In this interview, the bestselling author of Girt, True Girt and Girt Nation David Hunt speaks on his favourite stories from Australian history, his research, writing and procrastination processes, and the three books he thinks everyone should read. He’s as hilarious here as he is in all his books.
David Hunt is a bestselling author, historian, satirist, television presenter, podcaster and speaker. His first book with Black Inc., Girt won Nonfiction Book of the Year in the 2014 Indie Awards, and was shortlisted for an Australian Book Industry Award and NSW Premier’s Literary Award.
How did your first book, Girt, come to be (and come to be acquired by Black Inc.)?
Girt sprang out of a never-made TV sketch-comedy show on Australian history I was working on with Charles Firth of The Chaser. During script development, I came to the conclusion that real history is so bizarre that a funny history could be written without resorting to sketch. I submitted an article on the Burke and Wills Expedition to The Monthly, who passed it onto the Black Inc. book nerds, who offered to publish a book written in a similar vein. So blind luck, a risk-taking publisher, a great cover and supportive booksellers ultimately allowed me to give up my day job to become ‘a proper historian’.
Do you have a favourite story from the Girt series?
I couldn’t believe my luck when I discovered Carl von Ledebur, an 1890s Essendon Football Club trainer and quack medico who injected his charges with crushed dog, sheep, goat and guinea pig testicles – and they say history never repeats. He was the gift that kept on giving. The German–Swiss immigrant was a champion pedestrian who race-walked as England’s world champion, a champion cyclist who bet against himself, a gaoled burglar, the husband of a palm-reading abortionist convicted of murder after placing a dead patient in a suitcase and dumping her in the Yarra, a man convicted of passing himself off as a doctor, a cocaine dealer and procurer of underage sex, an utter bastard who defrauded a deaf girl ‘for the price of a macasson’ (an ear massaging device), a triple bigamist charged with injecting his aged-care nurse with cocaine and barbiturates, and he had the dubious honour of being interned as an enemy alien in both world wars.
Is there a particular part of the publishing process that you love or hate the most?
I hate the not writing bit – the bit where you stare at an empty page and wonder why you ever signed a contract to put words on it. I spend months or years not writing. I take up new hobbies as displacement activities; I tell myself I will start tomorrow or the day after that; I watch a lot of cricket and then, after geeing myself up to write, the AFL season starts. I am an expert at not writing. If anybody wants to learn how to not write, I am happy to offer my services for a moderate fee – but I probably won’t turn up.
What does your writing practice look like? Are you a meticulous planner, or do you wait for a structure to form organically?
When I have run out of opportunities to not write, I settle on a theme and narrative arc. I then read a shit-tonne of Australian history, take copious notes, and jot down possible gags. When I’m fully across a key storyline, I write it fairly quickly, although occasionally I will obsess about a paragraph and be unable to write anything else until I get it at least halfway right. Then I research, write, rinse and repeat. Once I have the overall structure of the book, I move bits around and heed my editors’ advice on tone and pace, and ignore them on what is and isn’t funny.
What’s one book you think everyone should read?
Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. There you are, that’s three. How’s that for value for money?
To learn more about and read a chapter of David Hunt’s Girt, True Girt and Girt Nation, follow the links.
To read our previous Author Spotlight, an interview with Alice Pung, click here.