The worst things to ask authors and Bram Presser on documentary fiction, hommus and Jewish punk rock

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Katherine googles the most annoying questions you can ask authors. Here’s the list.  The hosts go through each question, rating how irritating they find it.  One of the most contentious is money and sales… No surprises there.  (For more info on money, sales and other awkward stuff check out Jane Rawson and Annabel Smith’s blog series. It’s great.)

Then Katherine talks Bram Presser, author of The Book of Dirt.

Bram Presser:  Scruffy scrivener. Semi-reformed punk rocker. Recovering academic. Occasional criminal lawyer. Two-time cartoon character.

After schlepping around the world for ten years in the acclaimed punk band Yidcore, Bram Presser realized he was getting too old to sleep on concrete floors and smear hummus over himself every night. Swapping the rubber chicken for a fountain pen, he has since dedicated himself to writing. In 2011 Bram won The Age Short Story Award and since then his stories have appeared in Best Australian Stories, Award Winning Australian Writing, The Sleepers Almanac and Higher Arc. His debut novel, The Book of Dirt, was published in Australia in 2017 to wide acclaim and went on to win the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, Best New Writer and People’s Choice Award in 2018, as well as the prestigious Voss Literary Prize. The novel was published in the USA in 2018 and recently won the Goldberg Prize for Debut Fiction at the National Jewish Book Awards.

Bram talks about…

‘Everyone says [G. W.] Seobald is the God of documentary fiction and he’s incredible, he is, but I wasn’t struck by it as something that could work for me until I read Dasa Drndic.’

On writing about the Holocaust:

‘The book that is always held up as problematic is The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. It minimises, sanitises… The problem with holocaust books getting huge popular currency and getting it wrong is that they become the popular narrative of what the Holocaust was. So we’re only two generations from people going, ‘It wasn’t that bad.’

‘I don’t consider it [The Book of Dirt] a Holocaust book. For me, it’s a book about how we tell stories and how we come to know the people we love.’

On getting a book deal:

‘After I signed [the contract] I went into complete create paralysis and I couldn’t write.’

Bram is on the Programming committee for Jewish Book Week.  He says:

‘People come to festivals and what have you… to learn things and immerse themselves in the culture and what have you but they also want to be entertained. These things sound be entertaining. I’ve gone and seen authors I love and they’ve been boring as crap. Whereas I’ve also seen authors who I barely knew, they were amazing and I went off and I bought all their books.’  Because of what they had to say and how they said it made me think well this is someone that I want to see on a page and spend time with.

First Time Quick Five:

Agented or unagented: Unagented

Advanced or no advance: Modest advance

ANZ or overseas rights:  Overseas rights

Festival invites or no festival invites: Not really on the festival radar

No. copies sold: For literary fiction, it sold reasonably well.

Great Debut fiction?  Bram recommends The Tenant by Roland Topor and The Everlasting Sunday by Robert Lukins.

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