Episode 41: Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.

Penmanship podcast episode 41: Nick Feik, interviewed by Andrew McMillen. Published in September 2017.Since its inception in 2005, The Monthly has been one of the few Australian publications to strongly invest in longform journalism. Each month, the magazine publishes a handful of essays from some of Australia’s best writers and critics, which regularly run in excess of 5,000 words apiece. Because of this dedication to funding and promoting serious journalism that concerns the nation’s culture and politics, The Monthly has built a large and devoted base of subscribers and readers. Nick Feik has been in the editor’s chair since April 2014, after joining the magazine’s publisher, Schwartz Media, several years earlier to establish online projects which included daily email newsletters and building a home for longform video.

I met with Nick at the Schwartz Media office in Melbourne in late July, shortly after he and his team had sent the August issue off to be printed. Our conversation touches on the origins of a cover story that Nick wrote about the effects that tech giants Facebook and Google are having on the media landscape; how the choice of cover photograph or illustration can affect The Monthly‘s newsstand sales; his routine for getting away from screens in order to read first drafts without distractions; what he’s looking for when commissioning work from first-time contributors to the magazine, and how he feels about being the first person to cast his eyes across essays by great writers such as Helen Garner.

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly magazine. Under the auspices of The Monthly, Nick created email newsletters the Shortlist Daily and Politicoz (later Today), and was The Monthly’s first online editor. As a writer, Nick has contributed political and current affairs-related pieces to Fairfax, ABC’s The Drum, The Saturday Paper and The Monthly. Previously he worked at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) as programmer, short film coordinator and travelling film festival coordinator.

Nick Feik on Twitter: @NickFeik

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Episode 40: Gideon Haigh

Gideon Haigh is an author and freelance journalist.

Penmanship podcast episode 40: Gideon Haigh, interviewed by Andrew McMillen. Published in August 2017.Since he began as a cadet journalist at The Age in 1984, fresh out of high school, Gideon’s main subject areas in journalism have been in sport and business. For most of his career, Gideon has worked as a freelancer, and his writing has been published in more than one hundred newspapers and magazines around the world. As an author, he has written 32 books to date, with at least two more underway. The breadth and depth of his body of work is simply astounding, and I’ve been an admirer of his for some time. During the last few years, my main understanding and appreciation of Gideon’s writing is through his role as senior cricket writer at The Australian, where he has become one of the most read and trusted voices in sports journalism.

In late July, I met with Gideon at his home in Melbourne’s inner-city, and was led into his writing room, which is also home to his extraordinary collection of thousands of books. Our conversation touches on why he prefers not to think too much about the structure of his books before he starts writing them; how he goes about writing daily cricket match reports for The Australian each summer; how he has managed to avoid becoming cynical about cricket, despite writing about it for decades; how he decides which writing projects to pursue as a freelancer with several sources of income; and how he found himself occupying a sort of public service role in late 2014 as the nation came to terms with the shock death of a young Australian cricketer. The conversation begins, however, with a small discussion about the purpose of this podcast.

Gideon Haigh has been a journalist for more than three decades. He has contributed to more than a hundred newspapers and magazines, published thirty-two books, and edited seven others. He has been writing about sport and business for more than 22 years. His best-known books are Mystery SpinnerThe Big ShipThe Summer Game, Game for Anything: Writings On Cricket and A Fair Field and No Favour: The Ashes 2005. His 2012 book The Office: A Hardworking History won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction; On Warne was shortlisted for the Melbourne Prize for Literature; and Certain Admissions won the 2016 Ned Kelly Award for True Crime. His latest book is Stroke of Genius: Victor Trumper and the Shot that Changed Cricket. Gideon lives in Melbourne with his wife and daughter. Nobody has played more games for his cricket club – nor, perhaps, wanted to.

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Episode 39: Sarah Elks

Sarah Elks is Queensland political reporter at The Australian.

Penmanship podcast episode 39: Sarah Elks, interviewed by Andrew McMillen. Published in July 2017.During her decade of writing for the national newspaper, Sarah has reported on many of the biggest news stories that have taken place in Queensland. It takes tenacity and passion to be a daily news reporter, and Sarah clearly has an abundance of both of these qualities. After extensively covering the fall-out from the closure of the Queensland Nickel refinery in late 2015, Sarah was named Journalist of the Year at the Queensland Clarion Awards for her stories that uncovered Clive Palmer’s use of the alias ‘Terry Smith’ to manage his business while also holding office as a Member of Parliament. The judges for that award in 2016 noted that Sarah’s work is “a tremendous how-to for journalists young and old, and deserves recognition”.

I met with Sarah at her home in Brisbane’s inner-north in early July to record a conversation which touches on how she manages an unpredictable workload that can vary drastically from week to week; how she handled the paranoia of ‘correspondent syndrome’ while working as The Australian‘s sole reporter based in Far North Queensland; how her two years in that role took her to a remote island in the Torres Strait, where few people will ever have the privilege of setting foot; why she has a deep and abiding passion for court reporting, which is not shared by many other journalists, and how she increases her likelihood of getting Clive Palmer to respond to her text messages during the course of reporting on the man himself.

Sarah Elks is the Queensland political reporter for The Australian. She began her career working for the newspaper at its Sydney headquarters in 2007, before moving back to her home state of Queensland. After a two-year stint in Cairns as the paper’s north Queensland correspondent, Sarah returned to Brisbane to cover general news and legal affairs, including some of the state’s highest profile criminal trials. Now, as well as state politics, Sarah reports on the continuing fallout from the $300m corporate collapse of Clive Palmer’s Queensland Nickel. In what is surely a sign of love and respect for her ongoing work, Mr Palmer recently tweeted: “Is it true or did you read it in the Australian“. Sarah’s only useful skills are catching beach worms with her bare hands and arranging cheese platters.

Sarah Elks on Twitter: @SarahElks

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Episode 38: Marcus Teague

Marcus Teague is an editor, freelance writer, songwriter and musician.

Penmanship podcast episode 38: Marcus Teague, interviewed by Andrew McMillen. Published in June 2017.His contribution to Australian music journalism during the last decade has been significant. After co-founding a magazine and website devoted to independent music named Mess+Noise, Marcus went on to work as music editor at The Vine for six years from 2008. Under his editorial guidance, this pop culture-centric website became one of the most popular and respected outlets for music writing in the country. It also provided a regular home for thoughtful, longform journalism and criticism for many freelance writers, myself included. Writing for Marcus at The Vine was an incredibly important aspect of my development as a journalist and music critic, and I have many fond memories of my time writing for the site for four years from 2010.

Since he left The Vine in 2014, Marcus has freelanced for the likes of Rolling Stone and Guardian Australia, while copywriting and working on artist bios on the side, in addition to his day job as commercial editor at Broadsheet. One evening in April, I met Marcus at a studio in Fitzroy, and our conversation touches on why he thinks suspicion is an essential character trait for music journalists; how he developed resilience as a fledgling musician who dreamed of making it in Melbourne; how he started writing songs in tandem with publishing a magazine that was a precursor to Mess+Noise; why he now finds it harder to write songs as he becomes more invested in journalism, and what happened when the drummer of Metallica read a concert review on The Vine and decided to give Marcus a call.

Marcus Teague is an editor, freelance writer, songwriter and musician based in Melbourne. He formed the band Deloris in the late 1990s, and wrote and recorded four albums until the band split in 2008. While in Deloris, he began writing about Australian music, first in the self-made, small-run zine Poolside with friend and bandmate Leigh Lambert, then as co-founder of magazine and website Mess+Noise. In 2008, Marcus was hired as full-time Music Editor for new website The Vine, a pop-culture offshoot of Fairfax Digital. Writing daily about music, it was there many of his formative experiences as a music journalist occurred: covering CMJ in New York, becoming a panelist and guest on the likes of Bigsound, triple j, and Face the Music, filing reviews for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and being asked to tour with Metallica after the band read Marcus’s review of their live show. After leaving The Vine in 2014 Marcus freelanced, becoming a regular contributor to Rolling Stone and Guardian Australia, among others. He also began a sideline in writing copy for music industry clients and artist bios. Marcus is currently the Commercial Editor for Broadsheet, and continues to freelance as a music writer. He also writes and releases music under the solo moniker of Single Twin, as well as in the band Near Myth, whose debut album, Idiot Mystic, was released in late 2016.

Marcus Teague on Twitter: @MarcusTeague

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Episode 37: Richard Guilliatt

Richard Guilliatt is an author and staff writer at The Weekend Australian Magazine.

Penmanship podcast episode 37: Richard Guilliatt, interviewed by Andrew McMillen. Published in May 2017.When it comes to the art of writing magazine feature stories, Richard is among Australia’s masters of the form. He has been writing magazine-length articles for more than two decades, and has won a couple of Walkley Awards along the way. His subject matter and profiles are diverse, which he admits is part of the job description when writing for a general interest publication like The Weekend Australian Magazine, where he has been a staff writer since 2006. He has also written two books about vastly different topics, which we explore in some detail in this episode.

I have a close relationship with Richard. Soon after we met for the first time at an investigative journalism conference in 2011, I asked if he would be my mentor. During those six years, his advice has been enormously helpful as I learned how to pitch, structure and write magazine features under his guidance. For the first few years, I would send him drafts of my work before filing to my editors, and his feedback always improved my writing. Richard has been one of the most significant influences in my career as a freelance journalist, and I feel incredibly lucky to have had such a generous and wise ally in my corner. We don’t discuss his mentorship during this episode, but I think it’s important to note here at the beginning.

In March, I visited Richard at his home in Sydney, and our conversation touches on how he comes up with ideas for magazine stories while juggling his own interests and his editor’s suggestions; how an editor at The Age pushed Richard out of his comfort zone as a young journalist, in order to improve his reporting and writing; how he worked as a freelance writer based in New York City for seven years; how he co-wrote a book about a German warship whose mission was to create panic among the Australian public during World War I; and how he became interested in writing about controversial subjects such as repressed memory, and more recently, the deception of public figures such as cancer hoaxer Belle Gibson.

Richard Guilliatt started his journalistic career in 1978 as a cadet reporter on The Truth newspaper, where he excelled at stories about disgraced pop stars and misbehaving headmasters. From 1980-86 he worked at The Australian and The Age newspapers, initially as a news reporter and then as a feature writer and section-editor. In 1986, he moved to New York and freelanced for seven years, writing features for newspapers and magazines including The Sunday Times Magazine, The Independent, New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. In 1993, he returned to Australia and joined The Sydney Morning Herald as a feature writer, primarily at Good Weekend magazine. Since 2006, he has been a staff writer at The Weekend Australian Magazine. In 2000, he won the Walkley Award for Best Magazine Feature, for a story in Good Weekend about the Stolen Generations debate. In 2004, his profile of David Gulpilil was included in The Best Australian Profiles (Black Inc). In 2012, his feature on concussion in sports won the Walkley Award for Sports Journalism, and he was shortlisted for Scoop Of The Year in the 2015 Walkley Awards for a series of stories in The Australian which exposed the cancer hoaxer Belle Gibson. Richard is the author of Talk Of The Devil (Text, 1996), a book about the ‘repressed memory’ phenomenon. He is co-author (with Peter Hohnen) of The Wolf (Heinemann, 2009), a work of historical non-fiction which won the Mountbatten Maritime Award in Britain and was shortlisted in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

Richard Guilliatt on Twitter: @RMGuilliatt

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Episode 36: John Clarke

John Clarke was a freelance writer, performer and author.

Penmanship podcast episode 36: John Clarke, interviewed by Andrew McMillen, 2014. Published in 2017.John died suddenly on Sunday, 9 April 2017, aged 68. I had spoken to him a few days beforehand, and we had made plans to record a conversation for this podcast while I was visiting Melbourne that weekend. Since that cannot happen, I am bringing you a special episode based on a day that I spent with John in November 2014, when I was reporting a story for The Weekend Australian Review about the creative process behind Clarke & Dawe, the weekly political satire program that John wrote and performed alongside longtime collaborator Bryan Dawe. As I wrote in my article, Clarke & Dawe was more often than not among the week’s sharpest commentary on up-to-the-minute matters relating to Australian politics and public life. Together, the two performers sought to make us laugh while also making us think.

This was a dream assignment for me, as it involved spending a day in John’s company as he wrote a couple of scripts, met with Bryan to film the program at an ABC television studio, and supervised the final edits of a two-and-a-half minute program that would be broadcast around Australia the following evening. In between these tasks, there was plenty of time for conversation; at no point did John seem rushed, and he had a kind word and a wry joke for everyone he crossed paths with. This episode consists of excerpts from some of the writing-related discussions he and I had that day, as well as a few amusing asides. I’d also encourage you to read my article for The Weekend Australian Review, which is called ‘In The Line of Political Satire’. I put a lot of effort into the writing and rhythm of this piece because I knew John would read it, and that man rarely wasted a word.

Our first conversation that day took place in a Fitzroy cafe on Wednesday, 12 November 2014. My recording device was a small digital recorder placed on the table between us, or held in my hand as I wrote in my notebook while on the move. The audio wasn’t captured with this podcast in mind, as Penmanship did not exist at the time. The recording at this first location has the most ambient noise, so you’ll hear a bit of the coffee machine in action, as well as some other voices in the background. Please bear with me, as the audio quality does improve throughout this episode, as we move to quieter locations. There is about 20 minutes of audio in this cafe section, cut into four segments. Some of the cuts are quite abrupt, but I’ll briefly introduce each section to give some context throughout the episode.

CLARKE, John, Dip Lid, PhD in Cattle (Oxen). Advisor and comforter to various governments. Born 1948. Educ. subsequently. Travelled extensively throughout Holy Lands, then left New Zealand for Europe. Stationed in London 1971-73. Escaped (decorated). Rejoined unit. Arrived Australia 1977. Held positions with ABC radio (Sckd), ABC Television (Dfnct), Various newspapers (Dcd), and Aust Film Industry (Fkd). Currently a freelance expert specialising in matters of a general character. Recreations: Whistling. Address: C/– the people next door. Or just pop it inside the door of the fusebox. Should be back Friday. Died 2017.

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Episode 35: Amelia Lester

Amelia Lester is the editor of Good Weekend.

Penmanship podcast episode 35: Amelia Lester, interviewed by Andrew McMillen. Published in March 2017.

For the first episode of 2017, I could think of few more qualified guests than Amelia Lester. Penmanship is all about exploring the gritty details of how to build a life around working with words, and Amelia has done just that at the very highest level of magazine publishing. After graduating from Harvard University, she worked at a literary agency for a year and then achieved her dream of working at The New Yorker, which has long been regarded as one of the leading homes for longform journalism in the English-speaking world. Amelia stayed there for ten years in various editorial roles before returning to her home country to take the reins at Good Weekend, a magazine she loved to read while growing up in Australia.

In early March, I met with Amelia at the Fairfax Media building in Sydney. I have written for Good Weekend since 2014, and for Amelia since October, so this episode marks the second time I’ve interviewed a current editor of mine on Penmanship, following last year’s chat with Erik Jensen of The Saturday Paper. My conversation with Amelia touches on what makes a great magazine feature story; her philosophy about how editors should manage their schedules to spend less time at the desk, and more time out in the world; how she began working at The New Yorker as a fact-checker and then became Managing Editor by the time she was 26; why manners are important in journalism; how she learnt to manage her email inbox, and why she is leaving Good Weekend in April after a little over a year in the role.

Amelia Lester is the editor of Good Weekend, the Saturday magazine of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers. Amelia grew up in Sydney and graduated from Harvard with a BA in English and American Literature and Language. She spent ten years at The New Yorker, where she was first a fact-checker and was appointed managing editor at the age of 26. Later on she relaunched the Goings On About Town section of the magazine, served as executive editor of newyorker.com, and wrote the “Tables for Two” restaurants column. In between she was also a features editor at The Paris Review, a New York literary quarterly. Amelia has worked at Good Weekend, Australia’s premier home of long form journalism, since February 2016, and relaunched the magazine in June of that year. She appears regularly on television and radio as a political commentator and is a board member of the Sydney Writers Festival.

Amelia Lester on Twitter: @ThatAmelia

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Episode 34: Andrew Stafford

Andrew Stafford is an author and freelance journalist.

Penmanship podcast episode 34: Andrew Stafford, interviewed by Andrew McMillen, 2016In 2004, UQP published his landmark book, Pig City: From The Saints To Savage Garden, which covered three decades of Queensland’s musical and political history. Three years later, the book was followed by an event of the same name, staged by Queensland Music Festival and featuring a headline performance by the original line-up of Brisbane punk rock band The Saints, who had not played together in almost 30 years. Sometimes authors live to see their book made into a film; it is much rarer that a book is made into a music festival with their heroes headlining, and Andrew Stafford can count himself among the lucky few in the latter category.

Reviewing the Pig City festival in 2007 was one of my first assignments as a fledgling music journalist for the website FasterLouder, and in the years since, Andrew and I have become colleagues and friends. Having spent 14 years driving a cab while writing about music, sport and the environment, Andrew is a full-time freelance journalist who now writes about these matters for a range of outlets including The GuardianThe Saturday Paper and The Sydney Morning Herald.

In late September, I visited his home in the Brisbane suburb of St Lucia to record a conversation which touches on the skillset required for his long-standing role as Queensland AFL correspondent for The Age newspaper; how an early interest in birdwatching introduced him to an enduring passion for punk rock; how he got started writing about music for Brisbane street press and Rolling Stone magazine; how his depression has affected his productivity throughout his career; how he first hatched the idea for Pig City and spent three years writing it while driving taxis, and how he looks back on a mental health crisis in early 2016 that led to national media coverage in the wake of his sudden disappearance.

Andrew Stafford is a freelance journalist and the author of Pig City, a musical, political and social history of Brisbane, now in its third edition. In July 2007 the book was transformed into a key event as part of the Queensland Music Festival, headlined by the first performance by the original line-up of The Saints in nearly 30 years. He has been the Queensland AFL correspondent for The Age for 11 years. His journalism also appears in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, The Monthly and many more. He maintains a blog, ‘Notes From Pig City’, and watches birds for fun.

Andrew Stafford on Twitter: @staffo_sez

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Episode 33: Holly Throsby

Holly Throsby is a songwriter, musician and author.

Penmanship podcast episode 33: Holly Throsby, interviewed by Andrew McMillen, 2016As an accomplished singer and songwriter, Holly has been performing since 2004, and has released five albums. In 2010, she joined forces with her friends Sarah Blasko and Sally Seltmann to form the indie pop group Seeker Lover Keeper, which released one album the following year. In 2016, she became an author: her first novel was published in September by Allen & Unwin. It’s named Goodwood, and it’s about what happens to a small town in New South Wales when two prominent members of the community go missing within a week of each other.

The story is narrated by a 17 year-old named Jean Brown, and everything we see is filtered through the young narrator as she grapples with the dramatic turn of events. It’s a combination of a mystery narrative and a portrait of a town experiencing a collective trauma. Goodwood offers a wonderfully lush and well-realised depiction of several aspects of contemporary Australian life, and it announces Holly as a major talent in fiction writing.

I first met Holly in April 2013, when she invited me into her home in Sydney to talk about drug use for my book Talking Smack. In late September 2016, Holly’s book was launched in Brisbane by previous Penmanship guest Kathleen Noonan at Avid Reader bookstore. The morning after, we met at an inner-city hotel room for a conversation which touches on her extensive research into the creative process as she began the book’s first draft while pregnant with her daughter; why she likes the distance and anonymity that comes with writing fiction; how elements of the story and its characters draw on her upbringing in Sydney’s inner west; how she snuck some of her favourite Australian expressions into the book’s dialogue; what inspired her to record an album for children, and what led her to write an op-ed for The Sydney Morning Herald about same-sex marriage.

Holly Throsby is a Sydney-based songwriter and musician. She has released four solo albums and a children’s album called See! She is known for summoning melodies that sound beautifully crumpled, worn and decades-old, and matching them with hushed, cutting lyrics that read like a Carver short story. Holly has been nominated for four ARIA Awards: two for Best Female Artist, one for Best Children’s Album, and one as part of Seeker Lover Keeper, her band with Sally Seltmann and Sarah Blasko. Goodwood is Holly’s debut novel.

Holly Throsby on Twitter: @HollyThrosby

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Episode 32: Liam Pieper

Liam Pieper is an author and freelance journalist.

Penmanship podcast episode 32: Liam Pieper, interviewed by Andrew McMillen, 2016Since the publication of his first book in 2014, a memoir named The Feel-Good Hit of the Year, he has quickly followed it up with two more. Last year, he published a collection of short essays called Mistakes Were Made, which I reviewed for The Weekend Australian, where I described his writing as “electric: charged with meaning and energised by surprising comedic turns”. With his third book, Liam has proved that he’s supremely talented at writing fiction, too. Named The Toymaker, his debut novel is based on an ambitions, multi-layered narrative that travels between an Australian business set in the present day, and German concentration camps during World War II. The character that links these two worlds is a Russian man imprisoned during the war who escapes to Australia and starts a globally successful toy business.

When Liam visited Brisbane in early August, I met him for the first time at his hotel room. Our conversation touches on the unique way in which Liam received funding to research and write The Toymaker while living overseas; how he navigated the legal threats that arose after the publication of his first book, which detailed his career as an adolescent drug dealer; how he messed up an important magazine assignment by filing 22,000 words instead of the requested length of 5,000 words; and how he helps young writers with finding the voice that best suits their style while working as content director for an online community called Writers Bloc.

Liam Pieper is a Melbourne-based author and journalist. His first book was a memoir, The Feel-Good Hit of the Year, shortlisted for the National Biography Award and the Ned Kelly Best True Crime award. His second was the Penguin Special Mistakes Were Made, a volume of humorous essays. He was co-recipient of the 2014 M Literary Award, winner of the 2015 Geoff Dean Short Story Prize and the inaugural creative resident of the UNESCO City of Literature of Prague. He is also content director of Writers Bloc, a platform and resource for emerging writers. The Toymaker is his first novel.

Liam Pieper on Twitter: @LiamPieper

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