Answers to Common Questions
Have your books won any awards?
Yes. Please click Awards for a list of
the major ones.
you read a lot when you were young?
No. I read as much as I
can now but until I was about sixteen, I read very little. My mother tried
to encourage me but I have never been a fast reader, so getting through a
novel was difficult. I preferred information books, histories, accounts of
actual events - that sort of thing. The only novels I did read were those
set for school. However, in upper secondary school, I liked these books.
Studying them let me see the artistry of the writer and I became
interested in both reading and writing at that point.
The books that
really got me going were a few that my parents took with us on holidays.
Bored and away from my usual haunts, I took up reading - and loved
did you start writing?
I tried writing detective thrillers
like the James Bond books in my twenties but never got past the first
chapter. After many years as a Teacher Librarian for upper primary
children, I thought I would have a go for this age group, but again I
never finished anything. Finally, in 1984, I completed a novel titled "A
Family Secret" but it was rejected by five publishers. In 1989 I wrote
"Crossfire" which was eventually published in 1992.
were the important experiences in your life?
For my writing,
the most important experience has been living in Cunnamulla, in outback
Queensland in 1977 and 78. It was here that I would go pig shooting with
my friends but after initially enjoying the experience, I became sickened
and stopped going. This experience gave me the basis for an unpublished
book written in 1984 as well as Crossfire. Here
also, I observed aborigines and non-aborigines interacting and gained
insights which allowed me to write Dougy and
do you get your ideas?
Ideas come from life experiences mixed
with books and newspapers I read and television I watch, particularly
documentaries. I think deeply about what I see around me and I am always
solving the problems of the world in my head. My first three books, came
from experiences in Cunnamulla in the late 1970s.
Swashbuckler arose from a variety of sources -
newspaper sources about the effects of gambling, memories of my own
childhood when I made a suit of armour out of cardboard, also the movie,
"The Fisher King" where Jeff Bridges was made to perform a rather
ridiculously heroic act in order to redeem the sanity of his friend. For
The House on River Terrace, the starting point
was a newspaper article by Donald Horne about Australian identity.
A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove began when I saw a
lonely looking overweight boy on the sand at Rainbow Beach. This book also
owes a lot to some other novels, notably Goodnight Mr Tom by
Michelle Magorian and The Shipping News by Annie Proulx.
do you go about writing?
Once the vague ideas have started to
form, I try to formalise them into an overall plan, which describes
the bones of the story. This comes from brainstorming at the computer,
typing whatever crazy ideas come to mind as one idea leads on to another
until I begin to get a direction even if the detail will change as I
work out the first draft. And there is always lots of change and
additions, deletions etc. I usually do only two real drafts before I start
showing what I have written to others, the first to get the general feel
for the story, the second to refine the characters and themes that I am
keen for my readers to relate to. However, some sections of a story may be
rewritten five or six times. I work directly onto a word processor and use
hand writing only for notes. My hand writing is now far too slow to be of
any use. At speed, it is almost illegible.
do you like writing?
It is my preferred form of self
expression. It gives me an avenue to say what I think about human beings
and the world. Seeing my work published gives me enormous satisfaction. It
has to, because writing is mostly hard work. Writing the first draft of a
long novel is harder work than digging roads.
is your personal favourite amongst your own titles?
A Bridge to
Wiseman's Cove and Dougy probably,
because I really like the two main characters I created, Carl and Dougy.
For younger readers, it is Swashbuckler.
is your favourite book by someone else?
Years ago I would answer
East of Eden by John Steinbeck, but that was before I read The Shipping
News by Annie Proulx. However, the answer to this question changes
from time to time as my tastes change. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter
Carey was my favourite for a while until Ian McEwan released
Atonement, which is probably my favourite at the
are your favourite books for young people?
I like Robin
Klein's work especially Hating Alison Ashley for primary school
level. Goodnight Mr Tom is a favourite for any age from about ten
to fourteen. My most loved picture books are by Tommi Ungerer, especially
The Hat and The Beast of Mr Racine. Amongst young adult
books I like Tim Winton's Lockie Leonard, Human Torpedo for a good laugh, Hole by Louis Sachar for more serious ideas, Victor Kelleher's Taronga ,
as well as Looking For Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta and
Before I Die by Jenny Downham for romance and emotion. For the
highest literary qualities, Gary Crew’s Strange Objects is the
best I have come across, even though it is a rather cold book.
do you go about getting a book published?
It is very
difficult to break into the field. Only one in eighty or a hundred
manuscripts received by publishers ever gets published so you have to be
lucky to begin with. Sometimes, a book will appeal to publishers because
of what it is about, something topical, and that book just happens to turn
up at the right moment. The reverse can happen. A good book arrives just
after the publishers have chosen another similar book for their list. It
will be rejected simply because they don’t want to double up.
if you are keen, you just have to keep having a go and if a manuscript is
rejected by one publisher, send it on to the next. Once you have one book
accepted, the publisher will actually ask you for another one and help you
along the way. Lists of publishers are available from Writers' Centres in
most capital cities. (Unfortunately, publishers rarely accept material by
writers under twenty years old so don’t tell them your age. I don’t)
have had a few books and stories rejected, like most authors, but I do not
feel hard done by. It was probably because the writing was not good
Are you writing a book at the moment?
always writing something. At present, I am writing the third novel in a fantasy
series about a sixteen year old girl named Silvermay. The first book,
titled Silvermay , was released
in 2011. The second book,titled Tamlyn follows more of
Silvermay's adventures and keeps up her romance with the handsome but potentially dangerous Tamlyn Strongbow. It was released in June, 2012. My
current project is the third book, titled "Lucien" which rounds out the series for
Silvermay and especially character named Lucien whom she first met as a
I have also written my first adult novel,
The Tower Mill, which will be
released in September 2012. It is about the relationship between a
mother and her son cast against the backdrop of politics in Queensland
during the period dominated by Joh Bjelke Petersen.
did you come to write about Aboriginal characters such as Dougy and
When I was a young man, 22 years old, I went to live
and teach in a small town in Western Queensland. Many of the people who
lived there and many of the students in my class were aborigines. As an
outsider, I began to notice the undercurrent of racism in the town in a
way that many of the townspeople did not recognise. For much of the time
it was hidden but once white people began to speak about aborigines,
telling stories about them and sharing jokes, the racist viewpoint came to
I could see what it was doing to the young boys and girls
in my class, too. The black children were already taking on the view of
themselves that white people had, that they were useless, lazy, given
everything for free.
At the same time, I could not ignore the problems
that alcohol caused for many of the aborigines in the town either. All of
this set me worrying and thinking and twelve years after I left that town,
I decided to write about it. The result was
Dougy and later, Gracey.
Most of the
incidents in the story are made up, but some are loosely based on actual
events I saw or heard about.
you ever model any of your characters on family or friends?
No. It would be unfair and besides, they might recognise
themselves and get upset.
However, I often combine the behaviour and
characteristics of a number of people I know into one character in a book.
A lot of writers do this, I think. It is very difficult to create new and
fresh and interesting people out of your head. Writers watch and listen to
people all the time. Dougy is a combination of a number of aboriginal
children whom I knew. Aunt Beryl in A Bridge to Wiseman's
Cove is also a combination of a number of women I have come
across and to tell you the truth, not liked very much.
writers make a lot of money?
Some of them do. People who
write best sellers, such as Stephen King, Tom Clancy, John Grisham
and so on are wealthy and of course JK Rowling is one of the richest
women in the world, thanks to Harry Potter. In Australia, there are a
couple of children's and Young Adult writers who have made a lot of money
out of their books. You can probably guess who they are.
Then there are
people like me, who can make a modest living out of writing and speaking
in schools and at festivals. After that, there are thousands of writers
who make a little money from writing but have to have another job as well
to pay the bills.
It comes down to how many books you sell.
are paid a royalty for each book sold. Generally, this royalty is 10% of
what you pay in a bookshop. The other 90% goes to the bookseller, the
publisher and the distributor. That means we have to sell a lot of books
to become wealthy.
Believe it or not, most writers don't want to be
very wealthy. They would be happy to make a modest living so they can keep
on doing what they love – writing.
You Have Any Advice for Young Writers?
Answers 1 - For when
your teacher sets a creative writing assignment and you don't want to do
Commiserations! To get it over and done with and still get a good
mark, be prepared to write the story TWICE. First time, don't worry about
length and don't count words. Think and start writing. Ask what can happen
in this story. Who are the characters - Best to keep the number down to
two or three, maybe even just one. What is the main character's problem,
what does he/she want eg. To escape from danger, win someone's heart,
finish first in a race, get the better of a bully. If you can answer that
question already, you are half way there because you have a direction for
the story - a climax. Use your own experience, including what you have
seen on TV, movies or read in books to keep asking what happens
next, or what are the characters feeling now, how would they respond
to … Because you don't know exactly where your story is going, you should
be asking over and over, what if? What if this happened, what if they went
there, what if she said that? This will give you a whole mess of ideas and
you have to work out where the story can go with those ideas. The most
important thing is to end up with an ending so start thinking about this
after a while. Once you have an ending, you can build the rest of the
story towards it.
The second time you write the story is to strip away
what you don't want, find the good stuff that is there and add what isn't
there yet. This is when you think about Beginning, Middle, End. Don't make
your whole story Beginning or there will be no room for Middle and End.
Plan it out, structure it. Good luck!
Answer 2 - For
those who love writing and would like to be a writer one day.
the world. Start planning today. Out there are all the people you will
base your characters on, all the places you will set your stories in and
all the events that will form the plots of your stories. You don't have to
go overseas necessarily (though I recommend it). A bus or car trip around
Australia with some friends will be just as useful. The idea is to
experience as much as you can. Life experience is like gold to the writer.
And of course, observe, remember and think about what you experience. Keep
a notebook or diary if you are that kind of person. Store it up.
technical side, don't worry about style. Think about your audience, who
you want to write for and just imagine you are telling them a story. Your
own style of writing and story telling will emerge and grow. You will
learn most about the technical side of writing by reading as many books as
possible. While you are reading, ask yourself, why am I enjoying this
story, why are these characters interesting? Is the story or the
setting interesting, why? Writing is a skill you can learn from others so
take a good look at how others do it.
Then, have a go and keep at it
for as long as you love it. Be prepared for knock backs and
disappointments. It is all part of being a writer.