David Whish-Wilson, author of Zero At The Bone
Zero at the Bone is my most recent novel, a follow-on from my 2010 crime novel Line of Sight. It’s set in 1979 Perth, and looks at some of the mining scams of the period before WA really started booming – linked to some of the nascent political dodginess and cowboy capitalism that really came to the fore in the WA Inc period of the 1980’s.
Where are you from / where do you call home?:
I had an army brat upbringing which saw us move around a lot – 21 times before I was ten years old. I lived overseas from my late teens for a decade or so, but since my return in the early 90’s I call Fremantle home. What do I love about Fremantle? Pretty much everything. It probably doesn’t hurt that I share a fibro house in South Fremantle with my fictional character Frank Swann, and his family (three kids also), and that we drink at the same pubs and walk the same streets and follow the same footy team…
When you were a kid, what did you want to become? An author?:
I recently discovered a short story I wrote aged eight. It was hidden in some old papers in a box in my back shed. It’s called ‘Grizzly – eighteen feet of gut-crunching terror!!!’. I clearly did my best to make the 15 pages of the short story resemble a book, with a graphic cover design of a bear holding up it’s latest victim, and a picture of a bear’s bloody severed head. Down the bottom I’ve written ‘Illustrated by David Whish-Wilson. Written by David Whish-Wilson and made up by his own brain and pictures by this well-known artist as well.’ My main character was Sam Kekovich, one of my favourite footy players of the time. Sam gets the rogue bear and saves the town. My grade four teacher marked it as a 9/10, although added the qualification that it was a bit ‘bloodthirsty.’ So you can see, the fantasy of being a crime writer was pretty much there from the beginning…
What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:
Writing is a craft with a long apprenticeship and although I’ve been doing it a long time I hope that I’m still learning and therefore getting better. Each book has its own pleasures and challenges. I enjoy writing crime fiction for a number of reasons, although I’ve just finished writing the Perth book for New South Press, part of their city series. This book required a different style and a different structure, but I enjoyed writing it all the same, and hope some of that joy is communicated to readers.
Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:
I have a little slot in an old Fremantle building that houses artist studios. Too small for artists, the room is perfect for a writer – it’s quiet and the rent is cheap. The room has a desk, a computer and a couch – all that I need.
When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:
I’m pretty much interested in everything and so will read just about anything. Saying that, I take a lot of creative nourishment from reading other crime writers. When I find one I like, I read everything they’ve ever written (I like to inhabit not just a writer’s story but an entire fictional world, where possible.) Of late, I’ve been reading more and more Australian crime – beside my bed I have Angela Savage and Alan Carter’s latest novels.
What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:
The first book given to me by my mother was the Illustrated Book of Australian Bushrangers, when I was about seven or eight. I loved that book – its pictures and stories of men and women on the run. Clearly, you didn’t have to fit in or conform. You could be an outsider, do things your own way, even if that meant paying a price. That book was a gift in more ways than one. Another book that made a big impression on me was Catch-22, which is my father’s favourite book, and which I prised off his bookshelf in my teens. Hilarious and tragic and absurd, just like life.
If you were a literary character, who would you be?:
Yossarian from Catch-22, I suppose. Or Saul Bellow’s Herzog. Despite the neuroses, the daily humiliations and pressures and disappointments, the limited self-awareness, the madness of modern life – there’s humour and poetry there aplenty…they don’t give up.
Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:
To relax, I box, which is kind of paradoxical I suppose. But it’s a Fremantle boxing gym and pretty typical of the demographic – artists, musicians, writers and tough local kids all mixed in together. The gym is owned by Joromi Mondlane, who was not only a significant African boxer but is also
the singer in a reggae band.
What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:
I was brought up on South-East Asian food, which was unusual for seventies Perth (my mother learnt to cook in Singapore while my father was in Vietnam.) I still subsist, when I have the choice, on Asian broths, especially this time of year. My favourite meal of all-time however is a Catalonian fish soup – Zarzuela de Mariscos. My favourite drink? That’s pretty easy – I drink
Guinness unless its summer and good whisky/whiskey when I can afford it.
Who is your hero? Why?:
I lived for a fair while in East Africa during my late teens and early twenties, at a time when the South African apartheid government was still doing targeted assassinations and blowing up ANC offices in surrounding countries. Nelson Mandela was my hero then, and still is.
Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:
I’m pretty optimistic. In a media-rich world, my three kids still read alot. There’s a special kind of pleasure in books that you don’t get gaming, or watching a movie, that is going to endure. Saying that, there are obvious challenges. I worry that becuase publishers’ margins are so tight that they’re less able to see a writer through those early books that might not sell particularly well, or curate a career if you like, before he/she really starts to hit their stride as a writer.