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The best advice writer Tim Winton’s ever received: ‘Mate, it’s only a book’

Tonia Cowan/The Globe and Mail

Tim Winton's Australia is a tough place, an intense landscape giving rise to intense characters. The author, who has been short-listed for the Booker twice and was named a Living Treasure by Australia's National Trust, has a new book, Eyrie, out this summer.

Why did you write your new book?

Well, this is what I do to make a living. And this was the story that arrived in time to keep the wolf from the door. Later in life, in a quiet, sodden moment, no doubt the deeper reason will occur to me. Then I'm sure I'll forget. Because I'll be very old.

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Whose sentences are your favourite, and why?

I like Kent Haruf's honest plainness. Beneath the modest surface there's a fierce and tender moral imagination at work. Sentence by sentence, you know he's smart, but he's grown-up enough to hide his tracks. Now, there's a writer who refuses to be paralysed by irony.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

"Mate, it's only a book."

Which historical period do you wish you'd lived through, and why?

Any period with penicillin will do. Although I lived through the sixties and seventies I was always five or ten years too young to get anything but a contact high. Somehow I lived most of it at a remove or in retrospect, but I guess this was more hygienic.

Would you rather be successful during your lifetime and then forgotten or legendary after death?

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Posthumous glory doesn't pay the rent. So to hell with it. A modest bit of success in this lifetime is all anyone can ask. God knows, it's more than most of us get.

Which fictional character do you wish you'd created?

Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener. There was a man whose passive aggression could have taught the Mahatma a thing or two. He… well, he preferred not to.

Which fictional character do you wish you were?

Sorry, it's Bartleby again. The existential power of polite refusal. He should have had a role in Star Wars: "Luke, I prefer not to be your father." Now that would have made for some space drama I could understand.

What question do you wish people would ask about your work (that they don't ask)?

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I prefer it when they ask all the obvious ones and in this respect, professional or civilian, they rarely let me down. And of course I reciprocate in like manner. Seems to work fine. Writing a novel is work enough. Having to explain it is like working a double shift. (Oh, listen to him grumble.)

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