Category: Writing

Nick Flynn

bs nightThe following is an excerpt from Nick Flynn’s ‘Another Bullshit Night in Suck City‘, which is an intriguing memoir about his search, and subsequent discovery, of his long-absent father.

This piece has been analyzed by many others, but I think’s it’s worth highlighting as a relevant example of how to capture something so obvious, yet so easily overlooked.

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Same Again

The usual I say. Blood of Christ I say. Essence. Spirit. Medicine. A hint. A taste. A bump. A snort. A sip. A nip. I say another round. I say brace yourself. Lift a few. Hoist a few. Work the elbow. Bottoms up. Belly up. Leg up. What’ll it be. Name your poison. Mud in your eye. A jar. A jug. A pony. I say a glass. I say same again. I say all around. I say my good man. I say my drinking buddy. I say git that in ya. Then an ice-breaker. Then a quick one. Then a couple of pops. Then a nightcap. Then throw one back. Then knock one down. Working on a scotch and soda I say. Fast and furious I say. Could savage a drink I say. Guzzle I say. Chug. Home brew. Everclear. Moonshine. White lightening. Firewater. Antifreeze. Wallbanger. Zombie. Rotgut. Hooch. Relief. Now you’re talking I say. Live a little I say. Drain it I say. Kill it I say. Feeling it I say. Slightly crocked. Wobbly. Another dead sailor I say. Breakfast of champions I say. I say candy is dandy but liquor is quicker. I say the beer that made Milwaukee famous. I say Houston, we have a drinking problem. I say the cause of, and solution to all of life’s problems. I say ain’t no devil only god when he’s drunk. I say god only knows what I’d be without you. I say thirsty. I say parched. I say wet my whistle. I say awful thirst. Dying of thirst. Lap it up. Hook me up. Beam me up. Watering hole. Hole. Knock a few back. Pound a few down. Corner stool. My office. Out with the boys I say. Unwind I say. Nurse one I say. Apply myself I say. Tie one on I say. Make a night of it I say. Dive. Toasted. Glow. A cold one a tall one a frosty one I say. One for the road I say. A drinker I say. Two-fisted I say. Never trust a man who doesn’t drink I say. A good man’s failing I say. Then a binge then a spree then a jag then a bout. Coming home on all fours. Rousted. Roustabout. Could use a drink I say. A shot of confidence I say. Steady my nerves I say. Drown my sorrows. I say kill for a drink. I say keep ‘em coming. I say a stiff one. I say as fast as possible. I say the long haul. Drink deep drink hard hit the bottle. Two sheets to the wind then. Half-coked then. Knackered then. Showing it then. Holding the wall up then. Under the influence then. Half in the bag then. A toot. A tear. A blowout. Out of my skull I say. Liquored up. Rip-roaring. Slammed. Fucking jacked. The booze talking. The room Spinning. Primed. Feeling no pain. Buzzed. Giddy. Silly. Glazed. Impaired. Intoxicated. Lubricated. Stewed. Tight. Tiddly. Juiced. Plotzed. Potted. Pixilated. Pie-eyed. Cock-eyed. Inebriated. Laminated. Stoned. High. Swimming. Elated. Exalted. Debauched. Rock on. Drunk on. Shine on. Bring it on. Pissed. Then bleary. Then bloodshot. Glassy-eyed. Mud-eyed. Red-nosed. Thick-tongued. Addled. Dizzy then. Groggy. On a bender I say. On a spree. On a drunk. I say off the wagon. I say gone out. I say on a slip. I say in my cups. I say riding the night train. I say the drink. I say the bottle. I say the blood bank. I say drinkie-poo. I say a drink drink. A drink a drunk a drunkard. Swill Swig. Faced. Shitfaced. Fucked up. Stupefied. Incapacitated. Raging. Seeing double. Shitty. Take the edge off I say. That’s better I say. Loaded I say. Wasted. Looped. Lit. Off my ass. Befuddled. Reeling. Tanked. Punch-drunk. Mean drunk. Maintenance drunk. Sloppy drunk happy drunk weepy drunk blind drunk dead drunk. Serious drinker. Hard drinker. Lush. Drink like a fish. Boozer. Booze hound. Absorb. Rummy. Alkie. Sponge. Sip. Sot. Sop. Then muddled. Then maudlin. Then woozy. Then clouded. What day is it? Do you know me? Have you seen me? When did I start? Did I everstop? Slurring. Reeling. Staggering. Overserved they say. Drunk as a skunk they say. Falling down drunk. Crawling down drunk. Drunk and disorderly. I say high tolerance. I say high capacity. I say social lubricant. They say protective custody. Sozzled soused sloshed. Polluted. Blitzed. Shattered. Zonked. Ossified. Annihilated. Fossilized. Stinko. Blotto. Legless. Smashed. Soaked. Screwed. Pickled. Bombed. Stiff. Fried. Oiled. Boiled. Frazzled. Blasted. Plastered. Hammered. Tore up. Ripped up. Ripped. Destroyed. Whittled. Plowed. Overcome. Overtaken. Comatose. Dead to the world. Beyond the beyond. The old K.O. The horrors I say. The heebie-jeebies I say. The beast I say. The dt’s. B’jesus and pink elephants. A hummer. A run. A mindbender. Hittin’ it kinda hard they say. Go easy they say. Last call they say. Quitting time they say. They say shut off. They say ruckus. They say dry out. Pass out. Lights out. Blackout. Headlong. The bottom. The walking wounded. Saturday night paralysis. Cross-eyed and painless. Petroleum dark. Gone to the world. Gone. Gonzo. Wrecked. Out. Sleep it off. Wake up on the floor. End up in the gutter. Off the stuff. Dry. Dry heaves. Gag. White knuckle. Lightweight I say. Hair of the dog I say. Eye-opener I say. A drop I say. A slug. A taste. A swallow. A pull. Sadder Budweiser I say. Down the hatch I say. I wouldn’t say no I say. I say whatever he’s having. I say next one’s on me. I say match you. I say bottoms up. Put it on my Tab. I say one more. I say same again.

One cover and new review

Here’s the full cover of my upcoming novel ‘One’ – looking pretty good if I do say.

one cover5

And holy shit, this is what Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap, Loaded, Barracuda and many others had to say about ‘One’:

“Andrew Hutchinson’s One is a compelling and unsettling novel. The control and the lucidity of the writing are formidable, and Hutchinson never once lets the narrative force lessen: the directness of the prose keeps us riveted and keeps us frightened. And we are always aware that beyond the engrossing story that the novel is opening up crucial and complex questions about memory, obsession, grief and love. This is a stunning book and Hutchinson is a stunning writer.”

It’s getting real now.

My Top 5 Films of 2017

top 5

With the first hours of 2018 almost upon us, it seems like a good time to take a moment to reflect on the year that was in cinema, and the best things that I got a chance to see over the last 12 months.

It’s an interesting time for movies. Advances in TVs and home cinema have somewhat lessened the value of the big screen experience – why pay to go to the movies when you can get much the same experience by staying in the comfort of your own home?

This is not a new phenomenon, of course, it’s been this way for the last five or so years, but it seems like 2017, more than any other year, saw studios putting all of their focus on big budget movies – those which are able to provide an experience that you can’t re-create at home. Which has seen arthouse films losing out.

Many of those directors who would be making more niche hits are now shifting across to Netflix and other providers, giving us TV shows like Stranger Things, which may once have been a breakthrough indie film. Yet at the same time, while smaller productions seem have been getting less exposure, a recent raft of disappointing big-budget films may herald a new wave of creative, inventive cinema, and force production houses to re-think their creative process.

That, I think, has been somewhat exemplified in the top films I’ve seen. Here’s my top five from the past year.

Arrival

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Technically, Arrival came out in 2016, but I only caught it early in January, and even now, it stands out as one of the best films I’ve seen in recent times.

I’ve written about how much I love Denis Villeneuve’s work before, with both Enemy and Prisoners being stand outs (Enemy is far more divisive, but it’s one my favourite movies ever). Arrival showcases the best of his abilities, with an intriguing story (based on a short story called ‘Story of Your Life’ by Ted Chiang) which enables Villeneuve to shift his narrative structure for the biggest emotional impact.

 

Lady Bird

Directed by Greta Gerwig

There’s a lot of hype around this film, and it’s totally justified. Lady Bird is a reminder of how great cinema can be, of the emotional impact of the medium.

The film tells a simple story, but captures each key moment in a relatable, intimate, and affectionate way, which invites the audience in to share the experience – an experience which everyone can relate to on some level. A must-see that likely won’t be playing in your local Hoyts.

I, Tonya

Directed by Craig Gillespie

I have to admit, I would not have picked Margot Robbie to become the force she has developed into. Not only is her performance stand out in this film, but she also co-produced, further building her brand.

Everyone knows the story of Tonya Harding on some level, which, if anything, makes it more difficult for I, Tonya to succeed, because you know where it’s headed. But Gillespie’s direction – which reminded me of how Andrew Dominik approached ‘Chopper’ in many ways – elevates it, and along with Robbie’s performance, makes it a stand out.

Wonder Woman

Directed by Patty Jenkins

After seeing Wonder Woman, my first response was that they should give all the superhero movies to Jenkins. The pacing, story and development is exactly what a big-budget blockbuster should be.

Sure, it’s a Hollywood movie, so it sticks to familiar beats, but Wonder Woman has succeeded where so many other Marvel/DC movies have fallen short. In a year of major disappointments on this front, Wonder Woman stands out – the major producers should be taking notes.

Coco

Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina

Again, with so many big studios falling short in the narrative elements of their films, Pixar shows us what good storytelling is all about.

In fact, Pixar have got the process so down-pat that you pretty much expect it, but still, Coco manages to remain fresh, and highly relevant, despite following the familiar Hero’s Journey structure which has been Disney’s staple.

Those are the ones that stood out most for me this year – though admittedly I haven’t caught everything I would have liked (I haven’t seen ‘The Shape of Water’, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ or ‘Get Out’, all of which have been highly praised and I have been meaning to check out). But even so, the films I have seen have highlighted to me that there are new sparks of life within the cinema landscape, that deserve attention beyond the mainstream sequels and prequels and adaptations. The positive to those films falling short is that it’ll provide more opportunity for new voices, while the expansion of alternative platforms will also enable greater opportunities for good, original stories.

Story vs Purpose

Is your writing story-driven or purpose-based? Do you start with a story in mind or a message, a topic or idea you want to explore?

I guess, both can come concurrently, but when I write, I’m always first driven by a question – ‘how does that happen?’ – then the story develops from that initial seed.

For example, my first novel Rohypnol is about a group of guys who drug and rape girls at nightclubs – that idea came about because I’d heard and read reports of an increasing number of drink-spiking cases in Melbourne, where I lived, and I couldn’t understand why someone would want to do that. Adding to this, there was a notorious case of a group of gang rapists in Sydney, which I was even more confused about – that one person would do such a thing was horrendous, but that a group could do the same together, and not one of them stopped it, that was even more confounding.

That then lead to me trying to imagine a possible scenario where something like this could occur, to try and understand what was happening, why it would happen. Now, there’s always going to be nuance and variability within any story, you can’t possibly explore every element, particularly of such a terrible crime, as it’s beyond the realm of most people’s understanding. But what could lead to that thing occurring?

A simple newspaper headline is never the story, and the only way make sense of anything, even something you might find horrific, is to contemplate it. For me, writing is thinking, clarifying my thoughts, trying to understand more of the world and the people within it.

For my second novel, One, I wanted to explore the extremes people go to when they’re in love, the fact that some people will destroy their own lives, will risk everything for even the basic acknowledgment of another.

In another, in progress, story, I’m looking at the illusion of control, how things can change in a moment, and how your past defines your future more than you think.

For me, it’s important to have these defining purpose objectives to keep my story on track. While you might want to explore certain developments or character shifts, it’s also important to remember what it is you’re trying to achieve, when you’re trying to say, and what you want to leave your reader with. Story is still absolutely crucial – you’re not going to be able to deliver any message without a compelling narrative – as is the writing itself, ensuring each sentence works within itself, and maintains the flow of the character voice, or voices.

This also helps when you find yourself stuck and/or struggling to resolve plot points – going back to the core message can help you re-frame your work and see it in terms of what you want to communicate.

That’s not to say this is the only way to write – everyone has a different approach, and different objectives with their work – but I think most authors will find, at some stage, that there’s a clear message they want to explore, an idea that best captures the core of what the story is about, even if that’s not how they initially started out working on it.

And once you do find it, that core, driving element, it can greatly help clarify and solidify your work.

Personal Details

One of the hardest things about writing, and creating an honest, true to life story, is that you have to include personal details. But how much personal info is too much – and what happens when people recognize themselves in your work?

Personally, I’ve never had anyone say they recognize themselves in my stories – or at least, not accurately. Some people have suggested that ‘character X is John’ and they’ve been wrong, but definitely there are some characters in my work who are based on real people that I had in mind when writing.

The tricky part is, how can you create an authentic character – who, ideally, lives and breathes beyond the page – without referencing your own experience? And really, you can’t. Your perspective is what makes your writing what it is, so you need to establish the balance of knowing what the character would do in a situation, and not what you, or someone you know, would do, or has done. And you can only do that through your understanding of people, which is informed by your experience.

This was more of a consideration with ‘One’, as it explores relationships, and how the character has responded to them. None of his responses were my own (I don’t think), but I can see how people might have got to certain points in their relationships, so it is, in part, built around the framework of my own history.

That’s concerning because people will read it, people will read into it, friends and ex-partners will see themselves, whether it’s there or not.

But the thing is, you have to be honest. You have to put your heart on the line, to a degree, and go with the pull of the story. At times, that’s going to be uncomfortable, but shared experience is what all good writing is. Even science fiction and fantasy stories work based on mutual understanding, on being able to capture a mood and re-create the emotion of the scene within the reader. They can only do that because you’ve shared something real through your words – and often, that ‘realness’ will be based in your own perspective.

It’s always a delicate balance, but you have to be honest, and put that out there, to create truly resonant work.

Understanding

HandwritingFor those unaware, my first novel was published in 2007. It’s a long time ago, I understand if you forgot.

I’d launched my first novel at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival in 2007, and after it came out, the natural query from a lot of people was ‘what’s your next one?’ But obviously, I haven’t published another book since. So what’s the deal?

Eventually, people stop asking if you’re writing anything else, then they forget you wrote anything at all – the momentary shine of being a published author dulls pretty quick (and reminding people of the fact just doesn’t cut it the same).

The next question people ask me is why I stopped – ‘why did you stop writing? Why’d you give it up?’

The truth is, I didn’t. I just stopped writing anything good enough.

The truth is, being a writer is part of who I am – I’m always writing, even at times I’ve got other things on. I’m always taking notes and putting down words, hoping they’ll all come together. Writing, for me, is not really a choice – I write because it’s part of who I am, and how I make sense of what’s happening.

That’s actually how I first learned that I was, or am, a writer, that this is what I wanted to do. After finishing high school, tertiary courses hadn’t grabbed me, and none of the subjects illuminated some clear career path in my head. I ended up working full-time, in a job that didn’t really have a future for me. And yet, every night, after I’d gone home, I was writing.

Now, what I was writing at the time ended up being junk – I wanted to write a novel but had no idea what I was doing. But it showed me that, despite everything, writing was what I wanted to do, what I did, almost in spite of myself.

I have countless notepads and loose pieces of paper floating around at all times, I’m always noting things down or imagining stories based on things I see and do. I’ve never stopped writing, and I can’t imagine I ever will, but I just, kind of, lost momentum for a moment, caught up in day-to-day stuff and not really able to give it the focus I wanted.

But I never stopped writing. I never stop.

And soon I’ll have something new to show for it.

Exploding Books, Technology and the Future of Literature

Exploding book

Thriller writer James Patterson recently released the world’s first self-destructing book. It was a gimmick – you could buy the ‘self-destructing’ version of his latest novel, which erased itself after 24 hours, or you could wait another few days and buy it in traditional book form. Patterson’s a former ad guy, so it’s not surprising that he’d come up with something like this, a stunt closely aligned to the next generation’s affections with self-destructing and disappearing content. And while we won’t have a true gauge on how effective this promotion was for some time, it’s definitely gained Patterson a lot of attention which he’d otherwise not have received – so should other writers be considering new publishing options like this?

A Changing Conversation

We’re living in extremely interesting times, from a communications perspective. The advent of social media has changed the way we interact – people are more connected, in terms of both reach and access, than ever before. This connectivity is unprecedented – we don’t know the full effects and implications of this new world, because we’re all in the midst of living in and exploring it. But what we do know is it’s different. People’s habits are changing, audience expectations and evolving, and in this, the whole structure of arts and entertainment is shifting. What we’ve long known to be the way of things is mutating before us.

This is most obvious in publishing, newspapers being the easiest example, with print publications declining as more and more people get their daily news and information online. Books, too, are changing, with Kindles and eReaders becoming more commonplace. The flow-on effect of this is that the traditional publishing model is no longer as profitable – getting a book accepted by a major publisher has always been hard, but with an increasing amount of pressure on the bottom line, the money available for new writers is rapidly drying up. Some of those publishing losses are balanced out by lower costs – an eBook costs nowhere near as much to produce as a physical book, but the return is also diminished, because they can’t charge the same amount for a digital copy. Mostly, the result is flat, there’s really not a heap for publishers to gain from the shift to more electronic readers, but as with newspapers, where traditional outlets are getting beaten is by smaller, more agile competitors who don’t have the overheads and revenue requirements that are strangling the giants. The opportunities for new players – like self-publishers – are greater than ever – though it’s a hard path to reach any sort of significant audience.

The film industry’s facing similar challenges – with more and more films available via illegitimate means so quickly online, we’re seeing fewer arthouse films get picked up by big cinema chains. This is why you’re seeing so many big-budget Hollywood films – remakes of sequels of remakes – over and over, at the movies. Because people can’t replicate the experience of seeing those epic movies at home – advances in home cinema and larger TV screens mean we can get pretty much replicate an arthouse cinema experience in our lounge room. But we can’t do massive sound, we can’t do 3D. As such, Hollywood is taking fewer risks on smaller projects, which means less opportunity for young filmmakers coming through – in the late nineties we had low-budget debuts from Darren Aronofsky (‘Pi’) and Chris Nolan (‘Memento’) that may not have even been released in the modern cinema marketplace. Yet, those are the films that got those guys to where they are now – Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’ was a cinematic masterpiece, and Nolan’s now one of the biggest names in movies, fuelled by the success of his Batman trilogy. With Hollywood taking fewer risks in smaller films, we may be missing out on the next generation of great film directors, and with fewer opportunities for up and coming artists, we could, effectively, see a decline in the quality of cinema for years to come. Unless we start looking elsewhere.

The Diversification of Creation

What we have seen in the film industry is that more young artists are branching into new mediums. Where they may not have opportunities in film, more innovative and creative work is coming from platforms like YouTube, Vine and Instagram. Some of these artists have progressed from their online work to cinematic opportunities – Neill Blomkamp, the director of ‘District 9’, got his first big Hollywood break because Peter Jackson saw some of the short films he’d made in his spare time on YouTube. Josh Trank, who directed the excellent ‘Chronicle’ gained recognition through his short films posted online (including this Star Wars ‘found footage’ short). Trank is now slated to direct a new, standalone, Star Wars film, as well as the Fantastic Four reboot. The next wave of film-making talent is more diversified, spread across various mediums, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in new forms – and as these two examples highlight, there can be significant benefits to just being present and proactive, posting content to build your profile and build recognition. While what we know as the traditional progression of film creative is changing, we’re seeing greater opportunities through access to cameras and editing/creation apps – if you’re looking for the directors of tomorrow, you might be better off checking out ‘Best of Vine’ than Sundance (note: one of the films that generated the most buzz at the most recent Sundance was ‘Tangerine’, which was shot almost entirely on an iPhone).

Opportunities in Innovation

So what does this mean for publishing? Really, it means that we need to consider ways to be more innovative with what we do. Patterson’s exploding novel may seem like a pretty gimmicky gimmick, but this is where we need to be looking as the next iteration of book publishing and connecting with our audiences. People these days are seeking more immersive experiences, with websites tied into content and apps tied into social media discussions. As more movie studios tap into this and get better at a 360 degree approach to their content, that immersion will become the expectation, and that expectation will extend to other forms of entertainment media. Exploding books are one thing, as a concept that might get you a bit more attention for your next book launch, but it’s not so much the idea itself that’s interesting about Patterson’s promotion. It’s the fact that an author like Patterson is innovating that’s interesting, and it highlights the need for all authors to consider new platforms, new processes, new ways to engage readers. The opportunities are there, the mediums are available – it may be worth taking the time to consider how to best use them to communicate and connect with your audience.