Brian Castro, 67, is an Australian novelist, essayist, and now academic. He was the Vogel winner 2002, sharing the prize with Nigel Krauth.
Castro was born in Hong Kong of Portuguese, Chinese-English parentage and has lived in Australia since 1961. Currently he holds the Chair of Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide and is Director of the J.M. Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice.
He was educated at the University of Sydney, after which he worked in Australia, France and Hong Kong as a teacher and writer. In 2014 he won the Patrick White Award for Literature an annual prize established by Patrick White from his 1973 from his Nobel prize money. The $25,000 cash award is given to a writer who has been highly creative over a long period but has not necessarily received adequate recognition. White stipulated that the award be announced the Friday after the Melbourne Cup to turn attention from sport to literature.
Did you set out to be a fiction writer in the literary tradition?
‘Yes, those were the days (the 1980s) when all that mattered was literature, seeking out the unknown, the inspired and ignored. There was an ideal, an aura, a lived life of the mind.’
If so, did you wish to write full time?
‘Absolutely, but I knew there were no dollar signs flashing up. So from the beginning it was always a casual job, the kindness of partners (and the appended disasters), foregoing things like a telephone, a car etc. I was fortunate to have been born with a reclusive nature, so isolation, beginning with boarding school, helped.’
How did you conceive the ‘life of an author’—romantically, if so how? Or were you tough-minded about the challenges of it? Or both at the same time perhaps?
‘Both at the same time. I don’t think I was ever ‘romantic’ in that sense… I had an inbuilt negativity… I read Beckett… but I was idealistic and driven, and I think that as time went on, failure, though bitter, was better ingested. The nomenclature: “a posthumous writer”, was perhaps the only reward for my disappointments.’
Has it worked out the way you wanted it to?
‘Not exactly. The world changed and the publishing world changed drastically and I spend a lot of time chasing down the extraordinary, the astonishing, the surprisingly good but rare language of great prose. While I still maintain my ideals I now have a full-time job in my twilight time losing my freedom but shoring up my retirement. Superannuation is not part of the writer’s package. Perhaps the government should stop taxing prizes and creativity.’
If not what were the obstacles that interfered with the aspiration? How might these obstacles be removed (I will answer that – money)
‘Yes, you’ve answered it.’
I don’t want to take up too much of your time. But add anything you feel might contribute to my thinking.
‘I think publishing has lost sight of language and the literary. Everywhere I look I see easeful cliché or parlour games or both. Very few cultures in the world still believe in intellectual seriousness. Those that do don’t seem to speak English.
‘I’ve stopped drinking, but am still writing and conversing reasonably sanely.’
- Birds of Passage (1983)
- Pomeroy (1990)
- Double-Wolf (1991)
- After China (1992)
- Drift (1994)
- Stepper (1997)
- Shanghai Dancing (2003)
- The Garden Book (2005)
- The Bath Fugues (2009)
- Street To Street (2012)
- Writing Asia: two lectures (1995)
- Looking for Estrellita: Essays on Culture and Writing (1999)