John Birmingham is the author of the cult classic He Died With a Felafel in His Hand, the award-winning history Leviathan, and the trilogy comprising Weapons of Choice: World War 2.1, Designated Targets: World War 2.2 and Final Impact: World War 2.3. His latest novel is Without Warning. Between writing books he contributes to a wide range of newspapers and magazines on topics as diverse as biotechnology and national security. He writes a popular column for The Sydney Morning Herald.
Before becoming a writer he began his working life as research officer with the Defence Department’s Office of Special Clearance and Records. He lives in Brisbane.
Why I write
Originally, I felt driven to write. I just couldn’t help myself. I’m not sure why. Some of it was attention seeking. I realised pretty quickly I was better at it than other people, and I could make myself the warm little centre of the world for a few moments by doing tricks on the page. Later, I realised I could live an interesting life, have adventures, and get paid for telling stories about them. Now? I have a mortgage.
What sort of writing habits do you keep?
I write every working day, and on deadline I’ll write seven days a week. I’m the at home parent, so I only have school hours to concentrate fully on work, and as I get older I’m finding my ability to write at night is slipping too. But I use dictation software, which is much faster than typing, so I get through a bit between 9 and 3.
Describe the physical domain of your writing space…
I have a purpose built office. I’ll send a photo.
Worst source of distraction?
It used to be video games until I took them all off my system. Nowadays it would probably be online news and magazine stories. I had a terrible BuzzFeed habit for a while there.
Best source of inspiration?
Other people’s books. Even the bad ones. At least they’re finished.
How often do you get writers’ block / doubt your own ability?
I rarely doubt my ability to get the words down, but I do find myself wondering if I chose the wrong business. Both media and publishing have gone through some tough times these last few years, especially media. A buck is getting harder to earn. I still earn a few, but there are days I do wonder if it will all just end in tears.
Contemporary writer in any medium you always read?
I would have said Iain M. Banks, but I’m afraid he’s no longer with us. I loved his “Culture” novels. I’ve read them all, but I’m going back to listen to them in audio format because it’s like finding them anew.
Michael Herr’s Despatches. A great book about the Vietnam War, but also one of the most interesting experiments in just how far you can push the English language.
Favourite doesn’t mean best, but I’m a big fan of Stephen King’s work. Some of his latest work is approaching true literary status.
The book you should have read but haven’t?
The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
I hope the cops never read that.
How did you get started writing?
True story, I needed beer money. The student magazine on my local campus paid.
Does writing change anything?
On its own, no. Only people can change things. But before change there has to be an exchange of ideas, whether contested or not.
What are you working on now and when is it out?
A series called “Dave Hooper Saves The World”. Sort of a comedy horror techno thriller mash up. Three books in three months next year.
Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2014