During this crazy time of Covid-19, many authors have had their book launches and events, understandably, but disappointingly, cancelled. In lieu of this, I’ve opened my blog to authors affected by this situation to talk about their new release.
Dan Kaufman is a journalist and editor having spent most of his career with a hand in almost every section of The Sydney Morning Herald. Dan now teaches writing workshops and has published his first novel ‘Drowning In The Shallows’. Drowning in the Shallows is a comedy about heartache, a satire of Sydney society, a coming-of-age tale about a man in his 30s who is only now growing up, and a love story about a man and his beloved evil cat.
Title: Drowning In The Shallows
Author: Dan Kaufman
Published: February 2020
Genre: Satire / Comedy
David’s journalism students petrify him. Then again, so does his cat.
His girlfriend broke up with him, he writes about bars for a shrinking newspaper that’s abandoned news reporting for lifestyle articles, and he’s desperately searching for meaning amongst the backdrop of Sydney’s shallow social scene.
Then he meets a young woman who just might be the answer. The only problem is, she’s a friend of one of his students.
Drowning in the Shallows is a comedy about heartache, a satire of Sydney society, a coming-of-age tale about a man in his 30s who is only now growing up, and a love story about a man and his beloved evil cat.
From The Author
What inspired you to write this book? Where did the idea come from?
I used to write about bars and Sydney’s social scene for The Sydney Morning Herald – and it was such a bizarre and often shallow world that I thought it would be interesting (and comic) to use that as the backdrop for a story about someone who’s trying to find the meaning of his life in all the wrong ways.
I was also inspired by how self-destructive and foolish most men are when it comes to dating – and how a lot of their bad behaviour comes not from malice but immaturity. It doesn’t excuse their behaviour, but it does shine a light on it.
The narrator, David, is so heartbroken after being dumped that he decides to never get into a proper relationship again. He has good intentions – he would never, ever want to harm anyone in any way – but like a lot of men he has a lot of growing up to do, and the book follows him as he slowly begins to realise how ridiculous his behaviour is.
The idea of the book isn’t to condone men’s bad behaviour but to criticise it – and the best way to do that, I thought, was through humour by showing how pathetic it can be.
What sort of research did you need to undertake before/during writing this book?
David’s world was my world. He’s a journo – I was a journo. He’s tortured by the abusive cat that he adores – I was tortured by the abusive cat I adored.
You could call it laziness on my part, and you’d be right. However, I wanted to spend all my time and effort on creating the plot and the characters – so I thought I’d make it easy on myself by taking the locations, jobs and even some situations from my life. Plus, of course, the cat. After all, this is my first published book – and so in some ways it’s my training wheels novel. In addition to being fun to write, I used to it to learn how to put a novel together and so I took baby steps by basing it on my own world.
Having said that, I will stress that Drowning in the Shallows is a work of autofiction – in other words, it appears autobiographical but it isn’t. I realise a lot of people won’t believe that, but it’s true. My own life was just as messed up – perhaps more so – and I was just as clueless as David, but in different ways.
Do you have a favourite character, or a character who you enjoyed writing the most?
Absolutely – Jackson the cat. He’s such a mercurial, vicious bastard that writing about his relationship with David was absolutely joyous for me.
What was the most challenging thing you found writing this book?
Writing about a character’s moral growth is difficult – because in reality, most people either don’t change much, or they only do so after a LONG period of time. Some comedies rely on that – such as Seinfeld – and others become morality plays and can be preachy or unrealistic.
As such, I needed to set this novel at the pivotal moment in David’s life when the light bulb turns on and he begins to see how other people perceive him – and that changes how he sees himself. I’d like to think that if I read this when I was younger, it would have changed the way I behaved.
What was the key theme or issue that you wanted to get across in this book? And was that something you intended from the start, or something that came apparent during writing?
There are so many different themes in this book – and some became stronger as I wrote it. The one that became the main theme, but wasn’t originally, was the ridiculous way in which men act.
What’s great about #metoo is it showed how unacceptable men’s behaviour often is – and it’s made it harder for men to get away with it. Yet I wanted to not only say it’s bad, but to change the way men actually feel about their behaviour.
When Oliver Stone made Wall Street, he was trying to criticise those stockbrokers – but instead, he inspired a new generation who wanted to be like Gordon Gekko. He later said he was shocked by that. I wanted to avoid that problem by making this a parody. No man who reads this book would ever, in a million years, want to be like David.
However, that theme developed as I wrote the book. At first, I wrote this purely as a bittersweet comedy – think of Bridget Jones Diary, but with a male lead instead. I initially wanted everyone to like the main character (David) in the same way that everyone likes Bridget – after all, both characters have good intentions, even though they mess up. Plus everyone would just assume David was me, so I especially wanted him to be likable!
But then I realised the novel could be so much more, and so David became … well, he became more human, and flawed. I know so many men who are sweet and kind and have good intentions, and yet are sleazy in ways that the women in their lives just don’t realise. I don’t know many saints in my life – but I know a lot of Davids. Hell, I was a David myself. He’s a man who likes and respects women, who considers them equal, who considers misogyny disgusting – and yet he’s also completely clueless and unaware that his actions are inappropriate and that his behaviour is out of line.
How long did it take you to write the book?
I originally wrote this book within a year. Then, a year or so later, I reread it and thought it was awful and decided to scrap it and work on a new novel. But then, another year later, I read it again and realised there were scenes and ideas that made me laugh or think – plus the dawning of #metoo made this novel more relevant. So I then deleted half of what I wrote, and wrote new sections, and then kept deleting and rewriting, and I kept writing and editing it over and over again until I was finally happy with every word.
What was the highlight for you writing this book?
The comic scenes were the highlight. I shouldn’t laugh at my own jokes, but I made a point of only keeping in comic scenes that made me laugh or smile even on the 50th read.
If your book was made into a movie, what actors could you see in the main roles?
Jesse Eisenberg would make a good David. Someone with a good heart but is completely and utterly flawed. And clueless. As for Harold, the dirty old man – that would be a great role for an actor to play! Maybe Zach Galifianakis …
Is there anything, in particular, you want potential readers to know when choosing your book as their ‘next read’?
I’d suggest readers use it as light comic escapism – especially now that the world has become so dark.
I’d also suggest readers shouldn’t judge the main character too quickly. One woman who read the book said that by the end she loved it – even though at first she was put off by David’s sleazy attitude.
I think it was so great of her to keep reading the book despite this and to see where it would go. This is one of those novels where you need to take yourself on a ride and to trust the driver. After all, if you start off with a sweet, lovable, flawless character then … well, where’s the fun in that?
All The Links
Where to purchase ‘Drowning in the Shallows’