author of The Fence-Painting Fortnight of Destiny
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Born and raised in Toowoomba, Queensland. Schooled at Harristown State Primary School and then St Saviour’s College which is not as posh as it sounds. Started Uni in Toowoomba, never finished.
2. What did you want to be when you were 12, 18 and 30? And why?
Always wanted to be a performer of some sort. I don’t know why, it’s just part of me. Actually, from a Buddhist perspective it would suggest that I’d been a performer in a previous life because I was born knowing how to do it and there are no other performers in my family. There are very many things I was not born knowing how to do!
3. What strongly held belief did you have at 18 that you do not have now?
That being “famous” was an end in itself. I learned later from watching friends become very famous that there was a lot of life to be lived beyond that, and it was not necessarily easier.
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?
Having a high school drama teacher try very hard not to cast me in a comedy review. In the end I did a very short sketch and stole the show. She never acknowledged it but everyone else did. It was the first time I lost a job I felt should have been mine, but certainly not the last! It was also my first taste of sweet showbiz revenge. It’s a great motivator.
I was obsessed with The Big Gig, which was a stand up show on the ABC, hosted by Wendy Harmer. I would say I learned 80% of what I know about comedy from that show, in terms of timing, structure and stage presence. I picked up a few more bits and pieces from doing it myself for 20 years after that.
I read a “The Art of Happiness at Work” by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C Cutler about six years ago because I was really struggling with being part of a workplace, in my case a radio station. I know people think radio stations are wacky, zany fun factories, but they’re actually quite formal corporate environments. At least that’s how they seem to me after many years working in pubs and clubs as a comedian, with no boss, no meetings and no office politics.
This book quite literally saved my radio career because by the time I found it I genuinely thought I’d have to give the game away due to the stress it was causing me. As is his way, His Holiness helped me see my situation from a different perspective. I started behaving differently and my experience changed, even though my environment didn’t.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a book?
Well I work in all of those media, so I suppose a book was the next logical step. Also, I read ebooks, which has increased my reading radically. I’d fallen out of the habit of buying books, but now I have a virtual bookcase full that I’m plowing through at night. My ipad is my cave.
My book is a memoir, which is not something I thought I’d write. I thought it sounded really obnoxious when my editor suggested it.
She is a wonderful woman who gave me the confidence through our earliest conversations to start thinking about my life and making some notes. I suppose I’m not a big one for looking back so as I really sat still and thought about I was surprised at how much I’d fitted in.
Mostly though I was stunned at the patterns that emerged, and way it all has a way of working out. It was a really rewarding process, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have done it. It’s not something I’d have done without a big nudge.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I’d like everyone in the world to live, eat and work ethically and compassionately. Obviously that’s not going to happen, not even I do those things all the time, but it was a wonderfully expansive question so I’ve given an appropriately utopian answer.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, for a lot of reasons obviously, but perhaps primarily because of his purity of thought. He understands the human condition so thoroughly, that he can reduce it to a handful of simple words and relieve me of a life-long hang-up or source of pain. He’s also not afraid to say, “I don’t know” when he doesn’t. Makes me realise how often I waffle on and make stuff up rather than tell that simple truth.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I have lived a lifetime of working obsessively toward ambitious goals. Now my plans are much simpler. I hope to work less and live more. My fondest wish is to see out my days sweeping and cooking for a lovely monk somewhere quiet, with a lot of wildlife around and frequent visits from my kids, who’ll be happy adults by then.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Don’t try to make it perfect. Just get it down and keep going. We need the permission of others to do so much in this life. No one can stop you writing.
Meshel, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
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