Today, I bring you a fascinating and in depth interview with Australian author Damien Linnane. Damien is the author of the thriller novel tiltled 'Scarred' which was shortlisted for the QWC Adaptable program. He has also written for several news websites and academic sources. In 2021, Damien became the editor of Paper Chained, a magazine for prisoners, and the host of Broken Chains, a podcast on the prison system produced in conjunction with the City of Newcastle.
Damien holds a master's degree in Information Studies and is currently completing a PhD in law. He also lobbies for better educational programs and mental health support for incarcerated people.
So, lets find out more.
Tell me about yourself.
Well, I’m 37 and I live in Newcastle, Australia, where I am completing a PhD focusing on prison healthcare. I also work part-time as the editor of the magazine Paper Chained, and I’m an internationally exhibited artist. And of course, I’m a writer as well,
What do you like to read?
Mostly novels. I very much enjoy thrillers, but sci-fi and fantasy rank highly among my preferred genres. My favourite living author is Steven King and favourite of all time would be John Wyndham. I do enjoy a good memoir as well though.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been journaling since I was a child, and one of my main hobbies since 2008 has been writing articles for Wikipedia. I’ve been writing there much less since my PhD started, but I was quite prolific over the years. I’m ranked in the top 1,600 editors worldwide by the number of edits, and 17 articles I’ve written have been featured as Wikipedia’s article of the day. In terms of more traditional forms of writing though, that didn’t start until 2015.
Tell me about your book titled ‘Scarred’.
Scarred is an 86,000-word crime-thriller set in the Sydney CBD. It revolves around a vigilante serial killer who targets abusive men. The main character eventually starts hunting an independently operating serial killer who is targeting women, and the novel also focuses on the homicide detective who is simultaneously hunting both killers. Themes I explore in the book include the destructiveness of revenge, and the long-term traumatic effects abusive or neglectful fathers have on their children.
What inspired you to write it?
I guess it was one-part healing from my own trauma, and two-parts being in prison and not having anything else to do.
It’s a complicated story, but the short version is around 2014, someone very close to me told me that she’d historically been sexually assaulted. I had been sexually assaulted myself as a child, but when I told my father and stepmother about it, they didn’t believe me. So, I just buried that trauma for 20 years. Then through no fault of her own, this person’s disclosure of her own abuse unintentionally retraumatised me. I had a complete nervous breakdown over the course of about a year, and eventually in my stress and rage I went and burnt down the home of the man I was told had raped her. I ended up getting 10-months in prison for that.
I’d just finished my undergraduate degree before I went to prison. I wanted to start a master’s degree in there to pass the time, but there were no computers or internet, so that wasn’t possible. I was told I was at too low of a risk of reoffending to be eligible for rehabilitation, and I was also informed that there’s no psychological therapy available for people in prison. I thought I’d go insane with nothing constructive to do, so I started writing my novel by hand, which was no easy task I can assure you. I definitely recommended using a computer and word-processing software if you have access to it! I finished the first draft of my novel after five months. People tell me that’s quite quick for writing a whole novel, but you’d be surprised what you can accomplish when you’re isolated and you have no distractions available to you.
What was your journey to publication?
I made a couple early mistakes as I had no idea what I was doing in terms of publishing. I ended up sending my second draft out to the big five publishers, not knowing that publishers typically only look at a manuscript once and won’t consider it again even if you’ve made substantial changes. Looking back at my second draft now, I’m embarrassed about how un-refined it was. I wouldn’t have published it either. By the time I’d figured out how the game worked I’d already been rejected by too many publishers for most agents to want to take me on.
One did say he was still interested, but only if I was planning on turning the book into a series or had further plans for writing, but at the time I had neither as I’d just got out of prison and was too busy trying to rebuild my life.
I literally was down to the last two publishers in Australia I could find that were accepting unsolicited manuscripts, and thankfully one of them took me on. I was very happy at the time, to know my work was good enough to be traditionally published, but if I could go back, I’d probably save myself the trouble and self-publish. It took me over 18 months to find a publisher and it was not smooth sailing. The royalties from traditional publishing are also nothing to get excited about.
Tell me about ‘Paper Chained’.
I didn’t have an idea for a second novel after I finished Scarred, but I still had five months to go in prison, so I started teaching myself to draw. What was really frustrating though, was that there was no creative outlet for me to share my work with anyone. I asked around if anyone had heard of an art and writing magazine for people in prison, but nobody had. Knowing how much benefit something like that would have had on my mental health, I resolved to create one myself after I got out. Someone else beat me to it by a couple months, but that was a good thing since I was so busy trying to piece my life back together after I got out.
So, I came on board helping the woman who started Paper Chained, which mostly contains poetry written by prisoners, but shares all forms of writing and art as well. Four years later the original editor told me she wasn’t able to keep producing it though. She asked me if I was interested in taking it over since I’d been the only person consistently helping her with it. The short version from there is that its grown steadily since I became the editor, to the point where I needed funding to keep it running. Thankfully I was able to get some so I now work part-time producing the magazine quarterly. It goes out to over 10,000 prisoners, and if you want to read it yourself, it's also available for free online at PaperChained.com.
What are you working on now?
So technically I’m still writing, but I’m writing my PhD thesis these days, which to be honest is probably going to be a lot less entertaining than my novel, but a lot more important. Finding out there was no mental health support in prison has set me on my current path. I’m trying to change that with my PhD. This wouldn’t just be beneficial for prisoners, but also for society in general, and also taxpayers. This should come as no surprise, but studies consistently show that people who receive mental health support in prison are much less likely to reoffend, and considering it costs $144,000 a year to keep someone in prison for a year in Australia, programs that reduce offending are extremely cost-effective for taxpayers.
I have also written a memoir. It’s finished, but I’m in an awkward spot where because of my PhD, I wouldn’t have the time necessary to promote it myself if I self-published. So, I’m sending it out to traditional publishers at the moment, and if I don’t find one, or don’t like any deal I get offered, I’ll probably self-publish it after my PhD is finished in a couple years.
What comes first for you, the plot, or the characters?
Characters. Absolutely. At no point in writing my novel did I know where the plot was going more than a chapter or two in advance. I only figured out how my novel would end as I was nearly finished writing it. Different strokes work for different folks though, so if mapping out the whole plot before you start writing works for you then by all means do it, but I personally don’t understand how people are able to do that.
What advice would you give a first-time author?
Consistency is key. People assume that since I wrote a novel in five months, I was writing all day. I probably did two hours a day at most, because I felt too creatively exhausted after that. If you want to get your work finished quickly, you need to set yourself a daily writing goal. In prison mine was about 1,500 words, but even if yours is only 1,000 or even 500 words a day, you’ll be amazed at how quickly that adds up to a finished work.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
People often ask me how I’m able to get so many things done simultaneously. It certainly helps that I don’t have or want children; my respect to anyone who does as I’m sure that’s harder than any paid job. I don’t think I have much of a life outside of work, but I don’t see that as a huge problem as I enjoy all the things I work on. My PhD, my magazine, and my own art. I’ve currently got an art exhibition on in Newcastle, and I’ve always got ideas for the next one.
So, while I’m usually working on something constructive, it doesn’t feel like work as I’m passionate about my projects. If one gets a little tedious, I just move onto one of the others. I’m at my desk mostly from when I get up to when I go to sleep. Maybe that isn’t healthy and I’m working my way to an early heart-attack, but I feel very proud and happy with what I’m doing. I do like to break my day up by taking my dog for a long walk while I listen to my latest audiobook, and I love meeting friends for coffee and lunch breaks. I go to the gym a couple times a week as well, and I’m a nerd at heart so my best-friend and I meet up one night a week to watch a couple episodes of whatever sci-fi series we’re slowly working our way through.
Thank you to Damien for sharing such a raw insight into his journey. What a powerhouse and an inspiration. If you would like to check out Damien's work, click on the links below: