Nick Earls returns as writers festival key speaker


Despite being the author of 26 books with two feature film adaptations, Nick Earls is still a home town guy.

Author Nick Earls
Nick Earls will return to the Brisbane Writers Festival in September, to speak at the event that helped launch his career. Photo: Jared Prestwidge

Known across Australia for his novels 48 Shades of Brown and Zigzag Street, the dry wit that runs through these works extends to the man himself.

His work is often compared with that of J.D. Salinger, Larry David and Woody Allen, which is praise that Earls is always happy to own.

“Why not claim it if it’s thrown my way?” Earls jokes.

“I have had characters who have worn their neurosis on their sleeves.”

Growing up in Brisbane in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Earls remembers the city as an environment almost devoid of creative opportunities.

“It’s the place I grew up wanting to be a writer, but not actually seeing writers because at that time Queensland was a place they tended to leave and write about once they left,” he says.

“So, it wasn’t the ideal environment and happily that’s changed a lot over the last three decades.”

Initially pursuing a career in medicine, Earls had his first work, Passion, published in 1992 at the age of 28.

By then, Brisbane’s literary community had made strides to establish itself, with the Queensland Writers Centre being built in South Brisbane in 1990, along with the annual Brisbane Writers Festival gaining considerable traction.

The Brisbane Writers Festival, which runs from September 6 to 9 this year, is bookmarked by Earls as being especially influential in making him the author he is today.

After Passion tanked, he says he desperately needed a break.

In 1995, after hearing a publisher from Sydney was making an appearance at an event Earls was reading at during the festival, he made a point to make his mark.

“I thought ‘give it everything, pick your best live piece, get her attention’… and I got up and gave it everything,” Earls says.

The publisher approached him the next day and asked to read his manuscript.

That manuscript was published as the novel Zigzag Street in 1996, coinciding with the festival the very next year.

Twenty-three years later, after publishing 26 books, with two of them – Perfect Skin and 48 Shades of Brown – adapted into films and five into plays, the influence of the Brisbane Writers Festival is not lost on him.

“It’s a way of bringing writers from around the world and around the country, and connecting them with their readers and connecting readers who don’t know them with them.

“It offers opportunities for local writers to be programmed along with writers from other places at early stages of their careers.”

Earls is involved in two programs for this year’s festival, one of which is focussed specifically on the growth of upcoming authors.

Acting CEO of the Brisbane Writers Festival, Ann Mclean, says Nick Earls’ experience and passion is inspirational, especially to those coming up the ranks.

“Nick is a massive advocate to all things writing,” she says.

“He’s a hugely supportive, hugely positive influence in Brisbane.

“His work is influential and highly original.”

Brisbane Writers Festival acting CEO Ann Mclean
Ann Mclean says the Brisbane Writers Festival supports emerging talents as well as already established artists. Photo: UPLIT

When discussing his work with younger writers, Earls can’t help but reflect on how much the industry has changed since he began his career.

Brisbane’s literary community has grown exponentially since the 1980s, a movement that Earls was right in the middle of.

“People like me and people of my vintage saw what it was like before, and throughout the 1990s and since have been determined that it never be like that again, and that we create this as an environment into which subsequent generations of writers can grow up reading stories set in their town as though it’s a normal thing, rather than an aberration,” he says.

“What we’ve seen since the 1980s is an evolution so that it’s easier to be a writer and live where you want and be published anywhere.

“The world has changed, technology has changed and publishers have changed.”

And right there, among the things that have changed in Earls’ world, is his home town.

“Brisbane changed… the place seemed to become much more open to having its stories told, even if those stories were contentious or challenging,” he says.

“These are the biggest changes in 500 years.”

Earls says while the rise of the internet has given writers a larger platform on which to publish and promote their work, it has in turn increased the competition.

“The 90s didn’t look easy when we were in them, but they look like a breeze compared to now, and people are reading less,” he says.

Earls says he has a great appreciation for being able to continue to do what he loves, and says adaptability is a major reason for this being the case.

“My idea that I had around 1990 was that if I got published, and if I wrote a few books, and if someone had said to me then in 30 years’ time I’d have nearly 30 books published, I think I would have said by then it would feel like a production line, I would just be churning them out.

“To work out that it’s not like that, that it’s more interesting than that and that every new book is potentially a puzzle I don’t quite know how to solve, and I’ve got to go find the tools to solve it.

“That’s been a great thing to learn.”

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