to the underworld, is very, very, very crucial to the whole thing.

Astrid: Ransom, based on part of the Iliad, is not the first time that you've brought to life an ancient story. Your earlier work, An Imaginary Life, drew heavily on Ovid's Ars Amatoria.

David: Yes, it did, and also the Letters ex Pontus.

Astrid: Can you, again, written much earlier at a very different stage of your life, can you tell me and our audience what attracted you to these ancient poems?

David: I, again, can't really quite answer that. When I wrote An Imaginary Life, I had already written a novel, but of a very different kind, because Johnno is that kind of first novel in which people draw very strongly on their own experience. Family, and growing up, and in that case, a friendship. That's usually the point at which you exhaust a certain kind of your material, and I was very wary of trying to write a second novel. When I wrote An Imaginary Life, I didn't say to myself, ‘This is my second novel’. I didn't know what it was. It was a monologue. I thought it might have been a long prose poem. Certainly, the first part of it I wrote, which is Ovid's, Ovid and the poppy, that was written quite independently about three weeks before I started the actual book, and it existed for me as a prose poem. And it was out of that and my interest at that moment in poetry and what poetry does in language, my interest in a question which really arose out of a previous poem I, written about Mandelstam, what happens to a poet who is taken out of his own experience and deprived of the possibility of continuing to write? What about if you did that in its ultimate form, and you had a poet who was sent to a place where he no longer spoke the language? That would be a question about the relationship between language and poetry, and if poetry can exist if you're deprived of the language, because your experience exists in a language form, and if you take the language away, you're essentially taking away the person's experience.

I remember then from the Ovid I did at school that that was a good case to use. The rest of it just followed.

Astrid: It's a beautiful work, and of course, in reality, Ovid was exiled, partly because of the Ars Amatoria and potentially other things that are obscured from the historical record. I've been reading one of your later works, The Writing Life, and in there, there's a collection… you talk about other writers, for example Thomas Mann and Victor Hugo, and the idea that they became that public adversary and were using their words, and their language, and their ideas, to protect their nations and protect the ideals that they stood for. What role do you see for writers in our current times?

David: Look, I think it's always very difficult, but writers, I think, mostly choose not to become public figures. I mean, it's very, very, very rare to find someone like Thomas Mann, who resisted for so long becoming a public figure, because he felt that he was representative, but that the work that he was producing came out of his own peculiar – and really peculiar, in his case – personality and experience. To actually offer yourself as a public figure, as he did, was a very, very dangerous thing to do, dangerous to his writing. That he survived it is extraordinary.

I think Victor Hugo is slightly different, because he had seen himself from the beginning as in a very egotistical way, as, well, first of all, as the real representative of the French language, setting himself up against Racine. He's a very, very self-conscious writer, and I think it was less difficult for him, although he suffered. I mean, having to go into exile for all of those years was pretty hard.

Astrid: Can you imagine that happening in today's world, a writer having to go into exile?

David: Oh, I think it happened many times over. In Europe, it happened to all those people other than Thomas Mann, he wasn't the only exile. I mean, most writers went into exile.

I'm fascinated by the ones who chose not to, like Gottfried Benn, for example. Again, that's the story of Russian writers, Polish writers, Polish poets particularly, which ones decided to leave and which ones decided to stay. I think we have to make a kind of special case for artists of all kind under the, say, the Soviet world. We're often really doubtful about people who stayed in the kind of compromises they had to make. Very, very hard thing to be an artist and to have to hang on in some kind of way and keep doing your personal and very idiosyncratic work, like Shostakovich, for example, and at the same time, not quite cooperate with, but not fall out, either, with the authorities. Terrible, dangerous situation.

Astrid: I was speaking to my colleague at RMIT, the poet Ania Walwicz, who grew up, was born and grew up in Poland, and then immigrated to Australia. She said that she's fearful in Australia, and it reminds her of things she would not rather be reminded of. She only said that to me yesterday. It was quite amazing.

David: Look, I think that one of the things that happens these days, there's a lot of pressure on writers as there is on almost anybody who comes forward and is a public figure. We live in a kind of world which has all sorts of public stages, whether it's television, or interviewing even like this. There's a lot of pressure on people to conform to what the general view is about this or that. I think that what we have tended to learn to do is keep our mouths shut about some issues which we know they're only going to lead to a kind of divisiveness and bitterness, and so there's a lot of silence around, in this country, for example, at the moment, about all sorts of questions.

Astrid: For younger writers, for writers at the beginning of their career, what advice do you have to them in relation to this silence?

David: Well, look, one of the things that disturbs me a great deal at the moment, and it's been so for quite a long time, and it's got to do, really, with what's now called the publishing industry. When young writers come along, whether they're poets, or fiction writers, or whatever, there's a tendency for the publisher to say or the agent to say, ‘Oh, well, what's your identity as a writer?’ Because that's important, because it allows the publisher to know what kind of niche market you are aiming at. ‘Are you an ethnic writer? Are you a gay writer? Are you a chick lit writer?’ That is terribly dangerous to writing, because one of the reasons why you write is to allow the writing to tell you who you are. The writer will establish your identity, and you don't know what that identity is until the writing is on the page and it begins to tell you. And that identity changes over the whole of your career, so to identify yourself so early on and to find yourself caught in this definition is a very, very dangerous thing to do to yourself as an emerging writer, because you're not going to emerge very far.

Astrid: You mentioned your first novel, Johnno. Looking back, did you end up the kind of writer you thought you would be?

David: No. No. I think I've always thought that what the writing was meant… that I would begin something that was maybe, first of all, beyond my knowledge of where it was going to take me, and might turn out to me to be beyond my capacity to produce. Only when the thing is there could you say to yourself, ‘Oh, well, that's what that was all about, and I think I've done it. I don't know. I'll have to put it out there, and other people will tell me if I've done it or not’. What that really means is, I've done it in a way which makes it possible for the reader to come along and make it part of their experience. You don't really know that.

You can't manipulate the reader. You can't fabricate the thing. You have really to give yourself up to it and say, ‘Well, it either works, or it doesn't work, and if it does work, I've taken a big step in discovering what kind of writer I am and what the dimensions of my writing might be’.

So that what's happening is, you add one work to another, and the body of work you're producing begins to declare itself to you. You know something which I've found very, very useful that often when an idea comes to you and you begin it, and it seems like a good idea, you know to judge that in the end by the question, ‘Does this really belong to the body of my work, or is it a fabricated work that I can pull off that it's not the real thing?’

Astrid: Do you feel that about any of your works?

David: I feel that about works I've begun and abandoned, but no, all the works that I've produced I would measure against that. To that extent, I want the works to – however different they are from one another – to speak to one another, and in some ways to, as a new one comes, for that work to amplify the other, an earlier work. People come back to that and find different things in it, because they see now where the work, body of work, is going. That's, happens to me as well, and I expect that to happen to readers.

Astrid: When you're writing, when you sit down to draft your work, do you have your readers in mind, or...

David: I don't have my readers in mind. I have a ‘reading mind’ in mind, if you know what I mean.

Astrid: Yes.

David: Everything I write in terms of the construction of the sentences and all the rest of it, and this goes back to the fact that I began with poetry and wrote a lot of poetry before I wrote any fiction.

I, in my own head, hear everything I write being read aloud, and I expect that the reader too, as they read, is thinking of a voice reading to them rather than them reading off the page. That determines the way I think shaped the prose, both in terms of sentence structure, and music, and all the rest of…

Astrid: Who do you first share your draft works with? Do you have a first reader?

David: From An Imaginary Life on, I did have a first reader, and that was somebody who typed up for me – because I've never been, I've never moved with the technology, I mean, I still write by hand and then type up in my own terrible way, two-fingered way. This was somebody who would always type up, and as the technology changed, and what you had to send to a publisher was a hard copy that they could immediately use in that way, I couldn't do that, so I had someone, Chris Edwards, who had been a student of mine at Sydney University, and who typed up the first version of An Imaginary Life. He typed almost all my works until, he certainly typed Ransom.

As the… a writer himself, and I didn't use him after that because he was writing himself, and I didn't want to take his energy or time to do that, he is a very, very, very sharp judge, and as you know, when you type something up or when you write the second version of it, you see little things that are, questions, he would send back the typescript to me with numbers and numbers of little yellow stickers on it where he, as a reader, had some problem either with the way a sentence went or with something more that he thought should be there. And so a very, very useful dialogue with him.

I, for that reason, he was, he is such a good editor, he's a professional editor now, that I didn't ever submit a manuscript to a publisher that wasn't, as far as I understood, not only completely finished in the writing, but completely edited, so they really have always had very little to do.

Astrid: What is your process now? You still write by hand?

David: I still write by hand, yes.

Astrid: How does it make it onto the computer?

David: People are very kind and offer to do it for me. [Laughter] I mean, sometimes…

Astrid: I have no doubt.

David: ... they, my poetry editors at the University of Queensland Press, and I've always published my poetry with them, they've been very, very good about typing it up, putting it into a hard copy for me. Yeah.

Astrid: What is it like for you to be edited, and does that still happen?

David: Well, look, in the earlier days, I've been very peculiar in that I've always stuck with the same publisher, so once I got an English publisher, which was with An Imaginary Life, I had first an American publisher with that, and then that book was sold on to England. Really is work by an American writer.

Astrid: Extraordinary.

David: Once I moved to Chatto & Windus, which is the English publisher, I've never moved from there. So in all those days when the fashion was for your agent to auction books, I never allowed that to happen, so I've stayed with Pantheon in the States and with Chatto & Windus in London. And what that used to mean was that Chatto had a staff of perhaps 40 people, and everybody on that staff would have read every person who was published, so anybody who had the job of being the copyeditor of a book of mine would already have read all the previous books and things like that. That no longer happens. Almost everything now is farmed out.

So I know with the last book of stories, I had, not so much with Ransom, because the person who did the copyediting at Ransom, for Ransom, was actually the woman who ran Chatto, so she knew every word of mine all the way back, but on the last book of stories, which was Every Move You Make, I had a copyeditor, and she sent me back about 30 changes that she thought should be made. I looked at them, and then I wrote back to her and said, ‘Look, thank you for this, and there were six or seven places here where I'm very grateful to you for having picked up things which shouldn't be there. You've done a very good job. The others, I can see that that is a way this sentence might go, but it's not the way one of my sentences would go. I realise it's odd or awkward, but that kind of oddness or awkwardness is my awkwardness, and I don't want to give it up, because I think in the end, it's our awkwardnesses which people recognise as our real voice.’

In saying that, I thought, ‘I'm lucky. I have the power to do that’, but a young writer wouldn't necessarily do that. They'd say, 'Well, look, this is a professional editor. She thinks it should go this way. Maybe it's best’. You just shouldn't do that, because your oddness is the only thing you've got.

Astrid: That is a good life lesson, a good recommendation for younger writers.

I really enjoy your collection The Writing Life in that you reflect on many different writers that you've read, but I have a question for you, David. Which living writers do you currently read and enjoy?

David: Oh, among Americans, I've always been interested in Richard Ford. I think those earlier books of Richard Ford's. I think he's probably got to the end of his character, Bascombe, and the last one, to be frank with you, seemed to me to be pushing it a bit, but I think he's very, very good. I'm not sure that I can necessarily think of... I think Ishiguro's very good. He would be the English writer I sort of admire. I mean, I think it was absolutely just that he got a Nobel Prize. It's not always true.

Astrid: [Laughter] Your expression, David, that's wonderful. I know you adore Patrick White. Have you read the recent work by Christos Tsiolkas on Patrick White?

David: Yeah, I thought that was interesting, both in terms of Christos and his discovery of White, really. And on his part, it was generous. It's a very generous book. I wouldn't agree with him about which books of Patrick are the ones that really matter, and I actually think, as with almost any writer, even one like Patrick, there are some books which are clearly great achievements, however difficult, and other ones that I don't much care for.

Astrid: No. Fair enough. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle de Kretser, like you a previous recipient of the Miles Franklin Literary Prize. She reflected that literature is a long game, and we don't know now who will be still being read in 200 years.

David: Or 20.

Astrid: True, but a provocative question for you, David, do you think you'll be read?

David: Oh, look, I really think that you can't answer that. I think I'm extremely fortunate that at this point my books are still in print, because a lot of writers', and good writers', books are out of print. I'm appalled, for example, in terms of the writers that I would once admired in England that they're completely out of print. Sometimes, when you mention their names, like Joyce Cary, people don't even know who you mean. And then… but you don't know what might happen if someone picks up one of those books once and reminds people, and other people reading it, because word of mouth is the only thing that matters, and readers are the only people who keep books alive.

I know there's a belief that there's a kind of academic canon and that that is the list of people who, but if people out there are not reading it, that ... Who would have predicted that, say, Jane Eyre is probably the most read novel in English? I mean, I think Dickens is the greatest novelist we've ever produced, but clearly, that is a book that generation after generation people have found something in. It's a wonderful book. It's one of my favourite books.

I don't think you can predict in any way. You hope, then that's what you do with the books. You send them out. They're no longer yours. You send them out, and they belong to readers after that, and they're supposed to find their own friends and lovers. You hope that that's what will happen.

Astrid: That is such a beautiful way of looking at it, David. Of your body of work, what are you most proud of?

David: Hard to answer. Maybe it's An Imaginary Life, just because, but I find it difficult to judge that, because that was a book that came so easily and under such difficult conditions that it seems to me like a gift book, and so I'm eternally grateful to it. Whether that influences my fondness for it, I don't know.

Astrid: When you come across difficult conditions, when maybe life or writer's block gets in the way, how do you proceed with a work? How do you continue?

David: I don't really think I've ever suffered from writer's block. I think when you start a book that you know is a book that you are utterly committed to, it's quite easy if you have discipline, which you need, to go back to that each day and work on it until it's finished, because in a way, it seems like such a safe place. Say, ‘I know what I'm going to be doing for the next nine months, or eight months, or 15 months’, or whatever it is, and that's kind of a comfort zone. While you're in the grip of that book, your kind of life is made for you. I've never found it difficult to commit myself in that kind of way. I have often said that I've known at various points in my life, either as a student or later, people who had what seemed to me to be a huge capacity to be writers. What they didn't have, it turned out, was either the discipline you need or the capacity for solitude that you need, because writing is very, very, very lonely business.

Astrid: When you find yourself in the grip of a work, in that safe space for nine months or 15 months, how do you do it? Do you set yourself daily word targets? Do you... What's your process?

David: It's really, I think, just a matter, it's a bit like training in sport. If you don't do it every day, it gets harder and harder. If you leave it for three days, it's hard. If you leave it for two weeks, it's very hard, so you just have to go each morning, or whatever time it is, and sit down at the desk, and wait to fall into that state, which is a bit like being half-asleep, where the writing will happen. You need to be in that state, because it's a state in which things you didn't know you had observed, things you didn't remember, are immediately available to you for the needs of the writing.

The more disciplined you are about doing that every day means that happens more quickly. If you're not disciplined, or you're at the beginning of something, it'll take a half hour, or before the half hour, you're struggling, and then the next time you look at your watch, another hour has passed, and you didn't even notice it. It's in that hour that the work gets done. I don't plan ahead, really.

I don't have a plot, usually. What I have always done is do the new work in the morning. It might be 500 words. It might, if you suddenly have a burst, be 3,000 words, and then late in the day or in the evening, look at that and make the corrections and things, and then your mind is ready the next day to take the next step, although you don't know quite what it is yet.

Astrid: You were once an English teacher, David. What is it like to find some of your works at various stages on the school curriculums?

David: Well, I get a lot of letters from kids, usually on behalf of a class, where they say something like, Fly Away Peter, for example, it's a frequent letter I get, ‘Are we meant to think of Jim Saddler maybe as being Aboriginal, because he has this imaginative capacity to enter into the land and the creatures of the thing. People, some people think yes, and some people think no. What's the answer?’ You really want to write back and say, ‘Well, look, actually, in the writing of the book, that didn't ever occur to me, and there's a moment where he sees some Aboriginal people under a tree in Musgrave Park in Brisbane, and he doesn't identify with them, so presumably he is not. Maybe what part of the book is about is about the two possible ways of possessing land. One is legal, and the other is imaginative and spiritual. Maybe what our history of being Australians is about is to discover how to do that, and he has done that, and Ashley Crowther very generously recognises that in him is being different from the way he possesses the land and kind of shares the land with him.’

Astrid: Do you write back to all the letters that you receive?

David: I do, yeah.

Astrid: That is…

David: Yeah.

Astrid: ... wonderful, David.

David: But I also write back sometimes and say, ‘I am not going to answer this question, because it's a question that is an open question. If I attempt to answer it, that will be a false answer’. But also, I want to say to them, ‘Look, the writer, if the work has come from a deep enough place, the writer doesn't know all the connections that have been made here, and in a way, because the writer is never going to read the book as a reader, he is never going to grasp that. The person who will grasp that best is a very good, close reader, and so the writer is the wrong person to ask.’

Astrid: In the mid-1980s, you published 12 Edmondstone Street, a memoir. Have you thought about another memoir?

David: No.

Astrid: That seems quite definitive.

David: 12 Edmondstone Street really is a kind of way of writing about your experience by analysing space, and using the house, and the rooms, and all the rest of it was a way of doing that. It was a way of writing about something I think is very interesting, and that is the way in which your consciousness and your sensory world is created out of the first spaces and the first house, and you live in. That's a very interesting subject for anybody, and I think one of the things that that book achieves most, and why people have kept it alive and continue to read it, is, it makes people say, ‘Oh, how much of what I am was determined by the space I grew up in’.

I was just been having breakfast with Les Murray and was saying to him that, about memoirs, that any piece of writing about a writer's childhood and early adolescence and later is interesting, because that tell us something about how their sensibility was shaped and their consciousness was shaped. After that, writers' lives are mostly pretty boring. Now, all you can say after that, ‘He sat at a desk and wrote’.

Astrid: But you just had breakfast with Les Murray.

David: ‘He sat at the desk and wrote.’ So, going back to an earlier question, it's very, very rare that what happens to a writer was what happened, say, to Thomas Mann, as you said, and Victor Hugo. That is that history steps in and takes their life over and makes the second half of their life very, very different from the lives of most people. But most writers, they get to 25, 26, 27, and what happens to them after that is really what's happening on a page. All you can say is, ‘Yeah, okay. Sat at a desk and wrote.’

That's the great thing about that two-volume George Painter study of Proust, because what the first volume is about is all the experiences of Proust, and the second volume is how all of that experience is translated into the fiction, that basically nothing happened to Proust after that. He built a house with a soundproof room, with a soundproof wall, and sat there and wrote.

Astrid: [Laughter] David, do you have any final advice for those who are trying to write now who are sitting in a room by themselves?

David: I suppose it would be something I've said several times in the last couple of days, that you have to learn to trust the writing and to trust your discoveries in the writing as the writing unveils itself to you, and not worry abou rules, not worry about who has already written before you, not to be scared of being influenced or what you're doing being derivative. All of those things. There's a lot you have to put out of your head, so you really have to begin with a blank sheet – not only the blank sheet in front of you, but the blank sheet in your head.

Astrid: David, thank you very much for coming to The Garret.

David: Thank you.