Born in Hobart, Tasmania, Sean Rabin has worked as a dishwasher, cook, script reader, copy-editor and journalist. He has lived in Ireland, Italy, London and New York, and now resides in Sydney, Australia. His novel Wood Green is published by Dodo Ink in the UK and was shortlisted for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction 2016.
Sean answered a quick-fire Q&A for us about his latest book, the writing process and life as a happy househusband author.
Tell us in your own words about your book, Wood Green…
Wood Green concerns two writers – one young and aspiring, the other old and spent. They make a pact with one another, each believing they are getting what they want, and both eventually realising their ambitions will cost them something completely unexpected. It is set on the side of mountain in Tasmania, where a small community plays an important role in the writers’ lives. It is a love letter not only to Tasmania, but also literature and music.
What inspired you to write Wood Green?
I was thinking a lot about what means to be a writer. At the time I was 43 and had spent the past twenty years trying to become a published author. I had three manuscripts in the bottom drawer, and no prospects of ever seeing them in print, yet despite these failures I could not stop writing. It made me think about what it meant to be a real writer. Whether it was having a book published, or if it was about something else. Perhaps a commitment beyond all common sense. I also began to think about the industry that has emerged around writing – giving hope to would-be writers through degrees, workshops, mentorships and online courses. All for a price. And I wanted to discuss the idea of art maybe extracting a different price – one that had absolutely nothing to do with money.
Two of the main characters are writers, what was the process of writing about writing like?
I suppose it made me question what I truly believe about writing – what it should be and do, how it should sound, feel and look. For what purpose should a book be created, and what should be the cost of creating it? It is through writing that I understand the world; that I express myself most succinctly and feel I am functioning at my best. It is through writing that I learn about myself, and engage my brain in the most effective manner. So writing about writing was easy. I have thought about writing all my life.
Music plays an important role in the lives of the characters in Wood Green. What influence has music had on your work?
Being the youngest of four I missed out on music lessons, but listening to music has always been very important to me. Putting music on is the first thing I do in the morning, and turning it off is the last thing I do at night. I have written about music for twenty-five years, and I like the way this makes me listen more deeply, think about the ideas at work, and consider their context within the history of music. Music also helps to dream and think, which is very important to my creative process. I do not, however, listen to music as I write. I really cannot understand how writers do this. When I write I feel as if I am composing music. The sounds of words, the beat of sentences, and arrangement of paragraphs. So how could I do that while listening to someone else’s music? I need to write in silence to hear my work.
Do you have a particular process for writing?
I don’t use a computer to compose the first draft. I started writing long ago. Before the era of affordable PCs and the internet. So I tend to write either by hand or with a manual typewriter. I know some people might roll their eyes at this, but it’s just the way I have worked since the age of 15. I find handwriting allows for a closeness to the page that a computer doesn’t offer. A manual typewriter also allows me to bash away like a percussion instrument. One again, trying to find the rhythm of my sentences. Once the first draft is done I type it onto a computer, then print it off and work on paper. Always on paper.
When you’re not writing, what do you get up to?
Reading, reading, reading, listening to music, writing music journalism, working part time in a research library. Cooking for my family. Walking the dog. Housework. Not very rock ‘n’ roll, but routine is important if you want to get books written. I have no aspirations other than to write, help my wife achieve her ambitions, and to bring up my son as a decent human being.
Sean Rabin is currently in the UK for the launch of his debut novel ‘Wood Green’ at The Big Green Bookshop in (where else, but) Wood Green on 23 September, 7pm. Tickets are free and all are welcome. He will also be reading at an Evening of Independent Presses at Burley Fisher on 26 September and at In Yer Ear on 28 September.