Q & A with David Marr

Q & A with David Marr
Authors at the National Library
22 August 2016

David Marr is an Australian journalist, author and progressive political and social commentator. His areas of expertise include the law, Australian politics, censorship, the media and the arts. He writes for The Monthly, The Saturday Paper and Guardian Australia. He also appears as a semi-regular panellist on the ABC televison programs Q&A and Insiders.

On 15 September David Marr will present the 2016 Seymour Biography Lecture Here I Stand, addressing the key challenges of modern biographers. Ahead of his visit to the Library, we were lucky enough to gain an insight into the reading and writing of the man himself.

David Marr

Why do you write?

I can’t say but I’ve wanted to since I was a child.

What is it that attracts you to writing biography?

Lives are the stories that fascinate us most. We can’t help comparing and contrasting with our own efforts at living. And politics can’t be understood without understanding political lives. Economics and events matter in politics, but so does character. 

Book cover of Dark Victory by David Marr and Marian Wilkinson and book cover of Patrick White: A Life by David Marr

We have an archive of your papers. How did you decide what to include in this collection? Have there been any documents that you now wish you had held back so that you could continue to refer to them?

Not having your papers is a blessing. Sorry, you say to idle queries about Patrick White or Garfield Barwick, I’d love to help but my papers are in the National Library. Of course, when it matters you dig through them all over again to help. That means a long drive to Canberra and the always slightly embarrassing request for a box of your own notes. 

What are you reading right now?

A history of Scotland. I’m at the Edinburgh Festival. 

What three titles should always be on the shelves of any self-respecting bookshop?

Three good new biographies. The old books that matter can always be ordered in or read online. Bookshops should be where we find the new. 

How would you describe your latest book?

A brief political biography of Bill Shorten’s hidden career which brought him inevitably—but for the public rather surprisingly—to the leadership of the Labor Party. 

Book cover of Quarterly Essay 59, Faction Man: Bill Shortens Path to Power by David Marr

What was the best part of writing your latest book?

Learning what I didn’t know then explaining it to readers as baffled as I once was. 

What's the strangest piece of advice you've ever been given as a writer?

When you’re cutting, never cut the jokes. The old newspaper editor who told me this wasn’t inviting me to be trivial. He was saying: delighting readers matters and humour is a way to the truth.

What's the strangest question you've been asked about your writing?

My mother rang one day years ago and asked: ‘Are you working today or just writing?’ I’ve celebrated that ever since.

What are you working on now?

Making up my mind about the next project.

What do you love about libraries? 

The sense that deep in their underground stacks lurk the answers to everything. 

When does David Marr planning to write his memoir