Why do you write?
I think I began writing to entertain myself. I travelled to Canada and the USA in 1994, during the very first years of email, and had at least as good a time writing about the trip as I did actually doing it. Quite sad, possibly. But it was a clue that I found the art of finding the right words stimulating, and from the responses I was getting back home, I had some talent for doing it. I still get an enormous kick out of producing something I’m proud of. Often the process is difficult. I’m jealous of writers who are enormously productive, like Stephen King with his legendary 4000 words per day, or John Birmingham or Gideon Haigh. But I’m pretty good at eventually getting my ideas out. It’s been a fun job.
How did you come to writing?
I was the winner of the travel/reality/documentary-making show Race Around the World in 1998. Prior to that time, I’d been an editor of a school magazine, and a contributor to the university paper, but it took getting on television to receive a break with mainstream publications like The Age, and the Sydney Morning Herald and Good Weekend. I also received a call from Penguin in the aftermath of Race – so my writing career was very much kicked along by that ABCTV show.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
To begin with, I didn’t believe somebody like me could be a novelist or commentator or children’s book author. It took the Race Around the World opportunity to give me confidence that I could attempt to tell stories for a living, that I could escape what was a fairly miserable existence as a second year solicitor at a major law firm. I also found that media outlets were disinterested in my writing when it sat in slush piles, pre-Race Around the World.
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
With some difficulty. Usually I get berated by my father or wife to do something, and so respond to that cattle prod. There’s rarely a shortage of ideas, and usually they kick around for a while before I finally get them into shape. When the words absolutely have to be done, I find getting up early (at about 6am) and attacking them with the new day really helps. For my novels, I set myself the discipline of 1000 words per day. 1000 words is a good day.
How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
There’s lots of other things to make a living. Speaking, Speakola website, school visits, parenting, procrastinating… I have an app on my computer called Freedom which blocks the internet for specified time periods. Nam Le told me about that. It’s worked well! Setting blocks for writing time is important. The early morning block works best for me.
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
I’m at the Abbotsford convent – a small but beautiful high ceilinged office that once would have been a nun’s room. Or I write at home in Northcote before my four kids wake up.
What are your essential writing tools?
Microsoft Word, internet for looking stuff up… a novel to read for half an hour as a ‘run up’ to getting started.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a writer?
That it’s very, very, very hard to make money out of this. Everyone says it’s difficult, but then you find out that you get $2, or $1, or 75c from each book sold, and it’s just mindboggling! How did this system get born, where the author gets a maximum of 10%?
What do you read and how do you read as a writer?
I read all sorts of different genres. Usually fiction, but with occasional non-fiction too. Currently reading Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography but in the last two months have also read The Bone Clocks, Rumblefish, and a witchy fantasy series thing my wife likes called A Discovery of Witches.
How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?
Normally it’s a matter of just enduring it, and then forcing myself to write, and then finding something in the stuff I’ve written that works.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Ride or walk or run before you start writing, without music or radio. The jigsaw of a novel or long-form non-fiction seems to magically work itself out during exercise.
Tony Wilson has written for adults and children for nearly two decades. His picture book The Cow Tripped Over the Moon was runner up in the 2016 CBCA book of the year, and he has an upcoming sporting series for upper primary kids called The Selwood Boys. On the non-fiction front, he has written features for Good Weekend and The Monthly. Tony has written two satirical novels, Players and Making News, relating to sporting celebrity and public manipulation by the tabloid media.
The Cow Tripped Over the Moon will be read for National Simultaneous story-time at 11am, 24 May 2017.