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Influenced by One Sensible Sentence

August 10, 2009

True Life of Butterfish Promo Picture

True Story of Butterfish Stage Poster

Last week in this space I made a throw away comment about Nick Earls in my sandbox at the end of my column. I almost didn’t include it. How different the last week may have been had I decided not to?

For the first time in my life, I was contemplating going up to speak to an author whose writing and books I admire greatly. What was bothering me most was I might stumble on my words, or look and sound like a complete idiot, be so frozen with mortification of what I was actually doing I was rendered mute – or worse (if that is possible), come across as some psycho fan. I’ve never lined up for a book signing and having been a fan of Nick’s for years, the potential for embarrassment and/or humiliation was considerable.

All I wanted was the ability to execute one sensible sentence – preferably at the beginning of the conversation. And Nick, commenting on my column said he would be waiting … no pressure.

How hard could it possibly be to find one sensible sentence to say to the guy who comes closest to being my literary hero?

So I sought out a sensible sentence to say to him. The best I could come up with was a snappy salutation which could be offered up – a witty goose step of the whole sentence thing.

My inner monologue was starting to sound like one of Nick character’s caught in a line of paranoid thinking. Maybe I needed a shot of crème de menthe for dutch courage?

I didn’t have a programme for the day (long story). The info booth were waiting on more to come from the Northern Rivers Writers Centre office and I found myself in the Macquarie Marquee, among a bunch of high school kids, with Nick Earls one of the panellists on stage.

No pressure – I told myself, countering it with the argument of serendipity. Bad bed pals I have to say.

During the course of the panel discussions, Nick shared how his writing changed because of the influence of one writer, when the panel went off on a tangent after being asked “Can a really good book deflate you?”

Spalding Gray was the catalyst for Nick finding a new approach to characterisation and narrative voice, after he read  Monster in a Box, which is essentially a monologue. For those who have read any of Nick’s books, they’ll know the strong first person narrative which is the hallmark of all these books and the deep connection the reader gets with the character as a consequence. Nick said his manuscripts went from being rejected to being published and his first adult novel Zig Zag Street shared the Betty Trask Award in 1998.

The story continued on … years later Nick was overseas on a book tour. He opened his hotel door and found Spalding Gray also leaving his room on the opposite side of the corridor. This was the time to introduce himself and let Gray know of the enormous impact he’d had. To let Gray know if it were not for him, Nick himself would not be standing in that corridor. But he wasn’t sure how to say it. And for days they met each other outside their rooms, and for days Nick said it would be today that he told Gray and for days it didn’t happen. Then one morning the elevator was broken and they chatted going down the stairs to the lobby. Now Nick felt he definitely couldn’t come out and tell him how much he owed him. And so it passed.

The next year Spalding Gray was involved in a car accident in Ireland and took his own life three years later after the brain injury exacerbated underlying issues of depression and bipolar tendencies. Nick had missed his only in person opportunity to ever share the impact of Monster in a Box with Gray.

Nick urged everyone there if they ever met one of their heroes :

Try to find a way to let your hero know in a not scary way, the influence they have had on you.

“No pressure,” I said to myself, repeating it over and over in my head. It had become a mantra.

I’d been given the invite per se, to go up and introduce myself, I’d heard about the regret of not sharing with someone the importance of their work on your writing trajectory, I’d been given the advice of doing it in a tempered way. So it all came down to the sensible sentence.

Prone to over thinking things and being frozen into inaction, I had to act as soon as the session ended – go up to the stage and introduce myself. As Nick clasp my hand, smiling, he urged me onto the sensible sentence, which of course still evaded me. Inspired by Nick’s own story, I simply said “Thank you.”

So I got a chance to share with him how his writing especially his sense and evocation of location had inspired me to not cringe away from celebrating the wonderful city in when I write … and to want to know my city better so I can find the unique, the charming and the haunting. And he shared with me, the other thing which changed along with the shift of narrative voice leading up to his publication. Nick made the decision to write and share the place in which he knew best. Brisbane.

There is a certain thrill and a great measure of satisfaction in knowing you’ve been able to push your own personal boundaries (I am actually horribly shy) to meet someone who has impacted your writing life AND to say thank you. Because you can never be quite sure what tomorrow holds.

Which author would you give anything to meet in person (either alive or dead?) And what would you say to them? No pressure of course!

The True Story of Butterfish is the latest novel by Nick Earls and has been released concurrently with the play of the same name which premiers on the 1st October at the Powerhouse  in Brisbane.

Jodi Cleghorn celebrated her first shared by-line in the Fairfax Media for “Too Many Babies Cries QANTAS” the same day she met Nick, just going to prove amazing thing happen when you are open to the gifts of the Universe. Follow Jodi’s Tweets @jodicleghorn or her expanding blog Writing in Black and White.
  1. August 10, 2009 8:11 pm

    Beautifully put Jodi. Just as you have said in some of your other articles, a well placed – or misplaced word can mean all the difference. Imagine where or what you might be doing, had that awful university lecturer had kept his opinion to himself with regards to your writing when you first started?

  2. August 13, 2009 7:26 pm

    That’s a cool story. I’d love to meet some of my heroes, but it’s really hard to pick one, alive or dead…

    I guess I’d have to say Trotsky, because he was such a prolific writer and so inspiring to stand up to Stalin despite how much harassment he was given.

    Or Chuck Palahniuk, who I am slowly becoming obsessed with.

  3. August 13, 2009 7:35 pm

    Hi Jodi, recently I’ve been reading Haruki Murakami’s collections and I decided that he’s my hero writer. If I have a chance to meet him, I will tell him that basically I love inexplicable true-event based stories and his stories has successfully left my mind in trance since they seem real but stand beyond it, which makes me wanting to read more and more of his works. You can still tell that they’re fiction, but at the same time you can also accept that they, despite of the mysteriousness, probably are real. To me, he’s the real magician. A letter magician.

  4. August 14, 2009 6:38 am

    letter magician .. what a gorgeous turn of phrase. For some reason it makes me think of Howl of Howl’s Moving Castle fame – sweeping up the burning spell from the kitchen table with his hand.

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