7th November, 2022

In conversation with BOTY shortlisted author Patrick Lenton

Sexy Tales of Paleontology (Subbed In) is a laugh-out-loud delight. This anthology is full of surprises: stories that demonstrate a wicked sense of humour and a keen eye towards contemporary celebrity culture, and the performances that play out in our daily lives. Patrick Lenton uses the short story to experiment with the absurd realities of modernity.’

—BOTY 2022 judging panel

We asked Patrick some questions about his book Sexy Tales of Paleontology, one of the shortlisted titles for the 2022 SPN Book of the Year Award. The award ceremony will take place on 25 November, and will feature readings from Patrick and the other shortlisted authors.

To book a ticket to the BOTY award ceremony, click here. All the shortlisted books will be available for purchase at the Independent Publishing Conference and at the BOTY award ceremony, through our conference bookseller, Readings. They can also be ordered through the Readings website.

To book a ticket to the BOTY award ceremony, click here.

Q: How did this collection come together? Would you say you had the idea for a collection in mind first, and then you started writing stories to fit that collection, or was it the individual stories that came first and that you later grouped together into a collection?

A: Unlike with my other two books, which began as collections of stories I’d already written and then grouped under a loose theme, Sexy Tales of Paleontology began with a concept: the absurdity of heartbreak, and how to understand it. Once I had that idea—motivated by living through my own big drama heartbreak—I started methodically exploring it through different stories, with the intent of bundling them all together in a book once I was finished. That said, there are a couple of stories that I took from other projects and re-wrote to fit in with the book.

Q: Can you talk a bit about your time as a performer with the Sexy Tales Comedy Collective and how that inspired your writing?

A: The Sexy Tales Comedy Collective was an indie theatre company I started when I left university. Together we wrote and toured and performed three comedic plays/musicals around Australia, mostly at comedy and fringe festivals, and even picked up a couple of awards. The first play was called Sexy Tales of Paleontology, and the story from my book is an update of that story. What I found writing and producing these plays was a delight in ‘sketch comedy’ format and sensibility ported into new mediums, as well as quick and humorous dialogue. Both things feature heavily in the Sexy Tales of Paleontology book.

Q: ‘Boatjack’ is the longest story in the collection. What was the process like for writing it?

A: ‘Boatjack’ was originally written as a novella, and was shortlisted for both the Seizure Viva La Novella Prize and the Griffith Novella Project. I then decided to expand it into a novel-sized project, which I did, and then realised it was much better as a novella (I was told by a few publishers that the expanded novel was ‘very funny’ but also ‘too weird to ever sell’), so I cut it back down. The ‘Boatjack’ in the book is vastly different to its original novella form, condensing the themes and plot of the entire book into one even shorter story. It’s kind of like boiling down a pot of soup into stock or something.

Q: ‘Homing Pigeon’ is the shortest story in the collection—just a paragraph long. What was the process like for writing such a short piece? Was it any more or less challenging than writing a full-length piece?

A: Microfictions like ‘Homing Pigeon’ are a really fun challenge as a writer, and a great exercise for condensing a narrative down to its absolute essentials. What I learned when I was studying sketch writing in the US is that a sketch has to work in a summarised couple of lines to be truly funny, and it’s often something I do when I’m writing stories as a way of trying to work out what I’m trying to say, or where the humour is. ‘Homing Pigeon’ was originally conceived as a longer story, but when I wrote the three-line summary, I enjoyed its simplicity and sparseness.

Q: Which story was the most fun to write?

A: One of my favourite things to write is snappy, chewy, hyperbolised dialogue—so ‘Together’, the story of two horrible 1920s lesbians and their twangy voices, was extremely fun to write.

Q: Which story was the most difficult to write?

A: ’43 Rats’ took me the longest to write, because it was attempting to capture a difficult feeling about being queer, and having to battle people’s perceptions and expectations. When it comes to queerness, and being gay, and coming out narratives, I never felt like I fit properly into that, and much like the character, was also assumed to be something that I didn’t relate to. Metaphors!!!

Q: Your writing is hilarious but there’s often an undercurrent of sadness and poignancy below the surface. Is it a challenge to ensure each piece has an emotional heart as well as being funny, or do you think it’s something that comes naturally?

A: The reason I write short stories/ literature, and not jokes for TV or comedy sketches, is because I love the light and dark of wrapping something sad and real and true and bitter in the sweetness and silliness of absurd comedy. I think it often makes things more profound than if we are just delivered tragedy straight up. It’s almost like a trick.

Q: Are you working on any new projects right now that you’d like people to know about?

A: I’m currently writing a book of creative non-fiction essays about the horror and beauty of being in your twenties, of coming of age, of discovering your queerness, and just doing really weird stuff – all set in the Faculty of Creative Arts where I made the mistake of studying creative writing. Like all my writing, it’s going to be real issues and experiences, wrapped up in absurdity and comedy. I’ve also written a romance book which I’m looking to find a home for! I just unabashedly love love.

Patrick Lenton is an author and journalist from Melbourne. He is the author of A Man Made Entirely of Bats (Spineless Wonders), Uncle Hercules and Other Lies (Subbed In), and Sexy Tales of Paleontology (Subbed In). His writing has been featured in The Best Australian Stories, The Best Australian Comedy Writing, Growing Up Queer In Australia, and journals like Kill Your Darlings, Going Down Swinging, Scum Magazine, and more. He is the deputy arts and culture editor at The Conversation, and a freelance writer with regular bylines in The Guardian, The Age/Sydney Morning Herald, Junkee, and more.

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