Mark Mordue was the 2010 Pascall Prize Australian Critic of the Year. He is an internationally published writer and his book, Dastgah: Diary of a Headtrip was shortlisted for The City of Brisbane/Qantas Asia-Pacific Travel Writing Award 2002. He has just completed a novel, Things That Year, and is currently developing a biography of the singer Nick Cave. We caught up with him to pick his brains about all things creative non-fiction.
Lee Gutkind has called creative non-fiction ‘among the fastest growing and most popular genres of recent times’. Can you tell us what defines the genre and why you love it?
The genre can be very wide in what it embraces. But in simple terms I think you can say it represents stylish, poetic or subjective reflections that are drawn from real life. These reflections may be as rigorous as a well-told and accurate piece of reportage, or as impressionistic and subjective as a story based on childhood memories. The genre seems to be growing because it embraces so many different styles and voices and forms of story telling. Perhaps our sense of reality is undergoing so much change we are seeking out more ways to get a hold of it – and mark a place for ourselves and who we are within it.
It seems there are multiple styles and forms that encompass the genre, as well as ethical issues surrounding the creative embellishment of factual subjects. Is creative non-fiction a challenging genre to do well?
I think it’s very challenging to do well. Much like poetry, it can seem like every second person has a memoir in them but very few are actually all that interesting. Even a great story needs to be well written to get beyond being a five-minute party tale or short blog post. There are numerous ethical issues, related to your respect for facts (as well as your skill in making use of them), the broader question of what the truth is (which is not the same as just the facts) and how any story creates a frame or tone that affects what people feel as well as understand when they read a story – if it has enough shape to qualify as a story at all.
What are some of your most loved works of creative non-fiction?
Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood; Michael Herr’s Dispatches; Joan Dideon’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem; Don Walker’s Shots; Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family; Anna Funder’s Stasiland; Nick Kent’s The Dark Stuff; Martin Edmond’s Dark Night; Robert MacFarlane’s Mountains of the Mind; Jack Marx’s Sorry.
Have you had a particularly memorable interview as part of your career (either wonderful or excruciating), that you can share with us?
Hard to choose just one. Lou Reed was memorably unhelpful and aggressive, but that was kind of like his vaudeville schtick for most interviews too: beat the journalist with a verbal whip! Wim Wenders, Michael Ondaatje and Bono all stand out for their generosity and intelligence. They seemed to absorb you as much as you were trying to absorb them. That is always interesting to engage with, it’s more like a mutual journey. The most interesting people are often so-called ‘ordinary’ people. People often carry great stories around for years just waiting to tell someone who is willing to listen.
Mark is teaching The Edge of Reality: Writing Creative Non-Fiction over 6 weeks starting on Wednesday 22 July, 6:30pm-9:30pm. To book your place and for further details, click here.