Exaclair is honored to feature authors from around the world who are willing to share the secrets of their success; including tips and techniques for aspiring writers, and a behind-the-scenes look at their life and latest work.
Damon Young is an Australian philosopher, writer and commentator. He is the author of Distraction (Acumen, 2010), as well as features for newspapers and magazines. Damon has also published poetry and fiction. He lives in Melbourne's eastern suburbs with his wife, son and daughter.
First of all, please tell us a bit about yourself… where are you from, where do you live and when did you start writing?
I think I've always been a nerd. My father trained as a psychologist, my mother a musician - both have been teachers. I inherited their love of books, art and dinner-table argument. I grew up on Melbourne's beautiful, sea-salty, scrubby Mornington Peninsula, and discovered the outdoors - an early education in wildlife and ecology, I suppose. But I disliked school, and was always arguing with teachers - a budding young philosopher, in other words. At school, the first thing I remember writing was a poem about a butterfly - think Blake's 'robin redbreast in a cage,' only very bad.
My real writing career began after I finished my doctorate in philosophy, in 2003. I longed to share my passion, so I wrote as much as I could: poetry, fiction, essays. I wanted to give readers lively, intimate, enjoyable philosophy - to show its power and relevance. This was the genesis of my first book, Distraction, commissioned in 2006. By the time the first edition was published in 2008, my family - my wife Ruth, son Nikos and now daughter Sophia - had moved to Melbourne's leafy, green Eastern Suburbs. We live in a ramshackle old house, with rooms full of dusty books, and a garden filled with muddy kids' toys. It's perfect.
Let’s talk about Distraction, which, I gather argues that both analog and digital distractions are tearing people away from what is worthwhile in life. How did you come to write the book? Has it changed the way you structure your days, or deal with those intermittent interruptions?
Actually, Distraction is very positive about technology - and so am I. Whether it's a word processing program or a fountain pen, the trick is to remember: it's just a tool. We can use it to do something worthwhile (like this blog), or we can use it to waste time, squander opportunities, fritter away energy (like I did on Ithaca). At the heart of Distraction is value: what's valuable in a free, healthy life? And what's distracting us from this? To answer this, I write about the lives of luminaries like Matisse, Seneca, Proust, Marx, exploring distraction at work, with art and technology, in politics and in love.
In this, Distraction is really my own struggle to cultivate the good life. I'm reminding myself to ask: Do I really need a television? Do I need to check email again? Should I be at that interstate conference, or at home with my kids? It's philosophy of real life, in other words.
What do you find most distracting in your life right now, either technologically or otherwise?
I'm a little distracted by money. It's embarrassing, but the dash for dollars is often on my mind. Ruth and I've arranged our home life and finances so we don't need a fortune to live well - we don't work full-time, we've no debts, we both look after our kids, cook, clean, do chores. But I'm still nagged and harassed by the itch for income. Something has to pay for the reams of Clairefontaine...
Tell us about your writing habits. You wrote Distraction by hand, as I understand it, and then typed it into the computer. How did that process work, exactly?
Distraction was mostly written in plain black & red notebooks, with a shiny Parker Sonnet fountain pen. I'd take my notebook and pen out to a café, write feverishly (often until the ink ran out), then come home to look after my baby son. Later on, I'd transcribe my draft into the computer, editing a little as I went. Then I'd print it out, go back to the café the next day, and edit the draft with a pen: underlining, scribbling, crossing out, circling, ticking and crossing. (To this day, I still can't edit properly onscreen - I need white paper in real daylight, not glowing, flickering pixels. I don't think I'm alone in this.)
Do you have any particular writing routines—a certain place or time of day?
I've two young kids at home, and my office is in the lounge, alongside Lego and block towers. So I've a very strict work routine: whenever and wherever I can! Most days I try to get to my local café for an hour in the morning: the taste of fresh coffee and the scent of fresh ink wake me up. On my son's kindergarten days, I do the same: while he's doing archeology and engineering in the sandpit, I'm doing my job - scratching and scribbling with ink - with an espresso. I also have a writing desk my wife gave me, which holds my paper, inks and pens, and gives me a gobsmacking view of the camellia in late autumn. In the evenings, I often write letters or my diary at it.
You’ve written that fountain pens can “enrich and revive the art of writing.” When and how did you first get into them? What are your favorite pens?
I started with a small, shiny steel Parker Jotter in 2005, then I graduated to the robust Sonnet for Distraction. For my next books I've discovered the German brand, Pelikan. The Mystery of the Garden was almost entirely written on Clairefontaine ruled notebooks, with a Pelikan M215. The M215 is a striking blue-black fountain pen, with a robust metal barrel, steel nib and palladium stripes. The manuscript's being edited with a clear M205 demonstrator, filled with bright, persimmon ink.
Both Pelikans are elegant, well-balanced, and smooth - the ink flows generously without the jagged, aching pressure of the ballpoint. It's more gliding than scraping. This is one of the virtues of fountain pens - they make writing pleasurable. As I've written for the ABC, they also offer sustainability, economy, historical echoes and a certain meditative cadence.
This last virtue is vital for writing: there's a tangible, intimate quality to the marriage of pen, ink and paper. A fountain pen helps to patiently, palpably, rhythmically review my own mind, without the distractions of email or internet browsing.
We are privileged to have Damon Young as the first writer profiled in this project, and thank him for his support, participation and friendship. We wish him every success with his new book, Distraction.