Interview with David Smart

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
No I don't. Story-telling has always been a driving passion for me. I was writing before I could write. What I mean is I would make up stories in my mind, as a very young child, three or four years old, before I had any real grasp of what words or letters were. I'd invent stories, simple little things, based on cartoons or toys or a picture in a book. This was a very consuming hobby for me. I enjoyed it very much. But it was also a very solitary one. I was that odd kid you see in playgrounds sometimes, off by himself, joins in on group activities only occasionally and most of the time with a discernible sense of reluctance.
What is your writing process?
I pretty much always start with the ending. If the ending doesn't come to me early in the process I generally find I won't finish the story. Even if I really like the idea and there are several passages or scenes that come together really well, if I don't have a clear idea of how the thing ends I usually won't be able to proceed with the story and the whole thing will fall apart. I find that whenever I write anything, I'm really just fashioning the narrative so that it logically arrives at a stopping point. A final idea, or image, or sentence.
As to when I write, I try to write in the morning because that's when my mind feels freshest, I have the greatest energy. But I work a full time job so that's not always possible. I don't have a great deal of spare time and can't always dictate the structure of my days so, more often than not, I find myself writing where-or-whenever I can, feverishly scribbling down notes, character sketches, exchanges of dialogue, then fitting it all together in a context at night or on weekends. Gradually a story emerges. It's not an ideal way to work but it has its benefits. It's very rewarding to read over what I've cobbled together and discover that something cohesive and effective has been created. And sometimes this sort of chaotic, anarchic process can influence the finished work in an unexpectedly positive way.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
I don't really have favourite...anythings. Books, films, songs etc. I tend to like different things at different times for different reasons and my opinions are subject to frequent change. But here are five books that I really like, that I found impactful and that I revisit quite often. Listed in no particular order.

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I first read this when I was quite young. It's a powerful, stirring, exciting story. And when I first read it that's how I approached it. I'd heard it was an important book. Full of grand, grown-up, important themes. So I read it, at fifteen I think, with this very respectful, reverential attitude. Like the way you might force yourself to eat vegetables as a kid, or run on a treadmill as an adult. You know it's going to be no fun at all but it's good for you so you do it. From the first chapter on my attitude changed. It was fun reading this book! The depth and humanity of the characters. The intelligence of the writing. The accessibility of the prose style. And the climax of the story is nail-biting! It's a serious, important story told with an immediacy that is every bit as compelling and entertaining as any blockbuster thriller out there.

Keep The Aspidistra Flying, by George Orwell. I think Orwell's observations on society in this book are fascinating. And I'm, frankly, continually unsettled by how well I relate to Gordon Comstock, the protagonist. It's funny, uncomfortable, tragic, compelling reading. Orwell is usually thought of as this writer of great political tomes. The term "Orwellian" tends to conjure up dystopian sic-fi imagery, but I think this novel - along with 'Down and Out in Paris and London' - showcases Orwell's writing at its best. He was, at his core, a highly gifted satirist.

Catch 22, by Joseph Heller. I love this book. I've read it many times. I find it so daring and funny and ferocious. It's a partly-autobiographical war story that digresses frequently into complex moral philosophical political considerations without ever losing its lunatic momentum or its irreverent sense of humor. The disjointed narrative. The stream-of-consciousness. The just-plain-crazy juxtaposition of deepest, darkest human themes with an almost slapstick comic sensibility. It strikes a perfect balance between the visceral and the intellectual, which is not an easy thing to do. It's an epic of brilliantly expressed comic rage. When it first came out The New Yorker stated in a review that the book wasn't so much written as "shouted onto the page." I think this was meant as a criticism but I truly believe it is this quality in Heller's writing that makes this novel so great.

Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut. I debated whether this or 'Slaughterhouse 5' was my favourite Kurt Vonnegut novel but eventually decided on this because I felt I just responded to it on a more immediate, personal level. I think it's both more ambitious and more endearingly (intentionally) naive than 'Slaughterhouse.' I think the naivety factor is important here because it allows Vonnegut to depict great (but very familiar) themes like war, racism, sex, greed, death etc as though he were describing them to a child or some being unacquainted with human experience. This very deftly illuminates the absurdity of much of what Vonnegut explores in this novel. I love that Vonnegut claimed his inspiration for writing this novel was simply to clear his head "of all the junk that was in there." And I love the ending where Vonnegut himself encounters Kilgore Trout, his creation and Trout beseeches the author: "Make me young! Make me young!" It is somehow both very sad and very funny.

Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney. Again, this a novel I read when quite young, about 16 or 17. Like 'Catch 22' and 'To Kill A Mockingbird' it's a debut novel. I think there is often an energy and daring to first time novels that I enjoy. This is Jay McInerney's loosely autobiographical account of a young aspiring writer struggling to make his way in New York while battling grief over his mother's death and his failed marriage. The protagonist in this story, Jamie Conway, snorts so much cocaine in the course of one week it's surprising Pablo Escobar didn't send him a Loyalty Card. It's a brilliantly written account of excess, remorse and self-destruction. It's a book of its decade, certainly. The 1980's are vividly described on every page. Not unlike 'The Great Gatsby' or 'Vanity Fair' or 'On The Road' it's a work of fiction that elegantly and comprehensively encapsulates the spirit of its time. And the endearing conceit of the prose style, the second-person narration, is very effective at drawing the reader into the story. "You Are Not The Sort Of Person Who Would Be In A Place Like This At This Time Of The Morning..." it begins. I've read this book many times. Never get sick of it.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
It's just so difficult to get published through more traditional means. Or even read. Most publishers won't read unsolicited manuscripts and, even those that do, receive so many submissions that the poor beleaguered readers at these companies will basically look for any excuse to reject the bulk of manuscripts they receive. "The title page isn't arresting enough," for example. "Or the title page is too arresting and elaborate. The font is wrong. There is too much punctuation. Too many italics."
You can't get published if you don't have an agent and you can't get an agent if you haven't been published. It's a Gordian knot. If you want to get anything out there indie publishing is really the only way to go. Also, you have a greater degree of freedom with indie publishing. You're consulted on everything from price to bio to cover design, to everything.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I'd like to provide an inspirational answer to this question. Some self-empowering aphorism. I suspect that might be the purpose of the question. But the simple truth of the matter is most days of the week, five out of seven, my alarm clock gets me out of bed. Fear of missing my bus and being late for work inspires me to get out of bed. Bland economic necessity. The tyranny of the workplace. I feel like a white collar version of the guy from that Tennessee Ernie Ford song.
What do you read for pleasure?
I just finished reading 'Barracuda' by Christos Tsoilkas. Tsoilkas is such a talented writer. He has tremendous instinct for character. He is able to take his readers inside whatever experience he is writing about. You find yourself relating to and sympathsing with characters who aren't necessarily all that likable. I really respect that kind of ability. This novel is about a young guy, a social outsider, who has great promise as a competitive swimmer. It's the one thing he has going for him, his one chance to become accepted by mainstream society. In Australia world-class-level competitive swimming is possibly the highest attainable achievement our society can imagine. Something goes wrong however in this instance, and the young man fails to live up to his promise, which leads him to immense feelings of shame and rage and self-destruction.
In a strange way this book reminded me of Scorsese's 'Raging Bull.' Both stories depict protagonists who truly believe sport is the one chance they have for any kind of fulfillment in life, who are dogged by the realisation that they can only go so far in their chosen field. Both stories show the tragedy, loss of humanity and violence that can result from this realisation. And both stories offer tacit criticisms of the cultures their protagonists come from, cultures which often foster win-at-all-costs values. Although competition can offer opportunity a lot of the time, it also has a dark side that societies frequently prefer to ignore.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I can't imagine not writing. It's a compulsion that brings me great joy, and grating frustration in near-equal measure. They say writing is a lonely pursuit but I don't find that to be true. I've found that writing down an experience or an observation about a society makes me feel very connected to that society, to some kind of shared experience within it. It validates and gives meaning to things, moments in my life, experiences, that might otherwise confound my understanding or pass by unnoticed or unremembered. Basically, it makes sense out of my life.
In my novel 'The Creaking Machinery' I write about all the things that people clutter their lives with in order to feel comfortable and justified within their own existence. Wealth, upward-mobility, sex, popularity, drugs, self-improvement, religion. In one passage a character observes the audience at a rock-concert-style church meeting and (yes, I am about to crassly quote my own writing) he notes that: "..without it, (their faith) they were simply existing and they couldn’t bear to envisage themselves as so insignificant."
This is intended, in part, as a fairly derisive commentary on organised religion. But, if I'm honest, that's sort of how I feel about writing. If I can offer testimony to what I experience, it gives the fleeting chaos of the world around me some meaning and structure. So that's the greatest joy of writing for me; a sense that I'm contributing to the world and participating in it, if only by observing it.
That, and the hope that I'll write a string of bestsellers, make a lot of money and bang lots of chicks.
'Bang' lots of chicks??
Yeah. I hope that didn't come off as sleazy, shallow or misogynistic.
Actually it came off as all three.
Hey, the title of my book is 'The Creaking Machinery.' I took that from a line in 'Tropic of Cancer.' That's Henry Miller. C'mon! If ever there was a guy who knew how to use his writing to score with women, it was Miller. I'm just trying to follow in a great literary tradition.
So, in conclusion...trying to restore some dignity to this interview, where do you see your career going from here?
Well, I have a lot of ideas I'd like to explore. A lot of stories and themes that interest me. As I said, published or not, I'll continue to write. That's not something I can control, it's a compulsion. I have a fairly radical idea for something I would like to trial. This is practically unheard of in contemporary publishing.
I'd like to not write a series of books!
I'd like to not have a franchise of stories which depict the continuing saga of a group of characters over half a dozen epic novels. And I'd like to not skew my fiction toward a tween demographic. I know. That's borderline heresy as far as publishers are concerned these days. But the sort of writing I love, that I grew up reading and that I would like to see more of is intelligent, contemporary, non-fantasy, adult, stand-alone fiction. I want readers to be able to finish my novels safe in the knowledge that that's the end of the story! There won't be any future installments! There will, of course, be other books written by me. But they will tell different stories from the one you just read and will feature a whole new set of characters. That's my plan for the immediate future. I would like to pointedly not contribute to the fashionable serialization and juvenalization of popular fiction.
Have grown ups all forgotten how to read?
Published 2014-07-16.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

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