When I was 12 years old my mother bought me a book. It was So Much to Tell You by John Marsden. It is the story of a young girl disfigured from an acid attack, trying to find her place and her voice. As a young girl also with a facial deformity (I was born without an eyelid- yup true story) her character struck a chord in my heart that ran very deep. The binge reading of my early teens started a journey into the works of John Marsden lasting 20+ years- this uncanny ability he has to connect with our inner teenager in a narrative that is relatable and real is extraordinary. His non-fiction work is equally as impressive, although I won’t rave TOO much as it makes him incredibly embarrassed. I have been most fortunate as a writer to have attended a number of John’s writing camps and retreats back when Tye Estate was in full gear. It was on one of these retreats that I decided to take this writing gig seriously as it was the one perplexing, driving, creative and urgent force in my life. The condition of Not-Writing to me is like not drinking water, or eating food. So not giving it the attention and dedication it required seemed somewhat silly. It was also here that it dawned on me that one does not need to be a literary genius to be an author, but what is absolutely necessary is an authentic voice. It is John I have to thank for this realisation and discovery. I was super excited when the Candlebark principal and best-selling author agreed to be featured in our launch edition of Ponderings. I am going to admit to you now- I may have clapped my hands in excitement when he said I could ask anything and to keep it quirky. What came next was LOTS of fun.
K : So John, you have two doors in front of you, one door is blue, and it opens up to the Hogwarts Dining Hall, the other is green, and it opens to Arthur’s Round Table- both are in full swing of a dinner party. Which door? Blue or green and why?
JM: Always nice to start with an easy question! Obviously, Hogwarts! Arthur’s roundtable is so… so yesterday. I’m a great admirer of JK Rowling, and the world she created. For one thing, you could have a lot of fun at Hogwarts. There are no jokes in the King Arthur story…
K: Cubby house or treehouse?
JM: This one’s tougher. Cubby houses have a bit of a “back to the womb” feeling, which is attractive, but I think I prefer the treehouse, for the view of the future.
K: Who is your favourite Simpson’s character and why?
JM: Sigh. Harder and harder. I like Ned Flanders because I can laugh at him without feelings of guilt, and that’s a rare privilege in our society. (Suddenly Donald Trump comes to mind; can’t think why.) I like Bart because he’s the kind of kid I was. Maggie is awesome. Barney is a legend, and so is Mo…
K: What makes you belly laugh, the type where you almost snort and can’t stop?
JM: The Simpsons, definitely. My wife, who’s incredibly funny. Kitty Flanagan. Mick Molloy. What doesn’t make me laugh are practical jokes. In 68 years of life, I’ve never seen one that’s funny, because they always involve making someone else feel uncomfortable.
K: What is the best comeback line you have used and thought- “Wow, that was actually a good one.”
JM: I was supervising an all boys’ class who were meant to be working in silence. One boy had a Chupachup in his mouth (which, perhaps surprisingly, was allowed). But he kept talking to his neighbour. Finally, I said: “If you talk again I’ll shove that Chupachup so far down your throat you’ll end up with a third testicle”. The whole group collapsed in hysterical laughter, and I admit I had to struggle to keep the smirk off my face.
K: Have you ever had a moment where you thought you were going to quit but kept going? If so, what was the grit that got you to keep going?
JM: Oh God, every day. A strong sense of duty, instilled by my parents, keeps me going, as well as the strength I gained from many years of psychoanalysis with a great therapist.
K: Does country living inspire you to be creative? What draws you to it?
JM: I love country life, but I don’t think it inspires me to be creative. I’m at my most creative in a motel room where there is nothing to do but stare at the wall or watch TV. In other words, there are no distractions. I love the country because of the space, the greenery, the vast sky, the wonderful variety of natural smells.
K: I will never forget the first time I met you, I was expecting this sort of professor type with polished shoes and a sniff, dripping with literary devices and a rounded vowel accent and instead the most normal and down to earth bloke pulled up on a four-wheel motorbike, with mud on his workbooks and a dog riding shotgun. You were a revelation of grounded No BS genius and friendliness. Given the industry you are in, how on earth do you deal with pretentiousness or literary snobbiness that can be found in the Arts space? Because sometimes intelligencia is used as a show car, and you aren’t a show car kind of man- what advice do you give young writers stepping into that space?
JM: Oh dear, how embarrassing! I suppose I’d say to them that the love of strangers is meaningless. People might love your books, which is nice, but they can’t say they love you because they don’t know you. The only people whose opinions matter are people who know you really well: your partner, your children, your parents, your siblings. And if a significant number of them don’t have a good opinion of you, then something may be wrong… You may need to “take a good hard look at yourself”, as the Coodabeen Champions would say.
K: What perplexes you the most and why?
JM: Life. People – all of them, including myself. Edna Everage sometimes mentioned that her mother was in a Home for the Perpetually Bewildered. That’s where I belong.
K: Who is someone you admire a lot and why?
JM: I admire the work of Bob Dylan. I don’t know a lot about him as a person, but what I do know, I like. I admire great educational leaders, like Winifred West, Dorothy Ross, Betty Archdale, Sir James Darling, Peter Gebhardt — all of them now dead, but they had the courage to blaze trails instead of following meekly behind society, like today’s school principals. I admire Jane Austen for her wit, perspicacity, and command of the English language.
K: Paul McCartney or Rod Stewart?
JM: Paul McCartney, definitely. When I was a teenager, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and JD Salinger changed the way I understood the world, and made me realise that people could strike out in new directions, could do things differently. I don’t think Rod Stewart has ever changed the way anyone understands the world.
K: Do you have a recent song that gets stuck in your head?
JM: Apart from “Sons of the West”? Somewhat bizarrely, I’ve gone back to Gilbert and Sullivan, the forerunners of Monty Python and John Clarke. I keep playing their operas, especially Patience, Iolanthe, Trial by Jury, and HMS Pinafore.
K: What book are reading right now? How do you rate it?
JM: I’ve just finished two novellas by Nathanael West, an American writer killed in a car crash in 1940. They were good: clever and funny and stylish, especially A Cool Million, but I wouldn’t strongly recommend them. There are better books around!
K: When we both get a break, can I come over and make you and Kris a cup of tea and bring cakes with me?
JM: lol thanks, what a great offer!
K: Did you get to watch the explosion scenes in Tomorrow When the War Began movie and was it awesome?
JM: No, I didn’t. They used a model, which cost $60,000 to make, so when they filmed it they had to hope it worked perfectly, and that the cameras were all rolling from start to finish!
Time for this Ponderer to get baking…