Bondi’s Lost Boy – Sam de Brito
During the month The Beast caught up with long term Bondi resident Sam de Brito. De Brito grew up in the Eastern Suburbs and has since forged careers in both journalism and writing. His latest novel, Hello Darkness, hits the shelves on August 1 and it’s well worth a read…
Do you consider yourself to be a Bondi boy?
I moved to Bondi in ’86 and I went to Waverley College, which is up the road in Birrell Street. I was more of a Maroubra boy. I grew up around Kingsford and Maroubra but I went to school with a lot of Bondi boys. Waverley was full of guys whose parents weren’t rich enough to send them to Cranbrook or Scots, so I spent a lot of time around here. But as Ned in The Lost Boys says, I would never call myself a Bondi boy. I’ve lived around the area for twenty years but at the same time I wasn’t at third ramp in 1981, if you know what I mean.
So are you a Rabbitohs supporter?
Yeah, where I grew up in Kingsford I lived about 400 metres from Souths Juniors Leagues Club and all my mates who were from around there were leaguies. I wasn’t a big league fan as a kid. I was quite studious but I also did a lot of drugs. I was into my surfing and I only really became a Souths supporter once I reached adulthood.
Bondi’s obviously changed a lot over the years; do you think it’s changed for the better or the worse?
It’s hard to say. I think Bondi has always polarised people. When you couldn’t walk past the Astra without having a long-neck thrown at you by a Maori dude I’m sure people would say this is a step up from those days, but I think a lot of the guys who have lived here a long time feel like strangers in their own suburb because of the influx of money. But at the same time I think a lot of them enjoy it too. They go away then they come back and realise that there is a vibrancy in Bondi that you don’t get in other suburbs, especially in other beach suburbs. You don’t have the clashes of culture and the vibe that you’ve got here in places like Maroubra or Manly or Palm Beach. Bondi’s very unique in that respect. I love Bondi for what it is and for what it was it’s a special place. It’s about the beach and it’s about the landscape and it’s about the water, and people are drawn to that. When you see those pictures of all the old Model T cars blackening the promenade and people wading in to the water in their clothes, I’m sure there were plenty of wankers back then and the locals used to sit back and go “Have a look at these kooks” or “Oh God, it’s unbearable here on the weekends”. So I think Bondi will always attract that influx of flockers but it’s a great place. I love it.
What do you love about Bondi and the Eastern Beaches?
I think geographically it’s stunning. Looking out at the cliffs and the waves and the water, it’s amazing. And friends; I love that I have friends here and I have contacts and I have memories and I feel comfortable. It’s always great knowing the quickest route to get to the bottle o or to get to your mate’s place and when you’ve been running the same rat route since you were on your Ps, there’s a sort of comfort level there. Bondi attracts a lot of interesting people too. Some of them are wankers, some of them are drug dealers, some of them are crooks, some of them are bludgers, some of them are top blokes and knockabouts. You get all types here and you’re always surprised by who you meet at the pub.
What don’t you like?
What don’t I like about Bondi? The parking. There’s not a lot that shits me about Bondi. The parking and how much my rent is are about the only things. But I even accept that as part of the popularity of the place. I really do love it.
Bondi’s got a beautiful facade but every month there seems to be a new, big, ugly development going in; does that concern you or do you just see it as progress?
I think it’s partly progress. I think there are a lot of ugly developments in Bondi already that could be torn down – look at the Swiss Grand for Christ’s sake. And you’ve got to say that the development where Michael Clarke bought, that’s an improvement on the motel that was there before. So some developments I agree with. Bondi’s had a history of really bad development but I do think that there should be something done to retain those beautiful art deco beachfront properties. The problem is that they’re so full of concrete cancer and it’s very unfair to force people to pay for other people’s eyeball pleasure. It’s a vexed question.
You’re currently living in Manly; how long have you been over there for?
How did you end up living over there?
I moved over there because my partner got pregnant and she wanted to be closer to her family who live over there.
For those readers from the Eastern Suburbs who have never lived over there, what’s it like living on the other side of the bridge?
I call Manly the Central Coast with parking meters. It’s not my cup of tea. When you get off the ferry at Manly there’s this seashell sculpture that looks like something that Mr Whippy would extrude and it’s got a mist coming off it – the locals call it the steaming dog turd and that to me is the symbol of Manly. It’s got a lot of good points but I haven’t seen a black person in two years and the only Asian people I see own the newsagents. So I miss the cultural diversity. Even though Bondi is pretty white, there’s still a lot more cultural diversity here than there is on the northern beaches.
So when are you moving back to Bondi?
I’ll be back in Bondi on the 4th of July, Independence Day. By the time people read this I’ll be living in Bondi again.
How much has your life changed since you became a father, because a lot of your writing over the years has been about the single life?
Well, I am single again now. I’ve separated from my partner. I can’t say that my life has changed too much because I’ve always been a moderately conscientious person. I’m not one to go out and destroy myself on the piss and drugs so my lifestyle hasn’t changed a whole hell of a lot. I guess my purpose in life has changed quite a bit because I now look at my future through the eyes of my daughter and I want my daughter to enjoy benefits that can accrue from my hard work and I want her to be a happy person and I want her to be proud of who her father is. So that pulls you back a little bit sometimes. I’ve started to see my actions through the eyes of my daughter.
In your blog you talk about yourself as being a bit of a womaniser; now that you’re a dad has that all gone out the window?
Well put it this way, I haven’t been with anybody since my ex partner and I split up more than seven months ago. It’s not a priority in my life. The person in my blog and the person in my columns is a persona. It seems like all you’ve got to do is to have had five girlfriends to be considered a womaniser, you know. I’ve had a lot of girlfriends in my life but I wouldn’t consider myself a womaniser. I definitely want to get back into the dating scene but it’s going to be done with a very, very steady eye because of who I will be bringing into my daughter’s life. I’ll definitely be more cautious.
Do you think you’re a good dad?
Are you learning a lot?
I am learning a lot. The thing that I’m learning the most is that you can choose how connected or switched on you are. I see my daughter three times a week and I take her to the cafe and I sit there with her and I can’t talk to her yet because she’s only 16 months old but I can choose whether to read the newspaper or not. And people always say, “Do you want to catch up? Bring your daughter along,” and I make excuses because frankly I don’t want to talk to other people while I’m with my daughter. I want to spend the time with her. I take her home and she starts crawling around the house and I can either crawl around the house with her or I can sit on my computer emailing people. So I choose to connect with her. I choose to get down on the ground and crawl with her and when she goes up the hallway I want to see things that she’s seeing. So, yeah, in that regard I do think I’m a good father but I don’t think you will meet many dads who say they’re not good fathers. I guess she will be the judge of that in about twenty years time.
Are you at all worried about your daughter jumping on the Internet when she’s a bit older and reading about all your exploits?
I hope that she will know me well enough and that we’ll have a relationship that’s open enough that I can explain to her the reasons why I wrote about the things that I did. I’ve never written about anything to be exploitative or for sensationalist value. I’ve written about them because they were the things that were consuming me at the time or the things that concerned me at the time. It’s a conversation that we’ll definitely have to have.
At what age are you going to make your daughter read No Tattoos Before You’re Thirty?
I’d say she’d pick it up when she’s about 10, maybe 8. She’s pretty cluey. I won’t have much trouble with her reading any of that. Drugs is going to be the most vexed conversation we have, because I really don’t know what to tell her about drugs just yet. I’ve done enough of them in my life but I think back to myself as a 15 year old pulling bongs and it makes me sad what I was doing to my brain and I don’t want her to do that.
How did your career get started?
I started as a cadet on the Daily Telegraph in 1986 and then I went to New York when I was 21. I wrote for a sleazy tabloid magazine over there for three or four years and when I came back I got out of journalism altogether and I wanted to get into film making so I wrote scripts for Water Rats and Stingers and what not. Then I wrote No Tattoos when I was 36 and somebody on the Herald read it and they offered me the blog, but I’d been in and out of journalism during that time. So then the blog kicked off but I was also writing my novel at the same time. I’ve always written fiction but I never really completed anything until I was desperate enough in my mid 30s.
One of the first things I thought when I read The Lost Boys was that it would make a good film. Was that inherent in your thinking when you were writing it or were you just writing a book?
I was just writing a book. I was just writing the things that me and my mates talk about and laugh about. I just wanted to write a book that reflected the world I knew. Yeah, it would make a great movie except the character is three different ages, which is really hard to cast.
I read an article in Stab magazine titled ‘Success’ that featured your good self. Do you consider yourself to be successful and, if not, what is success?
It’s weird because a lot of people on my blog or on Twitter will refer to me in that way. I guess success for me is having a beach house but in another regard I get to get up every morning and do what I want and I enjoy what I do. I don’t own my own house so that’s something that I would like for the security of my family and when I can do that I guess I’ll consider myself more of a success. I don’t really know how to answer that question. I consider myself fortunate and I’m very grateful for everything I have.
You come across in your blogs as quite self deprecating and sometimes even borderline depressive; are you proud of the work you produce?
That’s the thing with writing as often as I have. I’ve probably written more than 1,200 blog posts and hundreds of columns so when you write over that period of time and with that regularity you go through different seasons, but I’m proud of a lot of the stuff I’ve written. Some of it has had less effort put into it, which happens with everyone’s work. Some days you have off days. Pretty much everything I’ve written I stand by and I’ve written some pretty contentious things. I don’t write shit to get a reaction. I write shit because it’s how I feel. I’ve suffered from depression and sometimes that’s been reflected in my work.
Do you get many people coming up to you in the street and commenting about things you’ve written in your blog? Are you recognisable?
Most people in Manly can’t read and they think I’m Jamie Lyon or the Chief (Paul Harragon). When I go out in the city I get it because I think I’ve got a lot of office workers as readers but people don’t really talk to me about what I’ve written. They just go “(talks incomprehensibly) g’day” because they’re pissed.
Can you tell us a bit about your new book, Hello Darkness?
I guess the substance of it is it’s a love story but it follows the main character, Ned, from my previous novel, The Lost Boys, as he somewhat gets his shit together and returns to the world of journalism. It’s set on a fictional Sunday newspaper but it’s definitely not trying to show the glitzy, glittering, fast paced world of journalism. It’s journalism, I believe, as it truly is. Hello Darkness is about the mediocrity of journalism, all the toilers and the people who struggle to get a story on the front page. And it’s the way I see a lot of the machinations behind the news. I guess ‘Hello Darkness’ is about what happens when someone who doesn’t really give a shit about their job is responsible for what goes in the newspaper.
Is it as amusing and confronting as The Lost Boys?
I think there’s some confronting stuff in it. My publisher and my agent think it’s funnier than The Lost Boys. It’s not as dark but there is a definite theme of darkness through it because the character comes to terms with his own humour and his own character and he has some epiphanies about his own self destructiveness.
How much of you is in the main protagonist, Ned Jelli?
Ned’s a lot of my worst days knitted together. I always find flawed characters more interesting than shining knights. But I have far more good days than I have bad days so Ned is kind of a caricature of my dark side and that’s the beauty of fiction, you let yourself run. You can take a seed and then you let it grow and you push it out there. Human beings are far more balanced than literary creations. Ned is a series of characteristics that I’ve chosen to write about. As I always say to people, I could have written The Sunny Boys rather than The Lost Boys and it would have been all the funny stories. It would have been the good times and the great waves and the hot chicks and the funny parties. ‘Hello Darkness’ is about being stuck in a job that you don’t really like and that’s the majority of people, and even though it’s in the media, Ned doesn’t particularly like the job. Ned’s like everybody else; he’s stuck in a job he doesn’t like and he’s trying to find someone; he wants to fall in love. So that’s essentially what the book’s about and that to me is more interesting than writing a book about a guy who’s got a perfect girlfriend and loves his job. I’d be bored after f**king two pages reading that.
Did any of the stories within The Lost Boys hit too close to home for anyone?
Did you lose any friends over it or did they understand?
I think the distance between myself and one friend definitely opened up after the book but that distance was already there. That was pretty much the only case where that happened.
Do you recommend that people read The Lost Boys before reading Hello Darkness or does it stand alone?
Hello Darkness stands alone. You can definitely pick it up and read it because it’s a more mature book. It’s still got lots of ‘f**ks’ and ‘shits’ and swearing and boys’ own language in it but I’ve tried to raise the tone a little bit at the same time.
Should people go and buy The Lost Boys anyway?
F**k yeah, do it. If you like The Lost Boys you’ll love Hello Darkness and if you like Hello Darkness I dare say you will enjoy The Lost Boys.
When does Hello Darkness hit the shelves?
August 1. You can get it from Dymocks and all other good bookstores that remain in business.
As a writer, what are your thoughts on the demise of bookstores and are you anticipating that digital sales could possibly exceed physical sales of Hello Darkness?
It’s sort of that transition time. It’s hard to see how the beast will develop. Of course I’m sad to see bookstores go but I think people will always buy books. I do think that digital sales are the future and that things like iPads, iPads and Kindles are going to be where people do a lot of their reading but I don’t think you can beat the written word. I love watching movies, I love watching good TV but I think the written word is still where the majority of our stories come from.
Do you own an iPad or a Kindle?
I just bought an iPad.
Have you ever read a book on one?
No, I just bought one in order to see how it works and I’m waiting for those cock suckers up at Bondi Junction to get it in. I bought it two weeks ago and I still haven’t received it. I want to see if I can do it, if I can enjoy it. I did have one of those Kobo readers from Borders but it just sucked a bag of dicks.
Are you happy with how Hello Darkness has turned out?
Hello Darkness started out as a very different book but because of various personal reasons I had to change it. It’s a different book to what I wanted to write. I’m very happy with it. I don’t want to be a one trick pony. Ned gets to a certain point in his development in this book and I guess I want to see him happy, I want to see him settled and developed and having learned the lessons he needs to. He learns a lot of them in this book but not all of them. So I guess I’m happy with the book, but I’ll still not happy with the character.
Have you got another book in the deal?
Yeah, but I’ll be writing something completely different next time. I’m already halfway through it. It’s a genre novel, you know, bizarre crime fiction.
Are there any particular novelists who you aspire to be like?
The two novelists that inspired me most when writing The Lost Boys were Charles Bukowski and Irvine Welsh. There’s a little bit of both of those authors in my writing style. I think that Trainspotting is a modern masterpiece. I think it’s an amazing book. It’s written phonetically and that’s what I wanted to do with The Lost Boys and that’s why it’s very jargon and lingo heavy. I didn’t want to have to explain everything. For example characters talk about all the fucking squirrels that are infesting Bondi and I don’t explain what a squirrel is but hopefully the reader can work out what a squirrel is sooner or later. That’s what I got from Irvine Welsh. You don’t have to hold the reader’s hand. And I really love Charles Burkowski’s stoicism. Just the way fucking life kicks him in the teeth and he just goes “Give us a beer. F**k youse all.”
Do you have a career highlight thus far?
For two years I ran a mentoring program for indigenous kids where I brought indigenous kids from all over Australia, remote areas of Australia, and flew them to Sydney and they did work experience in the media. In the second year we had 15 kids and they had breakfast with Malcolm Turnbull in the garden of a bed and breakfast in Kirribilli and it was pretty fucking amazing. The first year they stood outside Kirribilli House and watched as John Howard drove off to concede in the federal election. Being able to do that for those kids, seeing the way it switched on a light globe in their heads where they went, “You know what, I can do this shit; I can actually come to Sydney and be a journalist or be a camera person or be an editor or be a photographer”. I don’t I’ve ever had a feeling like that in journalism or in a career. It’s the best thing I’ve done in my life.
If someone wants to write a book, what should they do?
I think it was Hemmingway who said just write one true thing and go from there. Just be honest, and if you’re embarrassed writing it that’s the good stuff. And don’t worry about the whole picture; think about writing one chapter or one page. As my mum once said to me, “Write the pieces, let the puzzle solve itself”.
In an ideal world, what does the future hold for Sam de Brito?
I’d really like to continue to write and to reach a larger audience as a writer and I’m toying with the idea of doing some television this year because they’ve got really good filters that can make you look more handsome and make my head look less fat.