2 June 2015

Spotlight On: Alex Griffin

Alex Griffin

How old are you?

What state or territory do you live in?
Western Australia

What kind of writing do you do?
I write music criticism, non-fiction essays and cultural criticism, alt-lit poetry, interviews and short stories. I also write songs for a few bands (Ermine Coat, Mining Tax and The Fruity Whites).

What are you currently reading?
Currently I’m reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Cattan,and a life of Charles Ives and Marge Piercy’s poetry. Been ploughing through old copies of The Paris Review and a cache of old Southerly, that Kat and I found for fifty cents a piece. Also (constantly rereading) a memoir I’m editing – I can’t give away too much, but the author describes it as “Bridget Jones meets Indiana Jones”. 

How do you remain motivated?
The really difficult thing I think is not taking too much on and finding a balance that enables you to act on your motivation when that bell rings –  like I’m chronically overcommitted to stuff, so finding the time to actually do My Work is impossible.

But generally, I think it comes down to like, being a person and accepting that. Captain Beefheart talked about how people were like geese; we all have a human honk, a sound that no one else can make. I think if you figure out the possibility that you might have a honk – that is, you accept you’re a human being who can know and do things in ways others can’t identically, then it’s just a matter of doing the things that you like and like, gradually detaching the stress and pressure and worry and guilt and anxiety from it until writing is less an act than it is just a natural verb to you.

I hope to reach that point by my sixties. Other than that, there’s Paris Review interviews and always this video of David Thomas talking about a cup.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Nothing provides clarity and perspective like a brutal hangover, but inspiration is a weird, very Muse With Garlands hovering over Robert Graves kind of word to me.

It feels like it implies that something has to occur and catch the light in a certain way to begin, or some flash of an obscure spark has to pass between you and the Object for it to become like, mentally worthy of driving deeper – when I guess I think everything becomes far more interesting the deeper you plumb into it.

If, for example, you find a list of defunct WA cattle stations, and then start running them through databases, before long you have a whole like, Foucault-level history of madness and cruelty in the Outback, and by this point, the questions that you want to ask and answer just start popping up like milkweeds.

I think the whole idea with non-fiction is to be the unmoved mover; make a list of things you know nothing about, and then start joining some dots.    

Do you think where you live in Australia has influenced your writing?
Alright, deep breath – in a history of Meanjin, Geoffrey Bolton was quoted as saying that if you wanted to make something happen, in Melbourne you’d form a committee, and in Sydney you’d throw a party. Well, in Perth you’d hire some earthmoving equipment.

I feel drawn to non-fiction mainly because WA often feels like a society in which debates are, like, rarely actually had, unless it’s about daylight savings. We are constantly explaining ourselves with a shrug, or through some Robert Drewe style rose-tinted reminiscence of a thin sliver of a privileged upbringing.

There’s so much going on, and it’s slipping through our fingers like so much iron ore dust. There’s a vivid sense of hyperreality that can settle over a place that is in a constant state of unarticulated and undiscussed flux, like a whole body itching without scratching.

It’s probably a completely Protestant Work Ethic thing to say (and lord knows that’s the thing that started all the trouble in the first place), but I really believe in the purpose and function of non-fiction as a form to Start Conversations and Make Change (none of that wishy-washy Personal Essay about Pets Dying is I guess what I mean) by bringing things under a harsher light.

Growing up in the scungier eastern suburbs of Perth – on the fringe of the fringe – can make one hungry to know, and impatient with a lack of explanation, and I suppose that’s the wind blowing me.

What is the best and worst piece of advice you’ve been given as a writer?
Best: Think about the reader! Drop your ego! Check your facts! Also, Chris Kraus recommended having as many different and weird jobs as you can get; don’t like, constantly work in the industry. I think she wrote most of her books while flipping houses in Detroit?

Worst: Drink more.

What piece of published writing are you most proud of? Why?
‘The Sound of Entitlement’ on Overland. It isn’t the best piece I’ve written, but the most proud; it’s the first thing I pitched and submitted to Overland. I remember writing it tip-to-toe in the wee hours, rocking back and forth in my chair in a righteous rage, before submitting it as the sun came up, completely vanquished.

While there are some really dodgy turns of phrase in there, I’m proud of the way it calls out some regular, old-fashioned, classic George Brandis bullshit, which is something the world will always need more of.

What’s your goal for National Young Writers’ Month?
Learn lots, get more book recommendations than I can handle, buy more books than I can handle, meet heaps of people, sort out my Kindle, make rent!

Where can we find out more about you?

I have a really out of date website at alex-griffin.net, but hmu on:
Instagram: instagram.com/@wasalvage
Twitter: twitter.com/griffreviews
Facebook: facebook.com/erminecoat


Image by: Amber Bateup