Emma Tom is a writer whose work has appeared in a wide range of publications: start with The Australian Literary Review, then head to Penthouse and Woman’s Day, and shoot off to Australian Personal Computer, making disparate stops on the way. She is a casual lecturer in media matters at several Sydney universities, the author of six books, including a guide to pregnancy called Attack Of The 50-Foot Hormones and a regular on Australian TV and radio, but her skills don’t stop here. She has also worked as a babysitter, waitress, barmaid, dating agency pamphlet hander-outerer, hearse driver, and ghost and history tour guide (she has an actual bus licence). This is Emma’s website. Please don’t send her any spam.
She currently pens a column for The Australian, published every Saturday and for fun, is studying full-time for a PhD. If we’d known that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was her pet trivia topic, we’d have prepared a special edition of 20 Questions to order.
1. If you were given $5 million, what would you spend it on?
That’s a really hard question to answer. I feel like I should say I’d donate X amount of dollars to Y number of charities but the truth is I have absolutely no idea what I’d do with that kind of dough. Probably I’d head straight out and buy my stepfather a Norton Commander and my partner a Ducati 1098. Both those guys really need motorbikes again. Oh, and I think my daughter would really like one of those trampolines with the safety nets. I could also do with a box set of the second season of True Blood. Is that likely to leave any change?
2. Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?
A lift technician. I get claustrophobic. Otherwise my friend Asma. We can never find the time to catch up properly.
3. What trivia topic will you beat everyone else in the pub to the buzzer on?
Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve watched all seven seasons five times over and know unwholesome amounts of minutiae about the show. Sample question: "What was the name of the sixth season vengeance demon who first appeared in an unrelated guise as Cecily in a flashback episode in season five?" Sample answer: "Halfrek." See?
4. The headline you’d most like to see on the front page of a daily newspaper.
"Drugs win war on drugs." Sadly this isn’t an original. It’s from the American satirical news site The Onion. But I like it a lot.
5. Complete this sentence. I’d like to hear Kevin Rudd say …
"I’m stepping down in favour of my deputy." I think Julia Gillard is da man. In a totally womanly way, of course.
6. If you could have made one major life move differently, what would it have been?
Finding my current therapist 10 years earlier.
7. You’re on a desert island with only a magical television for entertainment. It only broadcasts sports. It can only broadcast one sporting code. You choose the sport.
5000 new episodes of the HBO series Deadwood. You did say it was magic, right?
8. You’ve been appointed research director for an organisation funded by a hands-off philanthropist. What do you tell your staff to find out?
How to make more hands-off philanthropists.
9. How often do you check your email?
My email checks itself every 60 seconds. I have nothing to do with it, though I have suggested it seek help for its obsessive compulsiveness.
10. What annoys you about politicians?
Polemic, spin, empty partisanship, logic-less debates, an over reliance on faux dichotomies, deliberate and wilful confusions of correlation and causation … Honestly, I could just go on and on.
11. Name someone in Australian public life who deserves a promotion.
The woman whose job it is to take blood day in and day out in Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s pregnant lady section. Her sweetness and gentleness borders on otherworldly.
12. Name someone in Australian public life who should be out on their ear.
Every last Viagra spammer and nasal delivery technology flogger. I realise this is not someone so much as some people but I loathe loathe loathe these snake oilers not just for exploiting men’s sexual insecurities but for promoting the ridiculous myth that what women want from sexual intimacy is a longer, harder phallus. In all my 78 years in show business, I have only ever heard one woman say she wanted more of this and later on she confessed she was lying.
13. Can we fix climate change?
Hard to say. The thing about apocalyptic environmental devastation (as opposed to the mildly inconvenient environmental devastation occurring now) is that we probably won’t know with 100 per cent certainty that it’s going to happen until it does.
Maintaining a healthy scepticism about dire planetary predictions, therefore, should not mean kicking back on our sprawling McArses doing nothing. Especially when you consider the over-the-top precautions we take in preparation for risks such as terrorism. Looked at in this way, setting a 2020 greenhouse emissions target of a paltry 5 to 15 per cent is the equivalent of only conducting airport security checks on Mondays and Wednesdays.
14. If we were in a karaoke club and not online, what song would you sing?
My intention would be to perform Sydney singer Bertie Blackman’s cover of Erykah Badu’s "Tyrone" (and obviously also "Bad Girls" by Donna Summer, "My Sharona" by the Knack and "Since She Started to Ride" by Jonathan Richman). But I’m pretty shy in karaoke type situations and would probably stay schtum.
15. Have you ever seen a ghost?
Yes I have. It was the reflection of my face in the accident and emergency toilets at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. I was having my third miscarriage of 2009 at the time.
16. Computers could be improved. How?
Less zeros, more ones.
17. I’m going to get a coffee? What can I get you?
One of those Portuguese custard tarts that jiggles like a little yellow boob. I try to avoid caffeine after 3pm.
18. Do you have a hidden talent?
I am embarrassingly excellent at a home exercise DVD called Fat Burning Dance Party. Thanks to many years in youth orchestras, I am also skilled in the embouchure required for clarinet playing.
19. What image should hang on the wall of the PM’s office?
One of those magic eye 3D images in which dinosaurs and Eiffel Towers are supposed to appear (but often don’t) when you squint at fields of buttons. I feel the same way when I stare at Kevin Rudd searching for a stance on asylum seekers, climate change and parental leave.
20. What question should we ask our next interviewee?
What’s your favourite quote? As you should well know, it’s against the law not to include this in a list of 20 questions. That said, it’s probably lucky you didn’t ask me, because there’s no way I would have been able to choose between: "Every day takes figuring out all over again how to f*cking live" (Calamity Jane from Deadwood); "I’m better off not socialising — I make a better impression if I’m not around" (actor Christopher Walken); and "I have not seen anything like it in my entire career as a solar physicist." (I can’t remember who I heard say this, but find it breaks the ice in a vast range of conversational contexts.)
BONUS: This is the question from our last interviewee:
Which is your favourite Indiana Jones movie?
My favourite Indiana Jones movie is Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. She does extreme archeologist SO much better than Dr Henry Walton. And she has a far superior cleavage (which, as we all know, is absolutely essential when it comes to battling evil nazis, members of the dreaded Thuggee cult and so on).
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