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 a small town in North Queensland – Ingham. I don’t get back there very often, but most of my family is still there. Most people are surprised to discover I am a boy from the bush, but that shy and unsophisticated little boy still lurks deep within me.
2. What did you want to be when you were 12, 18 and 30? And why?
Twelve – an actor – I excelled in character parts in the local theatre group. At twelve I had already produced my primary school’s first ever drag act – it was fabulous.
Eighteen – still an actor – I was attending theatre school by this time.
By thirty I already had firm plans to become a writer. I was a bookseller, but compulsively attending writing classes and writing down writing goals (instead of actually writing).
Oh dear – how to answer this one without losing friends? Oh, I know – I think that human sexuality is much more fluid, flexible and complex than I had imagined at eighteen. I was an angry young Queer then, at the height of ACT UP and the AIDS crisis – I was outing people and attending protests. Now I know that people are all on different journeys, especially with something as personal and psychologically fraught as sex and intimacy.
4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
You will laugh, but seeing Boy George on TV for the first time when I was a kid was an incredible moment. I took one look at him, did some quick calculations re. gender, and said to myself: “Wow, there is someone else like me out there in the world.” He really transformed the way a whole generation thought about themselves – an incredibly influential figure, I think.
Then came reading the works of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh in my 20s – he encouraged me to “come out” as a spiritual person.
The third is probably reading Marianne Williamson and studying A Course in Miracles and learning to be less judgemental and more loving.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?
I am a devout bibliophile. I have collected books since I was a teenager. I grew up surrounded by books and had a writer grandfather who gave me books constantly. I love them as objects, and I don’t think they are obsolete. That said, I think the industry will continue to undergo tremendous changes, and I think that writers should be thinking ahead, instead of sticking their heads in the sand. I blog, I am a social media maniac, I am very interested in new forms of transmission and distribution. I think I can handle any changes.
Destination Cambodia is the end result of a sixteen year obsession with Cambodia. I have visited the place many times, and I always wanted to write about it, almost as much as I wanted to write about Vietnam, the subject of my first book. It is an affectionate and quirky journey through a place that can be difficult, especially if you spend a lot of time there. And ultimately it is my attempt to come to terms with the magic and mysticism that informs everything in Cambodia. I am testing to see if I possibly have any place in the complex system of mystical beliefs that dominate people’s lives there.
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
That people might travel seeking to make connections with other people, not just to visit exotic locations for rest and relaxation. I think that the world is changed one relationship at a time, and it is quite rare and difficult for travellers to make real connections at the places they visit. My books hopefully convince them that it is worth trying.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
Oscar Wilde – he had so much style, was so outrageous and he just confounded the haters. His name has lived across centuries now.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I’d very much like to make films or TV shows similar in theme to my books. Odd travel to odd places in search of small moments of enlightenment, meeting lots of fabulous people along the way.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Get involved in the industry in any way you can, meet everybody, go to everything and work out how you can be of use. Read like crazy, promote other writers. And just produce work and submit it. Don’t dream about it for 20 years like I did. You don’t have plenty of time.
Walter, thank you for playing.