Email Interview with Nick Earls
By Jill Smith © July 2002
At the suggestion of Simon Higgins, YA writer at Somerset Celebration of Literature I emailed Nick Earls after meeting him at the event. I greatly admire Nick for his writing achievements. Some of his books aimed at the young adult market are ‘Bachelor Kisses’, ‘Perfect Skin’, ’48 Shades of Brown’ and ‘Headgames’. He is enthusiastic about his writing and reads his work brilliantly, a truly wonderful orator. The following interview was published in Gold Coast Writers newsletter Writeabout and a little later in the Queensland Writers Centre ‘Writing Queensland.’
Q Did you have any formal writing training?
A No. And that may or may not have been one of the reasons it took me about 14 years and several significant attempts before my first book was published. In retrospect I wouldn’t change a thing (but things like that are easy to say in retrospect.)
Q When did you first start writing? At what age?
A I was 14, it was an Alistair MacLean rip-off, I had a lot to learn
Q How did you go about getting your first book published?
A I had several novel manuscripts rejected, and I really didn’t know what to do. Fortunately I fluked a spot on the Warana Writers Week program (the precursor to the Brisbane Writers Festival) in 1989, I decided didn’t want to waste the opportunity, and after that UQP asked me if I’d ever thought about writing a collection of short stories.
Q How many books have you had published?
A ‘Making Laws for Clouds’ brings the tally up to nine, seven novels and two collections of short stories.
Q How many of your books have been produced as plays?
A Two – After January and 48 Shades of Brown, both expertly adapted by Philip Dean.
Q Where have they been performed?
A They were both performed at La Boite in Brisbane, and they then did regional tours. And we may see more of them yet…
Q What countries have your books sold in?
A I have English language publishers in Australia, the UK and the US. The Uk and US editions have gone to 100 or so countries. Some of the books have also been translated into European languages. ‘100 or so countries’ sounds like a lot, but I’m not sure how many copies make I to each one. I’ve had mail from readers in 40 or so.
Q How many of your books have been
(a) – Collaborated works with other authors?
None, in the strict sense of collaboration. I must admit I appreciate getting to hog the story to myself until I’m ready to hand it over. It doesn’t work the same way with things like film and TV,which are inherently more collaborative, and i which the writer’s vision is only one of thethings considered (and not the main one).
(b) Short works included in books like ‘Girls Night In’?
I’m not sure of the actual tally, but I might have written 40 or so pieces for anthologies over the years. Some of them also ended up in my own collection Headgames, and some others spun -off into other projects (eg, my Girls Night In story evolved into my new novel, Making Laws for Clouds).
Q How successful has been the sale of ‘Girls Night In’ and ‘Girls Night In 2′?
A Remarkably successful. The books have sold many hundreds of thousands of copies, and by last Christmas they’d raised over $1.5 million. Big Night Out, the third in the series, is just about to come out in the UK and it’ll come out in Australia in October. There have been several editions in other European languages, an there’ll also be Canadian and US editions in the near future.
Q Are you still Chairman of War Cry?
A War Child Australia is still going through the formal registration process, but we’re nearly there. Everything’s on track, and I’m still lined up to be the chair. In the meantime, there are still things that we can do here to support the field projects of War Child UK, so it’s not as though we’re just hanging around.
Q Have you travelled widely?
A More widely than I’d expected, but, mainly with work in the past few years. I’ve ben travelling for five of the past nine months, doing book tours and festivals in Australia and North America, having meetings in the UK and visiting War Child field work in Kosovo. It was great to see how some of the money from the books had been spent and to see how cleverly it had been spent, and to get a sense of the community consultation that goes on before a project is implemented.
Q Did you travel before you were published?
Yes, but I seem to travel more now. Much more of it’s work though, with a few days off grabbed here and there. But I can’t complain. I tend to spend any holidays I get closer to home.
Q Are any of your books being made into films?
A Several of them are in development. Until recently the film industry had mainly worked for me as a source of flattery, lunch and option fees, but Bachelor Kisses is now further down the track than that. Nothing’s made yet though. But I’ve developed a lot of respect for the saying- power of film people. I’ve met a lot of people with great ideas, and determination too. It’s not an easy industry though, and there’s a lot of talk. And anxiety.
Q Do you derive your characters from people you know, or a composite, of people you meet?
A I pick up some things here and there, but a lot of invention goes into it too. In the end, I’m trying to invent a new person and tell their story, wherever the parts come from.
Q Where do you get your story ideas from?
A Anywhere, life, imagination, my ideas often start small and then start to cluster and turn into something. The thing I’ve learned in the past ten years is to treat small ideas with respect when I’m having them, write them down and not forget or under-rate them.
Q Are you enjoying being a television celebrity? (Your appearance in the promotion of Brisbane is enticing)
A The Brisbane TV ad was fun to make, and I think we’re all pleased with how it turned out. I’m very happy to be associated with the place, so it wasn’t a hard decision to make when the chance came along to be part of it. Also, I thought it was a healthy sign that they’d chosen a writer.
Q Do you rely on self-promotion to augment the Publishers promotion of your work?
A I don’t ever initiate any any more, as far as I can recall. I tour when a book comes out, but other than that it happens of its own accord. People ask me to speak at events, and the media contact me for my opinion on things. Again, I think it’s good that they think that writers matter enough to include me. The thing that actually takes planning is blocking out clear periods of time entirely away from events and the media so that I can forget about all that and make the space I need to create a new story.
Q Are writing festivals enjoyable for the author (even under the umbrella) as they are for the patrons?
A Yes, they are enjoyable. Or at least they should be and if they aren’t writers should be prepared to put in work to make them enjoyable. I used to get pretty anxious about them. Now, if I’ve done the necessary preparation, I’m keen to get up there and have my turn, and the whole thing goes better because of that. They’re a good chance to connect with readers, and with other writers too.
Q Do Editors impose restrictions or ask you to change your work greatly before publication? (ie: limit size or suggest cutting out a character)
A Good editing, I think, asks the right question rather than ever imposing anything on anybody. My editor makes plenty of suggestions, but they’re there to get me thinking and the process is productive. Good editing tries to work out the best a book can be for the kind of book it is, and tries to help the author along the final steps to get it there. Bad editing tries to panel-beat a manuscript into something it isn’t.
Q Do you practice reading your work before you present it?
A Yes, a lot, and I re-edit a live version from the version on the page, I write down what I need to say to introduce it, I pace it out and I try to get a sense of how each character will present themselves. A lot goes into it. I want to make the live version work on its own as something live.
Q Did you have any drama training to assist your presentation?
A I had some acting training years ago. I was never much good at it, but perhaps I learned a thing or two. Enough to help me get more out of my own work than I otherwise might. But I do go on with the dual safety net of (i) being well-prepared and (ii) having the book in my hands.
Q Have the Americans finally accepted Australianisms in your work?
A My New York editor and I still work through a few things each time, but we end up with a version that hasn’t changed much and that I’m pretty happy with. And each time we introduce them to one or two things they won’t have come across before. It’s Australianisms by stealth. Of course, we always have the Crocodile Hunter to do the non-stealthy kind.
Q What are your current projects?
A Finishing off the Australian edition of Big Night Out, working on adapting Bachelor Kisses for TV, some more work on the Brisbane campaign, starting to be part of the team putting together a War Child Anthology for Canada. Quite a mixture, really.
Q Where do you think you’ll be in ten years time?
I have almost no idea. I can’t imagine not writing novels, so I’m expecting that’ll still be part of what I do. Other than that, new opportunities come along all the time. What the job lacks in certainty it more than makes up for in other ways, and I’ve had the chance to do some things I’d never have dreamed of.
This interview was done in 2002. Nick is still a fascinating writer with many more strings to his bow. Find out more about him on http://www.randomhouse.com.au/authors