Poet and novelist Neil Grant was born in Glasgow, and migrated with his family to Australia at age 13.
His first novel, Rhino Chasers, the story of three young guys on a “surfari” across Australia, was published in 2002 by Allen & Unwin and is now being developed as a feature film. The follow-up, Indo Dreaming, charts the progress of Rhino Chasers’ Goog as he travels through Indonesia in search of his dead friend.
In 2009, Grant travelled to Afghanistan to research his third novel, The Ink Bridge. The story, set mainly in suburban Melbourne and Bamiyan, Afghanistan, centres around two young men, one of whom is an Afghan asylum seeker. The novel was published in 2012 and won the Young Adult Book Award at the inaugural Queensland Literary Awards later that year.
Why I write
I am a compulsive documentarian who feels the need to record everything in poetry, short prose and eventually all this goes into a novel. Sometimes writing is hard, but I am miserable when I don’t write.
Do you write every day? If so, how many hours? Or do you work to a daily word count? What time of day do you write?
At the moment, I don’t have a strict writing regime as I am a casual high school teacher. I write best during the day and ideally work for 6-8 hours with frequent breaks to walk around, look in the fridge and go on extensive “research trips” on the Internet.
Where do you work? Describe the physical domain of your writing space…
I have worked in bungalows, bedrooms, garages (cold in winter) and had residencies in beautiful writing spaces such as Dunmoochin and Laughing Waters (in outer Melbourne). I completed the final draft of my last novel The Ink Bridge in a small room overlooking a Buddhist monastery in northern India. Right now, I am working from a corner of my kitchen/lounge/dining room. I am most diligent when staring at a blank wall.
Worst source of distraction?
The internet can suck a lot of time from my day. A simple bit of research can turn into a three-hour sojourn in cyberspace. Sometimes this provides serendipitous material that works its way into what I am writing. I also make a lot of tea and coffee, and stare at the contents of my fridge.
Best source of inspiration?
I am excited by ideas (as I think all novelists are). When I get hold of one it tends to branch out and out. When I can tuck all these unwieldy ends back in the novel, it tends to be finished. When I am writing scenes, I like to be able to see them visually, so photos or videos (or actually being there) help – this helps with the fine grain that I like to put into my writing.
How often do you get writers’ block / doubt your own ability?
I frequently doubt my own ability. Working on your own can mean a lot of time spent solely in your head. It is good to talk to others to bring things into perspective. Writers’ block usually follows the self-doubt, but I am always writing something, even if it is only haiku.
Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?
I am reading David Sedaris’ backlist at the moment after listening to him on “This American Life“. I like his writing (and spoken word) for the way he places the suburban next to the surreal. He is acerbic and funny.
I have many. Only Ever Always by Melbourne writer Penni Russon for the poetic, dreamlike writing. The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak for tricking me into liking death as a character. Hidden by Mirranda Burton is an empathetic graphic novel about the author’s experience working as an art therapist with disabled clients. I just finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon after working with students with autism. The sensitive portrayal of the protagonist gave me an insight into what it may be like to live with this condition.
I love Kurt Vonnegut for his approach to life and writing, and for his eclectic written works. His hilarious take on the shapes of stories can be found on Vimeo.
The book you should have read but haven’t?
There is a long list of books I should read (mainly classics) but unfortunately the list of things I want to read grows. Barring an extended jail sentence or a Robinson Crusoe-style marooning (with reading material) I will never read all the books I should. I once had a conversation with a bank teller who was reading War and Peace who said I should just read the “war bits” as they were more exciting.
You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
It is a marker of a time in my life and my development as a novelist. I love all my novels as if they were my wayward children.
How did you get started writing?
When I was seven or eight, I used to make little cardboard-covered illustrated books detailing my life. I went on to win the Hyndland Primary Year 6 poetry competition in 1978 (for “I Wouldn’t Like a Bunch of Flowers” based on Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”) but not the bunch of daffodils.
At 19, it was just me and my younger sister living in a house in suburban Melbourne while my parents lived and worked in Malaysia. It was a time for great growth and I began writing a journal containing poetry (mostly angst-ridden), observations and drawings. I didn’t realise it then but I was collecting for the day when I would place it all in a novel.
Does writing change anything?
Absolutely. It changes the writer by enriching their experience of the world and helping them understand their place within it. It changes the reader in much the same way. Each well-written book you read is a journey that you end with a sense of loss.
What are you working on now and when is it out?
I am working on a young adult novel based on Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno” with a two young homeless people, a solipsistic rat and a 19th-century Chinese gold miner as the main characters. I would like it to be out soon but it will most likely be out later.