Peoples minds always interested
HIS first book Passion, a
collection of short stories, went on to be placed second
in the 1993 Steele Rudd Australian Short Story Award. His
first novel Zigzag Street received the 1998 Betty Trask
Award in the UK, and was shortlisted for the 1997 Talking
Book of the Year Award; it is now being developed into a
film. Then in 1998 came Bachelor Kisses; it sold more
than 10,000 copies in ten weeks. It is about the messy
life story of Jon Marshall, a successful young doctor who
comes unstuck when he finds that he has more women in his
life than he can handle. If Nick Earls is half as
funny in person as he is in his second novel, Bachelor
Kisses, wrote the critic of Vogue, youd
postpone your birthday party if he couldnt make
Born 1963 in Northern Ireland, Nick Earls migrated to
Australia when he was eight and has lived in Brisbane
since. He studied medicine at the University of
Queensland because he wanted to have the longest
adolescence in the world. He is married to a lawyer
who understands the writer in him. Nick Earls was in
India on a special invitation extended by Eclectica of
New Delhi, and Art Folio of Chandigarh where he spoke to Kuldip
about his writing process.
Authors with a medical background normally take to crime
fiction; since they know how to save a life, they also
know how to take one. But you prefer writing these
outrageously funny novels.
Thats a very interesting way of putting it, I never
thought about it that way. Yes with their forensic
background it is natural for doctors to write crime
fiction. But in my case I took up psychiatry because it
was peoples minds that interested me; not how to
murder people in twenty different ways.
Do you plot meticulously or discover your story as you go
Plot meticulously, thats definitely me. I would
feel too insecure if I didnt know where I was
going, but this does not mean I follow a rigid outline.
One of the great pleasures of writing a novel that you
have planned in great detail is that sometimes you
discover a whole range of new things as you are writing
it. It works most effectively when I have complete
control over some bits, and there are other bits where I
let the control go. For things to be truly creative, at
times, you have to set them free to see where they go.
Your readers seem to fall in love with the characters you
create. How do you put life into your characters?
If you want to tell human stories, and if you are trying
to get your characters across you must realise that
people are made up of many small parts and I think one of
the tricks of portraying a character more effectively is
working out which of those small parts to give the
reader. Obviously, you cant give them all. And
often, it is less important to tell the reader how tall a
character is, or what colour his or her hair is. There
are things a lot more interesting about people than that.
Sometimes a small thing about a character will tell you a
lot more about him than pages and pages of physical
Before you wrote your first full-length novel, you used
to write short stories. Did it help you as a novelist?
Yes, my first published book Passion was a book of short
stories. I think I learnt a lot about writing fiction by
handling compact ideas first. In recent months I have
taken to writing short stories again. I had various
stories commissioned for anthologies, and my publisher in
Australia wondered if there was a book in them. We felt
that about half of them fitted quite well with each
other, and I set out to write more stories that fitted in
with other ones. In the end we got a book with eighteen
stories with overlaps, and chance associations, and we
titled the book Headgames.
There are great novelists who just cant write for
the screen, and there are great screenwriters who could
never write a novel. You have managed to write both.
It is a mystery, isnt it? I think at the heart of
each is the process of story telling. In retelling my
novel Zigzag Street for film, I learnt a lot about story
telling. I think there are things that I can bring back
from screen writing process and enrich my novels.
What gives you more freedom? Writing novels or writing
for the screen?
Writing novels, definitely. You have got more people to
answer to when you write for films. It means you have
less freedom, but that is not necessarily a bad thing; it
means you have to defend your ideas to several people and
in the process you might learn one or two things that you
werent right about.
While writing my novel Bachelor Kisses, I had a lot of
freedom, because I did not have a contract with my
publisher at the time. I took on a plot a lot more
complex than I had ever tried before. By the time I had
written the first and the second draft, I thought I had
got most of the things right, but I knew there were some
problem areas, and I wanted to work those through with an
editor. So I signed a contract with a publisher and sat
down with an editor. It was very helpful, but still at
the end I felt it was very much my work. I wanted to end
it in a particular way, the way you cant end a
What I really wanted was the character to be basically a
nice guy but someone who had this other side to him,
maybe someone who didnt know how to handle
relationship very well, maybe someone who messed up
things, and I wanted these messed-up relationships to be
opportunities for him to learn things. But I didnt
want him to learn them straightaway; I wanted him to go
through this cycle a few times. And while I wanted to
create possibilities for him to learn, I didnt want
to show that he had. Towards the end he has sunk low
thinking about himself and how he has been handling
things. And then he meets a girl with a chance that
something might happen with her. At the end of the novel
he has only just met her, he hasnt even gone out
with her once yet.
When I showed this to film people, the first thing they
said we would like to make the film exactly the way
the novel is but when we take it to the test audiences in
Los Angeles and they will say what are you doing, you
havent finished the story! So what we would like to
do is to take this story two months down the track and
show that he has learnt his lesson and the relationship
Then there were some film people who wanted me to turn a
minor character of mine into a major character because
that went down well with their line of thinking. So when
you write for films you have to make compromises. You
will have to accept that the film will not be the book,
but it might be a very good film. That is the very best
you can hope for.
Do you remember your first rejection slip?
Yes. For years I was not brave enough, and I managed to
avoid getting rejection slips by not sending anything to
the publishers. I wrote a novel in 1987, and I was still
not brave enough, but my girl friend sent it to a
publisher. Although it was not accepted, it paved the way
for my first published novel.
Have you ever suffered from writers block?
Not yet. I have tried to work out how writers block
works, so that I can avoid it. If I didnt plan my
novels well, the chances of getting writers block
would be more. So what I do is anticipate that it is
coming. I take a break, go for a walk, buy some
groceries, maybe start thinking what I will cook for
dinner that night, and after that go back to it and
They say writing is a very lonely business. In your case
is it you who feels lonely, or is it your wife who does?
I think I feel strange and obsessed, and she feels left
out for a few weeks at a time. Fortunately now we know
each other well, and we know that it will be all right in
the end. But first time when I did it she wondered about
this strange antisocial creature that she was married to.
And it came as a great relief to her that I could be
rehabilitated later. Now she expects is to happen more
than I do, because she understands.
Since you have seen a few places in India, is there any
chance of setting one of your future novels here?
I am known for setting most of my books in my hometown,
but now my characters are getting to know other places
too. I havent seen enough of India to use it as a
location for a whole novel but I have been taking notes,
and photos, and I am sure it is going to appear somewhere