Penmanship is a podcast about Australian writing culture. It features interviews with Australians who earn a living from working with words: writers, journalists, editors and publishers, among others. Each episode features an in-depth, one-on-one conversation about the guest’s career, craft and inner life. The goal of Penmanship is to provide unique insights into the creative process, mechanics and skills behind the best writing in the country. The podcast exists to explore the diversity and complexity of Australian storytelling by speaking directly with leading contributors to the field.
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Now displaying: 2015
Jul 29, 2015

Jon Toogood is a songwriter and musician.

Jon is the lead singer and guitarist in a band named Shihad. Formed in Wellington, New Zealand, the band are well-known among Australians following the success of their breakthrough album, The General Electric, in 1999. Jon and his bandmates have been based in Melbourne since around that time, and have released a string of great albums. The most recent was FVEY, released in 2014, a hard rock record with a political agenda, which we discuss in some detail in this episode.

I first met Jon Toogood in 2011, when I interviewed him for a Mess+Noise ‘Storytellers’ feature about two of my favourite Shihad songs, ‘Home Again’ and ‘Deb’s Night Out’. I also interviewed him about drug use for my book Talking Smack in 2013, when Shihad were touring Australia while supporting Black Sabbath.

He’s an energetic conversationalist and mad music fan above all else, which should become apparent pretty quickly. Our conversation touches on the concept of justice, which featured prominently in Jon’s writing for FVEY; how his marriage to a Sudanese woman changed his perspective and led to him undertaking charity work; his early interest in reading horror novels, which led to writing his first song for Shihad; the fine line between confidence and arrogance in musicians, and how he has learned to deal with negative reviews of his music.

This interview took place in Brisbane in early June, when Shihad was performing three shows in south-east Queensland. I’d seen the band perform a couple of nights earlier, at the Hamilton Hotel, where they were in incredible form. They’re simply one of the best live rock bands I’ve ever seen, and I decided long ago to never pass up an opportunity to see them live. Jon and I spoke on a Sunday afternoon in an inner-city hotel room that he was sharing with guitarist Phil Knight; you’ll hear Phil arrive partway through the recording and try to quietly creep past with a box of freshly bought Fruit Loops.

Jon Toogood is a songwriter and musician who has been at the helm of Shihad since 1988. A New Zealand rock institution that has consistently delivered churning riffs and soaring melodies over nine studio albums and eight EPs, Shihad have a reputation as a ferocious live act that's been hard-earned after more than 1,500 shows. Their two decade-plus career was recognised at the 2010 New Zealand Music Awards, where they were ushered into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame; they were also recently awarded with 'Most Singles in the NZ Charts by a NZ Artist' (25) and 'Most #1 Albums by a NZ Artist' (5) by Recorded Music NZ. Jon also fronts The Adults, an extra-curricular project starring some of his favourite New Zealand artists, including Julia Deans (Fur Patrol), Shayne Carter (Dimmer, Straitjacket Fits) and Ladi 6. Jon took up guitar aged seven, but back then soccer and cricket were his still first love. A talented batsman, he captained the Wellington Representative cricket team, but at 15 he traded his bat and cricket whites for a guitar and black jeans and never looked back. Jon’s career highlights include playing in front of 60,000-strong crowds and Shihad's gold albums, but says nothing beats the rush of knowing when he’s written a song that works.

Show notes and links to Jon's music discussed in this episode:

Jon Toogood  on Twitter: @JonToogood

Penmanship on Twitter: @PenmanshipAU

Jul 15, 2015

Everett True is a freelance music critic and author.

Born in England, True was involved with several key British music magazines throughout the 1990s and 2000s, including NME, Melody Maker and Plan B. He moved to Brisbane in 2008 and immediately made a name for himself by deriding popular bands such as Silverchair, The Vines and Savage Garden as “musical abominations” in a memorable article for The Guardian.

At the time, these comments caused significant waves among the Australian music writing fraternity. As an arrogant, opinionated young writer myself, it took some time for me to see past True’s brash, abrasive style of writing and view him as a real person with real feelings. Over the years, we became friends and colleagues, supporting each others’ work as freelancers and forming an unlikely bond.

Besides his work as a prominent music critic, True is an accomplished author, having written books on Nirvana, Ramones and The White Stripes. More recently, while living in Brisbane, he has been a PhD student at Queensland University of Technology, and when I met him at his home in the western suburb of The Gap in early June he had just submitted his PhD thesis. You’ll hear his children running around and playing nearby, as we talk about how he failed English in high school, the Blondie song that first endeared him to pop music, the origins of his pen names, his tumultuous relationship with alcohol, and the time when he pushed Kurt Cobain in a wheelchair in front of tens of thousands of people at Reading Festival in 1992.

Everett True is a former editor of Melody Maker, VOX, Careless Talk Costs Lives and Plan B in the U.K. He has written for more rock publications than most people can name. He is the author of several books on rock music featuring Nirvana, Ramones, The White Stripes and others, and was a key writer covering the rise of Nirvana and the Seattle scene in the early 1990s. Nick Cave described one of his live performances as "more entertaining than Nina Simone," while Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs called him "the coolest man in England." The Gossip's members say he's the most important music critic of their generation.

Show notes and links to Everett's writing discussed in this episode:


Everett True on Twitter: @EverettTrue

Penmanship on Twitter: @PenmanshipAU

Jul 1, 2015

Lizzie Loel is a restaurant critic at Qweekend and freelance writer.

As a regular reader of Qweekend, I’ve been intrigued by Lizzie’s reviews in the last couple of years she’s been in the role. Her writing is sharp and evocative, but what has interested me most is that her ratings are on a scale of 20, and she rarely awards a score higher than 15. This has created the perception in my mind, and in the minds of others, that she’s a tough marker – a critic who’s hard to please.

We talk about this perception at some length in our conversation, which also touches on Lizzie’s upbringing on a sheep and cattle station in western Queensland; her experience as an apprentice chef in Brisbane and Paris; and the difficulties associated with perfecting the art of making an Indian curry; how she developed her palate and food vocabulary; how she got into restaurant criticism, and her unique method of writing reviews without taking notes; and the type of reader she keeps in mind when reviewing restaurants for Qweekend.

This interview was recorded at Lizzie’s home in Paddington, Brisbane, on a Friday morning in June, at her dining room table. Her obsession with all things food was evident through the fresh ingredients on the table beside us, as well as the countless cookbooks and food magazines in her living room. You’ll even hear her cat making its presence known at a couple of points in our conversation.

Lizzie Loel lives to eat and eats to live.  As a chef-turned-restaurant critic she has seen all angles of the restaurant industry from the good, the bad and the utterly delectable. Widely travelled and with more than fifteen years' experience as a restaurant critic, Lizzie knows a thing or two about eating out.  Her life prior to this was all about food as well: she ran the popular A Moveable Feast for six years and then went on to establish The Grape Catering Company, both of which won multiple awards over several years. During the 'critic' years, Lizzie moonlighted as a caterer-of-sorts, producing mountains of food daily for her constantly hungry three young sons and their ever-expanding entourage.  She stopped reviewing when the boys left school, jumping back into the industry but early in 2013 she returned to The Courier-Mail's reviewing for the prestigious Qweekend magazine.

Show notes and links to Lizzie's writing discussed in this episode:

Lizzie Loel on Twitter: @LizzieLoel

Penmanship on Twitter: @PenmanshipAU

Jun 17, 2015

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:

Matthew Condon on Twitter: @MatthewCondon2

Penmanship on Twitter: @PenmanshipAU

Jun 3, 2015

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

Show notes and links to John’s writing discussed in this episode:

John Birmingham on Twitter: @JohnBirmingham

Penmanship on Twitter: @PenmanshipAU

May 20, 2015

Amy Remeikis is Queensland state political editor at Brisbane Times.

Amy’s role sees her covering Queensland’s political machinations from Parliament House during sitting weeks. She’s a journalist with serious skill and dedication to the task of holding Queensland’s politicians to account. As a feature writer, I’m far removed from the demands of daily reporting, so I was thrilled when Amy agreed to speak with me and offer her insights into this aspect of the news media.

Our interview took place in April in Amy’s living room at her home in Bowen Hills, in Brisbane’s inner north. For someone who had been at work for the previous 12 hours, she was remarkably chipper, as she sipped on a cup of peppermint tea while perched on a bench.

Our conversation touches on political press conference etiquette; the delicate task of performing what’s known in the media business as a ‘death knock’; moving away from journalism to teach English in South Korea; Amy’s Lithuanian heritage, and the emotional task of writing about her father as he slowly dies before her eyes.

Amy Remeikis has been in and out of journalism since 2001, working in radio (moderately successfully) and television (very unsuccessfully) before finding her groove in the written word, working for newspapers and now, online. Nominated for a Young Walkley Award as a police reporter at a regional daily, Amy has since covered almost every round, and until she became the only reporter to be mentioned in Campbell Newman's concession speech earlier in 2015, she was most famous for doing the Conga with Clive Palmer.

Show notes and links to Amy's writing discussed in this episode:

Amy Remeikis on Twitter: @AmyRemeikis

Penmanship on Twitter: @PenmanshipAU

May 4, 2015

Trent Dalton is a staff writer at The Weekend Australian Magazine.

He’s one of the most influential journalists in my life, and I'm honoured that he's my first guest on Penmanship.

Trent’s writing moves and inspires me with shocking regularity. Judging by the volume of praise-filled letters to the editor published in The Weekend Australian Magazine following each of his stories, I’m not the only one.

Our interview touches on Trent's upbringing in Bracken Ridge, Brisbane; his early interest in magazine journalism; working at an auto-electrical parts supplier for a year after finishing high school; studying creative writing at university; his first writing job at Brisbane News on a salary of $26,000; his pre-interview tactic of looking in the bathroom mirror and reciting a mantra misquoted from Reservoir Dogs; and his transition to writing feature stories with great emotional depth.

Previously, Trent was a staff writer at Qweekend and an assistant editor of The Courier-Mail. He has won a Walkley Award for excellence in journalism, been a three-time winner of the national News Awards Feature Journalist of the Year Award, and was named Queensland Journalist of the Year at the 2011 Clarion Awards for excellence in Queensland media. His journalism has twice been nominated for a United Nations of Australia Media Peace Award.

Show notes and links to Trent's writing discussed in this episode:

Trent Dalton on Twitter: @TrentDalton

Penmanship on Twitter: @PenmanshipAU

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