TBI Q&A: Bill Direen

Bill Direen - photo by Sandra Bianciardi.
Words and music are inseparably connected for writer and musician Bill Direen.“Stories don’t have


Words and music are inseparably connected for writer and musician Bill Direen.
“It’s really a matter of sound rather than music, and language rather than words. Communication verbal and sonic. Stories don’t have to tell stories, they can conjure narratives. That is what I try to do.”

Direen presented some songs and spoke in conversation about his latest novel Enclosures, with classical scholar Ted Jenner, at the Going West Books and Writers Weekend.

“This keeps the writing alive, to communicate it to people in a live situation.”

In this QnA, Direen also talks about his Michael King Writers’ Centre residency and upcoming projects.

During what hours of the day do you feel most inspired?

I find walking is good for the thoughts at any hour. A little isolation is good at any time. Every hour has its wonder. Every hour can wear you out.

How would a good friend describe your aesthetic or style?

I don’t know. Possibly in terms I would not like.

What aspect of your creative practice gives you the biggest thrill?

Honest feedback.

How does your environment affect your work?

It’s important for me to have a quiet place where I can think and make noise (!) or writings.

Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on the details?

One should be able to be felt in the other.

What's your number one business tip for surviving (and thriving) in the creative industries?


Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?

The one I am working in the present.

You describe yourself as obsessed with both words and music – how are you trying to break down the distinction between them?

I’m not trying to break down the distinction, sorry if I gave that impression. It’s just that words and music are inseparably connected for me. It’s really a matter of sound rather than music, and language rather than words. Communication verbal and sonic. Stories don’t have to tell stories, they can conjure narratives. That is what I try to do. There is a conscious element and an intuitive element. The conscious element requires hard work, the intuitive element has to be kept in check.

Tell us a bit about your residency at the Michael King Writers’ Centre.

It has offered me a place to work which is ideal. The connection with the University has meant I have come in contact with creative students. I am amazed by their energy and sense of discovery. Lisa Samuels, who runs the creative writing courses there,  is a really good teacher. As for the project I am working on, it is a collection of related texts that hopefully hold together as some thing in itself. This will be published by West Auckland publisher Titus Books in 2011.

What are some of your other current and upcoming projects?

Mastering at Depot Sound, in Devonport, some recordings made in Europe when I was there. The two albums will be released in late October and early November on New Lynn’s Powertool Records. The first album is home recordings. I am dedicating it to a friend from Christchurch who died ten years ago this year. The other is a batch of spontaneous recordings made with musicians from four countries, in an art gallery in Berlin.

What will you be reading (and singing) at the Writers Weekend?

I will be saying some texts from my current writing. This keeps the writing alive, to communicate it to people in a live situation. I will be speaking in conversation about aspects of my last novel Enclosures, with Ted Jenner, a scholar (and a gentleman). And I will be presenting a couple of songs with the help of musicians who have played in the group Bilders.

What are your thoughts on this year's theme ‘Right Word, Right Place, Right Time’?

I interpret that according to my need for care and dedication in seeking to use language well, to have a workable studio space and to manage time and behaviour so that fun does not destroy my mind, and work does not prevent me from having fun.

Who or what has inspired you recently?

In the last few weeks I read Dante’s Paradiso and found it inspirational. I enjoyed Samuel Butler’s A First Year in Canterbury Settlement. I was not as taken with J.M.G.Le Clézio’s The Book of Flights as I thought I would be.  I really enjoyed rereading W.H.Auden’s monologue with the voice of Caliban, some Robin Hyde poems and the wealth of research and considered opinion in the oeuvre of Michael King. My 88 year old father’s good humour and resilience when I spoke to him in Christchurch the morning of the Quake.

If you could go back and choose a completely different career path to the one you've chosen, what would it be?

Strange you should ask that. I was thinking this morning about a time, I was perhaps 18, and drinking a beer in a bar in Greymouth after working for a time in a particle board factory, and a fisherman offered me a job on his boat. If I hadn’t been such a bad swimmer I might have taken it. I was wondering just this morning whether I might have made a good fisherman.

What place is always with you, wherever you go?

My heart.

What's the best way to listen to music, and why?

Fresh is best. I suffer quite a lot from noise fatigue, and then the volume starts creeping up. Fresh is best for everything of course, reading too.

You are given a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. What do you make?

Sorry I’d have to be given them in the right situation to know that.

What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?

Breathe in deeply. Breathe out.

What's great about today?

Please don’t take no reply as a negative. What’s great is perhaps greater than I can say.

What’s great about Going West 2010? 

This is my first Going West Festival, but I went to the venue last weekend to see the space and met some of the people organising it. The last festival I read at in Auckland was the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival in the Hyatt by the Waterfront. Going West seems warm and easy-going by comparison, the organisers seem not to be under the same pressures as the (admirable) team running the international festival.

What’s your big idea for 2011?

To get through it without tripping myself up.

Further information:

The Going West 2010 Books and Writers Weekend is on from September 10-12 in West Auckland.

An hour with Bill Direen
Saturday September 11 from 4.00–5.00pm
Going West Books and Writers Weekend - Details for Saturday.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

9 Sep 2010

The Big Idea Editor

Come into the mind of New Zealand's newest Prize winner - it's quite the journey.
Lydia Cole. Photo: Dennis Rump.
A music support service has been thrown open to the entire arts industry - we speak to someone who asked for help and came through the other side.
A career of giving back to the community is reflected in pieces of great sentiment in this latest instalment.
Art and Inspiration take on many shapes and sizes. Discover where to look in our House Visits series.