John Birmingham: techno-thriller writer with totes integrity

Queensland writer John Birmingham landed yesterday, losing his luggage with Virgin Blue, to promote his new book After America, which I can’t tell you anything about because I haven’t got around to reading it yet.

Reliable sources at an allegedly booked-out gathering upstairs in the Woden Public Library last night say it is a decent post-apocalyptic page turner.

Looking at the stripy shirted and stripy jumpered, grey-haired geek columnist in jeans under fluorescent lights, it wasn’t hard to conceive he’d be capable of producing a plethora of disaster-movie-style alternate universes.

Mr Birmingham has that crazy look in his eye.

While most of the Woden Library event attendees were obviously fans of his longer-written works, it was clear that many were also internet nerds like me who follow Mr Birmingham on twitter, where he prolifically documents his life, thoughts and lines from his novels.

So it was very nice when he gave a shout out to the “social-cripples” he’d dragged away from their “piles of pizza boxes”.

“Human contact’s a nice thing,” he reminded us, crediting the tweeps who helped him with research and feedback for his work – including those he raced with deadlines.

“Mostly because I’m awesome, I beat them.”

Mr Birmingham told a crowd of fanboys and girls how he transitioned from sharehouse non-fiction He Died with a Felafel in his Hand to serious writer Leviathan and paperback thriller with Weapons of Choice.

Apparently, when Felafel came out no one would stock it, Birmingham describes shoving free copies into strange sharehouse letterboxes in hope of getting traction before a stage play initiated the book’s Aussie cult status.

“Like Frankenstein’s monster Felafel got off the slab and went out to terrorise people in the night.”

With a bit of dignity and a lot of hardcore research Mr Birmingham wrote Leviathan: the Unauthorised Biography of Sydney, scribbling out on the side what he describes as a “fun book”, “the dumbest book in the world” – Weapons of Choice.

Of course, the Americans loved it and he has since embarked on a new career as a techno-thriller writer.

Being a young woman from Hobart, I had to ask where the Tasmanian Babes Fiasco fitted into Mr Birmingham’s quest for integrity.

Describing the wholesome lack of integrity displayed in his wiretap research for Felafel, the writer explained that Tasmanian Babes was actually the leftover bits of his masterpiece.

Written in five weeks using Quark Express and submitted for publication on floppy disc, Felafel suffered from a minor disaster the night before going to print, resulting in the accidental deletion of an entire chapter.

This chapter and the other stories Birmingham’s friends and flatmates told him ended up being The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco, which I first read in the Hobart public library when it was published in 1997.

At the end, Mr Birmingham signed my unread copy of After America, “For Eleri Mai, I have totes integrity, John Birmingham”.

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