I was born in Central Queensland under the Tropic of Capricorn and grew up in the 1950s and 60s. In my working-class town, in a state governed by a culture of bombastic white male mediocrity, there was not the slightest encouragement to do anything individualistic, especially if you were female. There was however encouragement to live superficially and to leave life unexamined. After a stint of teaching in London and travelling the world, my horizons broadened. I feel an obligation to make visible at least some of the things that I’d been trained in childhood to keep invisible – real life, that is, in all its manifestations.
How did you come to writing?
I returned to Brisbane from London in 1980 with a small son, and a vow – to write. But as a parent I had to wait until my mid-thirties when I’d paid off my house. After a decade of being thwarted, my desire to write was insatiable.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
Indifference – if not downright hostility. The only thing to do is to ignore the negativity that comes your way and to seize whatever opportunities that do come.
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
Motivated by the (perhaps foolish) conviction that I what I’m doing is useful, self-discipline has never been a problem. What is hard is developing balance; it’s easy to become obsessive.
How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
I generally spend only a quarter of the hours in any one day on writing work. What I do with the rest of it has naturally changed with the demands of life. Once it was hugely spent looking after my two children; now there is time for all sorts of things.
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
I write at home on a spacious silky-oak desk.
What are your essential writing tools?
The usual but I’m particularly fond of my big Macquarie Dictionary. I keep it open on a shelf in the lounge room. I do some vigorous bending and stretching as I leaf through its delicate pages for such necessities as the correct spelling of ‘veranda’ or ‘mailbox’.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a writer?
Nothing really. There’s great value in discovering what you need to discover for yourself. The writing journey, so full of wisdom and surprises, is different for each pilgrim. How could anyone have prepared me for the day that I’d sit in the Concert Hall of QPAC near the Lord Mayor to listen to several orchestras and two choirs perform a composition called Jirisan Sunrise that was based on a poem I wrote? That experience began with struggling up a mountain in South Korea behind a bunch of teenagers.
For me, each piece of writing is about deepening my understanding about some aspect of life, and sharing those discoveries with whoever is interested. My poetry collection Mountains Belong to the People Who Love Them, in which the above poem appears, deepened my understanding of Asian cultures, and the natural world. In writing the novel Cry Ma Ma to the Moon I came closer to understanding the very human emotion of desire. Who could have predicted that Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox would paint over 50 works in response?
What do you read and how do you read as a writer?
I’ll soon be going to Italy on a working holiday so I’m reading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I’d like to end with a quote from Ferrante’s Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.
‘You’re a writer, use your role, test it, make something of it. These are decisive times, everything is turning upside down. Participate, be present.’
Lesley Synge’s latest title is a collaboration. The life story, Wharfie, is about a Brisbane waterside worker (Wal Stubbings 1913-2014) who dedicated his life to a better world.