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“Luke likes order and control, I like chaos and mess,” said David Michôd, director of the multi award-winning film, Animal Kingdom. He was referring to the writer extraordinaire sitting beside him: Luke Davies, one of the most frequently recurring names in this year’s Sydney Writer’s Festival program.

Davies, Luke c Carla Choy.jpg (Image: Carla Choy)

And so it began, an hour-long conversation between two very different (but also very similar) friends on their respective lives, their relationships with literature, and their involvement in film. So easily did the words flow, it felt like the audience were privy to a dinner party conversation between the pair – a mood not entirely impossible, considering they share a house in Los Angeles.
Michôd spoke about his first plunge into the ether of literature but unlike Davies’ experiences, it was distinct for the great strain it caused rather than the great pleasure. “I wanted to be the kind of guy who read Nausea,” Michôd admitted. It was only until he read Lolita that Michôd began to enjoy reading, and the desire to evoke a similar experience in others through his own creative work was born.
Davies cited this same compulsion – to prompt a response from a reader – for his career choice. The award-winning poet’s first moment of literary discovery was at age 13 with great American novelist, John Steinbeck. “Steinbeck was the door but Faulkner was like stepping into a palace... I had an awareness of an absolute moment of change in my life.”
Michôd quizzed Davies on his earlier work and his writing process. Davies spoke about the spirit of remembering bad first drafts or poems of his youth. “I had the safety blanket of delusion. I thought the stuff that I was writing was really good,” Davies laughed. Although admitting the flaws of his earlier work, he is in fact republishing some of his earlier poems in a reprint of his 1982 work, Four Plots For Magnets, a collection he first published while in the 3rd year of his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Sydney.
Michôd told the audience that his life had altered dramatically in the last few years, what with the explosive success of Animal Kingdom (it won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival), and the subsequent “new life of stress” amongst the flurry of Hollywood hype. Michôd managed, as Davies pointed out, to avoid succumbing to filmic temptations and has made the film he wanted to in his latest work The Rover, featuring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson, due for release this year.
The talk gradually moved to the battle with drug addiction won out eventually by both speakers. “In some ways, drug use was fuelling my creative source ... but then I realised that all it was, was a restraining bolt,” said Michôd. Davies agreed, “It was the great darkness.... you just can’t use a lot of drugs and get stuff done.” He drew a positive comparison between the biblical Garden of Eden with its forbidden fruit and the life he has now, without drugs and said, “Life has been literally magnificent, every day is a bonus.”
Both Michôd and Davies’ works either touch upon or focus heavily on issues of substance abuse. Speaking on his work Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction, Davies said: “What was better than any literary critic was when someone read my book and said, ‘Wow, I gotta do something about this’.”
The feeling of audience intrusion into a private conversation resurfaced when Michôd and Davies spoke about each other’s careers from their own perspectives. The short film, Crossbow, was the moment that changed Michôd’s life according to Davies. In response, Michôd said, “I read Candy when I was basically living it.”
Amongst all the sentiment, the pair did not shy from teasing each other’s idiosyncrasies. Michôd gleefully divulged Davies “Asperger’s level” obsession with America and American football, among other OCD tendencies. Davies recounted the time when, as a young boy, he forced 30 handpicked classmates to reenact his fantasy of an American football game, complete with pillows as shoulder pads and motorbike helmets for head protection. Davies’ American dream was fulfilled when he was 36 years old. “It was amazing... I like America now in a different way, – it’s great and greatly fallen,” he explained, quoting The Iliad, as all good literary minds are prone to do.
Not one to leave the discussion one-sided, Davies happily made the audience aware of Michôd’s refusal to eat anything but a banana for breakfast. Almost ridiculously, Michôd linked his fussiness to a way of life. He said, “It’s all about working out what’s good for you,” he said, “and I worked out that banana is king,” prompting giggly outbursts from the crowd.
Earlier in the event, I noted that Michôd asked Davies whether he always assumed he was going to be a writer. Without a moment’s hesitation, Davies replied in the affirmative. In and amongst all the playfulness and shared experiences, there was this clear passion, dedication and respect for the creative process which, I feel, resonated with all of those who witnessed the conversation between these two vivid and captivating creative minds.


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