Danny Katz is an author and newspaper columnist who writes for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
He is also the Modern Guru in Good Weekend Magazine and is the author of several children’s books and featured at the Write Around the Murray Festival in Albury during September.
What role does writing play in your life?
Writing is my nine to five job (actually more my nine to five-past-nine job. I work for five minutes then I stop and eat). It’s a very intense job, very lonely, a little weird – I kind of love it, kind of dread it.
It’s more of a lifestyle really: you can never turn your mind off at the end of a day. Everything is a potential line/idea/story and you need to stay alert. Lots of bizarre scribblings on paper scraps. Lots of lost-in-thought mumblings on public transport. Us writers are the train loonies. Pity us.
Where does that passion come from?
I grew up in a story-telling house. My dad is a natural story-teller. A funny one (often unintentionally. Just to look at his head, you have to laugh). So “funny story-telling” was hardwired into me. I’ve always been drawn to it.
Also, it’s the only thing I seemed to be okay at. First I wanted to be a filmmaker, failed at that. Then a writer of stage musicals, failed at that. Tried being a novelist, a scriptwriter, a stand-up comedian. Nope nope nope. So I turned to humorous writing. It was the only thing left.
Humour clearly comes through in your work – how important is that?
It’s the only way I can write. Like an idiot. If I try to write seriously or respectfully, it sounds wrong. Humour allows me to say important stuff without having to be intelligent. It’s a handy device.
Why do you think your Modern Guru column is so popular?
Modern Guru was only supposed to be a 2-week trial in Good Weekend magazine. That was 18 years ago. I think the editor is still wondering when the experiment is going to end.
I really don’t know why people are still reading my advice column. Maybe they like it because somewhere in there, if you dig through all the flippant fluffiness, there’s actually a tiny germ of wisdom. But I mean, tiny.
What are the most unusual topics you’ve covered in your column?
After 2000 columns, I’ve written about pretty much everything. Shoelaces. Neo-Nazis. Croquet cubs. Fidget-spinners. The big stuff.
Newspapers are packed with news and politics and sport so I try to find stuff that nobody else is writing about – usually stories about me. And my family (I have to call my parents twice a week to see if they’re still talking to me)
Why are you passionate about getting young people reading and writing for pleasure?
Kids need to read: get off their techy-devices and look at books and imagine worlds for themselves. But you can’t force a kid to read.
“You can’t occy-strap a book to their face and hold their eyelids open with alligator clips – they don’t like it, I’ve tried with my own kids.”
So my quest is to write stuff that kids actually WANT to read. Stories with variety and humour and even risky ideas. Kid’s books need to be a bit bolder. Keep up with movies and TV and video games and the rest of popular culture. Then when kids start reading for pleasure, the love of writing will follow. Hopefully.