WRITERS' ROOM Q&A: SEAN KELLY
Sean Kelly is a columnist for the Nine papers and a regular contributor to The Monthly. He was a political adviser to Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
More recently, Sean has written The Game: A Portrait of Scott Morrison. In the book, he investigates the shallow political culture that allowed Morrison to succeed.
Who are your heroes in writing?
Janet Malcolm, for her close attention to language and what people unintentionally reveal with the words they choose. Sheila Heti, for her constant courage against convention. Helen Garner, for the way each sentence brings the world to you, a quality she shares with Hemingway. Annie Ernaux, for her precision. Vigdis Hjorth, because great literature does not have to eschew politics.
Favourite line from a book or movie?
“Literature, I knew, was the only thing that could be begun at forty.” – Sheila Heti, Motherhood
“The santas of Fifth Avenue rang their little bells with an odd sad delicacy, as if sprinkling salt on some brutally spoiled piece of meat.” Don DeLillo, Americana
Best excuse you’ve used (or heard used) for missing a deadline?
People miss deadlines?
Worst feedback you’ve received?
The worst feedback you can get is the rejection letter. They’re so blankly anonymous and impersonal that you feel they must be disguising all sorts of sharp and horrible criticisms of your writing. At the same time, you are utterly, furiously convinced that nobody even bothered to read what you wrote – and that imagined indifference can hurt far more than the imagined attack.
What song best represents your career?
Homesick, Kings of Convenience:
Every day there's a boy in the mirror
Asking me what are you doing here
Finding all my previous motives
Growing increasingly unclear
Favourite political hero and villain?
Heroes: Paul Keating, because he understood language, its importance and how to wield it; and because he understood that a nation was a large and emotional thing. And Laurie Oakes and Michelle Grattan, for believing in the importance of accuracy and in the essential seriousness of politics.
Villain: John Howard, who – unlike many of his counterparts today – was a substantive politician, and for that reason was able to do an enormous amount of serious damage to this country, shifting it in ways that are proving very difficult to reverse.
If not a writer, what would you be?
The realistic answer is that I’d still work in politics. I’d like to say a film director. But I am increasingly trying to bow down before the wisdom of Bjorn Borg, who, Tim Adams wrote, refused to go through the motions of replaying a failed shot, because that was simply “vanity… as if you would like to prove you could do it correctly, and circumstances independent of your will forced you to commit the error.” Error or not, this is what I do.
You can buy The Game with free delivery (in Australia) here