Born in Melbourne in 1965 to Greek immigrant parents, Christos Tsiolkas studied at the University of Melbourne before working as a film archivist and a veterinary nurse. He is the author of five novels, as well as plays, film scripts and short stories. His novel Dead Europe was awarded The Age Book of the Year in 2006; The Slap won the Commonwealth Prize for Literature in 2009. He lives with his partner in Melbourne.
Who is your perfect reader?
The one who reads for the love of reading, not for keeping up with fashion.
Which book changed your life?
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers. I had been lost in a book before but this was the first time I remember thinking, “How did she do this? How did she paint this universe, seemingly more real than the one I exist in? Could I ever do this? Could I ever dare to try?”
What is your daily writing routine?
Coffee and breakfast, then I check emails at home before walking the half-hour to my studio. There is no internet there so I can only write and read. Then there’s lunch, some more work, then a long walk before I return home to start cooking. The walking and the cooking are part of the routine, part of the thinking time.
What music helps you write?
Sometimes silence, sometimes Ornette Coleman or the Staple Singers, and always Nina Simone.
Which literary character most resembles you?
I hope it is David Copperfield, I sometimes fear it is Camus’s Meursault (The Stranger).
What are you scared of?
Xenophobia, self-righteousness, self-entitlement. I fear, too, that at a moment when we need a strong, alternative leftwing counterculture, the left is retreating into smugness.
Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?
What keeps you awake at night?
When were you happiest?
By the ocean – with the fierce sound of the waves, my lover’s breath on the nape of my neck, and the coming of sleep.
When do you feel most free?
When I forget myself.
How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?
I like to think I’d be a teacher in a secondary state school, outside the gentrified inner-city, teaching English and History. Or maybe I’d return to veterinary nursing.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
If you are asking me on a Saturday night, then it is Athens or Mexico City. If it is Sunday morning, then it is the south coast of New South Wales.
Which novel would you give a child to introduce them to literature?
To very young children I have given an illustrated edition of Homer’s The Odyssey, CS Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and L Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. There have been adolescents who have asked me to introduce them to fiction and to them I have given George Orwell’s 1984, Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.
What does it mean to be a writer?
Discipline, work, but most of all, incredible good fortune.
Christos Tsiolkas’s most recent novel, ‘Barracuda’, is published by Tuskar Rock Press