Gail Jones - author of A Guide to Berlin

Author Q&As

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


A Guide to Berlin is short story by Vladimir Nabokov, written in 1925, in Russian, when he was a 26 year old exile in the city. It is a modest, tender and deeply strange story about everyday life, and was one of the prompts for me to consider my own sense of the city. My book of that title is thus an oblique tribute; it is a contemporary novel about six foreigners meeting in Berlin, exchanging stories. They form friendships and intimacies on the basis of the tales they exchange, and on their shared experiences of being outsiders to the city. Each has a personal passion for the work of Vladimir Nabokov; but so the novel explores the idea of a literary pretext to our lives, the ways in which our reading informs and constitutes us, directs our imagining, and helps identify our affections. I lived in Berlin in 2014, and discovered my apartment was a few streets from where Nabokov had lived when he wrote his story. So this was a personal experiment in imagining and exploring literary connections.
Do you use your own experiences when writing?


Yes, inevitably. This doesn’t mean all my writing has an autobiographical base, but I recognize the ways in which one’s self infiltrates the text, the conscious and unconscious choice of subjects and ideas, and the way tiny details of life appear, relocated and mysteriously transfigured in writing. 

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


This is an almost impossible question for me to answer. I read a great deal and believe influence is subtle and perpetual. Even books one dislikes have an influence, of course. But in terms of fiction writers as exemplars I will here cite just a few Australians: Patrick White and David Malouf are central – along with many of our wonderful women writers: Christina Stead, Shirley Hazzard, Henry Handel Richardson,  Dorothy Hewett, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Eleanor Dark and Barbara Hanrahan. 
Do you have a message for aspiring writers?
I shall quote Susan Sontag: “What must a writer do? A writer must love language, agonize over sentences, and pay attention to the world.”
How and where do you write?
Everywhere, but I prefer exceptionally plain rooms, not necessarily my own, with a window open to the world.


Do you have a lucky writing charm?
Black pens.


Can you tell us what you are working on now?
Reading, not writing. All part of the process.