Markus Zusak on crossing the Bridge of Clay

Markus Zusak has authored six books – pic Jeanti St Clair

Author Markus Zusak only wants to write books that ‘mean everything’ to him. And considering his status as an international best-selling author, his six novels – including The Book Thief, The Messenger, and the recently published Bridge of Clay must mean everything to his readers too.

‘There are enough books in the world to not write ones that don’t mean much to you,’ Zusak told session chair and Lit Up podcast host, Angela Ledgerwood.

Bridge of Clay is an epic coming of age tale of a family of five boys who lose their parents, one to cancer and the other through abandonment. The story centres on one brother, Clay, and his efforts to reunite his family.

Zusak admitted that while he took 13 years to write Bridge of Clay, but he doesn’t regret the struggle and effort, nor the timeframe.

If the novel had been written in only nine years, instead of 13, he wouldn’t have been able to add something his son said at the ten-year mark: ‘Hey Pop, what are you doing here in just your nipples?’ This passing remark ended up being a comical and pivotal point in the book for the characters, and shaped their interactions as a family.

Within Bridge of Clay, the main character Clayton was written as a very raw, quiet, and violent male protagonist, growing up in a family of brothers fighting like a ‘pack of cubs’.

Zusak’s intention was to ‘write boys how they are, and how we would like them to be’, demonstrating that the depth and relatability of a character can be reached through their imperfections, their ‘humanness’, not just through an expectation of perfection.

Along the way, Zusak changed the name of the novel from Clayton Builds a Bridge to Bridge of Clay. Zusak’s reasoning was that, ‘its not Clayton’s Bridge, it’s [a] Bridge of Clay’.

The name symbolises a bridge made out of the main character, Clayton, who builds a metaphorical bridge to connect his family together, for his past, and his sins.

Zusak sees books as ‘the last frontier of not knowing everything right away’.

Books hold the imagination and intelligence of the human mind captive long enough to sustain disbelief and often incite learning and personal development. Is it any wonder they can take more than decade to complete.

Keeping in mind the importance of the presence that books can have, and the effort that pours into their creation, the subject and characters must not only capture the readers’ imagination, but also, and firstly, the writer’s.

Books must contain subjects and character that a writer can carry a long way.

It is safe to say that over the 13 years it took to write Bridge of Clay, Zusak got to know the characters quite well, and wondered ‘how the hell am I going to live without them?’

Except, the characters of Bridge of Clay will now also live on within the minds of its readers who decide to pick up this ‘suburban epic’ novel.

Sarvah Rayner is a Southern Cross University Creative Writing student. Southern Cross University students have reported on Byron Writers Festival since 2010. Find out where a degree from Southern Cross University can take you. 


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