Thursday, June 2, 2011

Interview with Benjamin Law

To celebrate the release of the new format of The Family Law, we talk to author Benjamin Law.

Can you tell us a little bit about the experience of having your first book published?

Getting a book out into the world is a very wonderful—albeit consistently odd—experience. During promotion, you find yourself in places you never imagined, like saying hello to Mel and Kochie in Channel 7’s studios, or drinking wine with Jenny Kee and Waleed Aly in the headquarters of SBS. Complete strangers come up to you, saying they’ve read your book and tell me how much they love my mother.

Though, I have to say, it’s always concerning when people say, “I bought my book for my own mother!” The Family Law can be quite crass—much like my family—and I don’t want to completely horrify people. However, as my friend’s mother Linley reminded me:

You seemed a little worried that the baby boomer demographic might be shocked by references to vaginas and such but I can assure it's OK! Monash Uni in the 70's was a hotbed of, well, vaginas and all the rest, and everybody talked about it, loudly. Have you seen the photo of Germaine Greer which appeared I think in one of the Uni magazines, naked with her feet around her ears?

(Touché, Linley. Touché.)

A year on from the first release of The Family Law, how has your life changed?

In some ways, life hasn’t changed too much. I still write full-time, mainly for magazines. I’m working on another book. But it’s nice to see the stories in The Family Law taking on a life of their own. The screen rights have picked up by Matchbox Pictures (who are making some of the best TV and film right now) and there’s a French translation of the book coming out in 2012.

Photographer: Tammy Law
What are some of the responses you’ve received about the book from readers?

Before the book came out, I worried over why anyone would even want to read it. It’s a memoir about growing up gay, Asian-Australian in a scatologically-fixated large family in the midst of a divorce in Coastal Queensland. Not a universal experience, by any means. But what I found was that people connected to the book in very different ways. Some of the best fan-mail I’ve gotten has been from young gay people having recently come out, or Asian-Australians who got the cultural or Cantonese references, or people from divorced families. Parents whose children have just come out to them have written in to say they bonded over the book. It’s really lovely—and exceptionally humbling—to have made that personal connection with people. I really hadn’t anticipated that at all.

What have you learned about writing and publishing?

One thing I’ve learned: everyone involved in this industry—writers, editors, publicists, agents, booksellers, festival organisers—uniformly work like demons and believe so strongly in what they do. It’s a beautiful thing. (Moral of the story: Do not fuck with these people. They will destroy you.)

What has been your favourite moment as a published author?

Seeing my book at an airport bookshop, in the memoir section, shelved alongside my dear friend Krissy Kneen’s erotic memoir Affection. (K always comes before L, and Krissy will probably tell you that herself, except as a double entendré.)

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read heaps. Read until your eyes bleed. Connect and make friends with other readers and writers (through book clubs, book events, writers festivals, courses and organisations). And don’t stop writing. Those are the fundamentals.

Best and worst moments at a book signing?

Best book signing moments are just people saying hello and having a lovely chat. That’s genuinely excellent. Usually, I provide the worst moments at a book signing myself. I’m terrible with names, but strangely, I’ll remember obscure and possibly embarrassing details about your personal life.

Any tips for new or aspiring authors on how to handle book promotion and publicity?

Have some key funny anecdotes to use, over and over again. Funny, interesting or strange anecdotes are all your interviewers want. Come to interviews with some gold up your sleeve. You’ll also need these as fall-back when you get nervous, your brain seizes up and you find yourself staring into the middle distance, slack-jawed and brain-fried. Also: get a good photographer for your publicity photo. That photo will appear everywhere and you will have to look at it many, many times.

Photographer: Tammy Law
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen at a writers festival?

Catherine Deveny’s boobs. (Just kidding.) No, I just found out I’ll be going to Ubud Writers Festival with Marieke Hardy soon, so I’ll report back from Bali with a more colourful story to answer this question. No doubt it will involve hallucinogens.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on a book of journalism that examines queer issues throughout Asia. The working title is Gaysia.

The Family Law by Benjamin Law is available in all good bookstores.

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