I was born in Broome in the topical north of Western Australia in 1954, at a time when it was an isolated, almost derelict town that no one went to, or came from. My dad was the PMG (Telecom) technician for an area the size of Europe and we lived there for several years until he was transferred south to Mullewa at the edge of the wheat belt.
I have three younger brothers, Ian, Bruce and Colin and we lived in several country towns throughout Western Australia during my childhood. When I turned ten the family moved to Kalamunda, in the hills above Perth, where my parents, Barb and Jack, still live.
I have worked at various jobs over the past thirty five years and after some time travelling overseas, in 1984 I returned to Perth and over the next twenty five years I became a Publishersí Sales Rep, Bookstore Manager, Bookstore Owner and finally a Contractor for Gumdrop Books, a marvellous school book supply company.
I share an old Federation house near central Perth with my wife Jan, a High School Librarian , the neighboursí cats and four goldfish named Errol Fin, Elizabeth Taylor, David Blowie and Wanda. I spend my spare time reading, of course, watching old movies and really enjoy travelling, woodworking and photography.
Influences on my Writing
Like many people my age, I became hooked on reading after discovering Enid Blyton and The Secret Seven at age 7.The Famous Five and Just William quickly followed. I soon moved on to Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Biggles and all the usual books that were available for kids in the 1960s. Geoffrey Trease and Rosemary Sutcliffe had a huge effect on me and added to my growing appreciation for history.
I fell in love with black and white movies during the Saturday matinees at the old picture theatre in Narrogin and, even now, still stay up late to revisit many of them. It feels like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes. The first movies I can remember are Fra Diabolo with Laurel and Hardy and The Wicked Lady starring Margaret Lockwood as a female highwayman.
In Narrogin I also joined ABC Radioís Argonauts Club and much to my amazement and everlasting delight had a story read out on the wireless. I still remember the excitement of this as clearly as if it happened yesterday. My membership number is Theogenes 42. I think it was this experience that whetted my appetite to become a writer and be involved with books most my life.
About my books and writing
Though Iíd been writing stories since I was a kid my first published book, Ashe of the Outback, was written in collaboration with David Turton and cartoonist, Alan Langoulant, with reluctant readers (who are usually boys), firmly in mind. Ashe proved to be such a success that two more books followed, featuring the same characters. Although they are set in the Australian outback, and full of Australian references, the humour I tried to create in the Ashe series is a cross between a very understated British style and full on, slip-on-the-banana-peel, slapstick. Imagine Dadís Army meets Charlie Chaplin!
The award winning In Flanders Fields was also inspired by my early reading and film experiences. The final scene in Lewis Milestoneís silent movie classic All Quiet on the Western Front, where the German hero reaches for a butterfly and is shot by a sniper, was so stark and moving that itís haunted me ever since. The picture book, Rose Blanche and Eric Bogleís song, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda both influenced the writing of In Flanders Fields.
Once Fremantle Arts Centre Press had somewhat bravely accepted In Flanders Fields for publication, (since war is an unusual subject for a kidsí book), the choice of illustrator was critical. It had to be someone skilled enough to reproduce the sombre appearance of sepia photographs I envisaged as I wrote the story. My great friend, author, Glyn Parry, came across Brian Harrison- Leverís work while visiting Tasmania.
Brian sent me a few sample illustrations of my storyline and I knew instantly we had found the right person. Ray Coffey and Clive Newman at Fremantle Arts Centre Press agreed without hesitation. We were all astounded at his talent. The illustrations complemented the text perfectly and captured the mood of the trenches in the Great War. Brianís love of history shows through in his painstaking research and meticulous attention to detail. His son, Tom, was the model for the young soldier and Brian often became so emotionally caught up in his work that he almost felt he was sending his son off to war every day.
Another picture book, published 2004, and again illustrated by Brian Harrison-Lever, is The Call of the Osprey and deals with friendship and respect across the generations with a heavy dose of nostalgia as an old man and a boy work to restore a derelict steamboat.
For my next book, A Fine Mess, I returned to my first love of over-the-top slapstick humour, setting the story in a country high school with as much going wrong as I could possibly cram in (and the editor would let me get away with), including setting the school alight. The sequel, Another Fine Mess 002, was published in 2007.
My next book, Jackís Island, published in June 2008, is another teen novel and is an adventure story set on Rottnest Island off the Western Australian coast during the expected Japanese invasion of World War II.
Iím currently working on several projects, including The Goldminerís Son, another historical picture book set in Coolgardie in the WA goldfields about mining disaster the 1907, which luckily, had a happy ending. An adult comedy novel called The Golden Fleece is underway and I have begun working on another historical novel for young adults titled Goldstrike.
WA Premierís Summer Reading Challenge 2007 2008: Questions for the Authors
I was born in Broome in 1954, am the eldest of four brothers and lived in several country towns throughout Western Australia during my childhood. When I turned 10 the family moved to Kalamunda, in the hills above Perth, where my parents still live.
I began writing when in primary school and had a story read on the ABC Radio kidís club, but it took many, many years before I had my first picture book published. I now live in a 100 year old house near the city with my wife Jan, a school librarian, and my collection of books and old movies.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Read. I like comedies and funny writers, historical novels, spy thrillers and well constructed sentences but, above all, I like a good story that drags you along with it.
Travel and take photographs, especially to Europe. I love the old castles, cathedrals, villages, country pubs, museums, battle grounds and all the stuff that makes history so exciting.
Watch old movies, especially black and white dramas, westerns and silent comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy (go and look them up.)
I like woodworking and have made several pieces of furniture using old recycled Jarrah. I love the smell of wood shavings and the sense of achievement when you so something as well as you can.
Did I have a favourite teacher?
Mrs Steele, my grade one teacher at Narrogin Primary School, who died last year aged 96. At the time I hated her with an absolute passion, but she taught me to read, the greatest gift I can imagine. My opinion of her has mellowed over the years, especially now that I am older than she was when I was in her class, and I now thank her every day for giving me my lifeís work.
What books did I enjoy reading?
- Dick and Dora series. They were incredibly boring Grade I readers. I didn't enjoy them but they got me started. What parent would really call their kids Dick and Dora?
- Well Done Secret Seven. Well done, indeed. You hooked me for life.
- Treasure Island. Robert Louis Stevenson set up a love of adventure stories in me.
- Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. I still want to be Tom Sawyer when I grow up.
- Swiss Family Robinson
- Swallows and Amazons
- Just William. He still influences my writing. The boys in A Fine Mess are clones of William and Ginger, his mate.
- Jennings and Derbyshire
- The Beano
- Look and Learn Magazine
- From Russia with Love
My pick as a must read.
Anything by Robert Louis Stevenson. He was a fabulous, timeless, storyteller with a great sense of adventure. And that is what books should do, carry us away on adventures we canít have ourselves.
My favourite place to read.
In the bath, armchair, bed, outside, cafes. Wherever I happen to be and there are words available to be read. If not books then the newspaper, cereal boxes, menus, wine labels, stop signs, etc.
What inspired you to become a writer?
Truthfully? I canít remember. Iíve wanted to all my life. Perhaps because I couldnít be the eighth member of the Secret Seven I had to invent my own fictional worlds.
A film called Beloved Infidel, starring Gregory Peck, about the famous writer F Scott Fitzgerald certainly suggested the idea of the romantic, tortured writer to me. At 14 I could see myself being like that. These days Iím not particularly tortured nor do I look like Gregory Peck or Scott Fitzgerald.
Why is reading so special to you?
The places and people in the books I read were fascinating and exotic and far more so than anything in Narrogin or in my life, though that is not saying a lot. Narrogin in the 60s wasn't Swinging London. I wanted to be a character in a book and share the heroís adventures. That soon developed so that I wanted to be the hero myself. My books took me to places I wasnít able to visit until years and years later. When I did finally get to tour many of the locations where my childhood books had been set, it was like coming home. While travelling through Cornwall I half expected to come across a smugglerís cave or bump into the Famous Five or even Enid Blyton.