GUEST COPY EDITOR
Today I introduce a very interesting man who has been everywhere and certainly achieved a few things in his life - Jonathan Shearer. He's a straight shooter so get in, hang on and breathe deeply.
Jonathan has worked over 12 years in the education sector throughout the world, establishing and managing schools and providing training expertise to other educators. Before that, he worked in derivatives investments in the City of London. Since 2009 he has been an investment consultant in Beijing China. During his career in education he has worked for both commercial and nonprofit organisations, notably the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and The Open Societies Institute. He holds a number of degrees in Law, Education and most recently Zoology from highly regarded British Universities. He is a rugged and highly motivated individual who considers himself able to deal with any situation, across cultures and international boundaries. His universal appeal was evidenced when became a minor celebrity as winner of the landmark BBC series Castaway 2007. He has lived and worked on all continents, except Antarctica.
Welcome, Jonathan ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I’m not really writer. I guess I could be if I wanted to be, and I quite enjoy writing but I’m just not arrogant enough: I don’t have anything that I want people to read. I have no desire for my squeaky little voice to be heard. I’ve written lots of things, including starting a couple of novels, but if no one is prepared to pay me to right it, I’m not interested. I pretty much think of writing as a way of making money which nicer than mining coal.
WERE YOU A GOOD READER AS A KID?
Reading was a big part, possibly the most important part, of my growing up process. Compulsory weekly library visits, book tokens for presents and reading way, way above my age level. I was never really interested in kids books, for me it was all about the animals.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A JOURNALIST?
I got washed ashore in Jakarta, kicked out of my girlfriend’s apartment, was completely broke and saw an ad in the paper. I’m not a journalist, I’m a copy-editor. It’s much more important!
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A JOURNALIST?
A copy editor makes poor journalism (and Indonesian journalism is very poor indeed) into tolerable journalism. I like improving other people’s work. It makes me feel superior.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Boredom with the sound of your own droning voice, the fact that no one understands and thinks it is fascinating and exciting, the mass of dross who like to call themselves ‘writers’.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I’ll quote my wikipedia page - For many years he lived an itinerant lifestyle in countries such as Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Vietnam, Brazil and Nigeria, and is a skilled linguist, speaking Portuguese, French and Spanish. Whilst having spent much time as a teacher, he also worked as a professional psychic, barman, sewer digger, zoo-keeper, dog trainer, RSPB officer, banker and tarot card reader. He has taught rifle shooting to delinquents and carried out refuge work for the Lumholtz's tree kangaroo. He also considered becoming a monk, but admits that "the monks didn't want me."
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
Signing my name on my current contract. It’s the only contract I have ever signed.
WHERE ARE YOU WORKING AT THE MOMENT?
Right at this minute, I am in the Jakarta Post office, waiting for the editor’s birthday party.
WHAT’S YOUR POSITION?
Sitting on my arse.
DO YOU ENJOY WRITING FOR A NEWSPAPER?
I enjoy squeezing controversy and humour out of humourless fence-sitting.
WHAT TOPICS DO YOU COVER?
We are mainly a political/business newspaper. At the moment it is mainly about corruption and a lot of misplaced back-slapping about what a marvellous country Indonesia is. It isn’t, by the way. It is, by some distance, the worst country I have ever lived in. I’d rather be in Kazakhstan.
OTHER THAN WRITING FOR THE PRESS, DO YOU WRITE ANY PERSONAL WORK?
I write a lot – a lot – of book summaries and reviews for publishers and so forth. I have quite a talent for compacting 400 pages into half a page. It’s a bit soul destroying in some ways. If a novel can be compacted into 200 words, I’m often left wondering what the other 99,800 were there for.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
I have tons of tips. Avoid clichés when describing yourself. (‘Voracious reader’, ‘passionate about…', etc.). Never try to be clever. If you come up with something great (‘wine-dark sea’, ‘nothing like the sun’, ‘John Thomas’) then you can only use it once in your whole career. Do not use metaphor unless you understand how metaphor works - in my experience 95% of writers do not.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Writer’s block simply does not exist. It’s a pretension, an excuse and cliché.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
Get up early and get started before breakfast. Aim to be finished by noon.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
Absolutely. A booth or a corner table in a moderately busy pub. Alone in a quiet room is absolutely the worst place for me. It must be visible, and there must be something to see.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Smelling my own farts. I like reading what I have written and don’t really have much motivation for other people to read it. It’s not that it is ‘private’, I just don’t care what other people think. This is actually why I am an editor and not a real writer: the quality of my own prose is insufficient for me these days. Why would I read my own shit when I could be reading Evelyn Waugh?
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
Favourites are things that five-year-old children have. Any adult who has favourites has missed something. Favourites are also ‘static’ if you still feel the same about what your reading this year as you did last year, what was the point in reading for the last year? Muhammed Ali said something about that. I often tend to admire achievement rather than the actual work and different writers are good for different things. I travel a lot and in every hostel in the world you can usually find Sue Grafton whom I love. I like the Australian Peter Temple a lot. I read about 500 novels a year, so it’s hard to keep perspective.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
I don’t pay any attention to compliments. I’m not interested in people’s opinions of me or my work.
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
I wouldn’t pay attention to that either
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Writers are only influenced by things that happen in their own lives. Writers only ever write about themselves, it’s a Jungian craft.
DO YOU ENJOY WRITING IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY?
It’s not really about. All countries are foreign. I don’t care, as long as there is a bar.
HAVE YOU WON ANY PRIZES OR AWARDS?
Not for writing, but I was The Ultimate Castaway.
WHAT DID THEY MEAN TO YOU?
I would HATE to win a writing prize. I think all writing prizes are total schlock. I despise ‘written for prizes’ novels. I’ve read every book on the booker short list for the last three years and none of them were any good. A first rate book hasn’t won since 1999. Prizes have ruined writing.
OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Alcohol, most illegal drugs, masturbation and a girl called Larissa
IF YOU HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK TO THE ENTIRE WORLD, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
I would forgo that opportunity, thanks. On second thoughts, I would point out my friend Derek’s first novel NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT which is the best thing I’ve read for ages and was published in Oz earlier this year to rave reviews. Buy it, please.
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
I would be in a tropical place, in a pleasant seaside town. I’d be staying in a pleasant, modest hotel. Beer will be cheap and I’ll spend the whole day in a nice bar, where I can see life go by, reading something good. When night falls, I’ll have done enough reading and had enough beer and some sexual adventure would unfold.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I couldn’t care less. I think plans are for idiots. Eisenhower said something like, all plans are useless, but planning is of vital importance. I want to get out of Jakarta as soon as possible. I’d like to relocate permanently to the Philippines, but I need to find a good job first which is not easy.
WHAT FIVE BOOKS WOULD YOU TAKE TO HEAVEN?
There is no heaven, obviously. But if we make it a desert island… the best novel I have read this year by some distance is NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT by Derek B. Miller, I need to read it again. There is no point in taking something as flimsy as THE GREAT GATSBY, so I’ll have TENDER IS THE NIGHT instead. The only really big classic I haven’t read is DON QUIXOTE, so I’ll have that, though it probably won’t get read, there must be a reason why it hasn’t been read before. I’ll take any big fat Henry James that I haven’t read before, so I’ll plump for THE PRINCESS CASAMASSIMA. I’m having difficulty thinking of a fourth.
ANY GREAT CLAIMS TO FAME?
I won that reality TV show thingy, but I’m not really into talking about that these days.
Clancy's comment: Jonathan, hate to tell you, but you just did mention that 'TV show thingy'. Good luck. Find yourself a nice bar, a cool ale and chill out.