The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of How It Feels
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Born in Sutherland Hospital August 16th, 1976 and named after the great Irish poet, IRA man and alcoholic Brendan Behan. I have gone on to achieve two of my namesakes achievements. Raised in nearby Caringbah. Schooled at the De La Salle College Caringbah and then De La Salle Cronulla for Years 10-12.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve I wanted to play cricket for Australia. But I didn’t quite have the commitment, and, perhaps, the talent with the bat. At eighteen I wanted to be a journalist, but that quickly turned in to writing plays and such. And at thirty I wanted to be a novelist, and here I am, allegedly.
At eighteen I believed life was there for the taking and smashing up, now I think life is a fragile thing and you have to take care of it a bit.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger, which I read at 20 years old when at University in Bathurst. I honestly felt, finally, like I was not alone, and that voicing your fears and observations, however strange and dark, could be important. The Cure’s Disintegration album made me feel like my feelings were shared, and it was ok to have them and to feel them deeply. And perhaps Rothko’s Maroon paintings, for these are what art is about for me, a series of rich doorways leading to an even richer place, and so on.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I never thought I would do it so young is all. I love reading books, they’ve given me so much, and so, in a way I wanted to give back. But I first tried How It Feels as a play and a movie, and it didn’t work. It wanted to be a book. It told me that very clearly, and so it is now. I also wanted to write for the sake of writing, not for producers and directors, but for the reader of words.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
My latest (and only) novel How It Feels tells the story of a dreamy young guy called Neil Cronk and his journey through young life. We meet him at 18 and we follow him over ten years. Neil has two very intense male friendships, and a girlfriend he is madly in love with. To realise his full creative potential, Neil separates himself from the clan, and The Shire, which brings about much strain, an act of betrayal, and inevitably, deep tragedy. How It Feels is about the beauty and the ugliness of growing up in a beach side suburb, about the terrifying nature of being young, and about the people who will always see right through to who we are, older children. (Click here to read Booktopia BUZZ editor-in-chief, Toni Whitmont’s review)
This book is an unerring look at what it is to be young and male. I don’t apologize for that or pretend to have written anything else. I just hope people finish it, because what may seem offensive and shocking early on makes substantial sense in the end. None of what I have written is untrue, which is not to say it happened to me, but it’s true, it’s true to life, and so I hope that the reader at least considers this, and whatever comes from that is theirs to keep. I hope they laugh and cry and talk about it after.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I very much admire novelists, all of them, for now I realise how hard it is to simply get there. I admire Helen Garner for being so bold and bald in her story telling, I also admire Jonathan Franzen for being so simple but evoking so fucking much, and recently, M.J Hyland, for her cool style and truly dark subject matters.
Well I am very hard on myself. I live in a constant state of anxiety, and I believe that that’s all invited in by me and me alone. I don’t have ‘goals’, so to speak, there is no ‘one place’ I want to get to in my life. That would depress me, as a notion, to have a goal, I mean what the fuck do I do when I get there? I need to keep it all loose, and just work hard and dig deep constantly and always; always take the more difficult, more revealing option. Art must be honest or not at all.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Don’t try too hard to be well thought of. Don’t have too many influences and quotes and shit up your sleeve, just one or two. Just write deep and honest and be funny now and then if you are funny.
Brendan, thank you for playing.
Brendan Cowell is an Australian actor, writer and director. He was born in Cronulla, New South Wales, and completed a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Media at Charles Sturt University, Bathurst.
Brendan’s plays have been produced by prominent theatre companies in Australia and internationally, and he has received the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award, the Griffin Award and the Philip Parsons Young Playwright’s Award. Brendan played the popular character Tom in Love My Way and wrote many episodes of the critically acclaimed television drama series which won the AFI Award for Best Television Drama Series for each of its three seasons (2005-2007). He has played the lead role in feature films, including the 2007 crime drama Noise, for which he was awarded a Film Critics Circle Award and nominated for an AFI Award, World War I drama Beneath Hill 60 and rom-com I Love You Too. Brendan played Hamlet in a 2009 Bell Shakespeare production.
Brendan lives in Sydney, and is a committed supporter of the Cronulla Sharks rugby league team.
Brendan Cowell performs in Sydney Theatre Company’s True West by Sam Shepard, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, at Wharf 1 from 27 October 2010. www.sydneytheatre.com.au
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.