Even as one of Australia’s most famous authors, Christos Tsiolkas understands that publishing for criticism is nerve-wracking. “Someone misunderstands what you’re doing, rejection; they sting.” But as he explains on The New Writer’s Room podcast, when it comes to writing, rejection actually “is part of it.” “If you want to do this, you have to prepare for it,” he says.
As one of the judges for the 2022 SBS Emerging Writers Competition, alongside fellow author Alice Pung, Tsiolkas appears on The New Writer’s Room to share his advice for budding writers, his creative process, and how he went from an ESL class in elementary school to one of the most celebrated authors in the country.
Tsiolkas talks about his Greek immigrant father, who brought home English books from his job at the factory that he couldn’t read himself – a habit that sparked his lifelong passion for words and art. “Once I discovered reading and I discovered that you could disappear into the page, it never really left me. Dad gave me the love of reading.”
It was this love of reading that gave him the resolve to be a writer. “I was 10 and I looked up [at my mother] and said, ‘Mom, I’m going to be a writer.’ And his first thought was ‘Oh my God, he’s going to die penniless!’”, laughs Tsiolkas. “I was aware that I wanted to do something with books very, very early on. I wanted to be surrounded by books for the rest of my life.”
Author of seven novels, including The slap, Barracuda and 7 1/2It’s been a long time since Tsiolkas was a writer on the fringes, but judging the SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition is a responsibility he bears with “great lightness,” he says, “because it’s a joy I comes from a world and a journey that made it easy for me to be able to write in a particular way.”
“I’m not going to pretend that Christos Tsiolkas’ experience in 1997 is the same as that of a young writer writing now, but I think there’s something about wanting to honor the work that comes from spaces that are not the mainstream of Australian literature.”
Tsiolkas’ advice to budding writers is to just get the job done. “You learn what it’s like to write in the process of writing,” he explains, but emphasizes that it’s a regular practice. “Try to write 1500 words a day. Sometimes it’s hard to come up with those words and you know you’re going to delete them all. The act of writing itself teaches you how to write.”
He also acknowledges that sharing a personal story for others to read takes courage. “It’s a brave thing,” he says. “To engage your thoughts, your ideas, your passion on the page. So don’t forget that.”
What if you are in doubt? “Make sure you have really good people around you,” he says. “I remember one of my cousins, after my first book [Loaded] came out and there had been negative reviews and he said, ‘Christo, you wrote, how many words are there? 65,000 words. I haven’t written 200 words in my life. Be proud of it!”
Listen to the SBS Voices podcast, The New Writer’s Room, in the SBS Radio app, Apple podcast, Spotify, Google Podcastsor wherever you listen to podcasts.
The SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition opens for entries on August 16. Write on the topic of “emergence” for a chance to win the first prize of $5,000, the second prize of $3,000 or one of two prizes of $1,000. The best entries will also be published in an anthology by Hardie Grant. Visit sbs.com.au/writers to register and learn more.
The 2021 contest anthology ‘Between Two Worlds’ published by Hardie Grant is out August 3rd.
Learn more about the SBS Emerging Writers Competition