The Writing Practice: Journalism by Marcus Niski

Don Watson
Stephen Sewell Robert Dessaix Anna Funder Liz Jensen


Graham Reilly: A Writer's Profile

Graham Reilly is a Melbourne-based novelist and journalist currently living in New Delhi, India.

This profile of Graham – written for Good Reading Magazine – is based on a face-to-face interview conducted with Graham in Melbourne prior to his leaving for India, as well as an email interview with him from his new home in New Delhi.


If wit, streetwise charm and earthy observation are the qualities you most enjoy in your fiction, then Melbourne writer Graham Reilly’s refreshingly down-to-earth approach is bound to appeal to your reading sensibilities.

Born in Glasgow, raised in the tenements and on one of Britain’s toughest housing estates, Graham Reilly emigrated to Australia with his family as a boy where grew up in Melbourne’s outer-western suburbs.

Having discovered a talent for writing during his early Glasgow schooling, Reilly would later embark on a journalistic career in Melbourne with various twists, turns and diversions along the way.

Whilst still a student, having taken a year off his university studies to refocus and re-motivate himself, Reilly took a job as a meatworker at a factory in Altona on the outskirts of Melbourne’s west. It was here in the world of the meatworks that Reilly’s powers of observation and dialogue were heightened in an atmosphere where real-life characters played out their lives amongst the toil and sweat of the harshest of working environments.

Not surprisingly then, the product of this writers’ education would surface many years later in the guise of Danny Canyon, a Glasgow lad who we find in the early scenes of Reilly’s first novel Saigon Tea standing at the gates of a Melbourne abattoir seeking work in a quest to begin his life afresh in Australia.

With three successful novels now under his belt – Saigon Tea, Sweet Time and Five Oranges – Reilly’s current sojourn in India is bound to take his writing and his characters in new directions. Having taken time away from his desk at The Age where he works as a senior journalist, Reilly moved to New Delhi with his family for two years where his wife is posted to the Australian High Commission. As Reilly muses on his new surroundings, “My writing can't help but be affected by my time here. I'm particularly interested in dialogue and the way people speak English, and I love the way Indians speak English.  I often ask the guard at our gate to call me a taxi.  When it arrives he rings on the phone and says ‘Your taxi is already coming, sir.’ Isn't that great.  I've already decided to have an Indian character in my next book.”

Reilly’s irresistible attachment to his characters in Saigon Tea and Five Oranges will undoubtedly see them return in a new setting amidst the vibrant, exciting and chaotic backdrop of daily life in India. As Reilly speculates, his characters are already yearning for an Indian adventure: “ I'm toying with the idea of taking Frankie and Eileen and Jimmy and Stella for an adventure in India.  I already have the first chapter. But I want to write … [an]other novel first. But I’m so attached to those characters and the interplay between Glaswegian English and Indian English would be something to behold – it's inevitable that I'll take them to Delhi.”  

Graham Reilly’s refreshingly honest and engaging style is rich in observation, wit, and empathy with the characters and their journeys in life, as well as proving the trademark of a writer who loves “…the rhythm of language and the way ordinary people talk.” As Reilly’s writing attests, his innate fascination for observing language across cultures, classes and social divisions, has rendered a style that is unafraid the way ‘real people’ speak and act. Accordingly, Reilly’s characters act out their parts through engagement with life rather than second-hand reports of what they are doing and thinking. As Reilly reflects, “I’m not an internal writer, I like to take people into the world...”, an observation which accords very much with his philosophy that  “profundity is [found] in the small things of life…” rather than the layers of affectation  which are sometimes too often relied upon in fiction.

Reilly’s writing is deliberately aimed not at creating a ‘high art’ literature that dwells on the internal machinations of its characters, but rather writing which captures the human side of the characters and their travels though life.  From this perspective, his unpretentious plotlines and pithy characters are the hallmarks of Reilly’s style and approach to his story telling.

Aside from working on his fiction writing during his stay in India, Reilly has also “…been doing a fair bit of journalism for The Age and enjoying it a lot. I’m hoping to interview several Indian writers for the paper.” His workouts in the gym have also lead to some surprising literary coincidences as Reilly cheekily suggests,  “… Arundhati Roy goes to the same gym as me.  She does a lovely tricep curl.”

No doubt we look forward to Reilly’s next book that will surely be infused with some of the same wit, insight and observation we already associate with his brand of fiction.

Marcus Niski is a Melbourne-based Freelance Writer. © 2005  
  Graham Reilly:
The Interview...

©2005 Marcus D. Niski