In Conversation with Bram Presser
Words - Noe Harsel Photo - provided by Bram Presser
Bram Presser is known for many things: as a quarter of the acclaimed Jewish punk band Yidcore, as a criminal lawyer and as an award-winning author (just to mention his top Google hits). He has recently signed his first book deal with Text Publishing and is part of the committee for the inaugural Melbourne Jewish Writers' Festival, running from 31 May -2 June. Bram tells us how this is all possible.
The band was a silly university joke that kind of exploded way beyond anything we expected or intended. Once the momentum started we just took the opportunity to explore the culture from as many ridiculous angles as we could. There was a lot of parody at its core but we also wanted to write good songs and put on a good show. We tried to incorporate as much of the Jewish musical culture as we could cram into the framework of a two-minute punk song: so we had traditional Hebrew music, Klezmer, classical, musical theatre, you name it. And then there was the rubber chicken. To be honest though, it was mostly an elaborate ploy to hook up with Natalie Portman. Needless to say it didn't work and now there's some poor kid stuck with the name Aleph. I would never have agreed to that. I much prefer the name Gimmel.
Fiction has always been my first love: both reading and writing. I read like a machine – I think I'm up to my 85th book for the year right now. As for writing, it's something that I've always just done. Stories, songs, journalism, blogs, creative shopping lists, I just love to lose myself in the written word. I used to make my poor teachers read things I'd written over the school holidays or on weekends. So basically, whatever I've been doing in life, be it studying, music, practising law, I've always been writing at the same time. Yidcore was actually a bit of a detour for me because I had been speaking with literary agents in England before the band was signed and when the record deal came along, I figured I could always write when I was a bit older, but I could only jump around screaming on stage naked and smeared in hummus while I was young.
Text has always been my dream publisher: I'm still quite spun out by it all. They publish many of my literary heroes so to have them actually interested in what I'm doing, to have them show enough faith in me to start working together, it's really quite amazing. So far it's been great. [Crumbs, the winner of The Age short-story award, 2011] is the prologue to the novel. It dealt with my grandfather's (or a fictional simulacrum) escape from the little Czech village of his youth and the rest of the novel goes from there.
It's about two thirds done. I'm just trying to sharpen what I've written before moving on and I've started working with my editor on that. It's been really interesting being able to bounce ideas off someone who really gets what I'm trying to do. Moreover, to see your work through another person's eyes and be able to engage on that level in the creative process, it's a really challenging but extremely rewarding process.
The best thing about having a publisher is knowing that there's someone stoking the fire under you. I'm shit without a deadline. I've been dicking around with this book for almost five years. If I hadn't actually signed a piece of paper that told me I had to deliver it by a certain date, I'd probably be able to have this same conversation in 10 years' time. With this whole Text thing I can say with some confidence that you can expect to see the book some time next year.
I've long believed that Melbourne needed a Jewish Writers’ Festival. We have this amazing wealth of great authors in every genre imaginable and we just don't celebrate them as a community. At last that will change. I've been a part of MJWF since its inception. Mainly I've worked on the programming committee, trying to put together the most amazing couple of days possible. I'm not known for my humility so I'll just go ahead and say it: we succeeded. It's a really exciting program with a great mix of authors and topics. Whatever you're into, you're catered for. We also made a concerted effort not to make it too parochially Jewish so people of all backgrounds can enjoy it. I think it's going to be a great recurring feature on Melbourne's literary calendar.
I'm doing two panels at the Festival. The first is about writing online and it's called “Voices From The Cloud” with Michael Gawenda and Lee Kofman. The other one is called “Forgotten Gems”, in which Renata Singer, Arnold Zable and I are talking about our favourite lost Jewish classics. Otherwise I'll be running around like a headless (rubber) chicken trying to watch as many other sessions as I can. The problem with helping to program a festival is that you end up with every timeslot filled with multiple sessions you want to see. There are worse problems to have.
See Bram Presser at the Melbourne Jewish Writers' Festival
Saturday 31 May- Monday 2 June