Brendan Cowell, author of How It Feels, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

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The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Brendan Cowell

author of How It Feels

Ten Terrifying Questions

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1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Born in Sutherland Hospital August 16th, 1976 and named after the great Irish poet, IRA man and alcoholic Brendan Behan. I have gone on to achieve two of my namesakes achievements. Raised in nearby Caringbah. Schooled at the De La Salle College Caringbah and then De La Salle Cronulla for Years 10-12.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve I wanted to play cricket for Australia. But I didn’t quite have the commitment, and, perhaps, the talent with the bat. At eighteen I wanted to be a journalist, but that quickly turned in to writing plays and such. And at thirty I wanted to be a novelist, and here I am, allegedly.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

At eighteen I believed life was there for the taking and smashing up, now I think life is a fragile thing and you have to take care of it a bit.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger, which I read at 20 years old when at University in Bathurst. I honestly felt, finally, like I was not alone, and that voicing your fears and observations, however strange and dark, could be important. The Cure’s Disintegration album made me feel like my feelings were shared, and it was ok to have them and to feel them deeply. And perhaps Rothko’s Maroon paintings, for these are what art is about for me, a series of rich doorways leading to an even richer place, and so on.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I never thought I would do it so young is all. I love reading books, they’ve given me so much, and so, in a way I wanted to give back. But I first tried How It Feels as a play and a movie, and it didn’t work. It wanted to be a book. It told me that very clearly, and so it is now. I also wanted to write for the sake of writing, not for producers and directors, but for the reader of words.

6.  Please tell us about your latest novel…

My latest (and only) novel How It Feels tells the story of a dreamy young guy called Neil Cronk and his journey through young life. We meet him at 18 and we follow him over ten years. Neil has two very intense male friendships, and a girlfriend he is madly in love with. To realise his full creative potential, Neil separates himself from the clan, and The Shire, which brings about much strain, an act of betrayal, and inevitably, deep tragedy. How It Feels is about the beauty and the ugliness of growing up in a beach side suburb, about the terrifying nature of being young, and about the people who will always see right through to who we are, older children. (Click here to read Booktopia BUZZ editor-in-chief, Toni Whitmont’s review)

7 . What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

This book is an unerring look at what it is to be young and male. I don’t apologize for that or pretend to have written anything else. I just hope people finish it, because what may seem offensive and shocking early on makes substantial sense in the end. None of what I have written is untrue, which is not to say it happened to me, but it’s true, it’s true to life, and so I hope that the reader at least considers this, and whatever comes from that is theirs to keep. I hope they laugh and cry and talk about it after.

8.  Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I very much admire novelists, all of them, for now I realise how hard it is to simply get there. I admire Helen Garner for being so bold and bald in her story telling, I also admire Jonathan Franzen for being so simple but evoking so fucking much, and recently, M.J Hyland, for her cool style and truly dark subject matters.

9.  Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Well I am very hard on myself. I live in a constant state of anxiety, and I believe that that’s all invited in by me and me alone. I don’t have ‘goals’, so to speak, there is no ‘one place’ I want to get to in my life. That would depress me, as a notion, to have a goal, I mean what the fuck do I do when I get there? I need to keep it all loose, and just work hard and dig deep constantly and always; always take the more difficult, more revealing option. Art must be honest or not at all.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Don’t try too hard to be well thought of. Don’t have too many influences and quotes and shit up your sleeve, just one or two. Just write deep and honest and be funny now and then if you are funny.

Brendan, thank you for playing.


Brendan Cowell is an Australian actor, writer and director. He was born in Cronulla, New South Wales, and completed a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Media at Charles Sturt University, Bathurst.

Brendan’s plays have been produced by prominent theatre companies in Australia and internationally, and he has received the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award, the Griffin Award and the Philip Parsons Young Playwright’s Award. Brendan played the popular character Tom in Love My Way and wrote many episodes of the critically acclaimed television drama series which won the AFI Award for Best Television Drama Series for each of its three seasons (2005-2007). He has played the lead role in feature films, including the 2007 crime drama Noise, for which he was awarded a Film Critics Circle Award and nominated for an AFI Award, World War I drama Beneath Hill 60 and rom-com I Love You Too. Brendan played Hamlet in a 2009 Bell Shakespeare production.

Brendan lives in Sydney, and is a committed supporter of the Cronulla Sharks rugby league team.

Brendan Cowell performs in Sydney Theatre Company’s True West by Sam Shepard, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, at Wharf 1 from 27 October 2010.  www.sydneytheatre.com.au

9 Responses

  1. […] Back to Brendan Cowell. I really must check Wollongong Library for How It Feels. […]

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  2. Brendan, I have just finished reading ‘How it feels’ and the book has resonated with me on so many levels its scary. I found myself picking it up and putting it down as it tapped into the rawness and vulnerability I try and portray when i write my little stories. I could certainly identify with the destructive and detached behaviour displayed by Neil and you r identification of the emotions and behaviour associated with grief and loss is completely ‘real’ for me. Reminds me a lot of the kind of novel i want to write. I think it’s a honest and genuine book, i almost found it a little therapeutic to read.

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  3. Hi Brendan keeping art honest…I like it! Looking forward to meeting you. Susan

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  4. Just finished reading “how it feels” last night and I am still totally absorbed in Neil & Courtney’s life & the story of youth…& in the Sutherland shire…Dolans bay…the place I have chosen to bring up my children! Eerily honest & feeling very close to home!! Knew of a sad story in Grandview( just around the corner). So well written, seems so real!! Could not put the book down. Took me to a place so far away, yet very familiar.

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  5. Brendan,
    Two friends and I have just (sequentially!) devoured your book. My 85 year old Mother heard it reviewed on ABC and thought I would like it. We all enjoyed it and look forward to your future ventures. Good on you.

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  6. I have just finished the book. I found the main character, Neil, painful and frustrating but mildly addictive. Work through the book, it’s worth it. I think Neil could grow into another book in the future.

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  7. Brendan,I have just finished reading all the blurbs about How It Feels and am about to go out and buy it. Having been a Deputy Principal at an all boys’ high school, I am acutely aware just how young one is for all the rites of passage of masculinity to take place, whether they be cultural, ethnic, religious/spiritual, as well as falling in love, and falling in lust ,awareness of appearance, breaking away from home and all that entails, concern about pathways, let alone a pimple! There are very few books for young males with the urge to read about such things, apart from Catcher in the Rye, which I have offered them. Now we fortunately we have another, Thanks on their behalf, Brendan, from Katharine

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  8. Oh Kylie, I agree. I would want to be on that selection panel.
    Another great coup Booktopia, and fantastic answers, Brendan.

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  9. Brendan, on the very off chance that you read this I have to reassure you that you do indeed have the talent to play for Australia*, at least as evidenced by your performance in Noise. Admittedly, you would have to be stoned and play in your jocks and pads only to replicate that great moment, but I’m sure that would be OK.
    Looking forward to reading How It Feels!

    *or at least a first eleven selected by, uh, myself

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