by Hope Dorman
On November 5th, the Schoenfeldt Distinguished Writers series hosts Martin Flanagan, an Australian journalist, fiction writer, and poet. I had the chance to ask him a few questions about his work to which he provided some interesting insight. Check out what he has to say before his presentation:
How did you get your start as a writer?
In the late 1970s, I was in London driving a garbage truck. Someone connected me to a local arts magazine and they commissioned me to write a review of a film made from a Henry James novel. I remember describing it as “ “Gone With the Wind” without the wind” and getting paid 10 pounds for it. When I returned to Australia I got offered a job on a regional newspaper. At the same time, I started getting poems published in various magazines. At that point, I wanted to be a poet.
Which authors do you consider most influential to your writing style?
I could list lots of authors and poets who’ve impressed me over the years (I never go on holiday without a copy of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, but the truth is that the writer who most influenced me was my father. He’d been a prisoner of the Japanese during World War 2. He’d seen a lot, he’d suffered a lot and, in the post-war years, he reflected a lot. In one of my books, I said it was like growing up with a hard old monk. He was a gentle man but he was also impossible to impress. In my mid-20s, I spent a couple of years wandering the world and he wrote me a handful of letters – they had a big effect on me. Dad was a minimalist. He found the right word and let it sit in space. I like artists who work with space – I like it in painting, I like it in music. Dad died a couple of months short of his 99th birthday. At his funeral, I said that, if we were a family of jazz musicians instead of a family of writers, I’d say of Dad that he didn’t record many tracks or put out many CDs, but he hit some notes better than anyone I ever heard.
You have written fiction, nonfiction, poetry, journalism, and theatre. Which is your favorite to write and why?
The English painter Lucien Freud was once asked what hope is. He replied, “The next picture”. I’m a bit the same. Whatever I’m writing, I give everything I’ve got to it. I think about little else. Once it’s done, I hardly think of it at all. It’s always about the next one. I’m like a frog jumping from puddle to puddle in a dry landscape.
What sort of research do you do when writing about sports, a recurring topic of your work?
I reckon a lot of the important things you need to know as a sportswriter, you know by the time you’re 16. Like the first time you play in a real, live game and this ball bounces towards you and you sense the exhilaration that can be yours if you win possession of it. Sport was part of the culture I grew up in so it’s always been part of my general conversation although I’m pretty discerning about what sports writing I read and who I talk sport with. My idea of a great piece of American sports writing is “Ahab and Nemesis” by A.J. Liebling; an American sports book I enjoyed was The Curious Case of Sidd Finch by George Plimpton.
How has your work changed since you began writing?
As I get older, I don’t try and tell the story. I let the story tell me.
It’s exciting that an international writer is making the journey to campus, and as a result I’m sure he’ll have a unique presentation. Flanagan’s multi-faceted career makes him an excellent choice of writer from whom to gleam some inspiration. Whether you have an interest in journalism, fiction writing, or theatre, be sure not to miss out on this Aussie at 7:00 PM on November 5th in the Bauccio Commons Boardroom.