The Forgotten Books Drive-by: Rjurik Davidson

During the day, mild-mannered Rjurik Davidson lives in the guise of Associate Editor of Overland magazine. During the deepest watches of the night, he writes … short stories, essays, screenplays and reviews. Also, apparently, a novel (huzzah!): Unwrapped Sky is due out in 2012. He won the Ditmar award for Best New Talent in 2005, and has been shortlisted for Aurealis Awards multiple times. He has been published in Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy, Volumes One and Two, Scifiction, Aurealis and Borderlands, among others. His beautiful debut collection, The Library of Forgotten Books, is published by PS Publishing. You can hear him read his story, “The Fear of White”, here at Terra Incognita.

1. I hate being a writer when… I love being a writer when …
I hate being a writer when I’m not sure when I can’t work out what’s going to happen in a story, and so I can’t finish it. Oh, the horror, the horror. I sit there, staring at the screen with a feeling of dread. All the solutions seem cliched, all possible endings without merit. That’s when I sometimes think, “Maybe I’ll never write a story again.” Uhhg. 

However, I love being a writer when I come up with a wonderful unforeseen solution, some ending to a story, say, which surprises me. Or when I write a passage – maybe it’s a scene, or dialogue, or (less often) description – which works, which is affecting. That’s when, as a writer, you really get into it. You feel the emotions of the moment, you find yourself laughing or crying along with the characters, thinking like some fanatic, yes, that’s the truth!

I also really love it when a story is finished. When it’s unfinished, it’s exactly like when someone tells you a story, but stops halfway. Your mind starts working in overdrive trying to finish it, you find yourself yelling, “Wait! What happened to the clown with the fish?!” When you discover the ending, all those circuits are closed, you can sit back and think, “Yes, now that I know what happened to the clown with the fish, I feel happy.”

2. What should you edit out of every story?
About half of it. Well, in my case I should. Another way of putting it is: everything you can edit out without losing something fundamental to the story. Most especially, repetition. Sometimes, for example, I have characters say the same thing in two ways, one after the other. A bigger version of this is a scene which repeats the same events (or emotional events) of an earlier one. So in one scene, the clown carries the frogfish in the huge bowl across the street, making sure he doesn’t drop it. In a later scene, if the clown carries the frogfish up a flight of stairs, he’s going to have to drop it – or at least (for fish lovers out there) something else different is going to happen. Otherwise, one of the scenes can be cut. Having said this, I should note that it’s a very modern way of writing. Victor Hugo didn’t seem to edit out anything much at all. So we should be aware of our modern tendency to reduce story to events, to conflict, to the tightest, shortest thing possible. One might say it’s almost a writing version of neoliberalism. I’m not sure it’s a good thing. In other words, the avant-garde rejection of everything I’ve just said should also be taken seriously. 

3. You get to be whoever you want, go wherever and whenever you want for a day: discuss.
Well, perhaps I’d like to be a Roman aristocrat in Pompeii in about 78 AD (avoiding the eruption by about a year) – perhaps the political figure Julius Polybius (whose house in on the main road running from the forum east) or Lucius Valens (whose house is a little closer to the eastern gate, near the amphitheater). That’d be fun, and strange, and interesting. I’d go to the baths, wander the streets, eat at one those cute take-away joints, have a long feast late into the night of roast quail, grapes, lots of garum (sauce made from rotten fish entrails which the Romans used as a kind of tomoato sauce. I understand it’s an acquired taste …). Well, that’s the answer you get today. Next time, I’ll say Syd Barrett playing one night at the UFO club in 1967. Or perhaps John Reed in St Petersburg, 1917. Or … well, the list could go on for ever.

4. If I wasn’t a writer I would …
Be a professional soccer player. By now I’d be retired, but there would be rumours that I was about to stage a comeback. There’d be debate in the papers. People would be calling for my return. Others would be saying that it would be a terrible mistake and ruin my legacy. Either that, or I’d be a clown with a frogfish.

5. Donuts or danishes?
What kind of Gordion knot is that question? Huh? Or is it the riddle of the sphinx? No one knows the answer, certainly not me.


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