Barry Divola writes for magazines and newspapers including Rolling Stone, the (sydney) magazine, Who, and The Sydney Morning Herald. He is the author of three non-fiction books, and co-author of three children's books. He has won the Banjo Patterson Award for short fiction three times.


Short Story Collections

Nineteen Seventysomething
(Affirm Press, 2010)

reviewed by Annie Clarkson

Interview with Barry Divola

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Barry Divola: I wrote the first draft of the first story back in 2003. Nineteen Seventysomething wasn’t published until 2010. That makes me sound like I’m incredibly slow or incredibly lazy or both, but in fact I published two books of non-fiction (Searching For Kingly Critter; The Secret Life Of Backpackers) and three children’s books (M Is For Metal; Never Mind Your P’s And Q’s - Here’s The Punk Alphabet; The ABC&W - The Country And Western Alphabet) in that time, as well as writing countless feature stories, interviews, columns, travel stories and music reviews in my job as a journalist. So I wasn’t entirely slacking off. I also wrote other stand-alone short stories that weren’t part of the collection.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

BD: Yes, I did. I wanted to write a linked collection of stories set in the 1970s, and I wanted it to be a coming-of-age book.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

BD: At first I was writing anything and everything I could about growing up in the ’70s. Then a story arc slowly started to emerge, and I realised I could tell the story of Charlie over the space of a decade. Each story is like an episode of his life. In the early story titled The Sleeper he’s about 8. In the final story, Patience, he’s almost 18. In a weird way, I constructed the book in the same way I would have made a mixtape, making sure the stories followed each other like a well thought-out compilation cassette. My tracklisting/story order shifted around a bit until I got it right. By the way, I normally can’t write with music playing in the background, but I wrote a lot of Nineteen Seventysomething to a soundtrack of pop music from the ’70s, and occasionally those songs seeped into the narrative.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

BD: For me, a story has to have a definite mood, a turning point and an ending of some sort. Fortunately, those three things can encapsulate just about anything.

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?

BD: Usually I find that if I can make myself smile or get a bit misty when I write something, I’m reasonably confident it will affect readers the same way. The trick is making yourself smile or get misty. It’s not easy.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

BD: Do you want to tell me the bad news first?

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

BD: People are buying my books? Why wasn’t I told and where are the gigantic royalty cheques?

TSR: What are you working on now?

BD:  Journalism - a big story about an illegally painted mural in Sydney that has lasted 20 years and become a much-loved icon. The guy who painted it had murdered someone in London in 1990, got away with it, fled to Sydney, then went back to confess his crime seven years later, after becoming involved with a religious commune. The story is almost like fiction, even though it really happened.
   Fiction - over the last four years I’ve interviewed local characters for a monthly magazine column called Street Life, and I’ve been working on a number of short fiction stories inspired by some of those characters. One of them, Life, Be In It, recently won this year’s Jennifer Burbidge Award from the Fellowship Of Australian Writers, which was encouraging. I’m also working on a novel set in the US, about two long-lost brothers on a roadtrip.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

BD:  A Visit From The Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan ; The Best American Short Stories 2010 - edited by Richard Russo; Jesus’ Son - Denis Johnson (For about the fifth time, just to check whether it’s still near-perfect. It is.)
 
                     
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Find out what other authors, from Aimee Bender to Sana Krasikov, said about their collections, what the word "story" means to them, and how it feels to know that people are buying your books! More interviews >>>