email a friend iconprinter friendly iconThe Life: Richard Flanagan
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A: You and your old kayaking partner were known as the "Suicide Twins." Tell us about the time you two tried to kayak across the Bass Strait.

RF: We had a friend getting married in Sydney but had no money to get there. So we thought we’d just kayak from Tasmania, even though we had never been sea kayaking before. We built these two kayaks really cheap and set out at four o’clock in the morning, in only shorts and T-shirts. By 11 a.m. we were caught in a force 9 gale. Luckily, we were picked up at dusk. But I’m not such a wild man anymore.

A: One might say your novels swim against the current too. Your narratives meander across oceans, centuries, and generations. How did you adapt that winding structure to a more linear medium like film?

RF: It was certainly a technical challenge. A novel is a cosmos. I grew up in a great big extended family, one of six kids, with 51 first cousins. They all told stories, marvelous stories that digressed and never really began and never really ended; time wasn’t something you measured. So I’ve adopted that idea in my novels, but films are short stories. They have a handful of characters and a very simple plot. I had to realize that you can’t admit much beyond that or the film’s structure will collapse.

A: You’ve given well-publicized speeches to stop clear-cutting in Tasmania. What’s happening with your campaign?

RF: The deforestation continues with gusto. It’s madness. The loggers clear-cut forests that are unique to the planet, destroying thousand-year-old trees to make a few men richer. It seems to be due to political corruption. Hobart was swathed in smoke for a whole month this year from the burn-offs. I am an activist only because I do not think I could sleep at night if I wasn’t.

A: Now that Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Productions has bought the rights to your 2006 novel, The Unknown Terrorist, will you be spending more time in Hollywood?

RF: I doubt it. There are so many beautiful places on this Earth I still have yet to see, and that interests me far more than a big career in Hollywood. Baz wants me to write another film with him, though, and that’s a different matter. People I like, I like working with, but I’ll do it my way: at my shack, around people and places I love.

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