Originally an author of short stories, Jon Bauer has released his first novel and recently been named on the Miles Franklin Long List. Jon speaks to us in the lead up to his appearance at the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival.
How and when were you first inspired to write?
When I was about 28, I was travelling around Australia with a couple of friends and one of them, Tom, brought a journal with him. Each night we’d be camping and Tom would be writing in his journal, which I thought was quite strange, because I’d never done it before.
Somewhere around Adelaide, I bought a journal and started writing in it too. As we got up to the Bungle Bungles, Tom and I were sitting around having a beer, and Tom suggested we have a write off. He said, “Let’s pick a word, write about it, then read it out”. So he sort of started me off in the way in which I try to write, which is not worrying too much in the first instance about what comes out and how it is.
Tom doesn’t write, but he set me off in the right direction to just write for the sake of it. Every time I do that exercise, there’s always an idea of interest that I want to go away and develop.
Rocks In The Belly is your first novel. Tell us about it.
Some people say it’s dark, but I don’t think it’s that dark. It’s certainly not light, but it’s a very human novel in that we’re all the different colours of the human spectrum. It really does show two characters who are the same, actually – a boy at 8 and when he grows up to be a 28-year-old man.
It’s really what’s shaped him and what he’s reacting to from his childhood, but also what’s going on in his adulthood.
Growing up, his mum is obsessively fostering young boys, and the little boy can’t handle this competition for her attention. Especially when this young, lovely, charming and endearing boy Robert comes, and the mum really does fall for Robert.
The boy gets more and more uptight and stressed, until he does something quite dramatic. It’s really interspersed with the man coming back to face his mother, and he blames her for what he did – but he’s also still desperate for her love.
You’ve done a bit of travelling to research some other novels that you’re working on. Tell us about where they’ve taken you.
When I was writing short stories, I was always waiting to write a novel. I always felt like I wasn’t a real writer until I wrote a novel. I know it’s not true, but that’s what I’d cruelly inflicted upon myself.
The first novel I started to write and will go back to was such a silly one to start with, because one of the main characters was a Moroccan female Muslim, which is about as far away from me as you can get! I was trying to research Moroccans in Australia. I went to the immigration museum, and there was only at that time 1,800 – 2,000 Moroccans in the whole of Australia. Then a few things happened. My lease fell through, the course I was doing at university wasn’t working out, and I thought, “Why am I researching Morocco in Australia?” So literally a few days later, I jumped on a plane and went straight to Morocco. My first day there, I went marching straight up to the English university there and asked if they wanted some help teaching English. I applied straight away, and the next day I was teaching public speaking and creative writing to Masters English Students in Morocco! I was openly, blatantly and honestly using them to research my characters. I would get them to do public speaking around issues that I was exploring… female freedom, shame, sex in their culture. It was an amazing two and a half months, and I will go back to writing that book.
You’ve been recently named on the Miles Franklin Long List for 2011. What is the list, and what does it mean to you to be on there?
The Miles Franklin is a highly esteemed award / list for literature, so to be on it is incredible. It was completely unexpected and totally distracting! I’m already a pathological daydreamer anyway, so to be on the long list is just driving me crazy. If I get on to the short list, I’ll be in a mess!
It’s really hard, because the whole time you’re thinking, “Oh, I won’t win – it’s silly” and then you think, “But, what if I win?” It’s like lottery night every night for me at the moment! It’s a wonderful thing to happen; it’s great for a writer, because it helps to give you credibility. But it’s not very good for daydreams …
You’ll be appearing at the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival in April. What will you be doing while you’re up here?
I’m doing some work with schools. So I’m going to a couple of schools to talk about English and creative writing there, and I love that opportunity to get in among young people who are way more fun than adults and are interested in creative writing.
It’s great to give some insight to young people as to how helpful it can be, because I find writing very therapeutic.
My upbringing was confusing, so the idea that there are people writing through their problems is great. So I’m really looking forward to working with the schools.
The fact that we get billeted with locals is also going to be fun. Writers Festivals are always good, because that distance between a reader and a writer is completely blurred. You get to meet people, share stories, see that there are people you inspire and meet people who even inspire you.
Thank you Jon.
The Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival will be held from April 8 to 10, 2011. For more information, visit www.brwf.com.au