WHEN Josh Donellan finished reading The Lord of the Rings as an eight-year-old, he had a realisation. ‘‘I slammed the last book down and said, ‘That’s it, that’s what I’m doing. Why do people do other stuff like drive buses when you can be a writer? It’s clearly the best job so why do anything else?’’’
On the eve of the release of the 30-year-old’s third book, Killing Adonis, a hard-to-categorise novel that serves up a heavy dose of black comedy and traverses themes such as corporate greed, delusion, identity and love, Donellan is excited to be heading to Newcastle for the National Young Writers’ Festival. Like many writers, Donellan caught the bug as a youngster and has persisted ever since. ‘‘I’m a big fan of [educationalist] Ken Robinson and he thinks that every child has a passion and aptitude for something and the ones who latch on to it tend to be successful,’’ he explains. ‘‘A lot of parents discourage their kids from a career in the arts, which really frustrates me, but my parents were great.’’
Donellan is a casual primary school teacher who also works at Brisbane community radio station 4ZZZ, but work fits around his commitment to writing and slam poetry performances. Killing Adonis, which centres on the wealthy – and bizarre – Vincetti family was completed in four years while Donellan travelled the world. ‘‘I was writing in Portugal, New York, Colombia and spent a bit of time in Cambodia so the plot did change a lot,’’ he says. ‘‘I was OK with the initial draft but the end product was quite different and I’m very happy with it now.’’
The ‘‘Adonis’’ in the novel is Elijah, the comatose son of Harland Vincetti, a morally bankrupt corporate bigwig who enjoys cocaine and philandering, and his acerbic wife Evelyn. Elijah is cosseted in a room within the family’s labyrinthine mansion while his highly strung fiancee plans their wedding and fantasises about the child they will one day have. Elijah’s reclusive brother Jack, a writer, is largely ignored by his parents, but strikes up a friendship with the new nurse, Freya, the moral compass amid the greed and deception.
‘‘I was interested in how people have these kingdoms of delusion,’’ says Donellan.
‘‘When you look at people who are powerful in terms of money or political influence, I’m fascinated by the way they can draw other people into that kingdom of delusion.
‘‘You get these extraordinary people like Michael Jackson, someone who had a lot of money, a very talented man, but a very strange man in a lot of ways. He went to extravagant lengths to live this weird Peter Pan lifestyle [and] I suppose I’ve taken some of that and added a harsh corporate focus.’’
Donellan is looking forward to the National Young Writers’ Festival and participating in panel discussions. What is his advice to young writers? ‘‘Make sure you’re producing work,’’ he says. ‘‘A lot of people spend time building their profile, networking, studying, which is all great, but you have to sit and put pen to paper, fingers keyboard. I meet a lot of people who say they’d love to be a writer but ‘just don’t have the time’.
‘‘If you’re not making time for it, you’re not serious about it. I’m a really big believer in producing vast amounts of work; it’s probably going to be terrible, but you have to start somewhere.’’
Killing Adonis by J. M. Donellan is published by Pantera Press, $29.99. Donellan is a guest at the National Young Writers’ Festival, which will be held at various venues throughout Newcastle from October 3 to 5. The NYWF is the country’s largest gathering of young and innovative writers working in both new and traditional forms including zines, comics, blogging, screenwriting, poetry, spoken word, journalism and prose. For more information see youngwritersfestival.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.