A Conversation With Gavin Fisher
1. What was your childhood in South Africa like?
I was born in a mid-sized town called Paarl in South Africa. The town’s name is derived from its location, which is at the foot of Paarl Rock, a grandiose mass of light grey granite which was formed, the scientists’ reckon, some 500 million years ago. Nobody seem to know exactly how big this thing is, but if you can imagine Ayers Rock as a solid chunk of granite and plant it atop a 645 meter high mountain you get the picture. All very romantic! But for us as kids, it was just a great rock to go climb.
I attended school at Paarl Boys, which as the name suggests, was an all-boys’ school. I was never really good at school though, and I mean that in an academic way, but I managed to scrape through as a mediocre student.
Growing up in the 60’s was pretty easy going I think, compared to all the restrictions imposed on kids and adults alike today. Back then we were free to roam the town and act out our adventures. With no television, game boys or mobile phones to worry about, we had to make do with our own imagination.
I had a great deal of it then- imagination that is. Still do! I didn’t know I really wanted to be a writer. My first attempt at writing something “serious” only came when I must’ve been around twelve.
My father, being a printer, had all sorts of marvellous machines in the factory and around that time everyone was upgrading to the electric typewriter. Dad was clearing out the office one day and there was this old Underwood Standard. Matt black and solid, with a black and red ribbon that ran reel to reel across the top.
My book had every cliché’ imaginable crammed into the first few chapters. And that’s all I wrote, two or three chapters. I found it years later. It was terrible.
2. Your first career was in Architecture. What ideas do you have for house design in Queensland?
Buildings are unique to their origins. Some appear similar in design even on opposite sides of the globe and all have a soul. There is nothing I would change about a Queenslander. It too has a history, a soul. As an architect, when I had designed a specific building and the structure was complete, ready for occupation, I used to make a habit of taking a solitary walk through the building room by room to make sure the part of me left behind for others to enjoy was good!
I may sound a bit macabre I know, but any architect will tell you that with every design we leave behind a bit of his soul. So it is with writing I believe. With every book we write, even our characters carry with them a little of ourselves.
3. What brought you to the Gold Coast?
Money…no really, that’s true. I didn’t come looking for my ‘El Dorado’, just a job! The building industry had all but collapsed over in New Zealand and I was left with the prospect of relocating from Christchurch to somewhere on the north island and an equally uncertain future. I applied for a few positions on this side of the ditch and viola…I had a choice of four jobs open to me. Fortunately for me I chose one here on the Gold Coast. It now appears I have found my ‘El Dorado’ after all! According to my wife Caroline, the warmer climate also may have been a contributing factor.
4. What books have you got on your bedside table at present?
Dean Koontz – Odd Apocalypse, Steven King – Hearts in Atlantic (come over to the dark side) and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which I have found very insightful.
Another book I have recently finished is the biography of Donald Rumsfeld by Bradley Graham.
5. What, to your mind, constitutes elements of a good story?
For me a good story is all about escapism and I try to engender the same in my own writing. If I am able transport you, the reader, to another place—for just a second; if I can make you forget about your unpaid mortgage or alimony, or your children’s next dentist appointment; if I can take you to that place and make you forget about everything else, then I have made you relax and I have succeeded as a writer.
6. Describe your writing place. When do you work there, and what tips have you got for avoiding writer’s block?
In every place we have lived, I’ve managed to find refuge in a room I can call a studio. On a shelf above my desk stands a clay figurine approximately 200mm tall that’s travelled the world with us for one reason or another. His crazed one toothed grin is partly obscured by a long drooping nose and goatee. In his left hand is a clump of hair presumably torn from a partially bald cranium. In his right he holds a stick pointed straight at me. Write, write, write, or you’ll end up like me he seems to say. He doesn’t inspire me really, although he has inspired a character of mine, with his bottle green dungarees. The top buttons are popped wide by an ample pot belly. Hopefully you’ll get to meet him one day.
I’ve recently started working through “The Artist’s Way” which is written with artist and writers in mind who are struggling with a block of some sorts. I’ve found it very useful in that sense. One way for me to relax and open my mind to new ideas is to take long solitary walks. I find that with my mind in neutral, so to speak, it goes walk-about. Sometimes it comes back!