Phil Brown, author, The Kowloon Kid

Memory is a wonderful, imperfect thing ...

Pretty soon Brisbane will receive an influx of the country’s sharpest literary minds. The Brisbane Writers Festival attracts numerous poets, authors and thinkers every year for a few days of ideas sharing, inspirational talks and heated discussion, all in the name of writing. Phil Brown is intimately familiar with the festival. Not only is Phil an author of note, an acclaimed poet, a respected journalist (Phil is the arts editor at The Courier-Mail) and a savvy cultural commentator, Phil was also the chairman of the Brisbane Writers Festival from 2005 to 2008. Phil is returning to the festival as a guest, sitting down with Steve Austin to discuss his newest work, The Kowloon Kid on Saturday September 7. Ahead of Phil’s appearance, we caught up to chat about the art of reading, travel-induced anxiety and the memories that formed the basis of The Kowloon Kid.

You’ll be appearing in a number of sessions at this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival. Can you quietly whisper to us which one you’re most looking forward to, and why?
I guess I’m most looking forward to being in conversation with Steve Austin from ABC Brisbane radio because I admire him. He’s sharp as a tack and has a sense of humour, so I expect to be grilled. But don’t tell anyone that…

We’re particularly excited about The Art of Reading, where you’ll be sharing your advice on how to read well, alongside Jeann Wong and Megan Daley. We understand choosing an all-time favourite book is an impossible task, but could you please share a few of your most beloved tomes?
The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham is an all-time favourite, although it’s out of vogue now. I also love King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard. I love anything by Patricia Highsmith and I’m very fond of Wake in Fright by Kenneth Cook. Also, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

Without giving away too much, can you share any ways to improve the reading experience that many people (even the most voracious readers) would be oblivious to?
Read whatever you like. If it bores you, stop reading and move on. I believe in reading bits of books just so I can get a grasp on an author. Time is of the essence, so don’t feel tied to finishing a book if you don’t want to, or don’t need to. It sounds sacrilegious doesn’t it?    

You’ll be talking to Steve Austin about your latest release, The Kowloon Kid, which draws on your childhood growing up in Hong Kong. We’re fascinated by the process of writing a memoir – did you have any black spots in the memory that forced you to dig around for details, or did all the experiences come flooding back once you started writing?
The memories came flooding back, but I also ‘imagineered’ some of them extrapolating on memory. Memory is a wonderful, imperfect thing. And in a memoir a little bit of padding helps. Is it all true? Nobody can say. It’s my truth, though.

Did the reflection process involved in the memoir’s writing spur any changes in how you live your life now?
No. I’m still living the same deluded life I was living before.

You were chairman of the Brisbane Writers Festival from 2005­–2008. Do you have any special memories or personal highlights you can share with us from that time?
It wasn’t a great experience due to the politics of the day. In fact it was a shocker. I don’t think I make a very good chair. I’m more of a foot stool, really.

Your career as an author and journalist also takes you to schools and universities, where you discuss your experiences with students. What has inspired you about the next generation of writers?
Their enthusiasm. It’s lovely to see people who are not yet trampled down by the weight of life.

We loved your previous work Travels With My Angst and are guessing a lot of readers would relate to your travel-induced anxiety. What are some of the most amusing responses you’ve had to the book so far?
Well, people have just felt free to unburden themselves and I have discovered that there are many people just as anxious and fearful as I am. That makes me feel warm inside.

Finally, you’ve achieved great success in your career, but what in your life are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my family life. I have a wonderful wife and a teenage son who likes Chopin and Dostoyevsky, so I am very happy about that.

You can catch Phil Brown three times at the Brisbane Writers Festival. Firstly on Saturday September 7 at 11:30 am when he sits down with Steve Austin to discuss The Kowloon Kid, and then at 2:30 pm when Phil joins Jeann Wong and Megan Daley for The Art of Reading panel. Phil will also be chatting with Mikey Robbins about his new book Seven Deadly Sins and One very Naughty Fruit. Head to the Brisbane Writers Festival website to check out the full program. 


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