Y. A. Erskine
author of The Brotherhood
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born and raised in Devonport on the beautiful north west coast of Tasmania. When I wasn’t at school my parents knew they’d find me at the beach. At eighteen I headed south to Hobart for uni – a Bachelor of Arts with a double history major. At twenty one I joined the police force because … well … it seemed like a good idea at the time. Steady job, good pay etc. I moved back up to the coast to police in and around my home town but always felt that I wasn’t cut out for the job. In an attempt to find a new career, I did a part time Dip Ed whilst still policing and briefly taught at the local high school. As it turned out I was an even worse teacher than I was a copper! I returned to policing for a few more years whilst studying and writing on the side. At the ripe old age of thirty six I became serious about my writing.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I was determined to be an actress on The Bill. I actually wrote the producers a letter suggesting they could create a role for me to go to when I finished school – something along the lines of a mysterious Australian love interest for Dave Quinnan. *Shudder.* Needless to say no one replied to my letter.
By eighteen I’d realised that I was unfortunately a talentless hack when it came to acting, and that I was never going to be anything other than an extra in the local repertory society production of West Side Story. I started uni and became entranced with the idea of becoming a diplomat. I did a couple of years of Political Science subjects before being told by my favourite lecturer that in order to be diplomat, I needed to (a) be private school educated (b) have wealthy connections (c) have a penis. Sadly lacking in all three, I abandoned that plan.
By thirty, I just wanted to be anything other than a police officer. I was so miserable that even ‘unemployed’ would have been a better option at that stage in life.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That the justice system is noble and should be respected.
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?
Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap taught me that gritty, fearless and honest writing is better than the self-censored, politically correct fluff I’d been churning out up until then.
James Frey’s Bright Shiny Morning taught me important lessons about pushing the narrative boundaries. Sentences can consist of one word. It’s okay. Find your own rhythm and forget the conventions you were brought up to adhere to.
Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us: The Compassionate Guide to Understanding What’s Wrong with Your Writing and Leaving the Rejection Pile for Good by editor Jessica Page Morrell gave me an amazing insight into the book industry with pages and pages of advice on how to avoid the slush pile. When I finished it, I took the draft of The Brotherhood I had at the time, tore it to shreds and began again. Painful, but worth it.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
My acting was atrocious, my piano playing was mediocre, my poetry was cringe worthy and my dancing terrifying.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
The Brotherhood is the story of the murder of a police officer in Hobart, Tasmania. It’s not a typical whodunit. Rather, it is the story of the people involved and tells how the crime came about. The story plays out over the fourteen hours following the murder and is told from the perspectives of the dead man’s colleagues, friends, family, lawyer, media and the suspect himself. It is essentially a novel about preconceptions, loyalties, corruption, betrayal and the question a copper should never need to ask: just who can you trust?
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I’m hoping to remind readers that there are two very different sides to policing and the justice system; the public one which is splashed across the broadsheets and the private one which ticks along, often silently in the background. Every person involved in a crime or incident (be it the suspect, the investigator, the journalist, the lawyer) has an agenda and for a multitude of different reasons, what you read in the paper or hear on the news isn’t necessarily the truth of the matter. Most times it’s not even close.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Stephen King is the author of my teens and the reason I became addicted to the written word. His longevity, yet constant freshness is admirable. James, Austen, Bellow and Thackeray are the authors of my twenties – for the sheer beauty and depth of their writing. These days I can’t go past Tsiolkas and Frey for their honesty and fearlessness. On a lighter note, I adore Mike Gayle for his ever amusing insights into the male psyche.
To continue to tell stories that people want to read.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Treat your writing like your job. Work really, really hard, even when you’re having an off day and can’t dig deep enough. Just stop procrastinating, sit down, open that damned word document and write, write, write. As they say, you can always edit a pile of crap, but you cannot edit a blank page.
Y.A., thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
John Purcell (aka Natasha Walker) is the author of The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy published by Random House Australia. The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings reached the top ten on the Australian fiction charts and Natasha/John was the tenth highest selling Australian novelist and third highest selling Australian debut author in 2012. The trilogy has since sold over 50,000 copies in print and ebook and has been translated into French and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for the last twenty years. While still in his twenties he opened John’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop in Mosman in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Now he is the Head of Product and Chief Buyer at booktopia.com.au.