Nod Ghosh

Novels, short fiction & poetry

 

INTERVIEW WITH NORMAN BILBROUGH

paradise.jpg

 

  • Here is an interview with NORMAN BILBROUGH. Norman kindly acted as my mentor through the New Zealand Society of Authors mentorship scheme this year.
  • Norman Bilbrough is a children’s writer, short story writer and novelist. Two times winner of the Sunday Star Times short story competition. Norman has been a frequent contributor to the NZ Listener, School Journal and to radio. In 1999, he was Writer in Residence at Canterbury University and in 2000 won the New Zealand section of the International PEN competition.

 

  • NG: How long have you been writing, and what drew you to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard when you began?
  • NB: I started writing over 50 years ago. I was an avid reader from a very early age, and as well I discovered poets and novelists I really liked when I left school. They were mostly American, although I enjoyed Thomas Hardy and James Joyce at university when I was 19. But I remember reading e.e.cummings in the basement (literature section) of the old Wellington Public Library. I was amazed and inspired by him, and that launched me into poetry... Although my father (a teacher) had read us poetry at primary school: Kipling, Masefield, W.H.Davies. But I started writing it at university, published poems in university magazines, and then started getting poems in The NZ Listener.  It was easier to get published in those days. And then short stories followed.
  • NG: Most writers draw on a combination of personal experience, and sheer inventiveness for their writing. Can you say a little about how you apply and mix the two?
  • NB: I would agree... There is your life’s experiences, and then there is your imagination extending, distorting and re-shaping them on the page. Giving yourself permission to use your life in such a way, is important. It also requires confidence and a good amount of self-belief (in yourself as a writer).
  • NG: You have had a long and successful writing career. Looking back, can you think of an achievement that stands out as being particularly poignant?
  • NB: Not poignant ... Memorable perhaps, and a kind of a gift. When I was 50, my partner at the time said, ‘You call yourself a writer, so where are all the books?’ It was a much-needed wake-up call; a good shove in a sense. I then got together my first volume of stories, ‘Man With Two Arms’. It was published in 1991.
  • NG: How do you deal with rejection?
  • NB: Early on you have to accept it. You have to realise that writing is a process ... and a rejection can show that the process isn’t yet complete, or the topic you had chosen was not explored or exploited sufficiently. Or it simply was a dud.
  • I have recently written a YA novel about a NZ teenager who suddenly finds himself homeless. But the story never grabbed, and it failed to launch itself in a sense. It’s a failure... I don’t want to return to it.
  • NG: You provide an excellent mentorship service. Can you tell us some of the most difficult, some of the more pleasurable, and the funniest experiences you've had whilst assessing other people's work?
  • NB: I have mentored people who suddenly dropped out of the process – as if they realised that they were not going to be writers, ever. And I have taught creative writing to people... and have told them to get a daytime job or occupation ... because it was nearly impossible to make a living out of writing in this country ...unless of course you were Joy Cowley or Margaret Mahy ... And their faces dropped. Beginners have their dreams, but I still have dreams too ...
  • And then there is assessing... And most writers are grateful and even pleased with their assessment reports. But once I did an assessment of a novel for an elderly man. I was honest, and I thought, helpful. But when he received the assessment – he bit back sharply and at some length. In retrospect I think he did not want criticism of any kind (or even helpful suggestions for improvement). I suspect he thought himself, possibly, a genius. I could never figure why he wanted an assessment in the first place.  
  • NG: How does your worldview enter into your writing? Do you have a memorable character who is a polar opposite to you either politically or in their belief systems?
  • NB: A worldview is subtly entering my writing ... But a character who is a political opposite? No, but certainly emotionally, opposite ... But a writer can’t afford to dislike his or her characters ... I suspect the distaste might blight the story.
  • NG: You are currently working on a YA novel. Can you tell us a bit about it?
  • NB: I’m working on a YA novel titled ‘Granddad Grump and the Weather Bomb.’ Scott, 16, is the main character who is an eco-warrior and whose mission in life is to warn everybody about global warming. He dreams about polar bears coming as far as Australia – and shaking his hand.It is, I hope, funny, bizarre, and quirky.
  • NG: What are your writing goals for the next three years?
  • NB: Write, write, write .. It’s a form of sanity, and stability.
  • NG: What's your most embarrassing writing moment?
  • NB: Sending off a story to a writing competition that I hadn’t properly proof-read. I discovered later that it had an enormous typo – that made a crucial paragraph
  • NG: What are you currently reading? Name some authors whose work you admire.
  • NB: Hilary Boyd ... a very good and succinct older British writer. As well I am reading biographies, and books on China. And travel ... Authors I admire? Most recently, David Walliams.
  • NG: Finally, what tips would you give someone who's recently started writing? Name some pitfalls to avoid, invaluable resources etc.
  • NB: Stick at it. Don’t be in a rush to get published. A good story requires a lot of patience to emerge. Your story/novel has to be as perfect as you can make it – to find a publisher. My adult novel, ‘A Short History of Paradise’ took at least eight drafts before I was satisfied that it was finished.

 

  • Thank you so much for agreeing to do this Norman. It's wonderful to have some insight from someone of your experience.

28th December 2015