By Malcolm Neil
John Birmingham is prolific. He is also smart, funny and a real pleasure to spend time with. We first discovered him all the way back in the 1990’s with the release of his first book and cult classic. In a brilliant blend of reality and fiction, JB (as he is widely known online) chronicled his journey through the sharehouse ‘lifestyle’ of the 80’s in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
His writing journey is incredibly diverse. Over the last 10 to 15 years he has been internationally successful with the Axis of Time and Disappearance series. Most recently his Dave vs The Monsters series is capturing new fans, along with some other alt-history explorations.
You will also find the occasional piece of long form journalism in The Monthly; an award winning biography of Sydney, and you can catch his regular musings on his blog, Cheeseburger Gothic. To round out this impressive output you can find him pounding out the occasional, very funny and acerbic opinion piece in one of Australia’s national daily newspapers.
We caught up with JB in his current hometown, Brisbane, and asked him to walk us through a few of his favorite places while talking about his books and how he writes.
JB describes himself as a ‘mostly active parent’ which dictates his hours of work.
He uses the Pomodoro method to improve his writing productivity, which you can find more about it online, to write without interruptions in 30 minute blocks with 5-minute breaks.
He hasn’t limited himself to just following the method though, he has documented his approach in his latest book How To Be a Writer.
8am: I get to my desk and start writing in 30 minute blocks with five minute breaks, either in the gym in the next room or some jiu jitsu training. I always use a standing desk to write.
10:10: Mid-morning break (around 20-30 minutes).
10:30: Another 2-hour block of writing.
Afternoon media work: Paying the bills means an author can’t just write one thing. After some media work I take care of my admin duties (chasing payments and pitching for new work is just as important as writing).
Late afternoon: Planet Parenthood.
JB’s Favourite Books
JB was kind enough to drive us around his home town while we asked him about the books that influenced him in his writing career:
1.) They’re a Weird Mob by Nino Colutta
This book was responsible for my first ‘laugh out loud’ moment as a reader. I read it when I was still a student and it had a big influence on me as a writer, especially the author’s use of humor.
2.) The Cliff Hardy series (currently over 40 novels) by Peter Corris
Peter Corris is a prolific author, mainly of crime stories with the central character the private detective Cliff Hardy. The strong call to moral action in the novels and the dedication and care with which Corris treats his central characters was inspiring for me.
3.) Dispatches by Michael Herr
Possibly the most influential book of them all! I still remember the moment it ‘put a zap on my head’. I saw how text could work real magic—how it ‘ripped language apart’ and then reconstructed it, improved and brilliant.