Author Q&As

Tim Low- author of Where Song Began

Tell us about your latest book – what inspired you to write it?


Australia turns out to have been the most important place on earth for birds, the source of all the world’s songbirds and parrots and many pigeons. All the songsters in an English country garden have Australian ancestors. Dodos had Australian ancestors. The bird-human interactions in Australia are spectacular: the world’s most dangerous birds (cassowaries) wandering through gardens in north Queensland, magpies stabbing eyes, muttonbirding, etc. Australians know they have unique marsupials but the story of the birds has not been properly told.


What do you hope readers will take from your book?


People are losing contact with nature and I am motivated as a writer to try to reverse that, in the hope that Australians will think ecologically, treat nature better and learn to live sustainably. Much of what is special about our birds – intelligence, aggression, sophistication – is evident in any back yard, and my wish is that everyone acknowledge the birds as part of their local community, because life is richer when you do. 


Do you use your own experiences when writing?


I draw on the research of many others, but animate that by bringing in birds I have seen doing what the research says they do, including albatrosses I watched from a ship bound for Antarctica, cassowaries stalking through suburbia, and an ostrich that chased me in Swaziland. Some of my conclusions came from my own observations so these were pivotal to the book, which presents a new framework for understanding Australian birds.


Which author/s or book/s have had the biggest influence on your work?


American nature writer Aldo Leopold showed that a tiny weed, pondered deeply and written about with beauty, can be a powerful topic. The word-perfect prose of J.M. Coetzee motivates me to pursue liquid clarity in every paragraph, though I am no match for him. I greatly enjoy Jane Austin, and feel encouraged by her continued popularity to believe that you needn’t imitate the bluntness of a news bulletin to be relevant in today’s media-ruled times.


Do you have a message for aspiring writers?


Good writing is good thinking, so give yourself more than enough time to think it all through, to get to the story behind the story. Be critical of what you write. If you suspect a paragraph could be improved, don’t stop until it is. Every sentence is important.


How and where do you write? 


I do much of my writing from a one-room stone cabin by a stream in a forest. As I grow older cities increasingly strike me as strange places with priorities I can’t accept as my own, so the cabin is somewhere I feel free to think about what matters. Time slows down and I have black-cockatoos and black snakes coming by to remind me of their priorities.


Do you have a lucky writing charm?


The charm of the natural world inspires me to write. I am lucky to have so much access to it.