Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Julie Koh
By Yong Shu Hoong
Instead of pondering to death the question "Is satire dead?", it seems that Australian writer Julie Koh would rather think about how to carry on this great art of taking jibes at everything under the sun – with a dash of surrealism tossed in.
"The moment one stops crying and begins to laugh that hard, dark laugh is the moment a satirist is truly born," she writes in 'Satirist Rising', a short story that satirises satirical writing, from her collection, Portable Curiosities (University of Queensland Press, 2016). Incidentally, this book has received praise from reviewers and been shortlisted for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction and the Queensland Literary Awards' Steele Rudd Award.
After studying politics and law at the University of Sydney, Koh worked in corporate law before giving up her career to pursue writing. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies like The Best Australian Stories (2014, 2015 and 2016) and Best Australian Comedy Writing (2016).
In 2016, she published another short-story collection, Capital Misfits, and edited BooksActually's Gold Standard 2016, touted as a "new annual anthology from indie bookstore BooksActually, comprising short fiction by the best cult writers of East Asia, Southeast Asia and the diaspora." Both titles were put out by Math Paper Press in Singapore.
1. What are you reading right now?
2. If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play, or poem, who would you be, and why?
3. What is the greatest misconception about you?
4. Name one living author and one dead author you identify with most, and tell us why.
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
6. What qualities do you admire most in a writer?
7. What is one trait you deplore most in writing or writers?
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I...
10. At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy, or an action thriller to watch, which will you go for, and why?
11. What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
12. Write a short-short story in three lines that include the following three words: "parliament", "house" and "music".
Outside my window, a parliament of owls is playing terrible house music.
"Can it," I say, "or you'll be the next remix."
Swivelling their heads to the beat, they don't give a hoot.
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
14. What is the best time of the day for writing?
15. If you had a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
16. As an Asian-Australian writer, what challenges did you face incorporating satire into your stories in Portable Curiosities (and will this penchant for satire continue in the debut novel you're working on)?
Some readers have struggled to overcome their assumption that fiction must make them deeply emotional and can't just be an intellectual exercise. They assume that fiction with a political message is unsophisticated. I can't help them.
The novel I'm working on is probably satire on a grander scale.
17. What would you write on your own tombstone?