2014: Creating the sense of the beautiful

Have you ever read a piece of writing that is so amazing, that so captures the essence of its subject, it takes your breath away? Or heard a piece of music that is so exquisite it seems to resonate inside you? Or perhaps you’ve looked at a work of art that is so breathtaking you want to hold the image in your mind so that the emotion stays with you forever?

The distinguished German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said that ‘a person should hear a little music, read a little poetry and see a fine picture every day in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul’.* As a writer, I often find myself inspired by the creativity of other artists.

This week, after several movie-free months, I happened to see two quite different moviesRailway Man I really enjoyed: Philomena, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, and The Railway Man, with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. Apart from the great acting performances and the pull of both stories, I also found myself thinking at times, ‘That’s the sort of emotion I want to generate in my writing. How can I do that with words on a page?’ And once again I dips me lid to the screenwriters who can make that happen.

GOMA surrealismLooking at art can do that for me too. In Brisbane, Queensland, where I live, we’re blessed with an excellent Art Gallery as well as the Gallery of Modern Art. Although I haven’t been to either recently, I feel the gap, as if I’ve been deprived, because I know from past visits how wandering through the exhibitions reinvigorates my soul. I don’t like everything I see, but I don’t mind being provoked, either, because I believe that one of the roles of good art, like good writing, is not to be bland.

Early in December I went to two concerts that also took my breath away. One was a Christmas concert by students from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, held in St John’s Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane, and the other was a performance of The Messiah, by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and a chamber choir. I’m not a musician and even my singing in the shower frightens the dog next door, but beautiful music can transport me. By the same token, I also enjoyed a retro performance of the musical Hair recently, and a jazz and blues CD I received for Christmas.

And, of course, I constantly read what other people write, fiction and non-fiction, and I’m moved and challenged, and sometimes disappointed, by the ways that authors use words.

These experiences of other people’s creativity invariably stimulate me to want to write better, both fiction and non-fiction, and in my academic work, too. Occasionally I have a go at writing poetry, but so far nothing I want to expose to public gaze.

So I agree entirely with Goethe about the need to feed our souls with art, poetry and music, and if I have a New Year’s resolution at all, perhaps it is that I must remember to have a good helping of other people’s creativity this year, and continue to strive to put my own words together in ways that will make readers respond in their hearts, minds and souls. I hope I can create ‘the sense of the beautiful’.

Perhaps, in our daily lives, we can all aim to create more of ‘the sense of the beautiful’ in 2014, whatever we do in life. How might you create more of the sense of the beautiful this coming year?

cheers

Darryl Dymock

*From Soul Happy, a book of sayings compiled by Kobi Yamada, and one of my welcome Christmas presents in December.

A Runaway success, another trail-blazer, & Whispers

Runaway Bay

If you’re unemployed, what do you do if you keep sending your resumé in response to job advertisements and not only don’t get an interview, but not even the courtesy of a reply?

That was a question one of the participants asked at a recent author

Runaway Bay Gold Coast Queensland

Runaway Bay Gold Coast Queensland

event I was invited to present at the library at the intriguingly named Runaway Bay on Queensland’s Gold Coast as part of the city’s impressive program for over 50s.

Another of the large and lively group at the event asked my opinion on how one registered training organisation could be offering an accredited training course for A$45, when others were asking A$2000 for the same course.

As you can appreciate from those two questions, it was an interesting and interested group, and I thoroughly enjoyed the interaction with them as I talked about my e-book, Extending your use-by date. And I tried my best to respond individually and personally to those questions from my own knowledge and experience.

My main message in that book is that we need to accentuate the positive as we grow older, because older people are capable of much more than many people think they are, including older people themselves. Older people need to fight age stereotypes and discrimination, and they need to back themselves, while at the same time being realistic about their capabilities and chances of (re-)employment. But we need to keep chipping away at the ageist attitudes that exist so that people can continue working into older age if they want to, and find stimulating and rewarding work, including as volunteers.

The invitation to speak at Runaway Bay Library came from Rochelle Smith, the Program Development Office for the City of Gold Coast Library Service. I was grateful for the support and positive feedback on the day from Chris Taylor, the Senior Librarian at Runaway Bay.

Dick SmithAO  Entrepeneur & Aviator

Dick SmithAO Entrepeneur & Aviator

Dick Smith

One well-known Australian who keeps extending his use-by date is Dick Smith, AO. Born in 1944, Dick is a very successful Australian entrepreneur, businessman, and aviator. I had heard he was going to Italy to check out the crash site of Bert Hinkler, the pioneer aviator who is the subject of my recent book, Hustling Hinkler, so I sent him a copy. It turns out he’d already bought one, and told me it was a ‘fantastic book, totally absorbing’. Coming from someone who himself could be described as a trailblazer, and who followed part of Hinkler’s 1933 record-breaking flight route to Australia in a round-the world-helicopter flight, that’s a very gratifying and generous response.

Whispers

Thanks to the Queensland Writers’ Centre, I had the opportunity one recent Saturday afternoon to do a short reading from Hustling Hinkler, as part of QWC’s monthly Whispers program. My fellow authors were: Edwina Shaw, Nicola Alter, Adair Jones, and Inga Simpson, and all of us are ‘graduates’ of the QWC/ Hachette Manuscript Development Program, an annual event that attracts applicants from across the country.

Whispers takes place at the Library Café, which is a sheltered outdoor venue, open to the public. So we did our readings to a somewhat mobile audience, some of whom are long-time followers of the Whispers program, some of whom turned up just for the day, and some who thought they were just sitting down with a quiet cup of coffee when a book reading broke out. Good fun, and great to hear those talented writers read from their own work.

From left: Nicola Alter, Darryl Dymock, Inga Simpson, Adair Jones, Edwina Shaw

From left: Nicola Alter, Darryl Dymock, Inga Simpson, Adair Jones, Edwina Shaw

If you had a choice, which author from anywhere in the world would you like to hear read an extract, and from which book?

Hustling Hinkler on tour – and another surprise guest

Alice Wood, the marvellous publicist at Hachette Australia, not only arranged for me to recently do a short tour visiting bookshops and giving a talk or two about my biography of aviation pioneer, Bert Hinkler, called Hustling Hinkler, she also managed to find venues in some of the most spectacular country in south-east Queensland. But neither of us anticipated the surprise guest at my last stop.

At Maleny in the mountains

The tour started in the delightful town of Maleny, which sits at around 500 metres in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, and supports a thriving artistic community (and vice versa, no doubt). It also embraces Rosetta Books, run by the effervescent Anne Brown, who has just installed a magnificent

A familiar face in the window of Rosetta Books, Maleny

A familiar face in the window of Rosetta Books, Maleny

cyclindrical brass coffee machine in one corner, to complement the enticing display of books. My evening talk on Hustling Hinkler was well received by a mixed audience that included several pilots, and we had a stimulating question and answer session afterwards.

Noosa sojourn

Next morning my wife Cheryl and I headed along the road that follows the ridge of the Blackall range, which gave us spectacular views across to the coast. We could see the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean as it pounded that part of the eastern edge of Australia, but when we got up close and

Debbie at Mary Ryans, Noosa

Debbie at Mary Ryans, Noosa

personal at the beachside town of Noosa, the sea became translucent green close to shore and the waves that surfers love to ride were almost iridescent blue. Hastings Street is the No. 1 shopping strip in that part of the world, and I was glad to be able to make a pre-arranged visit to Mary Ryans bookshop where Debbie helpfully set up a stack of Hustling Hinkler copies for me to sign.

Then it was off to nearby Noosa Junction, where Rachel Burgoine and Catherine Fisk warmly welcomed me to the Written Dimension bookshop, and they too happily pulled out their stock of Hustling Hinkler for me to sign. Rachel also persuaded me to buy a copy of ‘The last Explorer’, by Simon Nasht, the story of the Australian adventurer Hubert Wilkins, who receives a tiny mention in my book. It’s a great read.

Rachel Burgoine & Catherine Fisk, The Written Dimension, Noosa

Rachel Burgoine & Catherine Fisk, The Written Dimension, Noosa

It’s great to see these independent bookshops still holding their own in the market in these tough times.

Back to Bundaberg

Saturday morning we drove up the Pacific Highway to Bundaberg Library, where it was gratifying to see a full house for my talk, hosted by the Regional Supervisor, David Cornwell. It was great to have the local long-time Bert Hinkler expert, Lex Rowland, introduce me, and to hear his generous words about the book. I’ve been to Bundaberg a number of times while researching for the book, and Lex

with Bert Hinkler's nephew, Ron, at Bundaberg Library

with Bert Hinkler’s nephew, Ron, at Bundaberg Library

reminded me that my first contact with him and the Hinkler House Museum was in 2004/5.What made the occasion even more special this time was the presence at the library of Ron Hinkler, the famous aviator’s nephew, who told me he was enjoying reading the book. Ron was there with other family members and is still very much on the ball.

I was also thrilled to catch up with old friends – local author and writing stalwart, Sandy Curtis, and a former Griffith University student, Helen Dyer, now working at the Bundaberg campus of Central Queensland University. There were interesting questions from the audience, especially about the writing process, part of which I have written about in earlier blogs, including the significant part

with local author Sandy Curtis (r), Helen Dyer CQU & husband Matt at Bundaberg Library

with local author Sandy Curtis (r), Helen Dyer CQU & husband Matt at Bundaberg Library

played by the Bundaberg writers’ festival, Writefest. Dymocks Bundaberg supported the event and I’m pleased to say I signed quite a few copies of Hustling Hinkler purchased that day, as well as the copies the library was about to put on its shelves for loan.

Blue-green at Bargara

Afterwards, we headed a few kilometres out of town to the blue-green waters of Bargara, the waves rippling only gently on to the beach because of a protective off-shore reef. It wasn’t quite as peaceful back in January 2013, when coastal dwellings were menaced by typhoons, and much of the city was flooded, including the Hinkler Hall of Aviation in Bundaberg North. I’ll talk a little about those events and my recent visit to the now re-opened Hall of Aviation in a later blog.

Bargara Beach

Bargara Beach

Today I saw a bumper sticker for a Brisbane private high school, with the slogan ‘Born to fly’. Bert Hinkler would have liked that.

Surprise visitor at Hustling Hinkler library talk

One of the rewarding aspects of talking about and signing my Hustling Hinkler book is meeting lots of fascinating people, all with their own stories to tell. I had a pleasant suprise at Carindale Library on Saturday 17 August, when I discovered mid-way through my talk that in the audience was 92-year-old Eldred (Ed) Cunningham, who told us he had seen Bert Hinkler arrive in Bundaberg at the end of his record-breaking England-Australia flight in 1928!

with Jennie at Carindale Library 17 August 2013

with Jennie at Carindale Library 17 August 2013

Not only did Ed vividly remember that day he went along with his dad to see the famous aviator land, he gave us a brilliant rendition of the 1928 song, ‘Hustling Hinkler’. The 25 or so people assembled at the library for the occasion gave him a well-deserved burst of applause for his contribution to a very enjoyable session. My wife Cheryl has suggested I should take Ed and his Hustling Hinkler song with me whenever I talk about the book.

Carindale Library is a modern progressive facility with great resources and well-equipped meeting

with Craig, co-owner of Dymock Carindale, Brisbane

with Craig, co-owner of Dymocks Carindale, Brisbane

rooms, and I am thankful to Jennie and the other staff there for the invitation to talk about Hustling Hinkler. Olwyn from Dymocks Carindale was also there with a book stand, and kindly invited me to the store, where I found myself face-to-face with a poster of myself. Scary.

Hustling Hinkler and I have been busy the past week. In addition to the Carindale Library talk, I did interviews with Sky Kirkham for the 4ZZZZ bookclub, Sue Gammon and David on ABC Wide Bay (which includes Bert Hinkler’s hometown of Bundaberg), and two with newspapers: Megan from the Sunshine Coast Daily, and Jim Fagon from Noosa Today.

On Friday, I had an interesting and enjoyable chat on ABC local radio with Phil Smith and his mate Ian ‘Watto’ Watson, in the ‘Shed happens’ segment,  on the theme of ‘blokes and the spirit of adventure – are there still “Hinklers” today?’  You can download an mp3 of the show, which is part of ‘Breakfast on Saturday’ program. Watto has written a self-published book, Every bloke’s a champion – even you, which he tells me is available at ABC online. His theme, ‘I’ve never seen a bloke go backwards with encouragement’, has echoes of my e-book, Extending your use-by date: why retirement age is only a number, published earlier this year.

In the coming week, I’m doing an interview on the ABC Sunshine Coast breakfast program on Wednesday, then I’m off on a short tour – firstly to Rosetta Books Maleny (Sunshine Coast hinterland) at 6pm Thursday 22 August, and then the following evening at Written Dimension at nearby Noosa. On Saturday 24 August at 11am I’ll be at the library in Bert Hinkler’s hometown of Bundaberg.

I’m looking forward to returning to that city, which was affected by severe flooding earlier this year,

Hinkler Hall of Aviation Bundaberg

Hinkler Hall of Aviation Bundaberg

and is apparently still recovering. In an earlier blog, I told how that event had an impact on my plans to obtain photos for Hustling Hinkler, because the waters that washed away parts of the city also swept through the records section of the Hinkler Hall of Aviation. Fortunately that marvellous facility has now re-opened.

Book launch for Hustling Hinkler ends with author as window display

Hustling Hinkler launch - Riverbend Books

Hustling Hinkler launch – Riverbend Books

We had a wonderful launch of Hustling Hinkler at Riverbend Books in Brisbane on Friday 9 August, which happened to be the eve of National Bookshop Day in Australia. It was a balmy spring evening in Brisbane, and the outside deck at Riverbend was crowded with people chatting and having a drink before the more formal part of the proceedings got under way.  I was grateful to my brother Ian (who is always quick to point out that he is the younger of the two boys in our family) for emceeing the event and establishing the warm tone that prevailed throughout the evening (until the dressing gown episode – see below).

The CEO of the Queensland Writers Centre, Meg Vann, launched the book with generous words that were clearly appreciated by the 60+ members of the audience. I am particularly pleased that Meg was able to accept the invitation to launch the book, because QWC is a co-sponsor with Hachette of the Manuscript Development Program.

Meg Vann, QWC CEO, launching Hustling Hinkler at Riverbend Books, Brisbane

Meg Vann, QWC CEO, launching Hustling Hinkler at Riverbend Books, Brisbane

As part of the celebration, my work colleague, singer and song-leader, Ray Smith, cajoled the audience into singing a song from 1928. They responded so enthusiastically that the diners at the Mexican restaurant next door must have paused in mid-mouthful as the sound echoed across the ‘lifestyle precinct’ of Oxford Street, Bulimba, on a Friday night.

It was great to see family members, work colleagues and friends from various parts of my life at the launch, as well as fellow writers from the 2010 Development Workshop, Rebekah Turner and Charlotte Nash. I made new friends too – keen readers on Riverbend’s mailing list who responded to the invitation.

Beforehand, I had spent most of Friday with the very professional Adele Fewster, visiting ten bookshops around Brisbane, and signing copies of Hustling Hinkler. It was really good to meet the booksellers, people in the frontline of the publishing industry who, despite sometimes gloomy predictions, in general were very positive about the role of bookshops and optimistic about sales. It’s great that National Bookshop Day recognises their place in the community.

An unexpected element of the launch was when Krysi from Riverbend asked me if I would loll on a chaise lounge in the window of the bookshop to have my photo taken for Riverbend’s Facebook page for National Bookshop Day. If you think you’re up to it, you can see me in a dressing gown (!) reading Hustling Hinkler, on my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/darryldymockwriter

Hustling Hinkler: Book launch at end of rocky road

In a previous blog, I talked about the rocky road to publication. Well, that road has finally come to a happy end on this occasion – on 30 July Hachette Australia published my non-fiction book, Hustling Hinkler: the short tumultuous life of a trailblazing Australian aviator, in hard copy and online. The launch will be on Friday 9 August at 6pm at Riverbend Books, Oxford Street, Bulimba, and anyone in the vicinity is welcome – it’s free, but you need to book: phone 07 3899 8555. For those readers of my blog elsewhere in Australia and across the world, I hope you are able to obtain a copy from your local bookshop or online.

I was in Singapore on business the day Hustling Hinkler went onto the bookshop shelves in Australia, so solaced myself by downloading an e-copy to my tablet, which I read on the plane during the seven-hour trip home. I really enjoyed it – this D R Dymock is a great writer, I said to myself 🙂

I will have to wait for more objective reviews, but have been encouraged by the generous endorsement in the book by Richard de Crespigny, author of the multi-award winning QF32 (about how he saved a Qantas plane from a mid-air disaster).

Since my return to Brisbane, I’ve enjoyed doing four radio interviews about the book, with Wayne Taylor at Radio West, Perth, John Stanley for his 2UE Sydney Weekend Breakfast program, Chris Coleman on ABC Statewide Afternoons NSW, and Tim Cox on my local ABC station, 612 Brisbane.

My busy publicist at Hachette, Alice Wood, has lined up more interviews for me over the next couple of weeks. I’ll also be appearing at Carindale Library, Brisbane, at 10am on Saturday 17 August, and the following Saturday, 24 August, at Bundaberg Library at 11am, both in association with Dymocks* bookstores.

I’m also delighted to have been invited to be the guest of Rosetta Books at Maleny, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, at 6pm on Thursday 22 August, and the following evening at the nearby Written Dimension, Noosa Junction. Then it will be a sprint up the highway (but obeying the speed limit, of course) to Bundaberg on Saturday morning for my library appearance there.

In the first review I’ve seen of the book since its publication, I was heartened that the reviewer, Owen Zupp, a commercial pilot and author of 50 Tales of Flight, appreciated what I was trying to achieve in Hustling Hinkler – to show the man behind the hero:

“In life and death, Bert Hinkler was a rare blend of hero and enigma. Darryl Dymock has wonderfully and respectfully recalled his achievements and revealed new perspectives of this quiet, complex Queenslander. ‘Hustling Hinkler’ is a book that not only examines the daring lone flier, but helps us to Hinkler head shotunderstand the man. As such it is fascinating reading for anyone with an interest in flight, history or the human condition.”

If other reviews show that the book has reached the reader in this way, I will be a contented author. Until the next book, that is

* No relation

I almost cried and damn near died: The rocky road to publication

In an earlier blog, I told you that my narrative non-fiction book, Hustling Hinkler, which was selected for the 2010 Queensland Writers Centre/Hachette Development Workshop, will be published by Hachette Australia in August this year. If you’re a non-fiction writer, I’d like to tell you that the first most important thing I’ve learned along the way is that narrative non-fiction tells a story. This may seem self-evident, but what matters is how you tell the story.

Although the basic and remarkable story of Bert Hinkler, the trail-blazing aviator, has stayed the same, and is based on extensive research, the style of the writing is quite a way from where it started. Vanessa Radnidge, the publisher at Hachette, continually said to me, ‘You know Hinkler’s story so well. Just tell his story.’ The manuscript went through a number of iterations, and I read lots of other non-fiction before the penny fully dropped. I clearly remember saying aloud, to myself, ‘I get it, Vanessa. I get it!’ Tell the story! Build word pictures! Engage the reader! And Vanessa agreed I’d got it too. And she convinced the rest of Hachette Australia that I’d got it. And now it will be published. On 30 July. With my name on the cover. Awesome.

On re-reading the paragraph above, I can see it is an inadequate summary of my journey from when the book was chosen for the 2010 Development Workshop, and where it is today, about to come off the press. The truth is that I sweated, I doubted, I was up, I was down, I almost cried and damn near died! But I didn’t give up.

This leads me to the second most important thing I’ve learned: write, rewrite and rewrite again. Of course, it’s likely that no author is entirely happy with every aspect of their story, whether it be non-fiction or fiction. But nor should we be satisfied with our first draft, or even the second or third.  Keep writing until it’s the best you can make it.  I wrestled with that manuscript, I wrote it and rewrote it in response to what I learned at the QWC/Hachette Development Workshop, and I wrote it and rewrote it in response to what the Hachette publisher and editors wanted, before I was offered a contract. And I’ve revised it at least twice since. (It also had a change of title along the way – better to get the storytelling right, then worry about the title.)

Some of what I initially regarded as brilliant writing, cleverly linking parts of Bert Hinkler’s life together in a way that readers would no doubt find fascinating, perhaps even highly amusing, ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. And good writing needs good editing – check the spelling, check the grammar, and don’t be cute with fonts and embellishments. Write, rewrite, proofread. As my former tutor, Kim Wilkins, said in the June 2013 issue of WQ magazine, aim for excellence.

And the third piece of advice I have from my relatively short literary career is: don’t give up. Publishing is a tough industry, and arguably more volatile than ever. The demise of bookshops such as Borders and Angus and Robertson means there are fewer outlets in Australia, and e-publishing (into which I have also recently entered, with Xoum Publishing) is still a developing and uncertain field for writers and publishers alike. Nevertheless, writers are still getting published.

Above the desk where I write, I have pinned a quote from the late Isaac Asimov, the science fiction writer,

Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov

and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, who wrote more than 500 books.  Asimov said:

You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.

I’m a great believer in persistence.

‘Hustling Hinkler’ and other productive stories

Being productive 1

Things are starting to hot up as the launch of Hustling Hinkler: the short tumultuous life of a trail-blazing Australian aviator, draws near. Hachette Australia will publish this narrative non-fiction book on 30 July, so it will be in the bookshops and online from that date onwards. The book is currently with the printer, and I’m looking forward to finally having a copy in my hands.

The publicist I’ve been working with at Hachette, Alice Wood, has been setting up author events with libraries and bookshops, and it will be great to be able to talk about Hustling Hinkler on those occasions, and meet with prospective readers. If you’re in southern Queensland, watch for details here and in the press; if you’re not, watch for the book in your bookshop and online.

Being productive 2

On 10 July, the Brisbane Courier Mail published a feature article by Fran Metcalf about the Queensland Writers Centre/Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program, based on interviews with fellow Hachette author, Charlotte Nash and myself. Charlotte and I took part in the 2010 development program, and Fran Metcalf did a good job weaving our stories together.

Being productive 3

In regard to my other book published this year, Extending your use-by date, I recently submitted a related article, ‘Have you got a use-by date?’ to a new e-magazine, Starts at sixty, which was published on 26 June. I hope to contribute more articles to this publication, which, as its name suggests, is aimed at people of older age.

Being productive 4

Marc Freedman, founder and CEO in the US of Encore.org, a nonprofit organization working to promote encore careers – ‘second acts for the greater good’ – was in Australia recently. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to hear him speak, but I understand there are moves afoot to establish ‘Encore Fellowships’, pioneered by Freedman and his organisation in Australia, through local not-for-profit activist, Doug Jacquier. While Extending your use-by date is about more than working with non-profit organisations in later life, it shares similar themes to those espoused by Freedman.

Being productive 5

And speaking of being productive into older age, I promised a former Army colleague, Bob Whittaker, that I’d mention his book, Jellybeans in the jungle, in my blog. Bob and I did our Australian Army recruit training together when we were both conscripted as National Servicemen (Nashos) in our 20s, but our subsequent postings were very different. Jellybeans in the jungle is described as ‘one man’s attempt to make sense of his experience as a conscripted soldier during Australia’s war in Vietnam.’ You can find the book by clicking on the highlighted link.

Hustling Hinkler: Learning to be a writer

I often wander around bookshops, entranced by the range of titles, but at the same time overwhelmed by the number of authors there are. So to think that soon my book, my name, will be on those shelves alongside (well, close to) some of the world’s best-known authors is mind-boggling. And I have mainly the 2010 Queensland Writers Centre/Hachette Development Workshop to thank for it. Applications are currently being called for the 2013 workshop, and the deadline has been extended to 12 July.

The author in his Hustling Hinkler T-shirt

The author in his Hustling Hinkler T-shirt

When I turned up for the first session of that 2010 workshop, I discovered I was the only one there who was a) writing non-fiction, and b) of the masculine gender. The other seven were wrestling with the manuscripts of novels in a range of genres, including crime, reality-based fiction, various sorts of romance and relationships, and speculative fiction (whatever that was). That was a very supportive time, and I’m still in touch with most of my fellow writers, several of whom have since been published.

The funny thing is, that my narrative non-fiction book started life in a different genre – as a young adult novel. I had the rather limited idea that if there was already an existing biography, it wasn’t worth writing another one. So when I re-discovered this intriguing pioneer aviator called Bert Hinkler, I did a lot of research

Author Kim Wilkins

Author Kim Wilkins

about him, and decided to aim a fiction book at a young adult audience. Keen to develop my craft, I registered for the QWC workshop series with Kim Wilkins, Year-of-the Novel, then the follow-up, Year-of-the Edit. And I learned lots, not only about writing, but about publishing in general.

In that second year, I saw an advertisement for the Writefest event in Bundaberg and, thanks to the ever-obliging Sandy Curtis, had an opportunity to send a portion of a manuscript for consideration by a real, live literary agent, the sort of person who can tell you whether your book is any good or not, and if it is, might find a publisher for it. The agent turned out to be Sophie Hamley, a senior agent with the Sydney literary agency, Cameron Creswell, and the deal was that she’d give each of the budding authors selected, 15 minutes each. The scenario with me went something like this:

Sandy Curtis, author and key figure at Bundaberg Writefest

Sandy Curtis, author and key figure at Bundaberg Writefest

‘I’ve read the 30 pages of your YA novel,’ Sophie said, ‘and I think it’s got legs, as they say in publishing.  I’d like to see the rest of it. Can you please send me the full manuscript.’

When I finished opening and closing my mouth like a goldfish, I managed to say, ‘I’ve been doing a lot of research on Bert Hinkler, and his life story is pretty interesting in itself. I reckon there’s an adult novel in there too.’

She looked straight at me. ‘Why don’t you write his life story?’

‘But there’s already a biography,’ I said.

My dynamic agent, Sophie Hamley

My dynamic agent, Sophie Hamley

‘When was that published?’

‘1962, with a slight update in 1979.’

‘Might be time for another one,’ she said. ‘Non-fiction outsells fiction three to one in Australia.’

‘Does it?’ I said, eyes wide.

[I know this sounds like bad dialogue from a cheap novel, but that’s how I recall it.]

‘You could write it as narrative non-fiction,’ she said.

Up to this point, I thought there was fiction, non-fiction, and there was politics. What the hell was narrative non-fiction?

Now I do know something about the English language, and my lighting fast brain reminded me: ‘narrative – that means a story’. So I cleverly said, ‘You mean tell a story using non-fiction.’

She nodded, and I nodded in return. ‘Uh huh.’

Sophie must have realised I was scrambling a bit, because she gave me the titles of a couple of big-selling narrative non-fiction books. I carefully wrote the titles down, told her I’d get hold of them, and would immediately begin writing a new biography of Bert Hinkler. And after some pleasantries during which time I tried to show her what a well-read, fascinating writer I am, my 15 minutes was up.

That was five years ago. Since then, the (rewritten) young adult novel has been highly commended in a publisher’s competition, but is so far unpublished. However, I’ve had two short stories published after being selected in competitions I’ve entered, and, thanks to my agent, Sophie Hamley (see above) I signed a contract with an emerging Sydney e-publisher, Xoum Publications, for publication of a non-fiction e-book in March this year, Extending Your Use-By Date, which attracted heaps of media attention (www.xoum.com.au/shop/extending-your-use-by-date/). I’m continually working on other writing, including another non-fiction book.

And the biography? It was the one selected for the 2010 Development Workshop, and in August this year Hachette Australia will publish Hustling Hinkler: the short tumultuous life of a trail-blazing Australian aviator. In my next blog post, I’ll tell you about that book and what I learnt on the rocky road to publication.

[re-blogged from Queensland Writers Centre http://www.qwc.asn.au/connect/blog/]

Preview: Bert Hinkler biography to be published August

I’m delighted to tell you that my book, Hustling Hinkler: The short tumultuous life of an Australian aviator, will be in the bookshops and online in August. The publisher, Hachette Australia, have now posted details on their website. I’ve been working on this book for several years, and it’s based on research I’ve done on three continents. I hope readers will be as satisfied with the outcome as I am.

Hustling Hinkler tells the remarkable story of Bert Hinkler, who rose from humble beginnings in the sugar town of Bundaberg in coastal Queensland, Australia, to become a world-famous long-distance pilot. On the ground, however, things weren’t always quite so smooth …

Click here for a preview of the cover and a brief synopsis of the story of Hustling Hinkler.

Meanwhile, I did another newspaper interview this week about my e-book, published in March, Extending your use-by date:Why retirement age is only a number, and have been invited to speak about it at a library event at the Gold Coast.  Extending your use-by date  is available through the publisher, www.xoum.com.au, and  Amazon.com,  iBookstore and Kobo.