Matthew Condon is an author and staff writer at Qweekend.
Like John Birmingham, he's a man who can alternate between writing fiction and non-fiction with apparent ease. I first met Matthew in 2010 when I interviewed and profiled him for The Weekend Australian Review, around the release of his excellent book Brisbane, which offered a unique and literary insight into the city where he grew up and later returned to while raising his family. Matthew is an acclaimed fiction writer who was first published in 1988 with The Motorcycle Café, a novel inspired by his experiences working at a petrol station. I’m less familiar with his fiction writing, though I thoroughly recommend his 1998 novel The Pillow Fight, which is about an abusive relationship written from the perspective of the male victim.
In recent years his journalistic work has taken prominence: he is an associate editor at Queensland newspaper The Courier-Mail and a staff writer at Qweekend. Matthew was also editor of Qweekend for a year or so, and kindly published several stories of mine during his tenure. In 2013, the first in Matthew’s trilogy of diligently researched non-fiction books about the Queensland Police was published by University of Queensland Press. Three Crooked Kings was followed by Jacks and Jokers in 2014, and the final chapter is due later this year.
My interview with Matthew took place at the News Queensland offices in Bowen Hills, in late April. At my suggestion, we found a disused office in a quiet corner of the building. It might have been the very same room where I interviewed Trent Dalton in the first episode of Penmanship. As a longtime admirer of his work, it was a privilege to pick Matthew’s brain about the craft of writing, and what propelled him into a career of working with words.
Our conversation touches on an intimate and unforgettable story about visiting his grandmother in a psychiatric ward one Christmas as a young man, which he later wrote about in his short story collection The Lulu Magnet in 1996; his parents’ disappointment in his pursuit of a career as a writer, and how it’s only in the last few years with the success of Three Crooked Kings that they have started to realise his talent and impact; his job working at a petrol station, and what he learned about human nature by the way that customers tended to treat him in that role; what he learned from his stint editing Qweekend, and the personal difficulties he has faced while writing his recent books about the Queensland Police.
Matthew Condon is the author of several novels, works of non-fiction, and is the two-time winner of the Steele Rudd Award for short fiction. His novels include The Motorcycle Café, The Pillow Fight and The Trout Opera. His non-fiction titles include Brisbane and, as editor, Fear, Faith and Hope: Remembering the Long Wet Summer of 2010-2011. In 2013 he published Three Crooked Kings, the first instalment in a trilogy on the life and times of former Queensland police commissioner Terry Lewis, and crime and corruption in Queensland and NSW over a half-century. The book tells an epic story of corruption so deeply entrenched that it changed Queensland society. It was awarded the John Oxley Library Award 2013, and was shortlisted for several other awards. The second volume, Jacks and Jokers, was published in April 2014 and was nominated for a Walkley Award. The final instalment in the trilogy will be published this year. Condon has worked as a journalist for thirty years both here and overseas. He is currently Adjunct Professor in the Creative Arts at the Queensland University of Technology.
Show notes and links to Matthew’s writing discussed in this episode: http://penmanshippodcast.com/episode-4-matthew-condon/
Matthew Condon on Twitter: @MatthewCondon2
Penmanship on Twitter: @PenmanshipAU
John Birmingham is an author, columnist and freelance journalist.
Since I began venturing into freelance journalism six years ago, John has loomed large in my life. At first, I admired him from afar by devouring his autobiographical books, including his cult classic He Died With A Felafel In His Hand and its sequel, The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco. I read his journalism in magazines like The Monthly, his online columns on Brisbane Times, his cannabis travelogue Dopeland and his collection of essays with the memorable title, Off One’s Tits.
All of that writing was rooted in reality. In 2010, I also read one of John’s fiction titles, After America, and I leveraged my interest in that release, and in John’s work in general, into a short feature article for The Big Issue that same year. That’s where I first met John Birmingham: as a young freelancer interviewing him for a national magazine. I was thrilled by this opportunity, because I was essentially being paid to interview one of my favourite Australian writers.
In 2015, John remains a giant of the literary scene, a true chameleon who can jump between fiction and non-fiction, short-form and long-form, with enviable ease. He’s an outrageous talent and I’m honoured to consider him a freelance colleague and a friend. He’s someone who has seen and done it all, as far as Australian writing is concerned, yet he maintains a freakishly prolific output and a young man’s hunger for the craft. For me, he remains a source of inspiration as dependable as the tides.
Our interview took place at John’s home, in the inner-east suburb of Balmoral on a Tuesday morning in April . He led me downstairs to his writing room, which features an enormous floor-to-ceiling book shelf stacked with titles and a couple of awards he’s earned over the years. John kicked his dog out of the room so she didn’t stink up the place, and we settled into comfortable chairs opposite one another for a conversation which touches on his upbringing in Ipswich, Queensland; his early interest in writing, which led him to manually copy some of his favourite writers line-by-line; his move from journalism into fiction writing, and his short-lived job as a producer for the national television program A Current Affair.
John Birmingham has published lots of books. So many that he sort of loses track of them. He wrote features for magazines in a decade before publishing He Died With A Felafel In His Hand, working for Rolling Stone, Playboy and the Long Bay Prison News amongst others. He won the National Award For Non-Fiction with Leviathan: An Unauthorised Biography of Sydney. He started writing airport novels because they were more fun. His most recent series of books that improve with altitude are the Dave Hooper novels. He blogs at cheeseburgergothic.com.
Show notes and links to John’s writing discussed in this episode: http://penmanshippodcast.com/episode-3-john-birmingham/
John Birmingham on Twitter: @JohnBirmingham
Penmanship on Twitter: @PenmanshipAU