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Being Noticed: Q&A with PM Literary Awards Shortlisted Author Brian Castro

November 27, 2018

1. Blindness and Rage recounts the adventures of terminally ill Adelaide-based writer Lucien Gracq, and his journey to Paris to complete the epic poem he has been writing and to live out his final days. What inspired you to write this story?

I am of the age in which many friends and relatives have terminal illnesses. Classmates are dying; my parents are dead; some contemporary writers have cancer. I thought of Georges Perec, a French writer who came to Australia at the invitation of the University of Queensland in 1981 and was not aware he had terminal cancer. He wrote a book called “53 Days”, not realizing he would probably not survive much longer than that. He flew back to Paris and was diagnosed with lung cancer and died within a few months. All this sounds rather morbid, but Perec understood the game of life and death being played out in literary terms. The fact that I rented a flat next door to his former apartment in Paris without my knowing he had lived there was another irony of how literature intersects with life. It’s truly a user’s manual.

2. Structurally, Blindness and Rage: A Phantasmagoria has been described as a verse novel, written in thirty-four cantos. Why did you choose to write in this form?

Dante wrote his Inferno employing thirty-three cantos. I thought one more would give significance to the form of the long poem. I was also lamenting the death of the long poem since W.H. Auden, along with the death of my friend Dorothy Porter, who was a great exponent of this form.

3. This book addresses a number of themes – namely, the pretension and futility of literary ambition. Why did you choose to explore these themes?

Well, literary life is one of destruction and disappointment for a lot of the time. It’s great to be read and to be lauded, but the momentary glory is soon gone. I think we write because we understand the ephemeral and know that the words put down are passing bells for all the forgetting.

4. You are shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards this year and have also been the 2018 recipient of the Mascara Avant-garde Award for Fiction. As a writer, what do these awards represent to you?

I think awards are boosters for a writer’s sense of confidence. Depression is the norm otherwise. Any award means someone is noticing; someone is appreciating the work. It’s like any musician practising in a room and then playing at night to an appreciative audience. You need the feedback to fight the self-destruction. It’s like the words of a lover.

5. In addition to being a successful writer, you are also Professor of Creative Writing at Adelaide University. How do these two professions and practices inform one another?

I’m grateful for getting a day job. I’ve been on the far end of the block living on the edge of nothingness. Very few writers can make a living from writing alone. I made it an ideal and suffered from it. Ten years ago, I was simply desperate to get a job. I didn’t have one for almost thirty years. I wrote, but I was broke. The downside of a day job is that your writing is seen to be subsidised. It’s a pity people don’t understand that the way you got there was by living out of a suitcase. They love to see writers starving in garrets. They should try it first … both the garret and the writing. The main thing about ideals is that I come from a teaching background. My English grandmother was a teacher of girls in China. She was one of the first feminists in early twentieth-century China. Teaching is one of the best things a writer can do to pass on the torch of enlightenment and empowerment.

About the author:

Brian Castro is the author of the prize-winning Australian classic Shanghai Dancing and recipient of the 2014 Patrick White Literary Award. His recent novels include The Garden Book and The Bath Fugues, both shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, and Street to Street, loosely based on the life of the poet Christopher Brennan. He is Professor of creative writing at Adelaide University.

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Winners of the 2018 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards will be announced on the 5th of December 2018. Keep an eye on our Facebook page and website for winner updates and author interviews.

You can also join the conversation by using the hashtag #PMLitAwards, and you can read the full list of shortlisted titles here.


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