Q&A Monday: David Sornig 0 Comments

Q&A Monday: David Sornig

David Sornig. Male. Married with two children. Writer and academic. Lives in Adelaide, where he teaches creative writing at university. Born in Melbourne to German and Austrian immigrants. Debut novel Spiel published in 2009 by University of Western Australia Press. Has also published short fiction, memoir and literary criticism. Interested in architecture, sustainable living, music and looking soulful in photos.

Writing: necessity or luxury?

A luxurious necessity. Or a necessary luxury.

Also, our culture treats it as if it’s a luxury but I experience it as a necessity. Or somewhere in between.

Also, I’m kind of disturbed and fascinated by Kevin Brophy’s argument on this, that writing (and all art for that matter) serves a significant evolutionary purpose. Our species was dealt the evolutionary card of not only knowing we’re conscious, but also knowing that someone else knows that we know we’re conscious. That’s a lot of stuff to keep a grip on. Representational art emerges from it. This also gave us the capacity to make us feel superior to those we were competing against, like the Neanderthals (‘I know something you don’t know’). Art, and by extension writing, might have made us feel it was an okay thing to drive them out of existence. That’s the disturbing bit.

You’ve published in a wide variety of formats: online (web publications, plus blogging & tweeting), in newspapers, in literary journals and academic publications, and of course, there’s your novel, Spiel. Is this how you like it – to spread yourself around, to continually try new things?

I write as I’m moved to write and into the medium that I think is most appropriate for what I have to say. A blog post still feels indulgent to me because I get to say at length whatever I have to say about anything I like without worrying about gatekeepers. But I only do that when I have time.

Newspapers are interesting and pleasing because they maintain a geographical focus in their printed form especially (which is where most of my newspaper writing, which is primarily reviewing, remains). There’s something pleasing about this – in speaking to a small audience. Radio has similar qualities. I’d love to have another career in radio not only because I like music and to talk but because it is also still tied to place – or at least the kind of radio I love to listen to does (in Melbourne 3RRR and in Adelaide, where I’m living now, 3D Radio).

I like literary journals for the times I find myself moved to read and write short fiction – something I have been doing much more of lately.

When I do write for academic journals I’m usually articulating ideas that I’m engaging with in my fiction. So for example in the past it’s been about the way W.G. Sebald and Brian Castro  use image and text – which was important to a short story I wrote called Flinch, and another was about the way Christos Tsiolkas and A.L. McCann use Berlin in their fiction. Obviously this was important while I was thinking through the way I was representing Berlin in Spiel. So you might eventually see some academic writing on the literature of climate change.

The novel is still the mother of all aspirations for me though. I wonder sometimes whether this will change.

Also, being paid is nice.

You have been taught and now teach creative writing. Is the whole game an oxymoron? Can creative writing be taught?

I have two kids aged four and six and there’s a significant amount of government money being funneled into teaching them creative writing skills. At school they learn how to recognise words, to spell, to construct sentences that use nouns and verbs, and to model narratives on exemplars of published literature. The basic model as far as I can tell is something similar to what I do at university level. It’s about immersing students in a culture and asking them to attempt to reproduce and hopefully extend that culture. Where do we stop believing that it’s possible to teach creative writing? Maybe it’s when we call it creative. Certainly it’s somewhere between secondary school and university. It doesn’t mean that every student in an undergraduate writing course needs to go off and become a novelist or a poet or a screenwriter or to even make a career out of some of their writing. Not all of them will want to do that. But it doesn’t mean they can’t come out of an undergraduate degree without having improved their capacity to make something in their culture – as opposed to simply being consumers. There are levels to everything. So yes, writing can be taught. But great literary writers? Practice, application of learned skills and deep, deep commitment. These can’t be taught, only exemplified.

Who are your favourite authors? Is Spiel indebted to any of these in particular?

I was just thinking this morning about the disconnect between the style of one of my favourite authors in W.G. Sebald and the style of writing I’ve actually produced. I don’t know how to account for that except to say that I think every writer has their own voice, and their own patterns of thinking and representing the ideas they want to get across. I think I’m also interested in the some of the same problems Sebald was interested in: the representation of history, the elusiveness of truth and reality and the endless and delicious referentiality of texts. I’m also big on Borges and DeLillo and am approaching Roberto Bolano with some awe. Oh and Kurt Vonnegut! I listened to Slaughterhouse Five the other day driving from Adelaide to Melbourne. It was my first audio book and shamefully my first Vonnegut. (I will always feel I’m only ever catching up on my reading.) Virginia Woolf is my favorite modernist – The Waves is her standout for me. There’s a kind of narratological mathematics at work in that book that I respond to in the same way I respond to music. Ask me again in a year and you’ll probably get different answers. And that’s just the fiction anyway.

What’s next for David Sornig? Is there another novel in your sights?

I’m writing another novel that’s about climate change, but not so much about climate change (because we already have The Road) but about the way we are telling ourselves about it and the way we are projecting ourselves into the future. No, not like Doctor Who, but in the imaginative sense, the way we anticipate the future world through the long stream of nonfiction and fiction about climate change.

Also, I’ve been writing lots of short stories of late. They’ve been occupying my attentions enormously and are bringing me much satisfaction for all sorts of reasons not the least of which is that I can round them up more easily than I can a novel. They’re the best kind of writing to attack during the teaching part of the year.

If you could read anyone’s journal or raid anyone’s hard drive, through whose would you rifle?

I’m sure they know why they are.

The internet: friend or foe? Discuss.

When I got into my office this morning I had the luxury of an hour at my desk without turning on the computer. I took a pen to a printed draft of a story and disappeared into it. It was lovely and I had the fantasy that I return to from time to time of abandoning all these networks of people I know and don’t know, of the illusion of everything being there at my fingertips. Later in the afternoon when I was doing other work (which somehow involved checking Twitter and Facebook) the university network miraculously collapsed for half an hour. I could find no argument against it and wondered if it was written into my contract of employment that I had to use the internet and have an email address. I am growing more and more suspicious of the web and its ability to know me, but I’m drawn ever deeper into it. The amazing thing is that we actually volunteer so much information about ourselves to this network.

On balance potentially enormous foe. But, meh. You can follow me on Twitter still.

You can punch one person in the schnoz and get away scot free. Who do you clobber?

The cynical prick who invented Bratz Dolls. Seriously.

You’re an exile, banished to a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. You are allowed one book and one album of music (in a solar powered iPod) to last the rest of your days. Any preferences?

The book is the Oxford English Dictionary. I’m more concerned about the album. It’d have to be a mixtape, but no. Pixies Doolittle. The Beatles’ Abbey Road. XTC’s Apple Venus Volume 1. Who the fuck has exiled me anyway? I can’t decide.

Have you ever hit a cane toad with a golf club? Could you?

No I haven’t, but if it would do damage to the golf club then yes.

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