From Melbourne to Hollywood via RMIT University: The story of Graeme Simsion, Don Tillman and Jennifer Lawrence

Have you heard of “The Rosie Project”? If not then you will soon since the most in-demand actress in the world right now, Jennifer Lawrence, has signed on to be the star of the film adaptation.

What you may not know is that the author, Graeme Simsion, is a Study Melbourne extraordinaire. He’s been a student at RMIT University, Monash University and Deakin University, and taught at University of Melbourne, Swinburne University of Technology and Deakin University.

From Melbourne to Hollywood and back, we caught up with the bestselling author ahead of the Melbourne Writer’s Festival, sharing his Melbourne secrets, the impact of education, and who may or may not be playing opposite Jennifer Lawrence as Professor Don Tillman.

Scroll down below to enter your details to WIN one of three signed packs of ‘The Rosie Project’ and its newly released sequel ‘The Rosie Effect’, and you can catch Graeme in person on 21 August and 23 August at his shows for the Melbourne Writer’s Festival. More details here.

There would be no “The Rosie Project” without RMIT University.

“RMIT University was fundamental to the creation of the book. I learned craft at RMIT. What I particularly liked about studying screenwriting and writing there was that I wasn’t looking to get a job. No one is interested in hiring someone with an Advanced Diploma in Screenwriting, they just want to know what experience you have. It was a means to an end. It wouldn’t have mattered whether you passed or failed, but that actually made me work a lot harder. You asked yourself – am I actually going to learn things that will make me better? You have to take that attitude of ‘I have to be good at this’, not ‘I want to pass’.”

Jennifer Lawrence? Okay!

“What’s unusual about “The Rosie Project” was that it was written as a screenplay first. It was written as a romantic comedy – it has all the tropes and big set pieces. I had no say about casting but we talked about who we’d like and Jennifer Lawrence was first choice. Other actresses could have done the job but hey, she’s the biggest star in the world, if she wants to do it let’s get her on board!”

What about Don?

“I had no one in mind for Don when I was writing. Some authors do that but not me. The names being tossed around are Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Leonardo DiCaprio…but who knows.”

Melbourne is the new New York?

“I love Fitzroy, it’s where I imagined Don Tillman to live. Fitzroy is as close to a New York neighbourhood as you’ll find outside New York City. One of the great things about Melbourne is there are other neighbourhoods, particularly in the inner north – Northcote, Brunswick, Carlton, Collingwood – they’ve all got their own identity, they’re places you can hang out, eat, buy books, do all those sorts of things. One thing I would encourage people to do is get to know those neighbourhoods. A lot of the study institutions are central and they’re not a long way from there.

If you’re living out in the suburbs, get in there, get to know the space not just in the immediate vicinity of your study institution, take the tram and explore. One of the reasons that I say it’s like New York is the public transport and that you’re able to walk the city. You can walk Melbourne very easily. When you come to Melbourne you get a Myki card for public transport and then you’ve got to use it to see around.”

What can you do on the average length of a tram journey? Read this!

“The Melbourne Writer’s Festival is running an initiative called 17 minute stories because 17 minutes is the average length of a tram journey. You can just read it on your phone. My story is out on 10 August and it’s a story featuring two international students called “Intervention on the Number 3 Tram” and it’s told from the point of view of two shy international students who flirt with each on the tram and what happens beyond that.”

Did you say $2 meat trays?

“I hang out at the Queen Victoria Markets a bit. You don’t want to be there when it’s cold but it’s very walkable, a little over-rated as a tourist destination, but great as a food destination. It’s a great place for fresh food, get a coffee, see the life going on around you and it’s close to many institutions in the city. And if you turn up at 4pm on a Sunday, when they’re desperately trying to sell off all their food before they pack up, you can get a real bargain. I’m talking $2 for a plate of meat. And it’s a bit of fun for the atmosphere.”

The hidden student heaven in the heart of the city

“When I want to concentrate I go to The Moat which is on Little Lonsdale St in the city – well within range of RMIT, University of Melbourne and many others. The Wheeler Centre is a centre for writing. They have lots of events there and most of them are free. Get along, hear public debates, it’s really great window on the culture of Melbourne and more broadly Australia. Underneath The Wheeler Centre is the café The Moat. Lots of writers hang out there. It’s warm in winter. You can just take your computer in and log on to the State Library Wi-Fi for free. Just hang down there and sit on a coffee for a few hours!”

Surviving group assignments.

“So many courses have group assignments, and it can be tricky. Get in a group where there are one or two Australians, and really put in and contribute. Even if you’re the guy who’s going to check all the references, be a contributor. Be seen as someone who puts in and it’s a great way to get to know people locally.”

What’s coming up next?

“I’ve finished the first draft of a new book called “The Best of Adam Sharp”. It’s about a relationship rekindled after 22 years. The first section is based in Melbourne where a 26 year old man meets a 23 year old woman and they fall madly in love, but he’s visiting from the UK on a visa and she’s married. Bad timing. She’s unhappily married but she wants to make it work, and he goes back to the UK. And then 22 years later they reconnect, and he’s split up with his girlfriend, and she and her new husband invite him to stay with them in a French village.”

Enter to WIN a signed copy of “The Rosie Project” and “The Rosie Effect” here! Winners will be drawn Friday 21 August 2015.

About The Rosie Project

Don Tillman is getting married. He just doesn’t know who to yet.

But he has designed the Wife Project, using a sixteen-page questionnaire to help him find the perfect partner. She will most definitely not be a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.

Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also fiery and intelligent and beautiful. And on a quest of her own to find her biological father—a search that Don, a professor of genetics, might just be able to help her with.

The Wife Project teaches Don some unexpected things. Why earlobe length is an inadequate predictor of sexual attraction. Why quick-dry clothes aren’t appropriate attire in New York. Why he’s never been on a second date. And why, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love: love finds you.

Graeme Simsion at the 2015 Melbourne Writer’s Festival

Monday 10 August – 17 Minute Stories (free and online)

The average tram ride is 17 minutes. Read Graeme Simsion’s story here from 10 August.

Friday 21 August – So You’ve Published a Book

What happens after you publish your first book? How do you promote it, and what can you expect from your publicist? How do you make social media and authored articles work for you? Find out from our team of author experts, and ask your own burning questions.

Friday 21 August – Dinner with Anne Buist & Graeme Simsion (Great Ocean Road)

A literary night by the sea with one of Australia’s leading writing couples – the internationally bestselling author of the Rosie books, Graeme Simsion, and edgy crime novelist Anne Buist. Together, they’ll share stories about the writing life, inspiring each other, and their compelling characters. Hosted by Kylie Ladd.

Sunday 23 August – Aussie Bestsellers.

What’s it like to hit the big time on the international stage? Australians Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies) and Graeme Simsion (The Rosie Effect) share their rocket-ride to the top of worldwide bestseller lists. What drives their writing? And how do overseas readers (and publishers) receive their work? In conversation with Toni Jordan.