There is a new voice in Aussie literature, and it’s refreshingly tender, open, and captivating.
Melbourne-based writer, and teacher, Tom Pitts has proven that what you know is the cornerstone when it comes to the art form of the narrative. His debut novel Electric and Mad and Brave (Pan Macmillan) resonates because it rings so beautifully true.
Pitt digs deep and weaves a tale of how he went through a tough breakup and came out the other side. Bravely navigating the waters in the only way he knew how by taking the hard-earned path of being honest, which is represented in an intense and earnest interrogative style of dialogue.
Wearing your heart on your sleeve has never between so appealing. Being young and hopelessly in love, for better or for worse is a journey we all take, and Pitts nails it.
Doesn’t hurt that Nick Cave is a fan: “A moving and beautifully observed story of the tortures of youth. Quite wonderful.”
Tom took some time out to chat with us about his creative process, and the revelatory nature of Virginia Woolf.
Happy: What are you up to today?
Tom: Today was an unexpected day of rest. I’ve been working on a story set by the coast and today we drove out to the peninsula, went down to the rocks along the shore, got fish ‘n’ chips. It’s been a wild year and I feel like there hasn’t been a moment. Today was so nice to pause a couple of hours and take a breath.
Happy: Tell us about your suburb, what do you love/not love about where you live?
Tom: I don’t love where I live. Me and my partner rent in the north-east suburbs of Melbourne, a spot dwarfed by a massive shopping centre. There are no café strips, no high streets. But there are pockets though—parks etc. Nearby is a stretch of bushland that follows a creek a few kilometers out of the city, away from the traffic. Most days, I take my dog off lead there; for a half hour, it feels like I’m out of the suburbs.
Happy: Describe your average work day?
Tom: I’m a primary school music teacher—which is an awesome job. Kids are fun, always excited; their excitement is infectious. I spend most of my days teaching them how to sing or play piano and ukulele. When I get home, I’ll write for a couple of hours, nutting out ideas; lay the groundwork for the weekend when I can wake up fresh and start polishing.
Happy: What about your ultimate day?
Tom: My ultimate day is to head out with my partner and my dog somewhere outside the city, get a coffee and follow the walking tracks. That or go to the art gallery. I am the world’s worst artist; I have no skill and no understanding. Luckily, this means I find almost all art breathtaking, even when it isn’t.
Happy: Study or Self-taught?
Tom: Self-taught, I suppose. I never thought I’d be a writer. My friends and I just loved making theatre and had nothing to put on, so I started writing ideas in my spare time. There’s something freeing about being self-taught, though. I’ve never had that critic telling me I wasn’t doing it the way it was supposed to be done. Having said that, when I was 30000 words into my first draft I learned what an inciting incident was—and that I didn’t have one. So perhaps a little bit of study might have been a good thing…
Happy: What was it like to mentor with Kerry Armstrong?
Tom: Kerry has incredible insight into character and perspective. She works harder than any actor I’ve ever known, refusing to take shortcuts by delivering lines and actions she doesn’t feel are truthful. This was the focus of our mentorship. To be honest, it was gruelling at times; but she was determined to teach me the difference between clever characters and real human beings, the difference between fine writing and good writing. My characters were always too clever, too sharp; they said witty things; they weren’t human. Kez taught me to really interrogate dialogue, make it true life. It was a tough process, but I’m eternally grateful for it.
Happy: What is your favorite part of writing?
Tom: My favourite part, without doubt, is the first polish of a scene: when I’ve beaten my head against the page enough times that a vague outline has appeared, and now I get to make it schmick.
Happy: Tell us about your creative community.
Tom: I know very few writers; and fewer that write fiction. My friends are mostly musicians from an earlier time when I played in a band. It’s a such a great community, though. At the heart of it, creating is all the same thing, and they are my allies. They understand the frustration when something isn’t working, they get the excitement of new ideas. And I’m constantly thankful for the support and energy they bring.
Happy: Which book are you currently reading?
Tom: I’m currently reading ‘Pilgrimage’, by Dorothy Richardson. She’s a pioneer of stream of consciousness writing and the Pilgrimage series is a semi-autobiographical account of the different stages in the life of main character, Miriam. The whole work is from her perspective, and drifts in and around memories, thoughts, ideas, and opinions. It’s awesome stuff.
Happy: What did you read or watch growing up that fuelled your passion for storytelling?
Tom: Virginia Woolf’s work opened my eyes to expressing different perspectives, her insights into characters’ inner lives. I often found her articulating thoughts and observations I’d had, but had never been able to think coherently—as though she understood my own consciousness better than I did.
Happy: What did you read or watch last that opened your eyes and mind to a new perspective?
Tom: I thought Paul Beatty’s ‘The Sellout’ was incredible. So so funny and yet using that satire to bring to light systemic issues that are as prevalent here in Australia as they are in the US.
Happy: What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
Tom: When I’m not writing, I’m playing the piano. It is the thing I love to do most; particularly inching through pieces that are well beyond my ability. Somehow I find it incredibly meditative: stumbling painstakingly through a few bars. One day I will spend lots of time practising and become amazing; but for now, my partner will have to deal with the sputter of notes that come from the music room.
Happy: If you had a first date book list, what would it be?
Tom: Mrs. Dalloway is my favourite book. I’ve read it many times, and each time, there’s always some new insight I’ve overlooked, something new that resonates. I’m certain I’ll read it many more times.
Electric and Mad and Brave (Pan Macmillan) is out now via all good booksellers.