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 in London in 1973, where I stayed for six months before my mother’s relatives demanded I be brought home. So my Australian parents sold all their things and moved to Sydney. I grew up in Balmoral Beach, then, when my parents divorced in 1979, I moved with my mother to Balmain. Back then it was still a rough-and-tumble wharfies’ suburb. Dawn Fraser ran the Riverview Hotel across the road. I went to Fort Street High School in Petersham. I consider myself a Balmain boy at heart even though I now live in the east and rarely leave Darlinghurst or Potts Point. Balmain people from that era stay Balmain people for life, wherever they end up.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I wanted to be a cartoonist; at eighteen Henry Miller, living in Paris and making love to women that looked like Françoise Hardy; at thirty I was still entertaining ideas of being a writer and running off to Europe with my family and British passport but had yet to get out of book editing and take the leap into full-time writing. That opportunity came much later. I’ve always been artistic and drawn to writers, filmmakers, painters, musicians, booksellers, dancers…
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That Woody Allen was the greatest filmmaker in the universe. Manhattan changed my life. I prefer Spanish, Mexican and South American cinema now. City of God and Amores Perros are films that could never have been made in the States.
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?
One, I would say being the son of two artists: my mother was a well-known, internationally recognised glass artist; my father was a successful director of television commercials and later became a painter. His father was a landscape painter. My ex-wife was a singer. I’ve grown up around creative people and been surrounded by books, paintings and dusty old stacks of LPs all my life. My family has always been very encouraging about my career decisions and they’ve supported me through a lot, including the writing of Laid Bare. And that’s worth remarking on because there are parts of the book about them and not all of what I write is flattering. My divorce reopened some old wounds. But I am very grateful for everything they’ve done for me and my daughter, who’s called “Evie” in the book.
Two, meeting an English guy in a bar in Hamburg who offered me a job writing soccer columns for a TV network in Australia. That opportunity allowed me to close the door on my editing life and move into writing daily and getting well paid for it, even though I’d cut my teeth as a writer for Inside Sport and been up for some awards before then. But the columns raised my profile immeasurably, they gave me the opportunity to write my first book, 15 Days in June, and they changed my life in all sorts of ways – which I talk about in Laid Bare.
Third, reading writers such as Stephen Vizinczey, Max Frisch, Paul Theroux, James Lee Burke, David Lodge, Richard Russo, Robert Hughes, Peter Robb, Christopher Koch, the Amises. Reading their best books is an infinitely pleasurable experience.
There’s a line in Vizinczey’s In Praise of Older Women that inspired the narrative: “As love is an emotional glimpse of eternity, one can’t help half-believing that genuine love will last forever.” It opens Laid Bare.
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?
Not at all. I’ve worked in pretty much every medium you mentioned and there’s nothing as fulfilling and challenging as writing a book. Blogs are not very difficult. I’ve written thousands on soccer and I had a good career doing it. But they’re ephemeral. Similarly, I’ve written a ton of magazine articles. People read them then forget about them. Books endure. They are tactile and treasured. When you write a book you feel you are contributing something just a little bit worthwhile to the sum of human knowledge. Nothing will ever replace the book as the most important medium for written expression. I admire anyone who has the dedication and skill to write a good book. Especially those people who do it without fat advances or any advances at all.
6. Please tell us about your latest book…
I never set out to write Laid Bare. I hate the word “organically” but it really did begin organically. I was frustrated and bored with the limitations of my columns for Fox Sports and SBS Sport (I’d racked up about 500 by the time I left SBS, in July 2011) and wanted to write something substantial again after doing 15 Days in June in 2007 but didn’t know what or where to begin.
One day I went to the Darlo Bar in Sydney, ordered a glass of wine, took a seat outside and – like magic – just started writing about my breakup with my wife, who’s called “Lara” in the book. It had been the single most traumatic event of my life and I’d only recently started to feel at peace with what had happened. This was four years after the split. I didn’t set out to write it with any malice or for it to be cathartic. I just wanted to write. When I read back what I’d written later that evening I realised it was the best thing I’d ever done: raw, honest, drawn from experience rather than my head.
Those words would go on to land me a commission with marie claire magazine, which published an 800-word story of mine on how it feels to have your heart broken. It ran in the September 2011 issue with a huge, rather disconcerting picture of my face over a double-page spread. But it got an amazing response. I still get letters from women telling me they’d read the story and been touched by it. I took that story with a proposal to Hachette Australia and they saw the potential of developing it into a book that chronicled my experiences of separation and divorce plus my battles with OCD and depression, but also took in a broader theme of disconnected relationships in a world that is more connected than ever. Indeed the working title for the book was Disconnected Love. It took six months to write.
So Laid Bare covers a lot of bases apart from own story: the relevance of marriage, the wisdom of monogamy, the shortcomings of online dating, the intrusion of technology into our personal lives, decreasing intimacy in a world of instantly accessible pornography, the hidden mental and emotional lives of men, and much more. Ultimately, though, it’s a book about love – with some sex thrown in.
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
I hope people come away from reading Laid Bare having been challenged enough to perhaps start re-evaluating the choices they make or have made in their relationships, careers and sex lives. The message of the book is to take risks. Put your integrity at a premium. Be true to yourself. Lead a full life. It’s the only one you’ve got. Oh, and that it’s okay to screw up occasionally.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
Michael McDonald, the former singer and keyboardist for the Doobie Brothers. Apart from possessing a heaven-sent voice and having an awesome shock of white hair he writes the most incredible and profoundly affecting songs about love. There was a golden period with the Doobies in the late 1970s when he wrote “What a Fool Believes”, “It Keeps You Runnin’” “Minute by Minute”, “Losin’ End”, “Nothin’ But a Heartache”, “How Do The Fools Survive?” and others. The common theme of all these songs was relationships. Love and loss. Being a romantic fool. I recognised myself in a lot of his lyrics. The songs spoke to me during a really dark time in my life. I never fail to be touched by his music from that 1976–’81 period with the Doobies. I listen to it every day. McDonald deserves much more recognition as an important artist. Not just as a musician. “Losin’ End” is used as the opening track in Laid Bare. The lyrics “Remember me/I was your fool for really quite a long time/’Til I found out how it feels to play/On the losin’ end” could qualify as the divorced man’s anthem. Each chapter has an accompanying track. I wish the book had come with a CD of the music that has inspired me. It would be full of McDonald songs.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To have a long-term relationship that can withstand everything that’s thrown at it. To have another kid. To run the Boston Marathon. To write more books: starting with a music biography or travel narrative. I have small, realistic goals and count myself lucky to just be here and be healthy again and be the father of a beautiful young girl.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
To develop the faculty of finely calibrated self-bullshit detection. To put up bookshelves and fill them with all sorts of books, not just the ones with nice covers. To read great writers such as Richard Russo and Christopher Koch. To listen to great music and look at great art. To bypass writing teachers (in my view, you learn to write by absorption and osmosis not instruction). And most of all to experience the world – not just different places but different tastes, different sounds, different jobs, different relationships, different situations. Get out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to say what you think. Take risks. Hearses don’t come with roof racks.
Jesse, thank you for playing.
One man’s story of sex, love and other disorders.
Like a lot of men, Jesse Fink never thought it would happen to him.
But it did. His wife of 10 years and mother of his child walked out on him and into the arms of another man.
In that moment he lost his best friend, his soul mate, his family, his identity. His wife’s new lover even got his dog.
What came next was a freefall of the soul that would take him from contemplating cutting his wrists to sleeping with hundreds of women.
LAID BARE is a brutally honest account of one man’s emotional and mental oblivion after separation and divorce.
Jesse’s search for love and pleasure saw him jump headlong into the freewheeling and sometimes dangerous world of online dating. He visited brothels and massage parlours. He crossed the Pacific for doomed affairs. He disastrously moved in sight unseen with his high-school dream girl, a woman he hadn’t spoken to for 25 years but reunited with on Facebook. He flew off to Hollywood to connect with yet another beautiful woman he sparked with online and found himself in the kitchen of the real-life Bridget Jones. And he managed to get his heart broken all over again with a brilliant but turbulent young artist.
With remarkable frankness, Jesse opens up about his complicity in the failure of his marriage, his battles with OCD, his struggles as a single dad, his sex addiction and his desperate desire to find love. He shares it all the good, the bad and the ugly.
His chance at personal salvation finally comes in the unconditional love of his eight-year-old daughter.
This time, if he pays attention, he might just get it right.
Earlier this week we posted this…
Jesse Fink: The Top 5 Books I Would
and the Top 5 Books I Wouldn’t Want To See On A
Woman’s Dating Profile
…it caused a bit of a stir.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.