For those unfamiliar with your novel Preincarnate, how would you describe it?
It’s a time-travel murder mystery. Not so much a ‘who-dunnit’ as a ‘why-dunnit’. And because time travel is involved, our hero also gets a chance to prevent his own murder – so, potentially, it’s a ‘no-one-dunnit’.
You have written, “I think the thing that appealed to me most about the premise to Preincarnate was not so much being reborn in an earlier body, but being able to prevent your own death.” Could you give us an overview of the process you went through writing Preincarnate?
It was a long process of plotting the story (2 years) and then creating the characters to inhabit it (1 year). Then came the fun part of actually writing it (2 more years) and then the un-fun part of re-writing (18 months) and the re-shuffling of the chapters to tell the story in a way that complemented the idea of popping forwards and backwards in time (6 months). Then the pleasure of signing off on the illustrations and design.
In your interviews on Preincarnate, you have mentioned Puckoon by Spike Milligan as a major literary influence for you. What is it that makes Puckoon stand out?
I think, in retrospect, it is the strong narrative voice of Milligan. I like the way his characters argue with him.
What were the most significant differences writing a novel as opposed to writing a comedy sketch, or did you find it much the same but longer?
Yes, longer – but also, I think it’s a different set of muscles. I have been saying that I’m used to sprints and the book was more like a marathon, but I think it’s more different than that: I think writing sketches is like jogging for a bus and that writing a book is a like swimming the Channel.
You have played a range of funny characters, from Milo Kerrigan to Nobby Doldrums, David McGahan, Roger Explosion, a version of yourself on The Micallef P(r)ogram(me), Quentin Welcher, and more. Who do you consider to be one of the funniest characters in written fiction and what makes this character so hilarious to you?
I’m torn. It has to be a contest between Ignatius Reilly in Confederacy of Dunces and Mr Pooter in Diary of a Nobody. Both are funny to me because of their self-delusion. To me, that is always funny. And I guess all the characters I’ve played in my own work tend to severely over estimate their charm, sense of humour and ability. Maybe this is true of all good comedy characters.
What do you consider to be most important to great comedy writing?
I think a strong narrative voice. The attitude of the person telling the story needs to be very clear – even if he or she isn’t editorialising.
Which other Australian comedian or celebrity would you most like to see try their hand at written fiction and why?
I’d like to read some fiction by Tony Martin. His two volumes of memoirs are beautifully written and very funny.
Do you read much Australian fiction, and do you have some favourites?
You know, apart from Colin Thiele’s February Dragon in Grade 5, I don’t think I’ve read ANY Australian fiction.
You have said that you do not intend to write another novel, but do you think you will do any more written fiction, such as short stories?
Oh yes, I love writing. I’d like to write much more. I probably will do another book one day but I expect it’ll be in a very different style to Preincarnate.
More on Shaun Micallef and his work can be found at www.shaunmicallef.com.
The Australian Literature Review