DIY woman chats to our favourite Australian author – Graeme Simsion

Former IT specialist and current best-selling author of The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion is on a roll: we talk to the soon-to-be screenwriter, sometime film producer, bon vivant and half of the hottest literary duo since Simone de Beauvoir and whatshisname.

DIY woman Elizabeth Quinn with author Graeme Simsion
DIY woman with author Graeme Simsion

Graeme Simsion and his wife Anne Buist (author of recently-released psychological thriller Medea’s Curse) are currently on the literary festival circuit from Dubai all the way to UK and beyond, but he still found time for a chinwag with DIY Woman:

Legend has it that your original intention was to write a screenplay and you were advised to first write a best-seller, which you did. Damn it Graeme, is it really that simple?

Legend, as we would hope, captures the spirit of the story but ignores the mundane detail. The mundane detail is this: I actually wrote a screenplay, over five years, but wasn’t optimistic about getting it funded. These days, studios prefer the lower-risk option of adapting a novel that has already proved itself in the marketplace. So I rewrote my screenplay as a book.

That process was relatively easy – but only because I’d spent five years with the story and the characters already. And the book took on a life of its own, above and beyond being a vehicle to get a movie made.

You credit the Creative Writing course at RMIT as being a contributing factor to your success with The Rosie Project. What was the most crucial aspect of the course to your literary achievements thus far?

 I studied screenwriting and then professional writing and editing at RMIT. The study was more than just a contributing factor: there was no way The Rosie Project would have happened – in screenplay or book form – without it. The courses gave me theory, feedback, discipline, encouragement and industry contacts. I first encountered my publisher, Text, when one of their editors came to speak to our class. A few months later, she became my editor.

It’s hard to pick out a single factor, but if I had to, I would boringly have to nominate the theory – and I use that term broadly to include practically-oriented advice. I just learned tons of stuff about plot, character, story structure… My most important subject was probably the first screenplay editing subject I took where we looked at an early draft of a successful screenplay and compared it with the final result: learning how to make your work better is at least as important as learning how to write a good draft.

You mention in passing in your blog that your school days were not a particularly happy time of your life, and that your recent studies felt like a ‘second chance’.  Could you elaborate a little on that?

I guess I’m being a little harsh there – I had some very good times at school but suffered from being younger than my classmates. Timing of my birthday (midyear), being reasonably bright and a move from NZ to Australia conspired to put me a couple of years ahead academically – but not socially!

Mature age tertiary study, particularly in a creative discipline, is so different: you’re doing it because you want to – and, just as important, so are your peers. Grades are less important than what you’re learning, and the relationship with faculty and the institution is less parent-child. For me there was a sense of fulfilling the “if I knew then what I know now” fantasy.

At an age when many baby boomers are looking longingly towards retirement, you have taken on a whole new career. What has been the impact on you and your family and on your life in general?

Yeah. I was in my fifties when I decided I could make writing my full time career. At that age, my father (who’s now in his late 80s) had retired permanently. My kids are adults, so the impact there is minimal. There’s a lot of travel, but I was doing quite a bit of that in my old job. My partner is also a writer and had her first mainstream novel, Medea’s Curse, published earlier this year. So, with the kids off our hands, we have a strong common interest in writing and great opportunities to travel. I just have to persuade her to give up the day job!

You are the epitome of a DIY man: you had a goal, you set about learning how to achieve it, and you got there in the end. At we salute you.

Well, thank you. I think there’s an important qualification about the pursuit of goals. It’s vital to enjoy the journey. My stated goal when I started screenwriting was to write a Hollywood (or equivalent) movie. That was the dream – not the realistic expectation. I made sure I had lots of smaller wins along the way: short films made, into festivals, shown on television. A couple of plays performed by Short and Sweet. Some short stories published. Etc, etc, etc. Lots of et ceteras.  I enjoyed the process of doing these things too, as well as the formal recognition. And when, at least initially, I realised I couldn’t pull off the movie dream, I was prepared to trade it for getting a book published. So by all means have a goal, but don’t be so single minded that you miss the joys of the trail and the possibility that it might lead you elsewhere.

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