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