Monday, November 14, 2011

Interview with Greg Johnston, author of Consumption: A Novel

Happy Monday!
Today I have a visitor in my blog. He is one of the authors participating in my 1000+ Giveaway. His name is Greg Johnston and he is the author of Consumption: A Novel. I reviewed his book, and I gave this novel 5 stars. You can find the review here.

Greg agreed to give me an interview, so ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to the author of Consumption: A Novel - Greg Johnston!

Part I

MR: Please describe yourself with a few sentences. Who are you?

GJ: I live in Sydney, Australia with my partner, a lovely dog, Miss Mia, and two pussy cats, Rose and Reba. I'm kind of borderline shy/wild. Often angry. Often very angry.

MR: What inspired you to want to become writer?

GJ: My earliest memories are trying to create things. I had a cardboard box that I turned into a theatre stage, cutting out the front panel to form the proscenium arch. I used it as a stage for puppets, like in the Sound of Music but sadly lacking Maria von Trapp's flare for production. Then it was music but then this progressed into words. Writing novels was a natural progression.

MR: Who did you want to become when you were a kid? What did you dream about?

GJ: As a child I wanted to be David Cassidy/Keith Partridge with that great hair and kind of innocent/naughty smile and bedroom eyes. No Roy Rogers play for me!

MR: What brought you to writing? When did the idea of writing your first book form?

GJ: It's hard to say what made me write. I remember having a broken heart and writing out all the details of the affair and its soggy demise and although the writing was very, very, very indulgent there were some nice phrases and a resonance in the imagery. That made me start writing things from a more fictional position.

MR: What do you do when you are not writing? Do you have any hobbies?

GJ: By the time I have finished paid work and writing, done the house work etc, there isn't a lot of time left in a week. I love movies, walking the dog and, of course, reading.

MR: What is the most difficult aspect of being a writer for you?

GJ: Finding uninterrupted time. Writing needs both involvement with people and isolation and that's really hard to carve out.

MR: If you wouldn’t be a writer, what would you be and do?

GJ: I would probably start painting, but only with acrylics. I love the fakeness of the plastic.

MR: Who or what is your Muse?

GJ: While I was in the David Cassidy phase, my friend Tamar's sister, Candace, and her friend, Robyn Mundy, listened to Simon and Garfunkel in the next bedroom. They were older than us and were into the counter-culture of that time. Robyn is now a published author. Although I didn't understand Simon and Garfunkel, (The Sounds of Silence? Who the hell wanted that?) I do remember wanting to understand it. And then I remember hearing Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi. I would have only been 10 at the time. I understood the lines about ecology, and when she sang, "A big yellow taxi took away my old man". At that age, an old man to me was a father but I understood Joni was singing about something else entirely. I didn't know what that was but I sure as hell wanted to find out. Many years later I heard Joni sing, "Like Icarus ascending on beautiful foolish arms", and I was gone. If I have a muse it's Joni Mitchell. Hence the use and retelling of the story of Icarus in CONSUMPTION: A Novel.

MR: Did you ever experience writer’s block when the writing process just wasn’t moving ahead?

GJ: Yes and no. As I've said, time is my writer's block. Usually I work on a few projects so if one's not working I put that down and work on something else. Dog walking is very good for ideas. We meet people, hear and see things. And Miss Mia sniffs her pee-mail, as I call it, and the stories she has to tell of what's going on in the suburb are always and inspiration!

Part II

Let’s talk about books!

MR: What went through your mind when Consumption was published?

GJ: It was an odd feeling, kind of like jumping off a cliff and hoping there was a net below. Also feeling a contradictory mix of wanting to draw attention to it and myself and wanting to hide.

MR: How do you write? Do you sketch a plot first, create characters first and then starting to write?

GJ: It has to be organic, in that each element changes/influences the others. So it's a bit like a doubles tennis match where the idea is hit back and forth between various players. I usually start with a dramatic idea, even just an incident, where people are brought to some realization, then work back to character. I then work on plot, aiming at four sections; setup, development, complication and resolution. I then grind out 20000 words for each section. And then start editing and editing and editing to bring it together. And then edit and edit and edit for a few years.

MR: What do you think is the most important thing while writing?

GJ: Working in small sections. It's such a long plod/slog to write a novel that I have to do it in small bits so I feel like I'm getting somewhere. Otherwise it's overwhelming.

MR: Where did you get the idea for your book? How was the book born?

GJ: For a long, long while I've hated the idea of conspicuous consumption. It's just a joke: we are what we consume. People are prepared to brand themselves with haute fashion labels on their t-shirts, their sunglasses, their cars, constructing themselves as billboards advertising these brands for free and also, supposedly, telling us how successful they are as they can afford this air-conditioner, this flash car, this brand of pasta! We should be honest and actually leave the price tags on things. It's a vacuous race. So I wanted to write about someone who completely bought this idea. And then I wanted to write about long-term friendships. So one afternoon I brought the two ideas together.

MR: Why did you decide to write about friendship and consumption?

GJ: I've always had long standing friendships and often they've continued when the prevailing winds would suggest they shouldn't. Those type of relationships, that are not lovers, not siblings, not acquaintances but intense non-sexual relationships, have always interested me. I have letting-go issues.

MR: Which character do you love most in Consumption? Which character can you mostly relate to?

GJ: I love all my characters equally but I like Peggy a lot - she's a Chinese/Australia with a broad Australian accent. I like that disjuncture in Australia where there is still an odd idea that "real" Australians are descendants of Anglo-Saxons. It's changing but I like people like Peggy who appear to be one thing but when they open their mouths and have rural country Australian accents, it really disrupts this idea as they sound as "ocker" as the white, blond girl next to them. She also has simple desires. Even though she has access to money, she knows the work that went to make it. She's concerned with simple things; her Chinese family and culture, her desire for a child, her husband and most of all her friendship with Sara. She stands in complete contrast to Martin.

MR: I’m aware that your book is fiction, but I’d still like to ask: are any of the characters inspired by real persons? Do you base your fiction on some experiences you have had and people you have met?

GJ: Of course there are elements of "real life" in any fiction. But I pride myself on being the most boring person on the planet so if I wrote about myself I would bore the pants of everyone. And also it is a piece of fiction. As such, it has to adhere to some degree to the dictates of genre and fiction. I may start with an idea from life, but once the process of writing takes over, that "real" story has to be changed and modified. But sometimes something will happen in life and it's the perfect basis for a scene, which gets the plot from A to B.

MR: What was the best summer read for you this summer? Why?

GJ: Well, in the antipodeans, we are only just coming into summer now. So I hope to finish The Eye of the Storm by Patrick White. It's an amazingly complex novel, not plot driven at all, but so insightful into the consequences of vapid narcissism, one of my fav themes.

MR: I must ask you about new book(s) to be published. What will it be about? Anything you can tell us already?

GJ: I have finished a new novel, The Skin of Water, which I hope to publish soon. It's set in Hungary in 1943, during the last years of WWII. It tells of a love affair between a young man and a wealthy woman against the background of crumpling Budapest.

Part III – Favorites

Who is your favorite author? - hard to say - reading A S Byatt and Umberto Eco were great turning points.
What is your favorite book or series? The Name of the Rose.
What is your favorite book blog you follow? - clearly
What is your favorite song? Amelia by Joni Mitchell. "It was just a false alarm..." seems to sum up so many things.
What is your favorite season? I hate summer - as Sydney is sub-tropical and is hot and humid and rains. I guess winter is lovely.
What is your favorite food? - pasta...
What is your favorite car? I don't really have one - I hate cars. They're silly things.
What is your favorite color? - Blue
What is your favorite movie? - Thelma and Louise or Brokeback Mountain. They are both near perfect. The friendship between Thelma and Louise is so pure and Jake and Ennis are so in love, even when they don't know it. And both films have the most wonderfully blissful kisses which overcome all interdictions, if only for a second.
What is your favorite time of the day? That moment when I get into bed and horizontal. Bliss.
What is your favorite weather? Cold and chilly but with deep blue sky and no wind.

Thank you so much, Greg, for the interview! It is really appreciated!

You can find more information about Greg Johnston and Consumption: A Novel on these sites:

That's it for today!

Happy reading!

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed the questions and the answers from this interview. What a unique premise for a book that seems to challenge what we think about friendships. Looks like an intriguing read.

    Thanks for the post.