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Interview with Poet Dominic Kirwan

'Honest exploration of the human psyche... brash and unapologetic.'


Dominic Kirwan

Artwork by Dominic Kirwan

Dominic Kirwan

Thanks for coming along to chat. I've been a big fan of yours for quite a while now. Let's talk about your new book, Put a Smile on that Face. What can people expect to find?

Irreverent mayhem. Black humour. Social satire. Bleak navel gazing chunks of self deprecating chaos. Twisted tales of love lost and won. Surreal fables of microwave soup and other such mind altering banalities. A couple of serial killer ditties. Oh, and words... lots of words.

Your book. has a unique structure to it. What was the motivation behind it?

'Put a Smile on That Face' is really three smaller books in one. Each part has a certain flow from poem to poem that is very deliberate. The three parts sort of mimic each other structurally but end very differently. There are a lot of different types of poems in the book, at least they are different from me. Following up a humourous piece with a gut wrenchingly honest heart breaker works better than being overly repetitive. Hopefully the reader is surprised by the shifts in tone and doesn't know what's coming up next. At least that's what I was trying to achieve.

Did you always want to be a poet? How did it all come about for you?

I must admit I kind of wince at the title Poet. I've written poetry and short stories since early high school. The writing bug crept up on me more when I studied at University twenty or so years ago. I majored in Literature and Drama. Although if I'm honest (and I see no reason not to be) it came about as a reaction to mental illness.

My ambition was to be an actor and right before I finished my degree I had a complete mental breakdown. In my mind I had lost everything and was devastated when I realised that performing and acting were going to be very unrealistic professions to pursue with a diagnosis of Schizophrenia. So I started to write more and more. Initially it was a few poems every day in order to express the hell I was going through. The poetry was by and large dreadful of course. I was preoccupied with hiding myself and my thoughts in my poetry – which in turn made them very cryptic and quite disorganised. A lot of them were word salads and made little sense to anyone but me. But I stuck at it and kept putting it out there. Eventually Ginninderra Press picked up a manuscript from me which became my first book 'Where Words Go When They Die.'

How much of the person is in the work?

A hell of a lot. I'm brutally honest and I rarely hold back. I'm more interested in authenticity and exploring extremes, even if they are everyday, banal ones. Don't get me wrong, a lot of my poems are complete fictions, but I pour every ounce of myself into them. Still, my books aren't therapy –  I write because I absolutely love it.

Do you find Australia a difficult place for a writer’s work to be noticed?

Yes. But I suspect it's the same in most countries. I'm clueless about self promotion (and I mostly hate it) and I'm not very adept at utilising the internet to get my work out there. But I'm lucky to have a solid publishing company behind me. Most people don't really care about poetry at all, in fact I get the impression the average person loathes it. You can't be in this to make money. It's just not realistic. It's not that I lack ambition – I just think it's a tough thing to sell. It's hard enough to get people to buy your book on Kindle let alone in physical form. I suspect the art of real, beautiful, tangible books is dying if not almost completely dead. It's a great pity. 

How do you write? Do have a process of working?

Sometimes sporadically. Sometimes for intense, elongated periods. Other times I don't write for weeks at a time. One thing I lack is discipline. Although when I'm inspired and on a creative roll, I find it hard to stop. I over edit the hell out of everything I write also which can be a stifling factor.  

What would you like to take on in future? Do you have something planned?

I have a long, long time in the works novel called 'The Holy Babble' to finish. Once again though, major publication for a novel as weird as mine (or even at all) tends to be a bit of a pipe dream. I'm one hundred and thirty thousand words into writing it and I'm still struggling to find the impetus, and an interesting, original way to finish it.
I'm currently working on a manuscript for a book of short stories. I have about twelve or thirteen short fictions ready to go. 

Most importantly I have an almost completed manuscript for my next poetry book titled 'Miracles Become Monsters.' If everything goes according to plan it should come out late next year.  (2018)

Cheers Dominic
Best of luck to you and hope to talk to you again soon.

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Sofie Laguna Interview - Part Two

Sofie Laguna

Part Two – Parenthood, nits and Tom Hardy.

Anthony:      Do you think it's difficult being an artist in Australia?

Sofie:           I can really only speak for myself. I mean, I was an actor for a long time and that was pretty difficult. You’ve got to be resourceful. And I was unemployed. I didn't have the dream acting work that I wanted. That was pretty difficult for a long time. But I should be speaking politically, really, shouldn't I? About what it's like for other people and not just me. I don't know what is it like for other people out there. I like being an artist in Australia. I don't know how politically correct that is to say. I suppose I should be saying things like, we are not recognised the way we should be. All the funding that goes into sport. The way our people don't read enough. I should be saying all those political things. I suppose I'm aware of all of those things. There's not enough money. People aren’t buying enough books. For me personally, I love being an artist in Australia. I consider myself lucky.   (pauses)   I’ve got to start the car. I've got Bluetooth.

Anthony:      Ah, okay. We can wrap it up…

Sofie:           That's ok. I'll be driving along a bit.

Anthony:      So, you've been talking and done all that with the kids? Got the kids into the car at the same time?

Sofie:           No, the kids aren't in the car. I'll Bluetooth. It’s a fantastic thing, which means we can talk as I drive. It's unbelievable.

Anthony:      Have you seen that film Locke with Tom Hardy?

Sofie:           Because of the kids, I don't see any movies anymore.

Anthony:      It's called Locke. The entire film is set in the car while he's talking on Bluetooth.

Sofie:           Is it good?

Anthony:      It's absolutely brilliant. Well, you know how good Tom Hardy is.

Sofie:           Well you see, I'm a bit out of the loop. Before kids I saw every single thing that came out. Every single film, you know. But I'm out. I'm out.

Anthony:      Now it's Jimmy Giggle and the Teletubbies.

Sofie:           Hahaha pretty much.  No it's not. It's Paw Patrol and the Octonauts! Pirates versus Zombies.

Anthony:      Haha Dirtgirlworld.

Sofie:           No, that's all over man!

Anthony:      It's back! It's back. They've done a live action version.

Sofie:           Haha no there's no Dirtgirlworld at our place. I've got two boys you know. Maybe that changes things.

Anthony:      Alright. What else can I ask you? I guess that was the question really. Has having children changed you as a writer and as a person?

Sofie:           Oh God, that's a good question. Has it? My Mum reckons I'm happier now then I've ever been.

Anthony:      Yeah? That's nice.

Sofie:           Since I've been having kids. That's what she reckons.

Anthony:      Mum's know these things.

Sofie:           Haha yeah they do. But I am too busy. And that's uncomfortable. It's too much. It's definitely too much as in... So I quietly wrote my book in my own bubble on the edge of having kids, and that suits me. But then I did this. I didn’t know what this was sort of… all going to mean. It was all this, you know, like the publicity and people reading it and going out into the world. I didn't know what this whole sort of thing was going to mean. This career thing.

Anthony:      So it's become like that now? It wasn't like that before?

Sofie:           Well the Miles Franklin was a wave of publicity that lasted about three or four months. That was a big wave. But this wave has been bigger.

Anthony:      Really?

Sofie:          Yeah, this wave has been bigger. I don't know why. Maybe because I... I actually don't know why. Maybe the nature of the book or because of that prize or maybe a combination.

'That' prize

Anthony:      Combination perhaps. Or now it's easier to say ‘Sofie the Miles Franklin Prize winner…’

Sofie:           Exactly. Meanwhile, of course, I still have to do all the same house work. There's a lot of housework.

Anthony:      Oh it's chaos. But you've got two kids. That's so much worse than what I had.

Sofie:           There's shitloads.

Anthony:      Haha

Sofie:           You know they’re kids, so they get sick all the time and viruses and all that.

Anthony:      Nits.

Sofie:           Oh nits! I’ve had nits!

Anthony:      So have I! Haha

Sofie:           I had such bad nits. I thought I’ve got to go to the chemist. But I didn’t know it was nits. I thought I had a scalp condition.

Anthony:      Haha!

Sofie:           Haha It felt like my head was on fire!

Anthony:      It brings you back to earth doesn’t it? From Miles Franklin winner to nits. Haha

Sofie:           Haha yeah

Anthony:      You’ve got to put the stuff in the hair.

Sofie:           That stuff doesn't work. You’ve got to use conditioner.

Anthony:      Oh really?

Sofie:           Yeah. You've just got to put loads in every night for ten days. Literally half a cup of conditioner and comb it through and that's the only way.

Anthony:      Oh God. Did you put the plastic cap on the head?

Sofie:           haha The whole family had to do it. For ten days.

Anthony:      I know. It's shocking isn't it?

Sofie:           Did you have them as well?

Anthony:      Before I became a father, I was a step parent to three. So all five of us had it at the same time. And it would be the same thing.

Sofie:           Oh ok. So are you still that step parent of three?

Anthony:      Well they're grown up now, so I don't have to worry about nits. I just have to worry about pregnancies.

Sofie:           Hahaha

Anthony:      But I'm not with their mother anymore. I’m a single parent now.

Sofie:           Seven year old.

Anthony:      Yes. The seven year old. Same mother to the step kids. So she's got four kids and I've got one.

Sofie:           Right got it. So it's not as complicated as it first sounded.

Anthony:      Well I never wanted kids. So I suddenly ended up with three overnight. It was add hot water and stir. So, it was interesting.

Sofie:           Unbelievable.

Anthony:      Interesting, yeah.

Sofie:           I can imagine.  What the hell have we done?

Anthony:      I know. And it's too late. You can't go back.

Sofie:           Haha. You know this guy said to me the other day…  look, don't worry about it, because I was saying look, I’ve got to cook every night. He said it only last another twenty years, don't worry about it. haha

Anthony:      Oh shit.

Sofie:           I better get off the phone. I'm going on the road here.

Anthony:      Alright. I don't want you to have an accident or anything. Just quickly to finish up. Have you got something coming up next or going to have a break or…?

Sofie:           I’ve got a trip up to Sydney but I can't see myself having much of a break, just because that's not my personal style so much. As soon as I've got the energy and space, I'm sure something will happen.

Anthony:      Another adult novel?

Sofie:           Who knows? I'm not even sure about that. I just know that I am better when I am writing. I think, you know, I'm a bit physical. Maybe it’s a good way for me to manage myself when I am writing.

Anthony:      Okay then Sofie. Thank you very kindly for the chat. I really enjoyed it.

Sofie:           It was my pleasure.

Anthony:      Take care and drive safe. Check out that Tom Hardy film. Locke.

Sofie:           Haha right. I’ll try. Bye now Anthony.

Buy The Choke here

ebook Here.

Part One of the Interview here.

Other Interviews Here.

Interview with Sofie Laguna - Part One

Sofie Laguna 

Sofie Laguna is an Australian writer who won the 2015 Miles Franklin Award for her novel, The Eye of the Sheep. She has written three adult novels, eleven children's novels as well a number of picture books. She also writes plays and was once an actor, appearing in Blue Heelers and A Country Practice.

Sofie has a casual chat about her latest book, The Choke, with Anthony Langford. It evolves into a discussion on parenthood, nits, a serial killer, Tom Hardy, being a writer in Australia and many things besides.

Part One

Aileen Wuornos, tragic childhoods and creating The Choke.

Sofie:           Hi Anthony.

Anthony:      Good morning. How are you?

Sofie:           Not too bad. 

Anthony:      That's good. Thanks for agreeing to talk to me today.

Sofie:           How many minutes do you think we will be talking today Anthony?

Anthony:      It's up to you. We can do it in ten. Is that alright?

Sofie:           That sounds great.

Anthony:      Excellent. I know what it's like if you’ve got young kids at home.

Sofie:           Exactly.

Anthony:      I've got a daughter. She's seven now so she's in school but when she was younger I was the primary carer so ...

Sofie:          You know what it's like.

Anthony:      I know what it's like.  It's a handful.

Sofie:           It is.

Anthony:      How old are yours? You've got two, haven't you?

Sofie:           One is three on Sunday and one is also seven.

Anthony:      Oh good. Well I'll jump into it so that I'm not taking up too much of your time.

Sofie:           Why not?

Anthony:      So how is the tour going?

Sofie:          I'm going to Sydney this week and things will windup. There's a quiet period I'm anticipating for the next few months. Just with the odd appearance here and there. As you come to Christmas, things die down on the publicity front, which is good. Most of my publicity for this book is done now  For this book.

Anthony:      You've done a lot haven't you. You've been very busy.

Sofie:          Yeah, I feel like I have.

Anthony:      You've done all you can. It's out there in the world now.

Sofie:           I've done all I can. I mean, I can't think of any more publicity that I could have done. I don't know why but that's the way it worked out for this book.

Anthony:      With people who aren't actually familiar with the story, how would you describe it?

Sofie:           So the story is about a girl called Justine, who is ten years old, living with her grandfather on three acres of property that borders the Murray River in a fictionalised town called Yolamundi. About 25-30 kilometres out of Echuca on the Murray. Justine lives with her grandfather because her mother disappeared when she was three. Her father is an unreliable kind of a guy, who comes and goes. He's got an intimidating presence, even to his own dad. It's a complicated relationship between Father and Son. He comes and goes from the family property. Justine has the sense that he is up to something dangerous out there in the world. He's quite a secretive guy. Justine has to live in this world where she has very little protection, because her grandfather is an inconsistent sort of a Guardian. She has to survive.

Anthony:      In creating Justine's voice, when you begin writing, did it come out that way or did she start speaking to you beforehand?

Sofie:           She came to me quite clearly, when I committed to the book in a more serious way and decided to set it in Australia and not in America, as was my original idea.

Anthony:      Oh really?

Sofie: Yeah because I was inspired to write it because I watched Nick Broomfield’s documentary on Aileen Wuornos.

Anthony:      Oh yes, I've seen it.

Sofie:           So my character is nothing like Aileen Wuornos.  But I was so outraged by Alieen’s childhood.

Anthony:      Oh yes, it was shocking.

Sofie:           How bad was that? It made Justine’s childhood look easy. It was shocking.  Eileen did not get a break for one second.

Anthony:      No wonder she was so angry.

Sofie:           I know what could have happened? What else could have happened?

Anthony:      Poor thing.

Sofie:           Her dad was in prison for messing with a kid. Her grandfather was a … I can't even go there. It was so bad. You could never fictionalise that childhood.

Anthony:      She was almost created wasn't she?

Sofie:           Yeah. What else, I mean she was either gonna die within herself or at her own hand… or anytime there was something, she was betrayed by it. Maybe I'm cutting her too much slack. I don't know. The kid that she once was, she had a kid herself at age thirteen. Yet another tragedy. I was upset by that. I was really upset by the documentary, for reasons that I have not yet heard someone articulate, through a lot of the media around her as a serial killer. It was all mythologised. The childhood of that person was just not fair.

Anthony:      Not your typical Serial Killer story.

Sofie:           No. Exactly Anthony. I know there's a lot of a lot of unfair childhood experiences out there but really could it have been any worse?

Anthony:      So did you begin then with her childhood?

Sofie:           Yes, but I was pretty na├»ve. I just sort of jumped in. I'll write from the point of view of the thirteen-year-old that Eileen once was. I set it in America but realised very quickly that it wasn't going to work that way. Not really. I don't know anything about that culture really, so I decided it was much more sensible to set it in Australia. Which would mean… and I also learnt then that it wouldn't be about death row, because again, what could I really bring to that story? There was an Australian girl in a rural area because Eileen’s childhood was also rural. So I must have wanted her to be isolated enough, and that's why I chose it. I also like working with nature in my fiction. Especially if the childhood's going to be tough. It's as if I really want natural beauty to be a soothing influence or an escape in a book.

Anthony:      Which it is. I actually grew up in a rural environment, on the river, so I can identify with it in a lot of ways.  Are you familiar with that part of the world? Had you done much research?

Sofie:           Only through going up there since I decided to write the book, to be honest. I've been on the Murray a bit because I'm from New South Wales. I've been there for little holidays and stuff and I've been affected by it as a place. But once you start writing a book, the experience’s are such a powerful… what's going on in your imagination becomes increasingly powerful. So then when you go to the location, one feeds into another. You look at those gum trees and relate them to the story. And the country feeds the story and the story feeds your experience. The two things sort of all swirl around as one, if you like.

 "The country feeds the story and the story feeds your experience."

Anthony:      Okay so, perhaps let’s talk about your writing process. Do you have a particular set way of writing? For example, do you have a word count?

Sofie:           Yeah I'm pretty strict on word count. That's probably what really works for me. What works for me is the old word count. Consistency is important but since I've had kids there's not much…

Anthony:      Oh you've got to be flexible.

Sofie:           Oh I'm really flexible now.

Anthony:      Hahaha

Sofie:           But I'm not flexible on word count.

Anthony:      Sure. Discipline.

Sofie:           It's such a cool way to work because it just means it doesn't matter what time of day. Doesn't matter where. It doesn't matter if you're in your pyjamas. You’ve got to get the words out. Takes off all the pressure of it having to be perfect. Either the environment perfect or the time and place perfect. It's all chaos, but the word count is my Saving Grace.

Anthony:      Do you work from a laptop?

Sofie:           Yep laptop. I can't do the old hard copy. I can't do it anymore because I don't have the time, because of the kids.

Anthony:      Now I read somewhere that you used to write a diary. Do you still do that?

Sofie:           I always keep a diary. But when I'm writing fiction, I don't feel the need really. To write as much. I still carry it everywhere with me, but I just don't feel the need, because I'm getting a lot out anyway.

Stayed tuned for Part Two soon when Tom Hardy, Bluetooth and nits enter the discussion.