He’s one of Australia’s most-loved artists, but Ken Done found it challenging and confronting to share his story on paper. We chat to him about the project.
How long did it take to write your memoir?
It took me about four or five months to write my book, but then many months of back and forth with the editor, publisher and legal advisors.
I’m not very confident on a computer, so I wrote in longhand in exercise books. My daughter then deciphered and typed it into the computer and I checked it over to make sure it was right. This was a very time-consuming and tiring process, so I wished there was an easier way to do it.
How did you stay motivated to write?
I had made a commitment to many people, so I had to stay focused and complete the task, but I also wanted to make sure my grandkids knew some of my stories and that helped me to stay motivated.
During those months of writing I didn't do any painting, so my brain was fully committed to the book.
Did you have a special writing routine or location?
I did have a routine and a set place to work, so my brain knew it was time to focus on recalling memories and retelling a story. After breakfast most mornings I would sit in a comfortable chair in my painting studio, so I could see my usual inspiring view, and that helped immensely with stimulating my creative juices. I tried to put in a solid two hours of writing, then take a break for lunch, and return to it in the afternoon or the next morning. Usually I would read over what I had written and see words I had missed or paragraphs that could be worded better, so I would fix them up. The more I wrote the less fixing I needed to do, my writing seemed to flow better after a month or so.
How did you decide what to write?
I tried to write in a fairly logical timeline, but very quickly I went forward or even sideways to various things that came into my head. One memory would trigger another and, once I started to write, the memories and stories flooded in.
It’s a memoir and not a historical autobiography, and although memory can be a bit fluid sometimes, I'm pretty sure I've got everything just about right.
Were there some difficult or emotional issues you had to face? How did you get through these?
Everybody does have a story and everybody's life is interesting. Of course, there are some things you choose not to put in. Some things will forever remain private. I did ask my family about some aspects, to check if my recollection was right, and that was helpful. It also started a lot of very interesting conversations, which I am so grateful for, so I learnt a lot more about my family and myself.
I think reading is entertainment, so it seems to me that the book must have elements of humour, intrigue, and occasional sadness to keep the reader involved.
Was anyone upset by something you wrote in your book?
I don't think anyone has been upset with anything I wrote, however there were some stories that needed to be edited out, as they may have been politically incorrect, or in one case, defamatory. For the most part, I think my family really appreciated my honesty and were interested in my perspective on life.
I think there is nothing more important than you simply start to write, and like life, see where that particular adventure takes you.
Feature image: Mark Mohell / The National Portrait Gallery
Inset image: Stuart Spence
Ken Done: A Life Coloured In. Order here and save 23% off the RRP (while stocks last).