Max Barry, author of Lexicon, Machine Man, and more, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |June 11, 2013

lexiconThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Max Barry

author of Lexicon, Machine Man and many more

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in country Gippsland, Victoria. We moved around a little then returned for my high schooling. There isn’t much in country Gippsland for a teenager. It’s the kind of place where you make your own fun.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

I always wanted to be an author. I didn’t always think it would be possible, in the sense of writing full-time without also starving to death, but it was the goal. I used to write stories at recess time in primary school.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

 I thought it was important to be super-famous. Today I think there’s an optimum level of fame where you have a modest group of supportive fans and that’s it. More than that and things get demanding. I had a lot more free time at eighteen.

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?

I loved Stephen King as a teenager; devoured everything he wrote but really connected with Christine. It’s not his best book, but it was perfect for me at the time. The Hobbit was breath-taking in its scale and ambition, and The World According to Garp gave me the kick I needed to start my first novel.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

Well, I’m crap at painting. I did enjoy acting in high school, but that was never as much fun as creating a story’s world from scratch.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…lexicon

An organization of “poets” have developed the ability to manipulate people using words as weapons. There are rival factions and a man who is somehow immune to persuasion is pursued by both. There’s also a girl
recruited into the organization who breaks one of its cardinal rules. And this is all connected to Broken Hill, which was wiped out in a mysterious incident several years beforehand.

(BBGuru: Publisher’s blurb –

Two years ago, something terrible was unleashed in an Australian mining town called Broken Hill. Thousands died. Few people know what really happened.

Emily Ruff is one of them. She belongs to an elite organisation of ‘poets’: masters of manipulation who use language to warp others to their will. She was one of their most promising recruits until she made a catastrophic mistake: she fell in love. Wil Parke knows the truth too, only he doesn’t remember it. And he doesn’t know why he’s immune to the poets’ powers. But he knows he needs to run.

As their stories converge, the past is revealed, and the race is on for a deadly weapon: a word.

Because the poets know that words can kill…


Click here to order Lexicon from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

What I mostly hope is that while reading it, people are impaired from normal function, so instead of writing reports or concentrating while driving, they’re thinking, “I really want to get back to that book.”

But afterwards, I hope people have a new interest in ideas like what language really is and how persuasion works. Because those are weird.

machine-man8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I seriously admire anyone who writes a whole novel, just because I know how hard that is. Plenty of people plan to write a novel one day but not many do. But my writerly crush is for Neal Stephenson, who mixes intelligent ideas with gunfights in just the right amounts.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Honestly, my goal is to write good books. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

The obvious one, “read and write,” is the most important. But I’d add: “Trust yourself.” No-one can tell you how to write your story. You need to figure that out for yourself. Other people will enjoy your story if you do.

Max, thank you for playing.

Click here to order Lexicon from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

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About the Contributor

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

Follow Andrew: Twitter


  • June 28, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    Something that is never said (or not enough) in any reviews or discussion of Mr. Barry’s work is that the first chapter is available to be read on his website for all his books but Lexicon.

    I think that’s the best marketing tool he has since if you read that, you’ll see how witty and funny his writing is.

  • December 31, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    I’ll have to check this guy out because he answered the questions almost exactly the way I would have. Christine, Garp and moderate fame…I hear you Max Barry.

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