Nick Earls, author, Wisdom Tree Live

The Brisbane I see is diverse and connected with the world, but we still thank the bus driver when we get off ...

Much like the Story Bridge, New Farm Park and the statue of Wally Lewis outside of Suncorp Stadium, Nick Earls is essentially a Brisbane icon. As one of the most acclaimed novelists to ever call Brisbane his home, Nick’s stories are a part of Brisbane’s cultural fabric – drawing inspiration from its streets and goings on, turning Brisbane into a part of literary history. Several of Nick’s stories have been adapted for the stage, the most recent of which is his collection of novellas called Wisdom Tree. Wisdom Tree Live is being staged as part of the Brisbane Writers Festival, and is set to be an enchanting evening of music, literature and drama that will bring his stories to life (with a little bit of help from some local performers). Ahead of Wisdom Tree Live (which we’re excited to be presenting), we chatted with Nick about what makes a good story, what we can expect from Wisdom Tree Live and what he loves about Brisbane.

First of all, we’d like you to take us way back to the first story you ever wrote – what was it about?
I’d been making up stories for a while, but when I was nine or ten I can remember sitting down for the first time with a blank book in front of me, intending to fill it with a story. It was set in the Cretaceous Period and was the then-classic dinosaur fantasy confrontation: tyrannosaurs rex versus triceratops. It ran out of steam after about six pages of carnage.

When did everything click for you in terms of realising writing was a lifelong passion and desired career path?
I wrote a novel-length story when I was 14, and writing was my number one ambition from then. But writers seemed very thin on the ground – this was not the Brisbane of the early 21st century – and I didn’t think I’d get to make a job of it.

We’re very excited to be presenting your event Wisdom Tree Live at Brisbane Writers Festival on Saturday September 10 – what can you tell our readers about it?
This event will be like nothing else. It’s got a band and performers, each of whom will be curating 15–20 minutes of performance around their allocated novella (there are five in the series). I know there will be readings, music that links with the novellas and discussion, but what’s beyond that is something even I will only discover on the night, and that’s definitely part of the fun of it.

How did you go about turning the novellas into a fully formed performance?
One of the key aspects of this is me not meddling too much. I’ve have some input into the music, but we want to make this something fresh and unique, and the way to do that is to bring a range of other people’s imaginations on board too, and for me to not stand in the way while they have new ideas.

What do you hope people take away from events such as yours and the other elements of the Brisbane Writers Festival?
A writers festival is a great chance to look behind the cunning facade of seamless writing and editing and find out what really went on to make any book what it is. It’s also a chance to engage with ideas and, in the case of the Wisdom Tree event, an exciting opportunity for us to lift characters and stories from the page and present them in a different light, and for audience and cast (and me) to all be part of making something that gets made one time only.

We’d love to pick your brain for some tips about the writing craft – what’s the key to constructing an engaging story?
In some genres it’s about keeping the pace going and managing the action, but with the kind of fiction I write it’s about the characters. Connect with them, see their world through their eyes, find details that will not only tell the reader where the character is but, in how the details are observed, reveal something about the character.

What is one book that you’d recommend to a complete stranger without knowing anything about their personal tastes?
What makes this a good question is its fundamental unanswerability, because reading is as much about the reader as the book, so there’s no dissecting out the personal tastes. In which case, I can only say buy the nearest available book of mine. I can’t guess what you’ll think of it, but at least one of us makes a couple of bucks from that choice.

What do you think is the most magical thing about living in Brisbane?
One of the great things about Brisbane is what it’s become and is becoming. The Brisbane I see is diverse and connected with the world, but we still thank the bus driver when we get off.

Catch Wisdom Tree Live at the Brisbane Writers Festival when it is staged on the Maiwar Green at the State Library of Queensland on Saturday September 10. You can nab some tickets through the Brisbane Writers Festival website.


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