Episode 3: Interview with Koraly Dimitriadis

July 9, 2017

Australian poet, author and performer Koraly Dimitriadis is the author of the controversial Love and F**k Poems, a stunning book of poetry which has been translated into Greek with rights sold into Europe. As an opinion writer, she has contributed to publications such as The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, ABC, SBS, Daily Life, Rendezview and The Saturday Paper. Koraly has turned her poems into short films, called The Good Greek Girl Film Project, courtesy of an ArtStart Grant.

In November 2016, Koraly's theatre show Koraly: I Say The Wrong Things All The Time, will premiere at La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton, from November 30th through to December 11th.

Get to know Koraly's work at KoralyDimitriadis.com.

What You'll Learn:

1. What inspired Koraly to write Love and F**k Poems.
2. Listen to Koraly read aloud three of her poems.
3. What to expect at Koraly's upcoming show and where to book tickets.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Elizabeth: Welcome to Writers’ Tête-à-tête with Elizabeth Harris, the show that connects Authors, Poets and Songwriters with their global audience. So I can continue to bring you high-caliber guests, I want you to go to iTunes, click Subscribe, leave a review, and share this podcast with your friends.

Today I’m delighted to introduce poet, author and actor Koraly Dimitriadis. Koraly is the author of the controversial bestseller Love and F**k Poems, a stunning poetry book which has been translated into Greek with rights sold into Europe. She is an opinion writer and has contributed to publications such as Daily Life, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, ABC, SBS, Rendezvous, and The Saturday Paper. She has made short films of her poems called The Good Greek Girl Film Project, made possible with an ArtStart grant.

This November, Koraly’s theatre show, Koraly: I Say the Wrong Things All the Time, will premiere at La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton, Melbourne, from November 30 through to December 11.

Koraly Dimitriadis, welcome to Writers’ Tête-à-tête with Elizabeth Harris.

Koraly:          Thank you for having me, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth:      An absolute pleasure. Koraly, I’m a huge fan, and I love the poetry in your fantastic book Love and F**k Poems. A few things really impressed me about you. Firstly, the courage you show in writing so transparently about your life. Secondly, how you’ve handled the men who inevitably get the wrong idea about you. And thirdly, though some critics describe you as brash, you have a beautiful tender aspect. Can you please tell my listeners what inspired you to write your through-provoking book, Love and F**k Poems?

Koraly:          I think it was a long journey of repression for me that led to writing the book, so I spent most of my life just doing what was expected of me by my culture and my family, and got married quite young at 22, not really knowing who I was, not having explored my identity or my sexuality. And all my creativity, because I was steered into a professional career as an accountant and a computer programmer, and so I lived a kind of repressed existence, both creatively, sexually, in many different ways, and my feminity as well…

Elizabeth:      And certainly being an accountant would do that to you, wouldn’t it.

Koraly:          Yeah well, it’s actually working as a computer programmer. I have an accounting degree. But yeah, I think it was definitely the birth of my daughter at around 27 and I started to question my life path and what I wanted to teach her, and what kind of role model I wanted to be for her. Did I want to teach her to do what everyone wanted her to do, or to be a strong independent woman that makes her own decisions and chooses her own life?

And up until that point I hadn’t really made my own decisions. I felt like I was influenced and just did what people decided for me. And I was very suffocated. And a few years later when I kind of exploded out of my marriage and my culture and the creativity came along with that. And I was writing a lot – a lot - of poetry at the time. I was doing a course at RMIT, and particularly I was studying with Ania Walwicz, and I remember going along to the poetry class and saying to her, “I want to be a poet. Just teach me to be a poet.” And she’s like “I can’t teach you to be a poet. There are no rules in poetry.” And I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was like “Are you for real? There’s gotta be some rules.”

And her encouragement really liberated me and I started writing a lot of poetry. I mean it was all happening at the same time, like coming out of my marriage and my culture. And then I remember one day I went and saw Ben John Smith at Passionate Tongues. I don’t know if you know him. He writes a lot of sex poetry, and very honest, kind of Bukowski kind of poetry. And when I went there, I never thought “Oh! You can actually write sex poetry, write about sex.” I talked with him, and he was really another instigator in me – you can write sex poetry, you can write about sex. I had just left my marriage and was exploring my sexuality, and the poetry just came along with it. So from there I wrote Love and F**k Poems, the zine.

Elizabeth:      Which is so great, and there are so many aspects to it, which we’ll get to in the interview.

When you are writing, who or what is your major support?

Koraly:          My major support? Sorry, what do you mean?

Elizabeth:      So when you get into that zone of writing, do you draw on anything in particular? Do you draw on support from people, do you draw on support from coffee and chocolate?

Koraly:          Well, I used to have a lot of sugar when I was writing, but I stopped eating sugar 2 years ago for health reasons.

Elizabeth:      So what happened?

Koraly:          I had some issues with my stomach, so it was really good for my health, and I haven’t turned back. I still have a bit of sugar, but not as much as I used to. But anyway, I probably draw on – I feel like writing is quite an isolating process and I don’t feel very supported when I’m writing; I feel alone. That’s what I would say, but that’s where the best poetry comes out. You’re actually face to face with your true, raw, honest self, and there’s a lot of fear there, but there’s also a liberation, going “This is who I am; this is how I feel”, and I’m going to turn this into a poem.

Elizabeth:      And you do this so well.

Koraly:          Thank you.

Elizabeth:      So do you have a favourite poem, or is this like asking a mother if she has a favourite child?

Koraly:          Umm, wow, that’s a really good question. Do I have a favourite poem. I guess I have poems that I think are my strongest poems, but no, I would say that I love all my poems equally, even the ones that haven’t been edited properly and might never see the light of day. And there are a lot of those.

Elizabeth:      As I said, Koraly, I love all of your poems. However, I do have three favourites, one of which is Long Awaited Coffee Date. There is such an intensity within this brilliant poem. Can you please read it for our enjoyment?

Koraly:          Oh, okay sure. Well no one’s ever told me that Long Awaited Coffee Date is their favourite poem.

Elizabeth:      Well I’m unique … will tell you that.

Koraly:          Okay.

The Long Awaited Coffee Date

When she steps out into the sinister night

She knows he wants more of her

So she leads him to a slim alley

Down the bluestone where nobodies meet

Their lips softly touching

Hands slithering down skin

His tongue in her mouth now

Lips wide, senses ablaze

And she knows she’s not going home

Tonight.

 

It’s dark when they enter his place

Quick to close the door,

He nudges her flush to the wall

A swift movement of her skirt

He pulls down her underwear

Locates her with his cock

And already he’s inside

Sighing in relief and ecstasy

This f**k months overdue

Her palms hit the wall

He entwines his fingers with hers

           

Slowly moving inside her

His lips and tongue on her ear

She removes a hand to touch herself

But his hand is quick to follow

He tells her to let him do it

But she pushes his hand away

Because she’s climbing now

And he’ll only delay it, ruin it

 

“F**king hell!” he curses

“Why do you have to control anything

Since the moment we met

Why won’t you just let me f**k you

Why don’t you just let ME f**k YOU!”

 

Elizabeth:      Wow. (Applause.) That’s so great.

Going back to your book, in your acknowledgements for Love and F**k Poems, you thank a mutual friend of ours, the exceptionally clever editor and writer Les Zigomanis. Les has his own novel due for publication in 2017 with Pantheon Press, called Just Another Week in Suburbia. In the acknowledgements, I was intrigued to read the following: “Thank you to my editor Les Zigmanis for being the tough editor I needed who had every right to kill me during the editing of this book." (Laughter) So dramatic, Koraly! Can I ask what happened, without privacy invasion?

Koraly:            Look, Les and I have an interesting relationship. Back in I think 2010, Busybird (Publishing) was the people who published a short story of mine.

Elizabeth:      And what was it called?

Koraly:          Blood Red Numbers, and it was about a psychotic computer programmer.

(Laughter)

Elizabeth:      Was it based on anybody in particular?

Koraly:          Yes, I did draw inspiration from working in the corporate world as a computer programmer.

Elizabeth:      I never guessed!

Koraly:          Les and I formed a professional relationship at that point, and he had been following my trajectory on Facebook with Love and F**k Poems. By the way when I published the zine I didn’t expect anything to happen with Love and F**k Poems; I just wanted to have something to sell at my shows.

Elizabeth:      Can I ask you explain what a zine is for people who …

Koraly:          Ah okay, it’s kind of like … It gets its name from ‘magazine’, and it’s basically like a small kind-of magazine without you like, usually you can print off it at a photocopy place. It’s not a quality book. And I just started putting a couple of copies in Polyester Books and it just started selling really well. And so when I’d sold quite a few copies in bookshops, and I was saying to Les one day, I said “Oh, I’ve got to write my next book.” And he’s like “What are you talking about, you know? You’ve got to turn Love and F**k Poems into a book.” And I was like, “Oh okay. Do you want to edit it?” And he’s like “Yeah, okay.”

Elizabeth:      He’s editing my next book too.

Koraly:          Yeah. He’s a very – I guess ‘cause I’m quite raw and honest and he’s quite raw and honest in his editing, he doesn’t hold back …

Elizabeth:      He calls himself ‘brutal’, actually.

Koraly:          Yeah, yeah, so I think, because we are both raw and honest, it creates a kind of interesting dynamic. But that’s what you want. I mean, my director Olga Aristademi from Cyprus who’s directing my theatre show, she is also very raw and honest. And I think I really draw to people that challenge me and challenge what I’m doing, because I want to be a better artist.

So Les is a great supporter of my work and he is always very helpful, and I really like working with him as an editor.

Elizabeth:      You know, he’s wonderful. But I want to get back to that question, because I think you avoided the answer.

Koraly:          Which one?

(Laughter)

Elizabeth:      You were saying that he had every right to kill you. Now being a nurse, I find that really difficult to cope with.

Koraly:          (Laughter) I think I meant that in a tongue-in-cheek way because I go over things a lot and I want things to be perfect and I feel …

Elizabeth:      Perfectionist.

Koraly:          And so … and also because you know, I feel like he invests a lot of time in editing and I feel I owe him for that. And I have a lot of gratitude, so that’s how I show my gratitude, by saying that he should have killed me.

(Laughter)

Elizabeth:      We love gratitude, that’s for sure.

Your brilliant show – Koraly: I Say The Wrong Things All The Time – will debut on November 30th. What can theatre-goers expect from the show?

Koraly:          Well, this is the first time I’m putting on a full theatre show with sets and lights and sound and it’s a big team. There’s the people at La Mama and there’s my own team of lighting designer and set designer and all those people. I think there’s ten of us, even though there’s just me on stage. I’ve taken my poetry and turned it into a play, a narrative, a story. And as part of that it includes actual acting rather than just performing my poetry, and creating a story that people can go away and think about. I really want to connect with people, mostly women, but people in general that have problems, that struggle with being honest with who they are, and people around them.

Because society does want to put us into pigeon holes, and I’ve experienced that before. Like I said, you know, my own experiences of – you know – being steered in particular directions and not being who I want to be. I want to inspire people to be themselves and to not be afraid to be themselves, and to know that, yes, it is difficult sometimes, especially in certain cultures and religions, to stand up and be who you want to be. And there are prices and sacrifices to be made, but it’s so worth it, because it’s your life. You only have one life. And why wouldn’t you want to live that life how you want to live it. Why do we have to live according to how other people expect of us? We should just live our own lives and be happy. So that’s what I want to inspire people to do as part of this work.

Elizabeth:      And I find you incredibly inspiring, so thank you so much … being so courageous.

Koraly:          Thank you.

Elizabeth:      Another one of my favourite poems is My Words.

Koraly:          Another person actually said that to me recently. Like, really? Like, it’s not one of my favourites. (Laughs)

Elizabeth:      Yes.  And do you know why, Koraly? Because I feel it reveals your depth. Can you please share that with us?

Koraly:          Ah, okay. Yes. I’m actually going to read that poem at a White Ribbon event tomorrow.

Elizabeth:      Oh, wow.

Koraly:          And also give a speech. And they want me to read that one too, and I’m like, “Oh, that’s interesting.”

Elizabeth:      Do you want to talk a little bit about that event?

Koraly:          Yeah, it’s just a event about violence – invisible violence against women, and how emotional manipulation can be a form of violence, and how do we empower women to stand up against that. And I’ll be sharing my story like I did with you, you know, what I experienced growing up.

Elizabeth:      That’s wonderful, and again, very brave.  So My Words

Koraly:          My Words

A long time ago when I was another person

And I wore another face

I wrote short poems to try and make sense of myself.

One, with every wrong footing there is a right

Two, two steps in the wrong path equals one in the right

Three, do not abuse yourself for the blessing of a mistake

Four, regret is a naïve word – pray for mistakes

But that’s all bullsh** when your actions hurt people you care about

Like I care about you.

I have cried many tears in my life

All about things people have done to me, and my hardships, and my sad, sad life

I’m 32 years old, and tonight, for the first time,

I’m crying tears for someone else.

Pain I inflicted with my words

Oh yes! My wonderful words, my powerful narcissistic words.

Oh yes! I’m a poet, and don’t I do it so well.

I can make the crowd collapse into silence,

Like your silence, your hurt silence.

I wanted to crawl into the phone, scoop up the pain in your chest,

And bury it inside me

Not just the pain I caused, but the other pain too,

The pain you hide from me.

I heard it clearly for the first time tonight.

In my mind there is an image of the person I dream to be

You make me want to be that person.

Pity I had to hurt you to realize that, or to realize I care

So much more than I thought I was capable of

And so I write this poem, a pathetic attempt to make it better

Even though the decision you made was actually best for me

And you proved you cared more than my self-sabotaging mind allowed me to believe

So here’s to my attempt to make it better

Here’s to my bullsh** words; it’s all self-indulgent crap

My actions hurt people I care about

They can hurt people I care about …

People I care about …

Like I care about you.

 

Elizabeth:  Beautiful, beautiful. (Applause)

Koraly:      Thank you.

Elizabeth:  What do you do in your spare time to unwind, other than write poetry?

Koraly:      (Laughter) Do single mothers actually have that time?

Elizabeth:  I don’t know.

Koraly:      I would say that I love to go out dancing.

Elizabeth:  Oh wow, what sort of dancing? The Spanish Festival’s coming up this weekend.

Koraly:      Umm, anything like – I mean I like dancing to alt rock. I also like dancing to techno music, just anything.

Elizabeth:   You’re a dancing queen.

Koraly:       I’ve been told I’m a good dancer by my director Olga as well, so …

Elizabeth:   Pity we can’t see a demonstration on a podcast, Koraly.

Koraly:       Actually I’ll be dancing in my theatre show.

Elizabeth:   I’ll be there.

Koraly:       So dancing I would say, and also …

Elizabeth:    I might come up and join you on stage. (Laughter)

Koraly:        Dancing and also spending time with family and friends and going and seeing bands, that kind of stuff.

Elizabeth:    Any particular bands you love?

Koraly:        I like going to the local pub and listening to whoever’s playing,

Elizabeth:    Do you have a website or blog where my listeners can find out more about your work?

Koraly:        Yes, I have a website: www-dot-Koraly-Dimitriadis-dot-com. I used to have a blog, but I’ve since closed it because, I used to blog quite a bit when I was kinda in that explosion phase. I was blogging a lot and I kept blogging up till a year ago when I started getting articles published in publications. And then I just wanted to focus my energy on writing articles, and so I closed my blog. But people can go to my website and there are links to all the articles that I’ve published, there.

Elizabeth:    And there’s links to some film too, isn’t there.

Koraly:        Yeah, there’s links to my films.

Elizabeth:     That’s great, really great.

Koraly, this is a signature question I ask all my guests: What do you wish for for the world, and most importantly, for yourself?

Koraly:         I wish for no war, and for peace, and equality across races and gender and sexuality of course. And a brighter future for my daughter, a world that is more peaceful than what it is now, so I don’t have to worry about her when I’m gone.

Elizabeth:     Can I ask how old is she?

Koraly:         She’s 9. And also for myself, I would like to progress with my art and make a living from it.

(Laughter)

Elizabeth:     Yes, for sure.

Koraly:         That’s what I would really like. So but also I would like to inspire women and empower women, and that’s ultimately why I do what I do and put myself on the line.

Elizabeth:     I think you certainly do inspire women. Do you want to touch on some of the male reactions – I know you’ve had some fairly dramatic male reactions. And as much as we love men and admire them and so forth, sometimes I think they get the wrong idea, and need to be put on the straight and narrow with your work, so here’s your chance if you’d like to take it.

Koraly:         I think actually in Australia, the men are quite well-behaved when it comes to my art. They will contact me and tell me they like my art but they won’t usually make a pass at me. Whereas in Greece and Cyprus the men won’t hold back and they will send me very explicit messages and they will make commentary on my body, and it becomes … And I think the reason for that is because women’s writing overseas is not very respected. In Greece and Cyprus, especially the fact that I write about sex, makes me even less respected and probably means that I just want to have sex and will you have sex with me, that kind of thing.

I don’t get that in Australia. A train driver once wrote me a note about how much he likes my work, on a train technical form, and sent that to me, and I kept it. I thought it was quite funny. But you know he wasn’t making a pass at me. He was commenting on my work. And that’s fine – I don’t mind that. What I mind is when men comment on my body and think that I just want to have sex. I just ignore them, like, as if, you know.

I mean, most of the poems in Love and F**k Poems are about one guy as well, so it’s not … you know … it’s not like … People get this idea that I’m like sexually wild or whatever, but it’s kind of the opposite, so …

Elizabeth:      I think it reflects more so on themselves, maybe their hopes and wishes for their world.

I want to wrap up with one of your poems which resonates so well with me and my female friends and my enlightened male friends, and the poem is Temple.

Koraly:          Ah, Temple. Okay.

                        Temple

                        My body is a temple you shall not cross

                        Unless you are worthy of my communion

                        I have been angry, desecrated my spirit,

                        But I needed to do that to arrive here.

                        Because

                        I deserve happiness

                        I deserve love

                        I deserve someone who will give to me

                        Just as much as I give to them

                        And I want it – I want love

                        L-O-V-E

                        Love.

                        I want to embody ecstasy inside alleys

                        In dark corners, underneath stars,

                        Everywhere with my man

                        Explore our darkness and our light

                        And if you’re not looking for the same thing

                        MOVE ON.

                        And in the meantime, men can come, men can go,

                        I’m not looking

                        I’m happy on my own

                        And I will worship my own

                        Temple.

 

Elizabeth:    So powerful and beautiful. Thank you. I have tears in my eyes.

Koraly:        Thank you.

Elizabeth:   We look forward to your fabulous theatre show, Koraly: I Say The Wrong Things All The Time, at La Mama Theatre, on November 30 to December 11.  How do we book tickets?

Koraly:       Through La Mama website. So if you Google “Koraly: I Say The Wrong Things All The Time”, it should come up.

Elizabeth:    And look, I’d like to contest whether you do or not, because you say plenty of right things, Koraly

(Laughter)

Koraly Dimitriadis, thank you so much for guesting on Writers’ Tête-à-tête with Elizabeth Harris. And remember parents, when reserving your tickets for Koraly’s show, it is not a child-friendly show, so book your favourite person to mind your children, and come along and enjoy the genius of Koraly Dimitriadis.

Thank you everyone for tuning in to Writers’ Tête-à-tête with Elizabeth Harris, and may all your wishes come true.

Koraly:        Thank you for having me.

[END OF TRANSCRIPT]

00:0000:00

Episode 7: Interview with Michael Salmon

February 12, 2017

Elizabeth Harris visits Michael Salmon's studio in Kooyong, Melbourne, and learns from the children's author, illustrator, and entertainer of school children, what 50 years in the arts has taught him about - 

  • Learning to trust your instincts about what early readers find funny.
  • The importance of branching out and diversifying if you want to thrive as an author and illustrator in the long term.
  • How your personality and people skills (or lack thereof) can influence your success in the arts.
  • The pleasure of giving back to the community when you've attained a measure of professional success.

How did a beloved children's book make it to the centre page of a newspaper, and its main character become 600 kilos of bronze outside a public library in the nation's capital?

What's the connection between Michael, Healthy Harold (the Life Education giraffe that visits schools), and the Alannah and Madeline Foundation?

Follow Michael as he travels around Australia visiting Indigenous schools and schools with students of diverse ethnicities, backgrounds, and levels of English fluency.

Find out more about Michael Salmon's work at MichaelSalmon.com.au.

Notes:

Robyn Payne is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer and audio engineer of 25 years’ experience in the album, film, TV and advertising industries.

She composed the music for the theme song 'Victoria Dances', which is featured in host Elizabeth Harris' children's book, Chantelle's Wish, available for sale on Elizabeth's website at ElizabethHarris.net.au.

The lyrics for 'Victoria Dances' were written by Elizabeth Harris.

FULL TRANSCRIPT 

Elizabeth:        Welcome to Writers’ Tête-à-Tête with Elizabeth Harris, the global show that connects authors, songwriters and poets with their global audience. So I can continue to bring you high-calibre guests, I invite you to go to iTunes, click Subscribe, leave a review, and share this podcast with your friends.

Today I’m delighted to introduce the highly creative and entertaining children’s author and illustrator, Michael Salmon. Michael Salmon has been involved in graphics, children’s literature, TV and theatre since 1967. He started his career with surfing cartoons, and exhibitions of his psychedelic art, and then joined the famous marionette troupe – The Tintookies – as a trainee set designer stage manager in 1968 (the Elizabethan Theatre Trust, Sydney).

Since then his work has been solely for young people, both here in Australia and overseas. His many credits include his Alexander Bunyip Show (ABC TV 1978-1988), pantomimes, fabric and merchandise design, toy and board game invention, writing and illustrating of 176 picture story books – which Michael I’m absolutely flabbergasted and astonished and in wonderment at, and everybody’s laughing at that, or maybe he’s laughing at me, I don’t know. (Laughter)

I’ll say it again – 176 picture story books for young readers. Several million copies of his titles have been sold worldwide. Michael has been visiting Australian primary schools for over 40 years. His hour-long sessions are interesting, fun, humorous and entertaining, with the focus on students developing their own creativity, which is just fantastic. Suitable for all years, many of these school visits can be seen on Michael’s website, which I will ask you to repeat later.

Michael:          Okay.

Elizabeth:        Several trips have been up to the Gulf of Carpentaria Savannah Schools and to the remote Aboriginal community Schools on Cape York Peninsula, as a guest of EDU.

EDU – what is that?

Michael:          Education Department, Queensland.

Elizabeth:        The Australian Government honoured his work in 2004 by printing a 32nd Centenary, special edition of his first book The Monster that ate Canberra – I like that - as a Commonwealth publication … for both residents and visitors to our Capital. Every Federal Politician received a copy.

Michael:          Even if they didn’t want it, they got one.

(Laughter)

Elizabeth: Michael was also the designer of ‘Buddy Bear’ for the Alannah and Madeline Foundation (Port Arthur 1996). The Foundation financially supports Children/Families who are victims of violence/violent crime; they are currently running an anti-bullying campaign in Australian Schools.

In 2010 the ACT Government further recognized his work by commissioning a bronze statue of his first book character ‘Alexander Bunyip’. Unveiled in April 2011, it stands next to the new – and I’ll get you to say this, Michael …

Michael:          GUN-GAH-LIN.

Elizabeth:        Gungahlin Library in our Federal Capital. Thank you for saying that.

Michael has presented ‘Bunyip-themed history sessions’ for audiences of School Children at the National Library of Australia since 2011. School touring and book titles continue, which I’m blown away by, because you’ve written and illustrated 176 books!

Michael:          Some of those were activity books, to be fair, but they were necessitated – writing, the requirements of children, and illustrations, so they were all lumped in together, basically.

Elizabeth:        So Michael Salmon, welcome to Writers’ Tête-à-Tête with Elizabeth Harris.

Michael: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure, and thank you for visiting my studio here in downtown Kooyong, Melbourne.

Elizabeth:        We are delighted to be here – Serena Low and I, everybody – Serena being my wonderful tech support.

Michael, we have been Facebook friends for some time now, which is a wonderful way to keep in contact with people. But do you think social media has affected children adversely, and stopped them from reading and enjoying children’s literature?

Michael:          Do you know, in order to answer some of the questions you asked, I probably pondered this one the most. It’s strange times. I’m 67 years old now. If I go back to when I was a teenager …

Elizabeth:        Looking very dapper, I may say.

Michael:          Yes, thank you, thank you. (Laughter) It’s amazing what no exercise will do. (Laughter) Things have changed so much. If you go back to the fifties and sixties – which both you ladies will have to look at the old films and see reruns of Gidget and all that kind of stuff – however, the main communication of young people several, several decades ago, socially, would have been the telephone.

Invariably, houses only had one line that mums and dads would need. But the girls mostly – and perhaps the boys too – would be on the line talking to their friends and all this kind of stuff. And that was the only direction of communication. Perhaps letters and whatever, but certainly the telephone was the main thing. Now how things have changed these days.

Having 12 grandchildren ranging from – what are they now, 2 to 24 – I’ve seen a whole gamut, and I see daily just how much social media – the iPads, tablets and things – are taking up their time and the manners in which they take up their time.

Elizabeth:        What a wonderful family to have!

Michael:          Well, it’s certainly a bit like a zoo (laughter) – I hope they don’t mind me saying that – and I’m the head monkey, but that’s about it. That’s true.

But if you think of a child – and one of the main loves in life is visiting schools, and over the many years in Australia I’ve visited many, many schools – and just see what the teachers are up against these days. And often the teachers are – it’s well-known – surrogate parents on many occasions. Often it’s left to teachers, whether it be librarians or very kind teachers …

Elizabeth:        Challenging job.

Michael:          … To instill in the children a love of literature and how important reading is.

But I think of going back to my youth and my toy soldier collection and making and making balsa wood castles and Ormond keeps and whatever it may be, playing in my room with this fantasy world I had grown up in.

Elizabeth:        What an imagination!

Michael:          Well, my father read to me – when it first came out, back in the fifties, and I was quite young, but – The Hobbit, C.S. Lewis and the Narnian … – beautiful. I was brought up in those kind of – and he also read most of Dickens to me, as well as Kipling. Quite incredible stuff. So my father was a major player in my love of literature.

And I’m not sure that it happens hugely these days, but I grew up in a world of imagination. And it wasn’t any great surprise to my parents that I entered the world I’m in, which is the fantasy world of children, because I never got out of it, basically. 67 years we’re looking at at the moment. I would say mental age is about 8 or 9. (Laughter)

Elizabeth:        But you make very good coffee for a 9-year-old, Michael.

Michael:          But it did eventuate that sitting in my studio in the early hours of the morning, if I start laughing at a concept or whatever, I know full well through the passage of time that preppies or Grade Ones or Twos or kinders will start laughing at it too. So you get to trust your judgement after a while in the arts. You get to know where your strengths are.

But going back to your original question, I have a couple of grandchildren who are absolute whizzes on their tablets. They’ve gone through the Minecraft thing; they’ve gone this, they’ve gone that. Almost an obsessive kind of stuff there.

Elizabeth:        It’s an addiction, I think.

Michael:          Sometimes, you must take time away from the use of imagination. Because let’s face it, in using our imagination, our creativity – and creativity can be cooking a magnificent meal, it can be keeping a well-balanced house. There’s all kinds of creativity, or it could be the artist creativity, but that’s such an important thing, of finding who we are.

Elizabeth:        Yes.

Michael:          And to have children taken away to a certain extent Magic Land which is absolutely fine until they become obsessive or addictive, as some of these things are, there’s a great danger that children are – shall we say – not able to evaluate or to progress their natural talents etcetera coming through, especially in the arts.

Elizabeth:        I totally agree with you. Michael, you’ve written and illustrated so many books. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, 176. How do you decide what to write about?

Michael:          Well, it’s probably – I’ve always written from a cover idea. There’s a book of mine going way back. It’s one of my old favourites, a very simple one, which is called The Pirate Who Wouldn’t Wash. And when I talk to children and they say where do you get your ideas from, I say sometimes you get two ideas that are unrelated and you put them together, and because hopefully my books are rather funny and I was brought up in the fifties on things like The Fabulous Goon Show, Peter Sellers, and Spike Milligan. I loved Monty Python which was a direct sort of baby from The Goon Show. So my love of comedy has always been UK-based. And so that strange juxtaposition of whatever, so I thought, okay, a pirate, and perhaps a person who doesn’t like to wash. And you put them together and you have the pirate who wouldn’t wash. And then you simply – it’s easy if you have a vivid imagination – you list a whole lot of encounters or what could happen to a pirate who wouldn’t wash.

Elizabeth:        Could we talk about that? I’d love to talk about that.

Michael:          A monster, and then someone who doesn’t like vegetables. Which was one of my stepsons, William, and he was ‘Grunt the Monster’, which was one of my early characters. Refused to eat his vegetables. His teachers went to great lengths to find out how he could eat them, disguise them in milkshakes or whatever it may be. So it was William I was writing about, one of my younger stepsons at that stage. And at university when he went through Architectural course, he was called Grunt, because they knew full well the book was based on him. So it’s good sometimes to disguise – but nonetheless feature things you see around you.

Elizabeth:        How did he cope with it?

Michael:          He loved it, he loved it, he loved it.

Elizabeth:        He got attention?

Michael:          He got attention, all that kind of stuff, and he had one of his best mates who let everyone know that he was called ‘Grunt’ – that was sort of his name. But at some stage, I think he uses that – he lectures in Architecture around the country these days. He’s gone and done very well, dear William, and he will sometimes use that as a joke.

Elizabeth:        Yes. Icebreaker.

Michael:          Icebreaker, exactly.

Elizabeth:        Was there a pivotal person who influenced your career? And if so, can you tell us how they inspired you?

Michael:          Probably apart from the people I’ve mentioned previously, the Tolkiens and the Hobbits and the Lord of the Rings and the C.S. Lewises and that sort of thing, I’ve always loved the classic British thing like Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. These are very famous books that everyone read at one stage.

Back in those early fifties, my father was at Cambridge University so we were hoisted out of New Zealand; we went to live in the UK, and it was such a great time for a child to be in the UK. It’s still suffering war damage from Second World War, and London still roped off sections of it - the Doodlebugs, the flying bombs that the Germans sent over to hit London. So it was a rather strange place, but the television was brilliant. I was a Enid Blyton fan, a foundation member of the Secret Seven Club.

Elizabeth:        Were you really.

Michael:          Even though based in Cambridge, we looked forward to every month of the Enid Blyton magazines, so I grew up on The Faraway Tree and the Secret Seven and the Famous Five. I had my badges, I had all the merchandise. But also on the television in those days was a show we never got to hear in Australia – Muffin the Mule. There was also Sooty the Sweep, Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men. Andy Pandy was another one. Most of those were for kindies and little bubs. Basil Brush was a little bit later on. And British television was always superb, especially for children. Blue Peter and some of those famous shows was a little bit later on. I mention this because I had ten years of my own show on ABC which you’ll learn later on, and used puppets and things which I’d seen being used on British television.

Elizabeth:        Can you tell us about that show please?

Michael:          The show itself … When Alexander first became a character, it was a Michael 'Smartypants book', a little book I had published in 1972. This is The Monster That Ate Canberra. And this basically the genesis of the television show. I thought I would do a – I wasn’t a university student but it was like a smartypants university student publication, because the bunyip himself was not the Kangaroo – was in fact an oversized pink bunyip, more like a Chinese dragon. However, the monster was the public service, and so it was like a joke about the public service. Because back in those seventies and late sixties, large departments were being taken from Melbourne and Sydney and relocated in Canberra, Melbourne Commonwealth finance and other things, so Canberra was being flooded with the public service. And that was why Canberra was being set up, but anyway, as a youngster back in 1972 when I first wrote that book, I envisaged this large King Kong kind of character over Civic, which was the main principal shopping centre, the oldest shopping centre, going on Northbourne Avenue as you come in from Sydney.

There’s this large monster devouring things, but this monster has a problem: he is short-sighted. Anyway, he saw the buildings – the famous, iconic buildings of Canberra as objects of food. So put them into – like the Academy of Science, a gigantic apple pie; the National Library, which was recently built, at that stage and still looks like a gigantic birthday cake; and I had the Carillon looking like a Paddle Pop or something like that, which are all to do with objects of food. And the bunyip devoured them. And the Prime Minister – the original Prime Minister back then was (William) “Billy” McMahon, and when he chucked, we had then changed to Gough Whitlam. So Prime Minsters changed within the reprints of this book. The best thing about this … way way back when Gough Whitlam became our Prime Minister, one of the first things he did was institute an office that had never been there before, called the Department of Women. It was there specially to consider and to aid passage of women in Australia into jobs and a whole range of things that had never been heard before in a male-dominated kind of world.

Elizabeth:        I’ve always been a fan of Gough, so I must say … (Laughter)

Michael:          Well, Gough appointed a single mum called Elizabeth Reid – Liz Reid – and she was a very famous lady and she really championed the cause of women, you know, equal rights, and these ridiculous things that should have been fixed a long time but hadn’t. So Liz Reid was pictured in the centre page of the Woman’s Weekly, soon after Gough – this was one of his first appointments, Liz Reid. And there was Liz with her little bub – so she was a brand new single mum.

Elizabeth:        Oh wow. Which in those days would have been scandalous, wouldn’t it.

Michael:          Oh yes, but Gough was famous for that. He already went out specially with the arts. Regardless of how he was considered as a Prime Minister, he was certainly a great patron of the arts, Gough Whitlam.

Elizabeth:        As I said, I’m a fan.

Michael:          In this picture, centre pages of Woman’s Weekly, double spread, was little bubba. And in little bubba’s hands, supported by his mother, was a copy of The Monster That Ate Canberra.

Elizabeth:        Wow! How did you feel?

Michael:          I thought, “Fantastic!” I got a call within a week from one of the biggest educational publishers in the world, called McGraw-Hill, asking “Can you tell us a little bit about this? And I was described as this is probably not how I would think, and I said “No, but thank you very much for calling.” So the most unusual thing sort of kicked up, and we were reprinting this book again and again for Canberra, because Canberra was laughing its head off.

Elizabeth:        Good on you Ms Reid – and baby.

Michael:          So we had a theatrical presentation, pantomimes based on it with the local Canberra youth theatre. ABC then serialized it on radio, and then came to me – this was about 1977 or so – saying, “Would you consider having Alexander Bunyip on television?”

Elizabeth:        Wow.

Michael:          And I said “Yes please, thank you very much.” And it was through a mate of mine, quite a well-known scriptwriter for Australian films called John Stevens, and also director of plays and whatever around Australia, and he was one of the directors of the young people’s programs in ABC, who were based at that stage in Sydney.

Anyway, Alexander got on television through this rather, uh, strange path he led, entertaining the people of Canberra.

Elizabeth:        Can I ask you with that, and throughout your life, you have enjoyed such great success, and certainly rightly so. Have you found that there’s been what has been seen as insignificant moments, turn into huge, huge achievements for you?

Michael:          Well, (I) try to step away from cliché but sometimes it’s hard to, when I say you make your own luck. But the fact that that for example, one of my main – I love it – the statue of Alexander Bunyip, 600 kilograms of bronze outside the library.

Elizabeth:        In that place I can’t pronounce.

Michael:          Gungahlin, that’s right, Gungahlin.

Elizabeth:        I’ll practise it.

Michael:          I’ll tell you how that happened. Sometimes on Google if you’re an artistic person and you’re an author or illustrator, if you just put your name in and see what’s the latest thing, are there any new entries. Sometimes schools put in things in comments or whatever. Sometimes odd things about your life come up – business life, work life. And there was a situation that occurred, when Gungahlin Community Council had discussed whether – because John Stanhope, who was the chief minister of the ACT at that stage was putting up statues left right and centre, because he wanted a lot of edifices in Canberra to entertain people.

Elizabeth:        He was a visual.

Michael:          Yeah, visual person. And someone said, “Why don’t we have Alexander Bunyip?” and there was general laughter. But that was supported in the Council vote of Hansard, you know, the documented notes taken in that particular Council session, and I saw this online. And so I merely wrote to this person, sent them one of the more recent copies of The Monster That Ate Canberra, and said “That sounds great. Let me know if I can help.”

Elizabeth:        Absolutely!

Michael:          Gosh, one thing after another happened, and the head of the Council Alan Kirlin, with John Stanhope, got it organized, and within a year there was a brand new statue being launched by John Stanhope, one of the last things he did before he resigned. He’d done some magnificent work in Canberra. So new ministers were appointed etcetera, so John – the statue was launched, and I made a speech which was dedicated to my mum, who had died the year before. She was a Canberra girl, and I thought that would be nice to dedicate, at least mention her. I’m sure if she were around - in ethereal style - she wouldn’t miss out on that one, I can assure you.

Elizabeth:        I’m sure.

Michael:          But when the statue was dedicated – the statue stands there –

Elizabeth:        Can we go back, because I would like to talk about that speech about your mum. Can we talk about that?

Michael:          Yes. Well, my mother Judy, as I said who passed on in 2010 – the statue was put up in 2011 – was a very … went bush Port Douglas many years ago, before Christopher Skase was up there.

(Laughter)

So I used to go up there and visit her. A hurricane holiday house, which is simply a house in Port Douglas without any windows. It was up in the hills towards the Mosman River valley.

Elizabeth:        For those who don’t know Christoper Skase, can you please touch on him briefly.

Michael:          Christopher Skase was one of our major financial entrepreneurs who died over in a Spanish location owing millions of dollars to many people. He was like a younger brother of Alan Bond. That’s where Christopher Skase fitted in. I don’t think New York or Spain ever really sort of –

Elizabeth:        Recovered.

Michael:          Recovered from the Australian paparazzi to see whether Skase was in fact dying or whether he was in a wheelchair with breathing apparatus, wheeled out by his ever-loving wife Pixie, who is back safely in the country now. But that’s by the by.

(Laughter)

Michael:          My mother was a fairly gregarious character.

Elizabeth:        Bit like yourself.

Michael:          (Laughter) Pushy.

Elizabeth:        No, no, no. Delightful, and entertaining.

Michael:          Judy was one of the younger daughters of her father, my grandfather, Canon W. Edwards – Bill Edwards. He was a young Anglican curate who’d been badly gassed on the fields of Flanders and the Somme in the First World War.

Elizabeth:        Oh dear.

Michael:          But he was an educationalist, as well as a very strong Anglican within the church. So he was sent on his return out to Grammar School looking after that in Cooma. When Canberra was designated as the place to have our new capital, the Anglican Church from Sydney said, “Please harness up one of the buggies, and take six of your seniors and go look at four different venues in Canberra that we are looking at to have a brand new school.”

Elizabeth:        Wow.

Michael:          And they chose the most beautiful place, in a road called Mugga Way just at the bottom of Red Hill, which is Canberra Boys’ Grammar. He was their founding Headmaster.

Elizabeth:        Was he!

Michael:          But the fact was that they settled on that because they pitched their tents under the gum trees. They woke up with the sound of intense kookaburra noise, and thought this was perfect for a grammar school, or any other school for that matter.

Elizabeth:        Oh, beautiful.

Michael:          They were all talking and whatever it was.

Elizabeth:        Bit like sounding the bell, you know.

Michael:          (Laughter) So going back to those days, that was the start of Canberra and my family going back there to the thirties of last century. However, back in those days in the Second World War, my father had graduated from school in New Zealand, and was sent across as one of those New Zealand young soldiers to become an officer at Duntroon, the training college. The Defence Academy they call it now, but good old Duntroon. So when he graduated, it was the end of World War Two, and he was sent up to war crimes trials in Japan, as one of his first things the Aus-New Zealand ANZAC forces when they went up there to look after things for a while.

But my mother was quite a brilliant lady, and she would always be the one painting and decorating and doing all this kind of stuff. Always a dynamic kind of person. And apart from loving her very much as a mum, she instilled in me this gregarious, rather exhibitionist kind of thing.

Elizabeth:        (Laughter) Thank you Judy. It’s Judy, isn’t it. Thank you Judy. I know you’re here.

Michael:          So Judy was responsible for – in younger, thinner days, long hair, beads, not necessarily hippie stuff but just total exhibitionist kind of stuff.

Elizabeth:        Oh I’ve seen photographs of this man, everybody. My goodness, what a heartthrob.

Michael:          I looked like I could have been another guitarist in Led Zeppelin or something.

Elizabeth:        I’m actually just fanning myself with my paper. (Laughter)

Michael:          But anyway, it’s all a bit of fun.

Elizabeth:        Did you ever sing?

Michael:          No, no, no. I was actually a drummer at one of the schools I attended.

Elizabeth:        Were you? I like drummers.

Michael:          Yes, but not this kind of drummer. In the pipe bands at Scotch College, Sydney. I was a tenor drummer.

Elizabeth:        Okay.

Michael:          So they have the big, the double bass drum or whatever and the tenor drums and the drumsticks - I forget the name – like the Poi they have in New Zealand. And the tenor drums – you have to have coordination if you want to play the tenor drums as you march along in your dress: the Black Watch dress.

Elizabeth:        Isn’t learning music so important, which reflects in other areas?

Michael:          It is, it is.

Elizabeth:        Can we talk about that?

Michael:          Well, I think that – not being musical but having written lyrics in my pantomimes – and down at a very amateur level worked out what a bunyip would sing about, or go back to an early blues song or doo-wop kind of song when Alexander is stuck in a zoo in the pantomime. So I had great fun.

So my musical experience – I was lucky to have some very clever people, including one gentleman who until a few years ago was one of the Heads of Tutors at Canberra School of Music called Jim Cotter. Now Jim Cotter and I – he wrote my first music for me, for the pantomimes I used to do way back in the early days. And then Peter Scriven – he was the head of the Tintookies Marionette Theatre, who were all under the auspices of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust in Sydney at Potts Point. And Peter had engaged him to do – I was doing some sets – it was the first show, our first children’s show at the Opera House – and I did the costumes for Tintookies. It was a revamp of what Peter Scriven had been doing back in the fifties. And Jim had some brand new music, and so my musical experience was purely admiring music and talented people who did that, realizing that it was not my forte.

Elizabeth:        Aren’t they clever.

Michael:          Nonetheless, by writing lyrics and giving some vague, vague “rock ‘n roll and I like it” -like, you know. Not exactly “Stairway to Heaven”, you know what I’m saying?

Elizabeth:        (Laughter) Who was your favourite band at that stage?

Michael:          Ahh, I grew up in the Sixties. I got myself a hearing aid the other day. You can hardly see it – one of these new things. But essentially, I’ve had to, because I spent a lot of my younger life surfing in the eastern beaches of Sydney. The promotion of bone growth over the ear – there’s some kind of term for it – and they had to cut away the bone if I were to hear properly. And I thought, I don’t want my ear cut, so I’ll just leave it as it is at 67. But also too, I do attribute some of those early groups to my lack of hearing these days, because I did study for my exams with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones. Pretty much one of my favourite groups of all time was a group that spread, with different members going to different other groups, were The Byrds in America. Dylan songs. “Mr Tambourine”.

Elizabeth:        Yes. Was it Eric – Eric somebody? Or did I get the wrong group.

Michael:          We’re talking about David Crosby, Gene Clark, Jim McGuinn who changed his name and became Roger, or was it the other way round. But they had the Dylan. They came out with “Mr. Tambourine Man”.

Elizabeth:        Yes, I know that song.

Michael:          Their next one was ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’. Then they went into more Dylan of, “All I Really Want to Do”. And these are hits of the Sixties.

Elizabeth:        You could sing a few bars.

Michael:          No I couldn’t. Not even Dylan-style.

(Laughter)

But I love those songs, mainly because -

Elizabeth:        They’re great.

Michael:          Jim McGuinn had a 12-string guitar, and it was this jingly-jangly feel to their songs that I loved dearly. But another group which I must tell you, because I met up with them in real life, which is one of my favourite groups, is The Seekers.

Elizabeth:        Oh! Miss Judith!

Michael:          Now Keith Potger is a good mate of mine. We go for gentlemen’s clubs like Savage Club; he’s a member of Savage, enjoy long lunches, and often with some other guests.

Elizabeth:        Athol Guy?

Michael:          Yes. And Judith Durham – where you’re sitting there – came and sat down there with her manager a few years ago.

Elizabeth:        My goodness!

Michael:          She’d seen a presentation –

Elizabeth:        She’s beautiful.

Michael:          Oh, magnificent. And her voice!

Elizabeth:        Angel.

Michael:          Judith had seen a production by Garry Ginivan, who is one of the principal Australian children’s entrepreneurs for theatrics, theatres. He’s just finished doing Hazel E.’s Hippopotamus on the Roof kind of stuff, and I’m not sure if he’s doing Leigh Hobbs’ Horrible Harriet. Now that’s going to the Opera House. I’m not sure if Garry Ginivan’s doing that for Leigh. He did for Graeme Base. He did My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch, and also brought packaged stuff like Noddy and Toyland, Enid Blyton and other stuff like The Faraway Tree.

So anyway he was presenting Puff the Magic Dragon – and I’m just looking around the room to find a graphic of the poster, because I’d designed Puff the Magic Dragon.

Elizabeth:        Did you?

Michael:          And they used that for all the promotional material and stuff there, but it was the puppet that I designed. And Judith went along to see – it was at The Athenaum Theatre here in Melbourne, a few years ago now.

Elizabeth:        Lovely theatre.

Michael:          And she liked the whole idea of the dragon, and she rang me. And so here was this most beautiful angel on the other line … Anyway, she was round a couple of days with her management. She was at that time – this was before The Seekers got back together and did all that magnificent tours they did over the last five or six years, Andre Rieu included.

Judith is a honky-tonk girl; she loves the music of spiritual and going across to honky-tonk, like Scott Joplin, the ragtime, and all this sort of stuff.

Elizabeth:        Oh, fun!

Michael:          And she had written several things that she wanted the sheet music to be illustrated to sell, as part of the Judith Durham empire. And she did the ‘Banana Rag’. So immediately I did the illustration for her. I didn’t take any payment. I said, “Look, Judith, might I be impertinent and ask you to come to one of my clubs and sing – come to dinner?” She was a very strict vegetarian and looked after herself incredibly well after a terrible accident where she had to look after her whole system and she’s done that magnificently.

So there she was singing, and this was when The Seekers had just released one of their LP’s, called “Morning Town Ride to Christmas”, which was for children’s songs, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house of these senior gentlemen at the club I was talking about, one of these good old Melbourne clubs, when she sang “The Carnival’s Over”.

Elizabeth:        Oh yes.

Michael:          Absolutely superb, so that was more than enough payment for doing some artwork.

But since then, I continued … and met the desperate Keith Potger.

Elizabeth:        Weren’t you lucky. Weren’t you lucky. Weren’t you lucky to have that gorgeous woman.

Michael:          I was lucky. I was lucky. But I had to tell you, Judith - they had an article on her website, and she’s on Facebook as well - had at that time recorded with The Lord Mayor’s Orchestra here in Melbourne. It was called “The Australian Cities Suite”, and she had written a song for every major city in Australia. And I remember she and I were trying to do a book together, a book based on a song that her husband – who passed on through, oh gosh, what was it – the wasting disease, muscular disease …

Elizabeth:        MS? Muscular Dystrophy?

Michael:          Muscular Dystrophy. I’m sure that must be it.

He put in a song called “Billy the Bug and Sylvia Slug”, and so we put that into a book. And I took Judith along to see some of the heads of various publishing firms in Sydney as well as the head of ABC merchandising in their ivory tower down in Haymarket area. Beautiful beautiful premises they have there, ABC Studios. And so Judith was much heralded in both places when I took her as my guest to introduce this book to her. The book didn’t work unfortunately, but she did start singing in the car as we’d arrived early in the carpark of the ABC citadel in Haymarket. She started singing. And we were all sitting there. And she started singing songs again from The Seekers.

Elizabeth:        I don’t think I’m ever going to stand up again.

Michael:          So here we are in Kooyong, and there’s the beautiful strains of Judith Durham singing songs, and I thought, “It doesn’t get much better than this.”

Elizabeth:        Oh wow.

Michael:          I don’t think Deborah Harry could have done the same.

Elizabeth:        Do you think Judith Durham would speak with me on this podcast?

Michael:          Judith is a very accommodating person, and I’m sure that if you ask through her management, Graham her manager would – I’m sure - she would look at that favourably.

Elizabeth:        Would I have to wear a ball gown? I have a couple. To meet the Queen.

Michael:          Meet the Queen. (Laughter)

But anyway, I suppose too, in my business – and Australia is not a huge place really, when it comes to who knows what and we talked before about the degrees of separation.

Elizabeth:        Absolutely.

Michael:          And so, a lot of my stuff has been … involved with, because of my work, a lot of singers and whatever via The Hat Books. I remember Russell Morris, not in this place but a previous place.

Elizabeth:        “The Real Thing”?

Michael:          “The Real Thing” Russell Morris. Brilliant, brilliant, and had the two LP’s as well.

Elizabeth:        And Molly, Molly is attached to that – he produced it, didn’t he.

Michael:          Yeah, but Russell Morris had this concept that he came up with his wife 30 years ago. It was about a toy that was pre-broken and you had to fix it. The whole idea of the toy was that you had to re-glue this broken toy.

Elizabeth:        Right.

Michael:          It was ceramic, and he was so keen on it, but I just didn’t think it was going to work. He was a man with an incredible imagination –

Elizabeth:        Russell Morris?

Michael:          Russell Morris. He had this toy concept, but it didn’t work, because I don’t think kids want to sit around re-gluing a toy that has been broken. I don’t know what he was on.

Elizabeth:        He was quite resourceful.

Michael:          Ah, he is. Look at the way Russell Morris has revived in recent times. And he’ll have to excuse me. I don’t remember, but I’ve certainly listened to his two LP’s – albums as we used to call them, back in the old days – that he did. All bluesy and whatever, and he’s still got a magnificent voice.

Elizabeth:        You know, there are so many Australians that are not – what should I say – recognized as they should be, I think. And such talent.

Michael:          Ah, yeah.

Elizabeth:        And do you think we need to go overseas, like in the old day. I was listening to a program last night, actually, and Brian Cadd was on it. Love Brian Cadd. Beautiful, beautiful music. And he said you know, back in the day you had to go to London.

Michael:          Yes, yes. Well, look at Easybeats and stuff like that.

Elizabeth:        Do you think people need to go?

Michael:          Brian Cadd and The (Bootleg) Family (Band), that’s what he calls his group, they are reappearing at – they are doing an Australian tour this month in February – I saw it on Facebook, actually.

Elizabeth:        You know, a friend of mine who’s a pastel artist, highly acclaimed – we were talking about this, and she said in this country, she’s just not recognized and she really needs … She’s working in a boutique!

Michael:          It is a problem. You know on Facebook, which is one of the loves of my life, you see a good deal of Australian up-and-coming authors and illustrators, and ones that you dearly wish would … And I do believe that you if you earn it, you deserve a place in the sun – your ten minutes, twelve minutes of fame, all that kind of stuff. And if you’re smart enough, after your time has been, you then start doing things which reinvent yourself. I’m not talking about Madonna-style, but I’m talking about coming up with new things, being aware of new trends and seeing whether you can adapt your talents.

Elizabeth:        Being a survivor.

Michael:          Being a survivor, absolutely. Because let’s face it, and I’m very grateful – for example, the schools around Australia – 45 years…

Elizabeth:        I’m sure they’re grateful to you too.

Michael:          I go into the schools and there are teachers there that say, “Look, the last time I saw you Michael, was when I was in Prep or Grade One, and I loved your books then and I still love them."

I’m just so thankful.

Elizabeth:        How do you feel, other than gratitude?

Michael:          Well, this is one of those major things, of feedback you get. And some of them come up and say “I started drawing because of you drawing”.

Elizabeth:        You’re inspirational!

Michael:          There are just those things there that I … and also entertaining. Doing a bit of stand-up comedy, giving out very silly prizes like Barbie books to Grade Six boys for good behaviour. I know Preppies will never forget those things.

Elizabeth:        Can you talk us through – when you present to the school, how do you do that?

Michael:          This year I’ve got a ‘Michael Salmon’s Monster Show’ which is talking about more or less the same thing, but some different pictures to ones I’ve been doing before. Essentially what I realized right at the start is if I do some speed cartooning, right in the very first picture I draw there, and do it so quickly in a great show-off manner, you get the kids hooked. 

Elizabeth:        It’s magic; it’s in front of us.

Michael:          Because the little ones, they say “Look what he did! Look how fast he drew!” And I always knew that that particular facet, if you did it correctly, the little Preppies in the front – because we do try to get mixed grades, with the Grade Sixes at the back – is that you would have their attention if you kept on. So I sort of talked about the way I invented characters and how it happened.

Bobo my dog who is not here today – dear Bobo in the book I wrote called Bobo My Super Dog, where I sort of – he saves the world a bit.

Elizabeth:        Of course he would. (Laughter)

Michael:          Oh, I don’t know. Let’s just go back to the bit about Australia and the people who are trying to make it, and they are doing their very best and you see their brilliant talent. And it’s very evident on Facebook – it’s one of my major purveyors of talent – the ideas that people come up with and all that sort of stuff. I mean, you’ve got some brilliant people here in Australia.

You look at Leigh Hobbs for a start. Now he belongs to the Savage Club as I do, so I catch up with him for lunch on occasions. And there he is with his two-year tenure in his position championing children’s books and children’s literature around Australia. His cartoons are very much like Ronald Searle, the famous British cartoonist, who did the original cartoons that accompanied the original published books and also the film versions of St Trinian’s movies, of schoolgirls and things like that – the naughty schoolgirls. And Ronald Searle was a brilliant, brilliant artist, and he had the kind of nuttiness in his cartooning that Leigh Hobbs had.

You look at Leigh Hobbs’ stuff – they are very, very sparse, great placement of colour, they are done in a very slapdash manner. It all works together beautifully – from Horrible Harriet, to Old Tom and whatever.

And if you’ve got other people – what’s that book by Aaron Blabey – something or other Pug? (Pig the Pug) I bought some books for my very young grandchildren for Christmas, and I thought, “I haven’t seen these books before.” And here he is winning awards and YABBA (Young Australians Best Book Awards) Awards and all this kind of stuff.

And so much talent around. And it’s hard in Australia to make a living as an author, because the royalties and stuff, even if you are one of the top ones, may suffice for a while but aren’t continuing.

Elizabeth:        And yet Michael you’ve done that – for 50 years – haven’t you.

Michael:          Only because of schools. 45 years in schools and 50 years in the arts. But mainly because I branched out and did things like theatre – the television show. You saw when you first entered the merchandise for 'Alexander Bunyip'. Spotlight stores were behind me for fabrics for a decade, and they finished not a huge many years ago. And that had nothing to do with 'Alexander Bunyip'. But the fact of really, of diversifying.

Elizabeth:        Okay.

Michael:          And the books for me lay a platform. When Mum or Dad read a book at night to their children, and it happens to be one of yours, and it’s something they like, and they happen to be one of the lead buyers of Spotlight stores and they say “We must do something about this guy”, and they came round and sat where you’re sitting, and they said “We’d like to offer you a deal.” And I thought, “Oh thank you. That’s great!”

Elizabeth:        But can I interject? The vital part of that is certainly that there is talent and diversification, but it’s also the ability to connect with people - which you are very skilled at. And the warmth that you have …

Michael:          Well, thanks to my mother, because she was a people person. Yes, you’re quite right – it does help to be a people person if you’re an artistic person. Of course sometimes it doesn’t flow. Some of the best children’s authors are not people persons. So you can’t expect to do anything.

I learned long ago of creating an impact on your audience – start and hold them if you can from then on, and then you can impart any message you want. And the only message I really impart to the children is about developing their creativity, for them to start working on the things they’re good at, or keep drawing or singing or whatever it may be.

Elizabeth:        I really want to segue into something from those comments about your work for the Alannah and Madeline Foundation. That is so, so pivotal. Can we talk about that?

Michael:          Yes. Do you know, in general terms, it’s really good if you’ve had success, I’ve found, especially in the arts, to find venues and areas and avenues to give back to society. I hope that doesn’t sound too corny.

Elizabeth:        It sounds beautiful.

Michael:          Up here, I’ve got some – when I was one of the patrons of “Life Be In It” for the Victorian –

Elizabeth:        Oh yes!

Michael:          And I designed – not the vans, those large pantechnicon vans that went around and advertised anti-drugs and –

Elizabeth:        It was Norm, wasn’t it. Norm.

Michael:          Norm was “Life Be In It”. This was the Life Education Centre, the one started up by Ted Knox at King’s Cross Chapel, but they went to a huge thing. Large pantechnicon trailers filled with the latest kind of things, and all round Australia, but particularly in Victoria – because that’s where my expertise was, helping them design big wheels to go on, painted by local mums and dads. And I also do it to do some fundraising.

But Life Education had a Harold Giraffe as their logo, and it’s still going gangbusters. So these things would go to schools, and like the dental van they locked you in that, and they would see these incredible digital displays of bodies and drugs and anti-drugs, things like that. Magnificent, magnificent.

That was one thing I was involved in. A good mate of mine, a school librarian called Marie Stanley, who’s since not a school teacher anymore – a school librarian – she rang up soon after 1996 when the horrific Port Arthur thing had occurred. She had been seconded – Walter Mikac, whose wife Nanette and two daughters Alannah and Madeline were shot dead – he knew he had to do something. So he went to see the Victorian Premier at that stage, Steve Bracks, and also saw John Howard. And between them he got funding to set up a St Kilda Road office and start the Alannah and Madeline Foundation which is purely there to help the victims of violent crime – the families, the children – provide them with some kind of accommodation or support or clothing, needs, or toiletries – a whole range of stuff there.

So they seconded Marie Stanley from Williamstown North Primary School. Because I’d visited her school many times, she rang me up and said, “Look, Michael, I’m doing this, I’m on salary, but I need your help. Could you help me invent a character?” So I came on board with Alannah and Madeline (Foundation) on a purely voluntary basis, which is my pleasure, and we invented a character called Buddy Bear as a very safe little bear and a spokes figure, whereby – and there are behind me as we speak in this interview – there are Buddy Bear chocolates up there. And they did something like five million chocolates with my name and my design on it through Coles stores and Target stores …

Elizabeth:        You know Michael, next time we meet I need a camera. (Laughter)

Michael:          That’s just 'Buddy Bear' stuff. And 'Buddy Bear' has gone on strongly and it’s now part of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation. But they got involved in a very important … the main focus of anti-bullying. And I was the person – I want to say one thing, because it’s true – I suggested that they should go – violence and all this stuff for families was terrible enough – but if they wanted to go to the bully, they really should get into the heart of the matter. And to me, I said to them once, “Look, please. I’ve seen what we’re doing. We’ve got Buddy Bear as the spokes figure for violence in the home. But we really should be hitting schools and things with something that centers around bullying and have an anti-bullying campaign.

And you know, it is one of those things which is said at the right time and the right place. And now we’ve got Princess Mary of Denmark who is the international head of 'Buddy Bear' and they’ve got their own thing over there because of her Australian connection with Tasmania. We have the National Bank who are the sponsors of the 'Buddy Bear' program of the Alannah and Madeline (Foundation), so we have a fully-fledged charity. But the early days of inventing 'Buddy Bear', and a lot of people who gave their time and effort for no cost as I did, and pleasure to get the whole thing going. But it was all through initially Walter Mikac, thinking that with his deceased wife and two little girls, he had to do something.

He was a pharmacist by trade and he was a smart man – he is a smart man – and he set the wheels in motion. And so it was a - ‘pleasure’ is not the right word. It was satisfying to be involved with a program that was ultimately going to help children feel better and safe and especially with this bullying thing, of being able to …

Elizabeth:        Personally, I love fundraising and I do a lot of it. And actually we have on the agenda this year a fundraiser for another children’s author: Pat Guest. His son Noah, and Noah has Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, and the family need a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

Michael:          Yes, yes, yes.

Elizabeth:        Pat’s a wonderful person. He’s published five books and counting, and has written one about Noah called That’s What Wings Are For. He has actually podcasted with me. So I’m going to put you on the spot now and ask you if you would like to create something –

Michael:          Absolutely! Let me know …

Elizabeth:        I haven’t even finished my sentence!

Michael:          No, no, no, the answer’s yes. The answer’s yes.

Elizabeth:        The generosity! Thank you.

Michael:          No, no, my pleasure. You talk about the – do you pronounce it ‘Duchenne’? There was a very famous fundraiser with that society up in Cairns several years ago, where various artists and musicians and illustrators were asked to provide – and they said a ukulele – so you had very famous artists and musicians and illustrators creating and painting their own version on this practical ukulele that was sent back to Cairns and auctioned off for charity and raised a whole lot of money.

Elizabeth:        You know Pat, I think, would love to meet you. And I know Noah – the whole family are just beautiful people.

Michael:          But I’ll have you know, only because of that connection where they contacted me saying “Would you like to …” and I had no knowledge whatever of the disease and the toll it took.

Elizabeth:        I’ve nursed a couple of boys with it.

Michael:          From my recollection, would it be quite correct to say it’s quite gender-specific? It hits boys more than girls?

Elizabeth:        Yes. The two children that I nursed were brothers, and they passed.

So we want to focus on the positive side, and this Saturday, actually there’s a trivia night which is sold out –

Michael:          Oh good! Good, good.

Elizabeth:        And it’s Eighties music which is my thing – I love that – so hopefully I will win, everybody. Don’t bet on me, Michael, but if there was a ticket, I’d invite you. But we’re looking at later in the year and we have some great people. Dave O’Neil wants to do a spot –

Michael:          Oh yeah, good, good, good.

Elizabeth:        And he podcasted with me. And like yourself, pretty much before I got my sentence out, he said 'yes'.

Robyn Payne whom I wrote my song with for my children’s book – she wants to write a song. So we’ve got many … and Robyn Payne was in Hey Hey, It’s Saturday for many years. She was in that band, and Robyn’s incredible – she plays eight instruments.

Michael:          Right, right, yes, yes.

Elizabeth:        She’s performed at the Grand Final; incredibly talented lady. I just ran into her the other night with Neil, her husband, and Steph who’s a good friend of mine and recently performed with her on stage as well, they’re looking at writing a song for Noah. So it’s taking off.

Michael:          One of the best fundraisers I’ve been to is a yearly event – still going – the Alannah and Madeline (Foundation) did. I don’t keep in contact with them directly; it was just a pleasure to work in, but what they did at the Palladium Ballroom – have 'Starry Starry Night'. Now 'Starry Starry Night' would have almost anyone who’s anyone in show business, on television and the media, would be there, from the jockeys at Melbourne Cup who would be singing Village People and whatever. Quite brilliant. And they had a huge host. We’re talking about – and I’m not exaggerating – 50 or so celebrities attended that. Black Night night and it really was a “starry starry night”. I haven’t attended for a long time, but I did my duty and it was a great pleasure to be there and part of it. But that was a brilliant fundraiser, and still continues as a fundraiser for the Alannah and Madeline Foundation.

Elizabeth:        Oh, I’m so honoured that you said yes to me before I even finished my sentence. Thank you so much!

Talking about stars, I’d like to go to my signature question, and then we’ll say adieu to you.

Michael, this is a signature question I ask all my guests: what do you wish for, for the world, and most importantly for yourself?

Michael:          Well, as we’re sitting here in early February of 2017, because of all these incredible events that are going on every quarter of the day from the United States there, where the world order seems to be rapidly changing, and oddities occurring there and without going into it too heavily we all know what we’re talking about, I have a hope that the situation in America remedies itself, and that the situations change rapidly, and that America gets back, because as the biggest country in the world for what it is and known as, because we need the stability of America etcetera, so it’s a fairly direct sort of wish that America gets its act together again soon, and maintains something that we can trust in. Because America really is being that main country in the world.

Elizabeth:        Do you see a way – does that start one person at a time? Is that how things start to change?

Michael:          Gosh, as we’ve evidenced with the Women’s March and a whole range of stuff now that the immigration – oh dear – it just goes on, goes on. And without going into a full-scale discussion of that, my wish is that America gets back together quickly, and maintains and gets someone new in charge. I don’t know how that’s going to happen – impeachment or … but something has to happen, so that the world can feel stable again. And that’s not grandiose, but that’s probably affecting a lot of people in the world. As every new edict or special signatory thing is signed in the White House, the ripples it sends across for instability is quite amazing. We’ve never seen it before, unless you were there during Chamberlain days when Neville Chamberlain was talking to Hitler, and some of those – not grandiose or high-flying stuff, but it does affect especially Aussies who love America dearly, and America loves us.

Elizabeth:        But to me your books so beautifully reflect history.

Michael:          Some of them do, some of them do. It’s like a Facebook page – I really do love entertaining people and making them laugh. And that’s probably the last part of your question – I really would like every child in the mass audiences I encounter, we’re talking about 500 or so -  I would like to think that every child had an opportunity – not because of anything to do with my talk that may be instrumental , it doesn’t really matter – the children of today can reach their potential, and the energy and the talents they have are recognized. Not squashed, quashed, forgotten, put to one side by society or families, issues, whatever it may be.

Elizabeth:        You know, that reminds me of a good friend of mine, Andrew Eggelton. So Andrew Eggelton is an interesting man – he’s a New Zealander actually; he’s a Kiwi – and he believes in the Art of Play. So his wish is that everybody gets to use their God-given talents.

Michael:          Ditto, ditto, absolutely. Because you do see the children out there. Just to give you an example: I spoke to close to 12,000 children during a tour that I organized myself – I do have some other agents organizing other states …

Elizabeth:        How do you look after your throat?

Michael:          Thank goodness I’ve always had a voice that can throw – a loud voice – I was captain of a rugby team in my machismo days. I was in New Zealand, and as a front row forward you don’t usually have a shy, retiring kind of personality.

When you go out to tour, and on that tour we toured everything around the Riverina, we did places like West Wyalong, places you normally drive through as you are going up the back roads to Dubbo or some place like that. Then we went to Sydney, the western suburbs schools, and even this morning I had a phone call from one of the agents for a school near Loganlea. The school called and they want a couple of sessions. Most of their students are refugees with English ESL, so English Second Language. I would say English third or fourth language.

Elizabeth:        How many children at that school?

Michael:          Seven hundred. She said – the agent who rang me – and this is the first one in the tour that’s coming up late July for southeastern Queensland – “The reason no doubt that you’ve been invited to this particular school” which I know well, is because my act is highly visual. You don’t need a lot of language to understand it, because I draw all the cartoons. Or I’m caricaturing children, or getting them to caricature me. It’s almost like – ‘international language’ is not the right phrase – but it’s almost like a human comedy or whatever you call it.

Elizabeth:        It’s like smiling.

Michael:          It’s like smiling, and the more the merrier. So up there you’ve got the refugee children. You’ve got a lot of – and I really enjoy going to the Tongan or Samoan or Fijian or Maori schools or New Zealand, because I used to play rugby and I played with so many Islanders over the years and I’ve got some good mates there. And especially up there in southern parts of Brisbane, before you hit the Gold Coast, it’s always challenging, and I love to go up there, so it’s great to hear that. And the same thing applies to Indigenous schools up on the Gulf of Carpentaria, they call them, the Gulf Savannah schools up in Cape York, where you go to places like Weipa and stuff like that. And some of the notorious – notorious because of the troubles that have occurred – there’s a couple of places along the Peninsula there – they are trouble spots and have been for many years.

Elizabeth:        You know Michael, that just says so much about you, because so many people would not go within cooee of those places, and it reflects your beautiful generosity. So I want to thank you very much for guesting on Writers’ Tête-à-Tête with Elizabeth Harris. And I think we need a Part Two. It’s been an absolute delight and thank you so much.

Michael:          Thank you very much, and thank you Serena too. I babbled on a bit, but fifty years – fifty years of working in this country – there’s been a lot of water under the bridge. A lot of people, a lot of children, and I’m just very lucky. I consider myself very lucky to be in that position, to have that rapport with kids, and to just get on with them and entertain them and enjoy them.

Elizabeth:        I consider those children and us very, very lucky to have met you today. Thank you so much.

Michael:          Thank you guys. Thank you.

[END OF TRANSCRIPT]

00:0000:00

Episode 6: Interview with Andrew Eggelton

January 30, 2017

New Zealand-born actor, presenter, life coach and workshop facilitator Andrew Eggelton, who has starred alongside Ryan Gosling and Michael J. Fox, talks to Elizabeth Harris at Dave O'Neil's office at Grandview Hotel (Fairfield) about:

  • The downside of being famous, and what it's really like to work in the entertainment industry.
  • His childhood and how it helped him develop his creativity and imagination as a writer.
  • The life-changing episode that made him dig deep and uncover his purpose.
  • A cabin in Romania, Dracula's castle, and a dog called Darren writing a fairytale about a man writing about a dog writing a fairytale.
  • What his Generation Y clients tell him they want most of all, and what he thinks should be taught in schools.
  • His upcoming "Art of Play" workshops in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane.

Find out more about Andrew Eggelton's work at AndrewEggelton.com.

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Elizabeth:      Welcome to Writers’ Tête-à-Tête with Elizabeth Harris, the show that connects authors, songwriters and poets with their global audience.

So I can continue to bring you high-calibre guests, I invite you to go to iTunes, click Subscribe, leave a review, and share this podcast with your friends.

Today I’m delighted to introduce the charismatic and insightful Andrew Eggelton.

Once upon a time Andrew Eggelton was a carefree child blessed with a vivid imagination, running around the fields of …

Andrew:         Otaio.

Elizabeth:      Thank you. I was going to ask you how to pronounce that. So Otaio, a country town 30 minutes from Timaru – is that correct?

Andrew:         Yes.

Elizabeth:      South Canterbury, New Zealand. After the unfortunate discovery that he could no longer be a child, his imagination and desire to challenge the conventional would still play a large part in his adult life. Now in his forties, he’s spent over 20 years in the entertainment industry working with such people as Ryan Gosling and Michael J. Fox.

Andrew:         Just to name a few. (Laughter)

Elizabeth:      Yes, I’m looking forward to learning more about it, Andrew.

When a life-changing moment asked him to dig deep and get specific about what he was born to do. Andrew now nurtures artists to reach their fullest potential. He reminds people just how powerful remembering to play is, and to nurture the inner child before it is lost forever. Andrew uses his intuitive coaching gift to host one-to-one intensives for artists, speakers and television presenters. Andrew guides his clients from a mundane existence to an inspired powerful life. He inspires his clients to dream, discover their purpose, and then gift package this to the world.

Andrew Eggelton, welcome to Writers’ Tête-à-Tête with Elizabeth Harris.

Andrew:         Nice to meet you and thank you for having me.

Elizabeth:      It’s a pleasure to meet you Andrew – and to pick you up from the corner of Greville Street and Chapel Street in beautiful Melbourne.

Andrew:         Yup, all in exchange just for one chai.

Elizabeth:      It’s my favourite drink after all.

Andrew:         Better than an Uber.

Elizabeth:      Andrew, we recently discovered that we have a similar sense of humour.

How do you use that wonderful sense of humour in your coaching work?

Andrew:         In my coaching, I use my humour to defuse the sense of a line between me and my clients, so it allows them to realize that I’m just the same as them, and that we’re all on the same level playing field.

Elizabeth:      ‘Cause it’s an equalizer.

Andrew:         It’s an equalizer; takes away the ego of everybody, brings everybody down to the same level.

Elizabeth:      I really like that, ‘cause I use a lot of humour too, and some people don’t understand my sense of humour, and now I’ve found one person who does, so thank you for that.

You spent your childhood in a beautiful place and the school you attended was unique. Can you tell us the impact of being in such a small school, the benefits and the hindrances?

Andrew:         Okay, the impact. Do you know when I first moved to the school, I was five, and there were eight pupils. Eight. And no one my age. There were two girls …

Elizabeth:      Oh, were you the baby?

Andrew:         I was … My dad was my teacher and principal, so that was quite challenging.

Elizabeth:      Right.

Andrew:         There was special treatment for sure, but probably not in the positive way - probably in the way that Dad was probably a little bit harder on me than the other children.

Elizabeth:      Did that make you cry?

Andrew:         Ah…it brought up some things in my later years, but we’ve worked through those now. And anyway, just to put it clear, my dad and I have a beautiful relationship. But what it taught me is that: there was no one for miles. There was no one to play with; I had no peers, so my imagination and what I did with my spare time were of my own doing. Huge bush walks and literally gone all day, you know.

Elizabeth:      The importance of nature was there for you.

Andrew:         Yeah, so I’d go for bush walks and leave at nine in the morning, and it wasn’t till the sun was coming down that I’d be like “Okay, it’s time to go home.”

Elizabeth:      On your own?

Andrew:         On my own.

Elizabeth:      That self-sufficiency…

Andrew:         Very self-sufficient.

Elizabeth:      Were they worried about you?

Andrew:         Not at all, not at all. As long as I turned up for dinner, they didn’t care. What trouble could I get into?

Elizabeth:      What freedom!

Andrew:         Yes, a lot of freedom.

Elizabeth:      And we have a tattoo, listeners. Where is your tattoo? One of your tattoos says “Freedom”, Andrew – where is that?

Andrew:         Forearm.

Elizabeth:      How many tattoos do you actually have?

Andrew:         Eight.

Elizabeth:      And can we talk about where they are, or is that private?

Andrew:         No (laughing) – I’ve got three on my left arm. “Joy”. “Kaizen”, which is Japanese for ‘little improvement every day’. I’ve got the Viking word “Inguz”, which is ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’. I’ve got “Courage, dear heart”. I’ve got Latin – “Fortune favours the brave”. I’ve got “Truth”.

Elizabeth:      So a little bit like Robbie Williams, although you deny that.

Andrew:         I deny I’m anything like Robbie Williams.

Elizabeth:      Why, what is Robbie Williams like for you?

Andrew:         Ah, I like that he’s a playful character.

Elizabeth:      He’s fun.

Andrew:         Yes, yes he’s fun.

Elizabeth:      He’s settled down, though.

Andrew:         Yes he has – and I’m looking to do the same.

Elizabeth:      Oh, wonderful. What are you looking for in a woman, Andrew?

Andrew:         Ah, someone who’s the opposite of me. (Laughs)

Elizabeth:      What does that mean?

Andrew:         You know what it is? I know exactly what I want from a woman, and that’s why I wrote that article on love that I’ll get it for you later. I want a goddess, a divine feminine woman.

Elizabeth:      All women are goddesses.

Andrew:         They are, they are, but in this day and age, in this day and age, if I may be so bold …

Elizabeth:      You can be as bold as you like; it’s your show.

Andrew:         It’s that women try to be men – they embrace so much masculine energy that it really sort of emasculates the men. And for me, being a woman is such an amazing gift.

Elizabeth:      How do you know? You’re not a woman. (Laughs)

Andrew:         Only by observation. I mean, you’re the closest thing to Mother Earth that there is.

Elizabeth:      Can you explain that for the people who are not quite on your level of understanding?

Andrew:         Okay. Mother Earth means like that nurturing soul, the ability to have a child.

Elizabeth:      Is it like when I shut your fingers in the window this morning and I said were you okay. I am a nurse and I am concerned about your fingers. Is it like that?

Andrew:         Well it’s kind of like that, but more authentic.

Elizabeth:      (Laughs) So Mother Earth…

Andrew:         So Mother Earth. Here’s the thing. I’m a pretty well-balanced guy, I think. But when I’m with a very feminine woman, I feel safe. Like I feel safe. Like if I’m in her arms, I feel “Wow, I’m safe.” Now she couldn’t protect me to save herself.

Elizabeth:      That’s true.

Andrew:         But there’s that feeling of ‘safe’, like there’s something calming.

Elizabeth:      That’s beautiful.

Andrew:         And I sat with someone recently, and they said “But don’t you get it Andrew, you make me feel safe too.” I get it – the yin and the yang, the whole, so…

Elizabeth:      That’s beautiful. That’s what you’re after.

Andrew:         Anyway, that’s what I’m after.

Elizabeth:      That’s beautiful. So that’s what you’re after. And ladies, we don’t mind if you’ve had a child.

Andrew:         You can send in an application. (Laughs)

Elizabeth:      So what we’re saying is, where do we find your work? We need a website to send these applications to. Where do we find you? Where do women find you, Andrew?

Andrew:         Women can find me on such sites as … (Laughs) No. Andrew-Eggelton-dot-com.

Elizabeth:      We’ll talk about your great work.

Andrew:         Just to finish off that last piece, about the positives of living in that small community – it wasn’t a community. It’s that during the weekend or after school I had nothing to do, so my idea of entertainment was to go over to the school and write. Or draw. I used to draw. Now I can’t do anything more than stick figures. But my writing was something …

Elizabeth:      Never say “can’t”. You can get back to that.

Andrew:         Yes, I could, but I probably will never. Ah I love writing – that’s where the writing came from.

Elizabeth:      And I totally agree, because I love writing too. In Year Six I wrote Tilly the Red Motorcar, and my father threw it away.

Andrew:         Oh really.

Elizabeth:      Not intentionally. He did a big clean-out and it’s gone – he threw it away.

So how do you utilize the foundation of your wonderfully carefree childhood and vivid imagination within your work, and in particular, how does this translate to The Playroom?

Andrew:         The essence of what I coach, if you boil it, simmer it down to one thing, is the Art of Play. So when you write, when you present, just your everyday life, one of the things that I really coach into my clients is a sense of playfulness. I’ve always like – my aunty and my family, people who know me, call me Peter Pan.

Elizabeth:      Oh, that’s lovely.

Andrew:         Now, that’s getting a bit condescending as they get older, but …

Elizabeth:      They’re saying “Peter Pan, you need your Wendy.”

Andrew:         Yes, yes. So what that foundation taught me was the Art of Play – I get curious, I get excited.

And when I public speak or go on camera or present on TV, whatever I’m doing, I get into an excited space. This is playtime for me, and that’s what I coach into my clients. It’s exactly the same thing. Reframe this – it sounds very NLP – reframe it, and it gets to a point where they turn it up on camera, and they actually get excited and they say, “Okay, this is our playtime!”

If it was a child, you’d be playing with dolls or fire trucks or whatever kids play with these days.

Elizabeth:      iPads. It’s very disappointing, and I was thinking about your child and how so many children would benefit from a childhood like yours.

Andrew:         Absolutely.

Elizabeth:      Just get outside in the dirt, run around.

Andrew:         Yes. Fall out of trees. Good for you.

Elizabeth:      Umm, I’m a nurse, I don’t know about that one. But if there’s a safety net under that, sure. (Laughs)

Andrew:         Yes, but that’s what happened – it was a sense of playfulness. That was the foundation that was built in me from that growing up, that childhood, and that imagination.

Elizabeth:      Fantastic.

In your bio, you mention a life-challenging moment. Will you allow my listeners to know more about this, or will I be breaking privacy laws?

Andrew:         Yeah sure, so I’ll make a long story short. So two years ago – it was September the 6th or the 9th, I slipped a disc in my neck: C6, C7. The way that works is that if the disc slips, the nerve that runs down through those discs is trapped. Now that can cause a super intense pain. If you haven’t experienced it – and not many people would have, thank God – I can only liken it to passing a kidney stone or giving birth. Obviously one of those I haven’t experienced. So that was like a shotgun blast going off – the incredible pain – and I was in Bali and couldn’t fly. Every doctor told me something different – I mean, I couldn’t even dress myself, couldn’t feed myself, couldn’t get out of bed, and this lasted for 2 months. And if I had been in Australia or New Zealand or a better place with a bit of a medical…uh…Indonesia.

Elizabeth:      You should have called me Andrew; I could have come over. You could have used nursing care.

Andrew:         The first thing they said when I got sent back to New Zealand was how was the depression, and I said it was super intense. And he goes “Yeah”, because after that, the physical pain…the physical pain 24/7 and I was self-medicating myself with whatever I could get my hands on to kill the pain.

Elizabeth:      Not a good time of your life.

Andrew:         I went into … my mind got lazy and dark and I went into incredible depression. And the life-changing moment was – I woke up one morning and I was like, “How the hell am I going to get through today? I don’t want to deal with another 12 or 14 hours of getting up to deal with people. Can I just take a pill and forget about this day?”

Elizabeth:      So you were suicidal.

Andrew:         I understood how people could commit suicide, yes. I’m not that kind of person myself, ‘cause I know that there’s an end. So I got up and went, “Right, enough. You’re going through this. What do you want out of it?” And I wrote down on a piece of paper – I started off with “What is your ideal day?”

So I wrote down everything: what happens when I get up, who I’m with, what am I drinking, what does outside my window look like, how do I feel, what’s the look on my face – everything, right down to the minor details of the thread count on my sheets. Then after that, I had the realization, that the current Andrew wasn’t capable of having that perfect day, perfect life, because I wasn’t equipped for that. My behaviours, my beliefs, my character, the things I had to work on.

So I started to write down all the things I had to become, the kind of man I needed to be…

Elizabeth:      Be, do, have, Andrew. Be, do, have.

Andrew:         Be, do, have. I call it ‘the man I need to be’. So I wrote that down, then I wrote down how many hours a week I wanted to work, how much I wanted to get paid, what I was going to be doing, and how I was going to serve others, and from that moment onwards, I had this whole new focus on life, and that got me into my life coaching. And I use exactly that – I call it Life by Design, and obviously I flesh it out a lot more, and the actual process is called The Design Practice, born from that moment of desperation.

Elizabeth:      Isn’t that amazing how you turned that around? Congratulations, because many people can’t do that.

Andrew:         They don’t know – I don’t think they know how to do that.

Elizabeth:      You know what you don’t know how to do? Accept a compliment, because I’ve just offered you a compliment.

Andrew:         No, you’re right. I’m not very good at accepting compliments. You’re right, but thank you – thank you.

Elizabeth:      My pleasure, because that’s really pivotal. Congratulations. You write for Spiritual Biz Magazine and I’ve read a number of your great articles, including a very special piece on love, and also one about the Art of Play.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Andrew:         There’s probably never a point when I didn’t want to be a writer. Yeah, so, like I said earlier my dad encouraged me to write when I was a child. Because there were only 8 kids at the school, where one of the things where - I don’t know if we had subjects at all – we would spend an hour or two hours writing creative stories. And then I would come back and kids would have two paragraphs or half a page, and I would come back with 20 pages, and hold fort for as long as I could.

Elizabeth:      So clearly a gift.

Andrew:         It’s definitely a gift, yes. So thank you. See that? Did you see that?

Elizabeth:      Oh, I’m impressed. (Laughs) You are a fast learner. Well done.

Andrew:         I am a fast learner. Writing is a real joy and I think there’s a versatility to my writing – I can write silly and fun, and I can also go very deep.

Elizabeth:      So when you’re writing, what keeps you going, and whatever works for you could work for other people, so what would you advise other people to keep them going with their writing?

Andrew:         Write, because you want to, not because you have to – for a start. I mean writing, if you’re an artist or just a creative person, writing is something – we talked about this in the car when you came to pick me up – it’s something that for me and I think other artists, we have control over it. I can pick up my laptop or pen and paper any time I want. So the trouble with – the challenge with – being a creator or artist, is especially when we explain it with being a presenter or an actor, is the gatekeeper. The audition is a process; I get the job or I don’t get the job. There’s ten No’s to one Yes – and that’s good odds.

So if you’re a creative person, you just can’t wait to get to that playtime. For me, that playtime I am on set and I am playing. But when I’m writing, it’s like I feel like writing right now and I’m gonna write right now. So I get this creative outlet straightaway, and it’s that sense of playing; even when you’re going deep, it’s that sense of playing.

Elizabeth:      That’s wonderful.

Who or what is your major source of support when you are writing? You’ve got some cranberry juice, I see. For me, I’m definitely a coffee addict. So for you, what supports you through that? Is it friends, or is it other writers. You know writers have this wonderful community; we share – we don’t compete, I’ve found, from the community I’m in. Very generous people, and we understand that it can be very isolating to write. So if you’re feeling that way, reach out, because there’s always someone up at 2 a.m., writing something.

Andrew:         Mmm, it’s true. It’s true. Do you know what, the people who support me are: one is my father, and I have a couple of friends: Jarrah, Campbell – he lives in Bali too – and they’re just like, I’ll talk to them about an article I’m writing, and they’ll “Yes, yes, go for it.” And you know the one I wrote on love when I was in Romania was one I didn’t want to print, because I actually wrote it myself and I thought – I could be judged quite heavily on this, writing about something that – (Elizabeth: It’s a beautiful piece) who am I to write on this subject, you know what I mean?

Elizabeth:      I’m shaking my head, everybody. (Laughs)

Andrew:         But I did it and it had a wonderful response and got shared hundreds of times. So, yeah, I’ve got some wonderful friends, and my other support is probably a glass of wine when I write.

Elizabeth:      Red or white?

Andrew:         Red. Always red.

Elizabeth:      And there’s antioxidants in it, so I approve of that.

Andrew:         Okay, so I’ve always wanted to write – for a long time I’ve wanted to write – a fairy tale, in a cabin, in Romania, overlooking the castle that inspired the legend of Dracula. Actually, the castle that inspired the novel Dracula. It’s a little town called Bran in Transylvania in Romania.

Elizabeth:      Do you have a costume that you wear when you’re writing?

Andrew:         No, there was no costume.

Elizabeth:      No fangs?

Andrew:         No, no, no. It was actually very exciting. I wrote about an imaginary character called Darren who’s a dog. And Darren left the corporate world…

Elizabeth:      Right. Well, I wrote about a cat called Victoria, so here we are.

Andrew:         Yes. Everybody had told Darren that dogs can’t write fairy tales. And so Darren went “Fxxk it!” And then he got on a plane and flew to Romania and travelled around Europe, ended up in Romania, and he’s been writing a fairy tale about a man…

Elizabeth:      You need to put some money in Samuel Johnson’s Swear Jar.

Andrew:         That’s one; that’s only one so far. So Darren said if you went ahead and jump on a plane anyway and fulfilled his dream of writing his fairy tale about Europe and ended up in Transylvania. And he’s writing a fairy tale about a man writing about a dog writing a fairy tale. So it’s multi-layered, very confusing.

Elizabeth:      No, no, hang on a minute. A man …?

Andrew:         Being me.

Elizabeth:      Yeah, but let’s just go back a bit, so a bit slower. A man …?

Andrew:         A man, writing about a dog who’s going on a journey to write a fairy tale.

Elizabeth:      Everybody’s got that now, so go ahead.

Andrew:         Yes. And he has not finished it – he is definitely chipping his way through it, which is nice, and it was a beautiful journey in Romania to be able to do that. But Darren got very sidetracked with many things in Europe, and that held him up a little bit.

Elizabeth:      (Laughs) Was Darren auditioning for the mother of his pups, perhaps?

Andrew:         I think Darren might have a few pups, though. (Laughs)

Elizabeth:      In 20 years you might have a couple of knocks on your door, Andrew.

Andrew:         Thai’s it.

Elizabeth:      What are you working on at the moment?

Andrew:         So the number one priority at the moment is I’ve got workshops coming up in New Zealand and Australia in February, March, and my number one priority is putting together how that will look. So my workshop’s called The Art of Play, and it’s for live speakers, presenters, corporates, entrepreneurs. So that’s a priority.

Elizabeth:      Can we learn about that? What is the workshop about?

Andrew:         I bring – if I can say so myself, which is very un-humble for a Kiwi…

Elizabeth:      Just be loud and proud.

Andrew:         Okay. I bring a very unique, world-class way of coaching and presenting, so a performance, and I literally have a gift, an intuitive ability to tailor my coaching to an individual. So even if I’ve got 20 different people in class, I’ll have 20 different ways of coaching.

Elizabeth:      That’s because you read people very well.

Andrew:         I read people very well. And part of that is because presenting never came easy to me. It’s something I worked very hard at, and had to work through many, many of my blocks.

Elizabeth:      See, that really surprised me.

Andrew:         Really.

Elizabeth:      Yes. ‘Cause you present so well.

Andrew:         That’s good to know. Thank you, thank you.

So Melbourne … Brisbane will be the first weekend of March, then Sydney the weekend after, then Melbourne the weekend after that.

Elizabeth:      So you’re wanting your – so you’re the focus, and we have this theatre setup, and you bring the participants down for their turn. Is that how it works?

Andrew:         Yes, yes, yes. You know my favourite space – I get into a zone which is super playful, and I love it. Like when I coach, that’s my happy place. And feeding off the energy of other people, and feeding off me, and then taking away people’s expectations of themselves; that’s the first thing I do. I have this funny thing when we first start. ‘Cause I really don’t care what level people are at – it makes no difference to me. I’m going to coach you; I’m going to give you a 1 or 10. So I kind of defuse that by saying, “Look, we’re here now, and you’ve all given me your money. So I don’t care if you’re good or not.”

Elizabeth:      (Laughs) I love it.

Andrew:         You know what I mean? I have your money. I’m happy.

Elizabeth:      Ka-ching! Ka-ching!

Andrew:         My job is to take your money first.

Elizabeth:      Then it’s up to you. Over to you! Take One – is it Take One?

Andrew:         Yep, yep, so … but what I get is, I don’t care when people get up. I’m like, if you need to read off your script, if you want me to prompt you, I don’t care if you can’t even say your name. Like some people can’t – some people can’t even get up and say their name, they’re so nervous. And I’m like, I don’t care – that’s where you start. That’s it. So on a scale of 1 to 10 I’m going to give you a point five or a one. And now my job’s to get you to a 5, to a 10.

Elizabeth:      So what I’m now interested to know is, what is a 10?

Andrew:         A 10 is someone who’s very confident and keeps me – a 10 really keeps me on my toes. When you’re a 10, meaning you’re a very, very good presenter, my job is now to dig in and bring more of that personality out.

Elizabeth:      Who is a 10? So that people can know. Not a personally popular 10, but a mainstream 10.  There’s ‘Oprah 10’ … who’s a 10?     

Andrew:         You know some of those presenters from Top Gear? You know they bring that X-Factor – you see their personalities. Because there’s the old American style of presenting, where it’s cameras on, and all of a sudden there’s this fake personality.

Elizabeth:      And you can see that.

Andrew:         You can see that. It’s like “bang, bang, bang”. And that’s not presenting. That’s cookie cutter. And that’s almost like Step One of what you do. What we want is bring the personality. Because when it comes down to it, if you’re auditioning or you’re doing a presentation, what people are engaged by is your personality, your X-Factor.

Elizabeth:      Oh. Really interesting. Okay.

Andrew:         The reason for Darren and the Corporate Dog – I have this wonderful vision that I’m very excited about is doing a one-man stage show, and it’s just a storytelling. I stand at an altar with a big old dusty book which I will create myself, and I tell my fairytale, which is 45 minutes long. The purpose of it is to bring adults down to a sense of being children again. So it’s to let go of being adults – no bills, no mortgages, no responsibility. And for 45 minutes, just entertain using obviously audio and animation behind to drive the story, just old-fashioned storytelling. And that excites me – that’s my passion project.

Elizabeth:      That would be captivating.

Andrew:         Yeah. And again, you could have beautiful cute little venues. First 5,10,15 minutes would be spent talking about getting people to use their imagination again. ‘Remember what you were like when you were 5 years old’, and setting that scene, and getting adults to remember what it was like to play again and be silly and have no responsibilities. And then go, “Right. Now my audience is ready. Let’s go.”

Elizabeth:      You know, you know lots of famous people. So tell me about that. Is being famous an impediment, ‘cause you know, so many people want to be famous, but when you get down to it, do you want to be famous?

Andrew:         Okay, so there’s a difference. There’s people, and this is – I was speaking to my actress friend here – I won’t mention her name – on Saturday. And she said, the biggest difference is now compared to when she first started acting, was people want to be celebrity before they become actor, so an artist.

Elizabeth:      So, could we have an example of that? Kardashians?

Andrew:         Kardashians is a good one. Reality TV is a shocker for that. I’ve had two periods of my life where I was – I use this word very loosely, but I guess people knew who I was.

Elizabeth:      Oh I’m so sorry I didn’t realize. (Laughs)

Andrew:         (Laughs) That’s alright. We’re in different countries.

Elizabeth:      And who were you, Andrew?

Andrew:         Well, that’s it. It wasn’t – I wasn’t …

Elizabeth:      Are you important, and I didn’t know?

Andrew:         Yes. (Laughs)

Elizabeth:      We need to define ‘important’, don’t we? You see, I think important people are people like paramedics and surgeons who save people’s lives, you know?

Andrew:         Absolutely.

Elizabeth:      But then I’m different.

Andrew:         But if you’re an artist – I rate writer and artist as the same thing because you’re reflecting life.

Elizabeth:      I’m being light.

Andrew:         Yes, yes, yes. But ‘celebrity’ – what’s a celebrity? You need to be someone who’s celebrated. Pure reality TV show person or something, it’s like “That’s your job. You got lucky, you’re in a TV show, you’re pretty much a nobody, you’re not really good at anything, but the camera’s following you. And that’s why people know you.”

Elizabeth:      It’s false elevation.

Andrew:         I remember it was in 2001, and I was kind of hitting my stride. I was working with Ryan Gosling on Hercules. I won Cleo ‘Bachelor of the Year’ in New Zealand. I shot documentaries and a TV series called Shortland Street which is like our Neighbours. Do you know what, and I started to get all this work, but just doing stupid stuff that I wasn’t actually needed to be skilled at. I’m turning into the kind of person that I ridicule myself that you see on TV or magazines.

Elizabeth:      Is it like that song Popular by Darren Hayes? Do you know that song?

Andrew:         No. Do you want to know what I did?

Elizabeth:      Yes.

Andrew:         I moved to an island called Waiiti Island off the coast of Auckland. It’s about an hour on a ferry. I got a little house, I grew a beard, I got an amazing vegetable garden.

Elizabeth:      Does this mean you grew your own vegetables?

Andrew:         I grew my own vegetables. I lived there for two years, and I did nothing but write and try to identify what I wanted to do as an artist. And there was one day I was standing outside and I was speaking to a man who was my neighbor, over some shrubs, and I realized I was talking to this stranger – naked. I was naked. It was hot, you know, and I just stopped wearing clothes.

Elizabeth:      Totally? Totally naked?

Andrew:         Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was on an island.

Elizabeth:      Did he notice? You had a fig leaf …?

Andrew:         No. (Elizabeth: No fig leaf?) That was the thing. I was so used to letting it all go. And it just dawned on me: “Andrew, you’re only 28. There’s time to get off the island. There’s time to go, buddy.” I got off the island pretty quick. I moved into this new house with these two girls, and for about a month they were like …

Elizabeth:      Had you not dressed for this too? It was colder there.

Andrew:         I was dressed, but I was always going outside to pee on the lawn. And they were like, “Andrew, can you use the toilet?” So I told myself I’ve got to get out of this habit; it’s okay. I’m just adjusting to normal life again.

Elizabeth:      And what’s normal?

Andrew:         Yeah, what’s normal?

Elizabeth:      What really grabs me about that story is that you were aware enough to know that you needed to change.

Andrew:         Yes.

Elizabeth:      And not everybody is that aware. And why are you that aware? Is it because of your dad? Is it because of your upbringing? You can sense bullshit basically.

Andrew:         I can. 

Elizabeth:      You have got this really sensitive BS detector.

Andrew:         You know I’ve only just … I was talking to my little brother about this a few weeks ago, I’ve only just realized what a quality and an asset is, and that I am highly sensitive. Even a year ago, I didn’t realize it was such an asset …

Elizabeth:      It is.

Andrew:         As to what I do now, and I’m really starting to embrace it.

Elizabeth:      That’s fantastic. The civilized word for that, everybody, is ‘discernment’.

Andrew:         Discernment.

Elizabeth:      Yes, discernment. And also civilized people using the toilet rather than the lawn, Andrew.

Andrew:         Yes. Well, I’ve got that under control now.

Elizabeth:      Oh, that’s nice to know. (Laughs)

Andrew:         Look, the entertainment industry, if you’re talking about that specifically, it’s just so much bullshit involved. And we talked about my earlier experience, but I had another experience in 2008, 9, 10, when I was really on a roll acting, presenting and public speaking. And again I went away, this time to Bali.

Elizabeth:      Which is where you live now, isn’t it.

Andrew:         I live half-and-half.

Elizabeth:      Half and half New Zealand.

Andrew:         Was New Zealand and Bali, and now it’s going to be Australia. Yes, I’m after a bigger market, which is here.

Elizabeth:      ‘Cause this is important for the woman who’s coming on the scene. So we’re looking at Victoria, or we’re looking at Sydney?

Andrew:         Melbourne.

Elizabeth:      Melbourne. Oh, okay.

Andrew:         The thing I like about the entertainment industry …

Elizabeth:      We do have good weather, you know.

Andrew:         In Melbourne? You’re the first person that’s said that.

Elizabeth:      I’m Melbourne through and through.

Andrew:         That’s beautiful. Makes me feel like home. Melbourne I feel like I’m home – I don’t know why. My dad grew up here.

Elizabeth:      Did he really? Whereabouts?

Andrew:         He actually told me yesterday and I can’t remember. About an hour out.

Elizabeth:      Out where – north, south, east, west?

Andrew:         Out towards the … Dande  … Dande …

Elizabeth:      Dandenong?

Andrew:         The Dandenongs. Mountains.

Elizabeth:      Oh, I lived there once. Stunning place.

Andrew:         Mm, yes.

Elizabeth:      Okay. So – the entertainment industry is full of people with lack of discernment. They believe their own B.S. Is that it?

Andrew:         Umm, yeah, yeah. At the end of the day you’ve got to just go: “This is TV – this is just a job. I’m an artist, and if I get work I’m lucky.”

Elizabeth:      Why do they believe it? Is it that adulation that they get?

Andrew:         It is the adulation and look, I can relate to that. The ego is an amazing driver. And in my twenties and thirties it was my ego getting me out of bed. It was like, “Right. You wanted that. You wanted people to know who I am.” It was the adulation.

Elizabeth:      Why do you want people to know who you are? I’m sorry I didn’t know who you were, Andrew. (Laughs)

Andrew:         Because it’s a feeling – it’s self-esteem, isn’t it. A sense of self-love. It’s like if people adore you, it helps boost that sense of self-worth.

Elizabeth:      I find that false.

Andrew:         Of course it’s false.

Elizabeth:      Having been a school nurse and really looking at children – you mentioned you were five – and nurturing their self-esteem, and how important it is. That doesn’t come from outside. That comes from inside.

Andrew:         Always inside out.

Elizabeth:      But we’re not taught that.

Andrew:         No, we’re not. So what we’re taught - in a way that makes no sense to me – we’re taught that your career, what other people think of you, what you own, where you live – that defines who you are. But if you look at it from a deeper perspective, your outside world actually affects your inside, and you’re in control of that, and no one teaches you that at school.

Elizabeth:      That’s why everybody needs coaches.

Andrew:         Your sense of self-love, self-awareness, your sense of freedom, all your values start from inside out. When you’ve got that glowing and growing inside you, your outside world reflects that.

Elizabeth:      You’ve got so many important messages to bring to the world, Andrew. It’s a very exciting time for you.

Andrew:         It is, it is.

Elizabeth:      That’s fantastic. That’s great.

Andrew:         Thank you.

Elizabeth:      What is one of the most inspirational achievements one of your clients have made after working with you?

Andrew:         Before I even became a coach, I used to be able to get a lot of people to quit their jobs. Like I’m just very passionate, and when someone would talk to me about their job, I’d go – ‘cause it’s very usual in the Western world for people to go “Hey, what do you do?” And I never ask that ‘cause I really don’t care. It means nothing to me.

Elizabeth:      Yeah, I know. What question do you ask?

Andrew:         If I was going to ask, it would be “If you could do anything, what would you do?”

Elizabeth:      Okay. And would you be impressed if they say “I’m actually doing it”?

Andrew:         Yes, yeah. Like I’ve got a lot of people to quit their jobs and start following their passion. For me, I’m dealing with clients, it’s managing them through their zone of fear, resistance and self-sabotage which we all go through, and understanding that process of … When I did this whole coaching thing, I was like “I don’t want to deal with people’s problems.” Because I don’t want to sit and Skype and go to workshops and deal with people’s problems all day. So unless the first person, that’s the first thing they want to talk about - “This is what I don’t want”, I’m not interested. “What do you want?”

Elizabeth:      Exactly.

Andrew:         When I know what you want, we can create that – we can work towards that and shape you. And that’s exciting. And of course when you go there, you’ve got to create that vision of where you want to go that’s so bold, exciting and fun, that your mind is tricked to go, “Oh, do you know what? This looks like fun. Let’s go there. That’s nothing – this is safe.” Because your mind isn’t built for success. It doesn’t know what the hell success is. Success to your mind is being alive for your mind, right? The fact that we’re sitting here talking, your brain is giving yourself a high-five, saying “Yep! You’re still alive!”

Elizabeth:      (Laughs) That’s because I’m a human.

Andrew:         Yes.

Elizabeth:      Cleo – what did you say? – Cleo Bachelor of the Year? What year was that?

Andrew:         2001. (Laughs) Fifteen years ago.

Elizabeth:      Wow. There’ll be a lot of jealousy on the other side of this podcast, I can tell you that.

Andrew, one of my favourite books is Illusions by Richard Bach. What is one of your favourites?

Andrew:         Just off the top of my head, there’s many, many books – one is Badjelly the Witch (by Spike Milligan), for the reason that it makes me laugh. It’s just a child who is silly. It means nothing. There’s not even a message behind the story. It’s just someone’s random creative strain of thought. I just think it’s hilarious.

Elizabeth:      I love to laugh. Very important thing to do.

Andrew:         It’s the audio – and you know what it reminds me of? Why I love it so much is it reminds me of when I was a little kid – when I was five, six, seven - and my dad would come into my room in Otaio, and tuning in the radio. Because at that time we only had like one or two channels, Channel One and Channel Two in New Zealand. (Elizabeth: Oh, you’re spoiled!) And TV didn’t start till like eight in the morning or seven in the morning, so there was nothing else to watch except Freddo Rock and The Muppets. And then dear dad would come in and tune in the radio, and it was Saturday or Sunday morning storytelling time, and I would lie in bed and listen to that. That’s one of my favourite memories of my childhood.

Elizabeth:      That’s a lovely memory to have.

What is Darren the Corporate Dog doing for Christmas? And I notice you haven’t invited him to your family celebration. Isn’t that a bit mean?

Andrew:         Mm.

Elizabeth:      Do you think Darren has a plan to combat your exclusion tactics?

Andrew:         Look, at the end of the day, Darren and I do have a very wonderful relationship and he’s everything that – he’s kind of like no responsibility – he’s Andrew with no responsibility.

Elizabeth:      Well, he’ll love Christmas then, and all the gift wrapping.

Andrew:         Yes, and he’ll be there. He’ll be there at Christmas for sure. Do you know what’s wonderful about Darren is that, he just doesn’t think that people will speak ill of him, or they would say no. So he’s got that blind sense of faith.

Elizabeth:      Innocence, isn’t it? That’s innocence. Childlike innocence.

Andrew:         When I did tell him that – he said can I come for Christmas and I said “not an effing chance” – he wouldn’t have taken it as no. He would have thought “Haha, he’s joking. See you there.” So he will be there at Christmas time.

Elizabeth:      Oh, okay, I’m pleased to hear that. Victoria will be with us too. Victoria the Cat, who’s in my book Chantelle’s Wish.

Andrew:         Actually I’m sure Darren will get along.

Elizabeth:      With Victoria the Cat?

Andrew:         Yes.

Elizabeth:      Oh, Victoria the Cat’s a good one.

Andrew:         But I’ve got a bit of a treat for Darren. I don’t know if you saw, but when I was in Spain I got a bit drunk and slept on the couch, and he drew all over my face. I don’t know if you remember that.

Elizabeth:      No, I didn’t see that. You never sent me …

Andrew:         He wrote ‘I Love Darren’ on my face and forehead, and gave me a dog’s tongue and whiskers.

Elizabeth:      You’ll have to send me the picture.

Andrew:         And I’m going to shave his fur off.

Elizabeth:      Oh! Is he going to be awake or drunk?

Andrew:         I’m going to wait till he’s drunk. He’s always drunk. It’s his favourite pastime.

Elizabeth:      So send me the picture. I missed it.

Andrew:         I’ll do that.

Elizabeth:      Thank you.

So Andrew, this is a signature question I ask all my guests: What do you wish for, for the world, and most importantly for yourself?

Andrew:         For the world, I just wish that all of us would use our God-given talents, our unique gifts, to be of service to the world, and I feel like if we were all doing that, the world would organically go in the right positive direction. And that would also mean a lack of corporate greed, the raping and pillaging of the earth … I know that we are not here to work in the system that we’re currently working in. The human wasn’t designed for that. And we have far greater possibility than what we’re showing at the moment. What I’d love for the world is for the next generation and the next generation to start to push the boundaries, and to do what we were actually designed to do, which is evolve. And not evolve in a way that’s three percent growth in a year in the corporate world.

Elizabeth:      That would be so not the GDP. We’re talking about – there are a lot of children around, and when you have your child, you will learn this: they are highly evolved.

Andrew:         Yeah, yeah. I can feel it. A lot of my clients for my market in my life coaching side of things, are Y Generation, and when I did my research, nearly every single one – I said “What do you want? What’s the ultimate thing you want to do?” – they said, “I want to make a positive impact on the world.”

Elizabeth:      Wow.

Andrew:         And you don’t get that – if I can f**king be as bold – with baby boomers.

And even from my generation …

Elizabeth:      It’s your show. You can say whatever you want, even swear.

Andrew:         From my generation, a little bit more. But from the next generation, even more. And I think, must be very hard for them to – I can understand where the system came from. And how my parents were so – I’m not for – but this was what you do. After World War One and Two you know, this is how everyone’s going to work. But they’re wising up.

Elizabeth:      People are waking up.

Andrew:         They’re waking up – that’s a better word. We’re waking up; we’re evolving. We’re spiritual beings.

What if at school, you were taught that via the mind, we can actually have and do whatever we want, you know. And I’ll just go in another direction, but you know, teenage suicide is off the charts – and why is that? They’re actually becoming highly sensitive beings, but they haven’t been taught what that means or how the mind works.

Elizabeth:      See, I see you as an incredible mentor for young men – a powerful mentor for young men.

Andrew:         It’s funny you say that, because a lot of people keep telling me to work with young men. But I love working with young women as well. (Laughs) I love working with women in general, because I have a nice relationship with women. But I like to work with young women and young men.

Elizabeth:      Well I think …

Andrew:         But I know exactly what you’re saying. That makes sense. In fact, the first time ever you saying that to me then just made more sense.

Elizabeth:      Thank you. I’ll take that as a compliment.

Andrew:         There you go. That’s 4 to 1 so far.

Elizabeth:      Andrew Eggelton, thank you so much for joining me on Writers’ Tête-à-Tête with Elizabeth Harris. Thanks for tuning in everyone, and may your wishes come true.

Andrew:         Thank you for having me.

[END OF TRANSCRIPT]

00:0000:00

Episode 5: Interview with Professor Roland Perry, OAM

January 23, 2017

Prolific author and former journalist Professor Roland Perry talks to Elizabeth Harris about:

  • His latest book, Céleste, the story of the Parisian courtesan who rose from poverty and abuse to become the comtess de Chabrilland, bestselling author, and actress.
  • His observations of the changes in the book publishing industry over the past 40 years.
  • The time he turned down a seven-figure sum to write a biography of a high-profile sports personality.
  • What it means to redraft a manuscript.
  • The role of a professional editor.

Listen to Roland Perry read the opening prologue chapter from Céleste.

Find out more about Roland Perry's work at RolandPerry.com.au.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Elizabeth: Welcome to Writers’ Tête-à-tête with Elizabeth Harris, the show that connects authors, songwriters and poets with a global audience.

So I can continue to bring you high-calibre guests, I invite you to go to iTunes, click Subscribe, leave a review, and share this podcast with your friends.

I am delighted to introduce the charismatic and dashing Professor Roland Perry. Professor Perry began his career as a journalist for The Age newspaper in Melbourne. After five years in England making documentary films, his first novel, Program for a Puppet, was published in 1979. This international bestseller was translated into eight languages.

Educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, Professor Perry has an Economics degree from Monash University. His awards include the Frederick Blackham Exhibition Prize in Journalism at Melbourne University (1969); the prestigious Fellowship of Australian Writers National Literary Award for non-fiction (2004) with Monash: the outsider who won a war; and Cricket Biography of the Year (2006) from the UK Cricket Society for Miller’s Luck, a biography of all-rounder, Keith Miller. In 2011 Professor Perry was made a Fellow of Monash University.  For his service to literature he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia. Monash University bestowed a Professorship on him in October 2012. Professor Perry is the University’s first Writer-in-Residence, lecturing PhDs and PhD aspirants on all aspects of writing, and Australian history. He also teaches writing classes in Presbyterian Ladies College Melbourne’s Gifted Education program.

I’m thrilled to announce that today we’ll be featuring Professor Perry’s 30th book Céleste, the biography of the strikingly beautiful woman who in spite of her challenges, rose above poverty and abuse to become a countess.

Professor Perry, welcome to Writers’ Tête-à-tête with Elizabeth Harris.

Roland:      Thank you Elizabeth Harris.

Elizabeth:      You’re most welcome. Roland, we first met at your book launch for your magnificent book Céleste. It was such a fun night, complete with a brilliant performance of the can-can by dancers from the Edge Performing School in Eltham…

Roland:      Not me.

Elizabeth:      Oh you should have joined them, Roland.

Roland:      Oh beautiful.

Elizabeth:      You were interviewed by the delightful actress Natalie Heslop, and of course the irrepressible Meera Govil, owner of Eltham Bookshop here in Victoria, Australia, hosted the evening. Please tell my listeners about your latest book, Céleste.

Roland:      Well, you started off by saying that she was strikingly beautiful. She was a courtesan. She started life … had a bad start. She had two abusive stepfathers, one that had beaten her mother up in Paris, and the other had tried to rape her, probably successful as it was very hard to tell from the memoirs. So this isn’t a good start. She ended up on the street, running away from the second stepfather because of the abuse, and the mother, interestingly enough, which is very rare in a way, she sided with the lover because he was the breadwinner.

Elizabeth:      Extremely disappointing.

Roland:      And this upset her, as it would anyone if your mother abandoned you or a man tried to rape you, whether you were male or female, that would be pretty rough. So she ends up on the streets, meets a prostitute, and then caught by the police. The police put them both – put her in prison, the famous prison in Paris. And there she meets another woman and has a lesbian affair with her, and she says “When you get out of this your stepfather will still treat you badly when you go back.” And she’s predicting …The girl was only 16, and Céleste was younger, and this happened to be true, and the woman had said, “When you get out, come to a brothel. You will meet really rich men. It will be much more exciting.”

Elizabeth:      Goodness.

Roland:      So she fell for that, and she did visit this person. And the person said come to the brothel, and she was in the brothel for one year. And she dreamt of meeting someone from the upper class. She used to go to the theatre; she loved the theatre … she used to go to every afternoon matinee … she just adored all that. And she would see all these beautiful men and their beautiful carriages and the beautiful women arriving at the theatre and she said, “I want a bloke like that.” Essentially. French don’t use a word like ‘bloke’. She said “I want a normal comme ca”, and she did meet many of the upper class in the brothel. But they weren’t nice to her; they were abusive in another way. They were condescending and patronizing and treated them a bit like meat. It wasn’t a particularly good experience for her, particularly a poet called de Musset who was a lover of someone called George Sand, a female ‘George’, a famous French writer and poet at the time. He’d been rejected by her, so he went to the brothel and abused all the prostitutes there, not physically but mentally – he could be very brutal with them – and Céleste copped a bit of this.

Elizabeth:      She stood up to him, didn’t she.

Roland:      She did, as she handled him pretty well.

Elizabeth:      That’s fantastic, I loved that scene.

Roland:      One of the things I found is people ask “How did you get all this information?”, and well, she wrote five, maybe six, sets of memoirs. I had access to the five. I haven’t bothered with the sixth set which only came out very late last year.

Elizabeth:      Can I ask how you gained access to those, because it’s very interesting.

Roland:      It’s very easy. It’s been an easy book on one level. Primarily you go to all the libraries in France, and one or two of the books are at the Latrobe library in Melbourne – they’ve been there for a hundred years. But a lot are published in French, and a couple have been translated, so you have sources of not all of them. So if you rely on one – say you got the American edition and the French translation – look out. You’ve got nothing on Australia in it.

Elizabeth:      Can you read French?

Roland:      Yes.

Elizabeth:      Wow.

Roland:      Badly. I can read it with a dictionary.

Elizabeth:      And are you fluent?

Roland:      No. But I did do some of the translation myself because I wasn’t sure of the meaning. I wanted to go through the meaning myself, and then talk to a top translator. That was in Thailand, a French woman, and she lived in Thailand, so that was really useful. A top translator there, and I acknowledged her in the book as well. Because we really mulled over the meaning of ‘accost’ or ‘rape’ or ‘abuse’.

Elizabeth:      Would you like to mention her name now?

Roland:      I don’t think we should do that, no.

Elizabeth:      Okay.

Roland:      I have a good relationship with her, but I don’t think she would appreciate that necessarily.

Elizabeth:      Sure. It’s because you said you’d credited her in the book, so I wondered…

Roland:      I did acknowledge her in the book, so she gets a bit of acknowledgement there.

So that gets you access to all the material, so the rest of the time you do it yourself. You get hold of translations, you go into libraries, you get the English version of them, and this is the problem: the English versions are sometimes very bad versions of them. And then if an American translates, you get big chunks left out that might be of interest to you.

If a French person translates, you’re going to get other bits of ... And the whole Australian section is very badly handled, so I was fascinated by that, and it turned out by the luck of the draw, that the Australian connection ... not ... at all.  And I thought, how am I going to make the Australian bit interesting – it didn’t work out that way at all. So that was a bonus. So the source material’s too much.

I mean, if you’ve got five sets of memoirs all running to 80,000 words and you’ve got to go through them all – I didn’t go through them all because some of them were repetitive and didn’t need to. And she was a dramatist – we haven’t come to that part of the story, of course, but she ended up a writer. So whenever she wrote anything it was over the top sometimes, and you had to pare back some of the commentary, because it was just too dramatic. However she had integrity and you can work that out by checking the things that were going on around her and that she commented on. So there are ways and means and I’ve got a lot of experience looking at work and thinking “Is this person giving us the truth?” I think on about two occasions, maybe it was just an error on her part or one of the other part, I thought she was gilding it a bit. But otherwise it was frighteningly honest about herself and her partner, the one she married eventually. She loves a man and then she tells you what his real foibles were, and that’s quite exceptional. You might as well hide those things, especially if they’re still in love, even if they’re dead.

Elizabeth:      Exactly. Does she go into details?

Roland:      He picked his nose, for example, I’ll tell you that.

Elizabeth:      It’s a brilliant book and I certainly enjoyed it.

Roland, you’ve written so many books – 30 in all, including 16 biographies. How do you decide what to write about?

Roland:      Yes, I think about that one. First of all, you’ve got to feel something for the book. I’m not on a hire. I’ve taken two, I may take a third commission – it’s been dangled in front of me. Of the 30 books, ten percent publishers have come to me. Publishers often come to me. Many times a year I’ll get an offer of some sort. It’s beginning to fade now because I have my own agenda of books. So occasionally a publisher comes with a good idea and I feel I could cope with one or two.

If you don’t feel enthused, there is no point even bothering, because you could always do something else that would earn you as much. It’s not a matter of money; it’s a matter of how you want to approach life, if you’re bored witless by a subject. I got offered a seven-figure sum, eventually, for a sports biography. Not by an Australian, but by an American. They got in touch with Bradman who was one of my subjects, and they said “Can you get to it?” and then Donald got in touch with me and said, “Look. The figure kept going up through a middle man." And I just couldn’t face the subject. A, I wasn’t impressed with the person, and the sport was not impressive to me.

Elizabeth:      Well, that shows your integrity, doesn’t it.

Roland:      Well it does, but there was also some madness there. I wondered why they were so keen to get a book out. It was a bit of a rush, and it turned out there was a nasty biography being written about the guy, and he wanted a PR one done. Now I’m not into doing other people … I won’t do that – I won’t have PR lawyers hanging over. I won’t do a biography for someone. I just won’t do it, because the whole feeling is emasculated – the whole character is emasculated by lawyers and things standing over you. I won’t do it. Unauthorized only for me; all of them have been unauthorized. Some have been dead, so I didn’t have to get their authority. The other thing is I have my own agenda.

I want to be turned on by the book. You can all think of things you want to write about. Might be needlepoint, and don’t laugh, because one of my axioms is “There are no dull topics, only dull writers.” Listen all academics out there – listen hard. So those are the sources, my own agenda. A couple of times, I’ve been thrown a book, not by a publisher – the idea, I should say. And it’s been terrific, and this is one of them. One of my best ones was Tim Burstall, film director, and in 1990 (I reckon it might have been earlier), he said “I can’t get this up as a movie role. Would you like to have a look?” And Tim was very gracious that way, but the point is, that when someone with his intellect – and I did not meet a brighter soul in Australia – he’s a bit of a rogue – not everyone loved him. It’s split down the middle: men and women, he was a rogue, but he had a wonderful mind.

Elizabeth:      But that’s part of the attraction.

Roland:      Just the mind was fantastic. And I thought, I’ll just have a look at this if Tim says it’s worthy. And when I did the research, put a proposal, I thought it was worthy.

Elizabeth:      Because it does sound like at points it was laborious, because there was so much information to plough through.

Roland:      No, not really.

Elizabeth:      The time factor, you enjoyed all that?

Roland:      The thing is that, had I written it when he’d given it to me, I just wasn’t equipped. With my first biography, it was overwhelming. I did try to get a publisher 9 years later with it in France, and the agent, without reading the book or the acknowledgements, pilloried this whole idea. Fair enough, rejection is part of the business.

Elizabeth:      But you had a sign, Roland, didn’t you, I was reading – it was really interesting.

Roland:      Well yes, I had a providential moment. It’s a lovely tale, and I’ve lived on it because it really got under my skin at the time. That’s why - you remember these little slights.

Elizabeth:      You do, you do!

Roland:      What happened was, I went to this agent who sold with the French market with another book earlier in my career, a few years earlier. I must excuse the French on this, but she wasn’t French. She was American, but she’d been living in France 40 years, and she was a bit snotty. So I love her for getting me sold before, but I wasn’t happy about this moment. So I went to her apartment office in a beautiful place next to the Eiffel Tower. She had a look at it (I’d sent it in the post) and she said, “Look, La Belle Époque period has been done to death, and who cares about the wildness of Australia.” And I had no answer to that, because I didn’t even know it was called La Belle Époque. As it turned out, it’s not La Belle Époque – she got that wrong – La Belle Époque was 1890 to 1910, really parallel.

Elizabeth:      Have you let her know that?

Roland:      It’s a bit late for revenge. Time is the revenge on this – time. No, time is the revenge because I was determined to do it. No amount of publishers … You see, to be brutal, I would back my judgment against any publisher that I met. How’s that for arrogance, but I would. Doesn’t mean I’m right, but I back my judgment. And I have close friends I would present books to who would say yes or no, and I don’t know their friend, so I don’t begrudge them. It’s “silly old bitch” or “silly old bastard”.

Elizabeth:      You might need a swear jar for Samuel Johnson’s “Love Your Sister”.

Roland:      You have to have confidence, and you gain confidence. I’ve done 16 biographies and no one else has done that. Unless the publisher knows what they’re talking about, it’s going to be difficult to put me down on a really strong subject. And there’s one publisher I had, she’s like a brick wall. We often laugh, and I say I’m not going to be bothered scaling this wall.

Elizabeth:      You’re a wise man, Roland.

Roland:      And here’s another one. I put up a proposal about 6 years ago for a book, and the publisher – they all remain nameless because some of them are good friends – he said, “You are only going to sell 20,000 copies and you want a lot more than that and we can’t pay you all that much” and blah, blah, blah, I was only going to sell 20,000 copies. And I thought, well that’s a bit rough, I thought I was going to do more. What they do now is even if they are very intellectual publishers, they will go to the marketing people, and the marketing people go, “I’ve never heard of him. I’m not interested.” And it’s sales people, and they don’t think or read, a lot of them. Now that’s abusive to those who do, I’m sorry, but sales people, they’re not that interested in content.

Elizabeth:      And they read.

Roland:      Well I’m not sure. Publishers don’t read. They farm them out, and get a view on it. A lot of them are big factories now.

Elizabeth:      Shame, isn’t it.

Roland:      I don’t get nasty about it, because that’s part of the way it’s developed, and the sales people have sort of taken over. What happens is, if a publisher gets a bright idea and goes through with it and it fails, all the sales people are disgruntled and all the retailers won’t take this and it’s a chain reaction of negativity. There’s the old style of publisher which says “I’m publishing Elizabeth’s book; it’s magnificent and I don’t care about anything else.”

Elizabeth:      Thank you.

Roland:      They’re not there anymore; they’re all battered down. I’ve known publishers who’ve been like that – very single-minded and good about their choices.

Elizabeth:      Why has that changed? What is going on?

Roland:      The marketing has just killed it. If you think, when I was first published in ’79, there’d be a thousand times more books being published than today.

Elizabeth:      What a shame.

Roland:      Someone said to me, there were a hundred times more books being published in ’69 you know. So now it’s just a great mass of books being churned out – a lot of rubbish of course, very single-minded market-directed work. And look, if I was a publisher – I’ve thought about this often - I’d hire a couple of writers who are known for big-selling books, but are good writers, who are known for their personality – you do that to generate money to give the good writers a chance. So there’s nothing wrong with the money in that respect, but you’re battling that all the time.

You go in no matter what your reputation or sales record, they’ve never heard of (you). Say Monash. That sold very well and I came out of the blue with that and the publisher, on the strength of my cricket book – she’d been publishing cricket books but I’d done a lot before that – this publisher said “We’ll back your judgement on it.” And there was no reason to do Monash. There was no particular issue in 2004; that’s just one example.

You’ve got to push your idea forward; it’s an intellectual battle at one point. If you don’t get in front of people, the sales people make the decision, you don’t get a run

Elizabeth:      Do you think with all the e-books that have moved online, it’s now easier to get your book out there?

Roland:      Well I’m sort of established with the old school and I see everything trending the e-way, but it’s still not a huge percent of your returns. I’d say 5 to 10 percent of what I earn is e- at the moment, and I’m not sure it’s trending so heavily. People are swinging back to the old…

Elizabeth:      Sorry; when I say ‘your work’, I mean new writers. If publishers aren’t particularly interested in you, is that one way of doing it?

Roland:      Oh, self-publishing and putting it out there. Well I think it is; you can, but if everyone’s thinking that way, there would be more writers than readers, because what happens in a publishing house is a function, an editing function which keeps the work readable. And most people don’t know how to write when they start.

There are a few naturals. Even the naturals – there are very few of them, very few of them – and there’s no background that gives you an advantage over others. Graham Greene came out of journalism. Le Carré came out of the Foreign Office; his elliptical style; he was a spy and he writes accordingly. He was elliptical and his biographical detail is almost diffuse. Part of the narrative is complicated in that way.

So there are no rules, but if you don’t have an editor to say “Well chum, that’s very nice to be wonderfully esoteric, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And that’s where academics fail in this country miserably, because they peer review – to get a Ph.D., you don’t have to be in the public domain with the dirty unwashed who read. They might be very bright, but they’re dirty and unwashed, and the academics say “We’re not going to have those idiots judge my work; they’re not going to buy my work – I’m superior.” And what you’ve got now is a third-rate academic work coming out – I have to say that – third-rate.  The French don’t do that – it’s not peer reviewed - you have to publish in the public domain, have the great unwashed read you, buy you, and understand you. Same in England and US.

When you’re peer reviewed, that means I get Elizabeth’s work and I know Elizabeth well, and I’m going to give her a lovely review. I can’t understand a word she said; she’s a bloody awful writer. And you review mine and say “It’s a terrible book. I like him, but I’m never going to…” So peer review has robbed the nation of two or three generations of real work, because they learn “Oh, you don’t understand that esoteric paragraph, that esoteric chapter? You don’t know why I’ve put in 2000 words of a quote in one line?”

Elizabeth:      So all the ego stroking is ruining the industry, you think.

Roland:      Oh absolutely. And look, they don’t get income, so they don’t care. As long as they’re published, that’s part of the deal. And they get lots of drafts from within the university. They’re never tested in the … the real test is out there. It’s bums on seats. It’s bums in front of books. And that’s it.

And I’ve never, I’ve never applied for a literary grant – I’m the only professional writer that can say that in this country. Never ever applied for a grant. I’ve applied for prizes if they’ve been put up to me and so forth, if you’ve had to write something down, but never a literary grant from the Government. And that’s because I think you’ve got to earn it, and I know that’s brutal. Cruel.

Elizabeth:      I want to get back to when you knew that you wanted to be a writer. What was it that …

Roland:      I was working on the newspaper and I was not meaning to – it was a passing point on the way to being a stockbroker. Had no interest whatsoever in writing but I really enjoyed working on The Age. And I was in the business section and thought I’d be there for a while, and there was an editor called Les Carlisle who has written a couple of fine books, one called The Great War, another called Gallipoli. And he was my editor and he was pretty tough, but he was really a wordsmith. And he would look at your work and say “good”, “bad” or “ugly”, but every once in a while he would say “That’s good”. And even within the business section and other sections I began to do interviews with characters, so I got a little bit attached to what was developed. Didn’t know it at the time.

I used to listen to all the other journalists who were ‘gunna’s: “I’m gunna write this great book.” One or two would say “I’m getting married next year and I’m going to have to stay on the paper and I can’t write the book”, and “I’m joining a PR company in the oil industry and I can’t write that book”. And everyone’s talking about writing books and no one’s doing it. I went and lived in England and had a crack. I was reasonably gifted in the language – I wasn’t necessarily gifted as a writer, but I developed; I worked awfully hard. I was probably behind the eight ball a long way compared to, you know, the established writers, and I worked very, very hard and wanted to do it badly. Working and redrafting.

Look, in those days, if you did four drafts of a book, a draft was: throw the manuscript in the rubbish bin and start again without looking at it – that’s a draft. William Goldman, who wrote The Maggots and other books and got a Nobel Prize, he wrote 14 drafts, which is insanity. Le Carré, whom I think is the most gifted writer of the last half century, wrote 6 drafts, and I was brain-dead after 4 or 5. It really kills you. Now there’s a computer technology that allows you to play a bit more, but in the end you have to really go through it and “Is it worthy? Does it work here?”

Elizabeth:      What skills do you need other than tenacity?

Roland:      You learn, because editors say “Do you really need that character?” or “I like that character; you should flesh it out.” I’m talking fiction now, but it may apply to non-fiction as well. So that’s where an editor comes in.

Most people who get up on the blogosphere and think they can write, well, you see the standard of English slipping enormously, because they’re sloppy. And I’ve seen some journalists do it, thinking “I’ve got to be cool now in the blogosphere”, who trained to write. It’s weak. All book publishers need good editors. If I was publishing myself, I would hire an editor … and I’ve got 30 books on the board; I know what to do.

The difference is that there’s not that much difference in the skill level; it’s knowing what to do when you get to the end of the first draft. I know what to do, be it fiction or non-fiction. If you’ve not been through it, you don’t know what to do. “Is this good? Is it bad? Am I kidding myself?” Narcissists of course can’t be told. There are a few of them writing books, and I was reading one over the weekend – they shall remain nameless – he’s not sold a thousand books in his life, this bloke, in one edition. I’m not being mean – I don’t know him very well, but I know his book sales, and the publishers all bitch about him and the retailers hate him, because he keeps getting published and he sells 800 copies. He’s done about 30 books and the reviewers all love him. They say “It’s just the best book ever!” but it doesn’t sell. It’s like a cricketer who’s got the best strokes, plays a great game for the District team, gets in the State Test team and just falls.

Elizabeth:      Who or what is your major source of support?

Roland:      Well, I have income, so that’s my major source of support. No, writers should be on their own – it’s not like working in an office – it’s not like having a technical assistant – you have a laugh and you go for lunch. You’re really on your own. You’ve just got to block out your mind. I’m a natural extrovert. I’ve learned and trained – there’s an excuse for that.      

I didn’t realize you have to be a real introvert to write. I mean, there’s no way around it. You just got to block out that time on your own and write. And when you don’t have the confidence when you start off, or you’re dreaming and you think “I’ll never have a career in this”, it’s very difficult because you don’t know where you’re going with it. But Le Carré for example, married his editor; that helped. He sadly took off.

Elizabeth:      Did they stay together though?

Roland:      Yes, that was his second wife. I’ve said too much. You’ve got to like being with you.

Elizabeth:      You have to like yourself.

Roland:      And I have little friends. I have the television. I can work with the television on. Because as long as it’s not football or something you have to watch every second of, I can have music, I can have lots of things in the background.

Elizabeth:      A little bit of background.

Roland:      Yes. Training on a newspaper helped, because it’s just absolutely chaos around you all the time. It was when I was there. So you learn – you just have to deliver…

Elizabeth:      You have to zone out.

Roland:      Yes, gotta zone. So you asked the question – there’s no support whatsoever, and if you’re relying on that, from a muse or wife or partner…

Elizabeth:      You’re in trouble?

Roland:      … You’re not going to make it.

Elizabeth:      Roland, you’ve had wonderful success throughout your life. What does being successful mean to you?

Roland:      It means living and doing things that I want to do.

Elizabeth:      And what would they be, might I ask, or are we not allowed to know?

Roland:      The whole thing is: If you love your work, that’s the reward; that’s my success. If you love your work and you’re living by it – half a century approaching – I mean, I’m 68…

Elizabeth:      You’re ageless, Roland, so stop worrying about it.

Roland:      I know. So I’m on the verge of 69 with 2019 approaching, it’s been 40 years since ’79. And it started before that: 3 years, 4 drafts, 30 rejections both sides of the Atlantic. I went through it. You’ve got to learn to wear that and learn from what they say, if they say anything. And that gives you clues on what you have to do, and redrafting and learning is part of it. And if you can’t take a rejection, it’s not the business to be in.

Elizabeth:      What kept you going?

Roland:      The dream of living off it. I used to say I wrote the book called Buying Time, because I had to buy the time to get the work done. I have all the time now, and I focus on the books first and everything else second. So that kept me going – that really was the drive. And look, to have that life and do … I was born to do it, because I enjoyed it so much and I wanted the challenges of more books. It’s an agenda I have. It’s not just about writing till you … with a typewriter. Sometimes books pop in from left field, but I know where I want to go with the next 20 books, vaguely.

Elizabeth:      Very focussed.

Roland:      You know where you want to go with certain kinds of books, and I jump around the genres. But as I said before at the beginning, it’s writing about things you’re passionate about

Elizabeth:      When I first read Celeste, I was filled with admiration for this amazing woman who is such an inspiration.

Roland:      We didn’t talk much about that early on, did we? I got sidetracked.

Elizabeth:      That’s okay. We can talk about it now. Can you liken her to a modern-day woman you know and love? You can keep it anonymous.

Roland:      No, I’ll say who it is, but if Mary hears this, she’ll make the audience understand that she was never a courtesan. This is probably arguably – I’m biased but I’ve worked with this woman and I know how absolutely brilliant she is. Her name is Mary Finsterer. She’s now the Chair of Music Composition at Monash and was a Fellow with me there, but I knew her a long time before that. She is the most creative and prolific operatic composer we have, not appreciated all the time because she’s a woman and has to fight through the barrier.

But I admire her … I’m very good friends with her husband so I’m close to both of them. They’ve got two kids and they’re doing all the family thing. He’s a photographer-cum-digital specialist. He’s very good at his work, creative as well, so you’ve got two creatives trying to get through in middle-class Melbourne. She’s naturally brilliant and if she’s got the time I spend on my books, she’d rocket to the top, but it’s much harder for an operatic composer to make it, you know. Where do they get the income for it; it’s not convention. It’s like being an actor; it’s very, very hard to be top line. And she’s top line and genius and she doesn’t even know it.

Elizabeth:      Have you told her that?

Roland:      I have in as many words, but I haven’t trialled it on for her; she knows I appreciate her work, and she’ll be a huge name in the next decade, I’m certain of that. But it’s been such a struggle, it reminds me of Celeste, the question you asked: someone uber talented, I would say more talented than Celeste, but Celeste learned – if you read the biography as I did, you’ll see you learn to write. It doesn’t just flow out of your fingers. It just doesn’t work that way; you have to work at it and hone it.

Elizabeth:      You do.

Roland:      So Mary Finsterer is the one; she’s an operatic composer and she was certainly never a courtesan. She’s certainly very attractive, and I see her as a good friend, and I’ve done a few things at Monash, big productions, right, with big audiences that come along. And she’s so inside her work and her family and she – it could be Barack Obama saying that beautiful thing, and she’d be “Did he?” and get on with her work.

Elizabeth:       And it also depends on the filter with which you look through life, you know.

Roland:      Yes, but I think when you get someone on stage like that and she’s conducting her own music – and I can show you one of the performances we did – I narrate and she did the music. Things like organizing a small ensemble, and she had two days to practise with an ensemble she’d never met, and the music was absolutely brilliant. And things like – I’ll give you an idea of her genius – so Chopin can be a little bit droopy – some of this stuff is just not for the current audience. And I said to her “That Chopin piece you’re going to do is a little bit awful; there’s something not there – it just doesn’t pulsate”, and I was trying to articulate. She said “I’ll fix that”. So she went and rewrote Chopin, and not one expert in the audience ever said anything about it. She said “How do you like it?” And I said, “You’ve made it live.”

She’s a genius. She needs full-time. I’ve done what I could to help her career, too; I’ve done what I can, because I realize talents need to … You often find creatives are … It’s an emasculating, enfeebling thing, often, because you’re really wanting to do the arts side of it, whether you’re a painter, an actor or writer or composer, really you’re not built for this world, for making this art. So someone wants you to do a business deal or he or she wants to sell something, they’re a bit weak at it because they’re focussed on other things

Elizabeth:      We see time and time again that women are denigrated often due to their strength and fortitude. What is it about some people that they are intimidated by strong women?

Roland:      Well I really can’t answer that because I’ve had a strong mother – not a tough one but a bright one whom I respected and liked, and I had a really intelligent sister. All the deals that have been made on my books, I would say 70% of the deals on my books have been dictated by women in my career, so it’s very much a women’s business now, particularly judgments on my work. And I worked on a newspaper where the women were equal at the journalistic level. They were equal at the pay level I think, because there was A, B, C, D grade, but the management was all male. So they didn’t necessarily get the plum jobs; I don’t know for sure, but I think so. I was with Michelle Grattan, people like that. I think Michelle was ever held back because of her sex. So the paper was hierarchically male but in publishing, it’s hierarchically female-dominated world now. Even in the film industry, the dim-witted producers throw the manuscript or the script to the secretary, the female, to see whether she’s interested in it.

Elizabeth:      That’s interesting.

Roland:      Oh yes, I’ve heard that often. So I’ve never come across it that much. That sounds like a very isolated world … but I’ve never felt an insecurity around women.

Elizabeth:      And you tell me you love women, Roland.

Roland:      Er yes, I don’t think I’m a misogynist, let’s put it that way. I do like the company of women. The same conversation - I have many blokes around the world and they are good mates and I enjoy their company. But with women I can really have a conversation; I can communicate. There’s a yin and a yang on character and things, and even though I won’t go and take a note on what Elizabeth said or what a girlfriend said, but it sticks in there. That’s the female … and women have a sixth sense that men don’t have about character.

Therefore if you want to develop as a character writer, you have to indulge all that and learn. You don’t take notes. You don’t go and do a Psychology course. That’s an intellectual failure if you go and do a course to learn about people. You’ve got to understand people yourself. So women in my life offer that: discussion and communication and all that. Does that make sense?

Elizabeth:      Absolutely.

Roland:      I do like beauty – I don’t appreciate conventional beauty – I’m not a model-ly type of guy; I don’t like models. I like Ivana Trump or whatever the wife is. I think she’s charming, but that’s not what I’m attracted to.

Elizabeth:      So who do you consider stunning or beautiful?

Roland:      I don’t look upon her; I just think she’s a beautiful character who’s attractive. There’s an actress who’s been put up who’s a very conventional blonde, for a movie that I’ve sold the rights to – I don’t want to be too definitive about this – and I have another actress who is perfect for the part, who is not as stunning, but is attractive and right for the part. But this goes back to the market dealing; the publisher won’t even … they won’t put her up. I’m the co-producer and I may at some point put this female in front of them. But they won’t get the blonde bombshell because she’s going to cost too much.

But my idea of a ... is a better actress. She’s not a star – she’s just interesting looking and she can act. I mean, she’s good looking but she’s not a conventional … I’ll tell you about what’s interesting – I did a book on Keith Miller called Miller’s Luck, and he had an affair with Princess Margaret when she was 16. She started the affair; he was married and 28. That’s all in the book. And I had to look at the photographs of her and her sister to choose a photograph, her sister being the current Queen. And this is my idea of physical beauty which comes into vogue – I thought the Queen when she was younger was actually more interesting looking than her sister who’s the glamour puss, who mixed with Hollywood. Now the Queen had a big mouth which was unfashionable; she had a really large mouth. And Hollywood said that you have to … The classic example is Jane Fonda. She was flat-chested and they said “You’ve got to have boobs; you’re not getting anywhere even if Henry’s your father.” She said “Alright, I’ll have boobs”, and they said “We’re going to knock your back teeth out” – it’s all in the biography.

Elizabeth:      Oh my, that’s brutal.

Roland:      Back teeth have got to be removed so that you pull them out and it tightens more. And you look at the Queen and her sister – the Queen has a bigger mouth –her mouth now would be really sensual and attractive. And I liked big mouths then – I was very unconventional. And now women go and put a million dollars’ worth of silicon in their mouths, and in Asia, the women naturally have big sensual lips. That’s how I look at sensuality. That’s an exaggerated example but it was fashionable to have a small mouth and big breasts, and that’s why Jane Fonda went to live in Paris – she couldn’t stand having her back teeth smashed.

Elizabeth:      I’d like to move from Jane Fonda to your book if you have time, because you are going to lunch. Is that okay? Would you like to share one of your favourite passages from Celeste?

Roland:      Yes. It’s the opening prologue chapter – Young Queen of the Demimonde. For those who are not aware, the demimonde is the underworld, the half-world, the artistic world that is created in Paris. So this is Céleste meeting her future husband, and it’s a very interesting moment. I think it’s the seminal moment in her life, both their lives, because they are really built for each other, as it turns out.           

When Céleste Vénard strode into Paris’s Café Anglais in the winter of 1846-47, heads turned almost in unison to stare at this most celebrated beauty, the City of Light’s most sought-after courtesan. The more discerning onlookers searched for imperfections but could find none in this 22-year-old femme fatale. The popinjays at the café were struck by Céleste’s sensual face: the large green eyes, her petite nose, full ruby lips and alabaster skin. Her light auburn hair was long and combed back over neat ears so as not to hide any of her exceptional features. Her full figure did not need the corset under the red dress, which only served to accentuate alluring proportions of lush breasts, slim waist and rounded derriere. Céleste’s long, slim arms, often noted as the most striking of her many physical features, were fully exposed. She undulated just short of a swivel to a table with her friend Frisette, herself eye-catching but a mere shadow in this moment. Céleste removed her bonnet and off-white shawl, then ceremoniously slid off her gloves to expose her slender fingers.

The young men were nervous about approaching her, even though they were among the wealthiest members of France’s aristocracy. Some were afraid because it took courage to accost her, despite the well-accepted fact that women entering the café were seeking paying paramours. Others knew her reputation for saying “Non, monsieur; merci”. They feared her rejection beyond a drink or a meal. Such was Céleste’s fame that this once low-level prostitute could pick and choose any man with whom she wished to take favours, no matter how wealthy or important – an unusual situation even for the well-known actresses of the era. But then she was more beautiful than Empress Eugenie, Napoleon III’s Spanish wife. Even Queen Victoria, who made a hobby of describing the appearance of notables she met, thought so. It was said that the real princesses of France were the courtesans, who ruled by conquest.

But you’ve got to go through it all, to show the abuse and all that.

Elizabeth:      So when they first see each other …

Roland:      So she’s actually having a slanging match with some of the men in the café, because that’s part of the game, but she’s giving as good as she got. It’s all in the story, but at one point one of the dandies – he’s upset because she gave as much as she’s been given – he goes:

“Who brought this whore to the party?”, one of the tormentors asked with a vicious glare of defeat. Frisette wanted to leave, but game Céleste refused. At this point, a dashing dark-haired man intervened, and demanded reparations from the main offender for his unpleasant remarks. Céleste had never seen the man before. There was something intriguing about him. He had none of the effete accoutrements of the dandies, nor their patronizing manner which exposed insecurities. He was chivalrous and clearly an aristocrat. In fact, he was the 25-year-old Count Lionel de Chabrillan, the only man who could possibly take Céleste away from her notorious past. Would he be her first true love, and at last help her forget her miserable childhood?

Elizabeth:      Beautifully written. (Applause.)

Roland:      Well, it’s a lovely story to write, and I did have a bit of help, from her…

Elizabeth:      Perhaps she was looking over your shoulder, Roland.

Roland:      Well, if you believe in all that, it’s definitely odd that I’ve been bullied and pushed by myself in this book. And that moment on the Paris Underground – I didn’t tell you – that rejection – at the Théâtre Mogador, that was in the Underground…

Elizabeth:      That’s what I was referring to earlier, that sign.

Roland:      …when the agent rejected that idea. And Mogador was her (Céleste’s) stage name.

Elizabeth:      Well, if we look, if we have our eyes open, I believe there are signs. Do you have a blog where my listeners can go to find out more about you?

Roland:      Yes, it is Roland-Perry-dot-com-dot-au – that’s the website.  

Elizabeth:      One last question, and this is a signature question I ask all my guests: What do you wish for for the world, and most importantly for yourself?

Roland:      Well, I’ll start with me first because I’m more important than the world in my idea. I want another 30 years of healthy productivity in work, and I want to see most of the really good narratives into movies. For the rest of the world I have no hope whatsoever, so I have to have hope for myself.

Elizabeth:      Well, I’m very pleased you have hope for yourself and I hope you get to benefit from the next 30 years too.

Roland:      And I’m not asking for world peace – you’re not going to get it, honey, in your lifetime or your children’s.

Elizabeth:      Professor Roland Perry, thank you so much for guesting on Writers’ Tête-à-tête with Elizabeth Harris. We look forward to more of your stunning work over the next 30 years.

Roland:      Thank you very much.

Elizabeth:      Thank you everyone, and may your wishes come true.

[END OF TRANSCRIPT]

 

00:0000:00

Episode 4: Interview with Dave O’Neil

December 23, 2016

Stand-up comedian and author Dave O'Neil talks to host Elizabeth Harris at his office at The Grandview Hotel, Fairfield, against a backdrop of motorcycles revving their engines, doors opening and closing, and phones ringing, about:

  • His latest book, The Summer of '82, a tribute to post-VCE life in the 80s and the shenanigans of his youth
  • How to get started as a stand-up comedian
  • Tips for dealing with hecklers when you're performing
  • His days performing in the band Captain Cocoa, the Devo "Energy Dome" train encounter, and how he feels about being recognized in public
  • His upcoming TV show.

Find out more about Dave's work at DaveONeil.com.au.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Elizabeth: Welcome to Writers’ Tête-à-Tête with Elizabeth Harris, the show that connects authors, songwriters and poets with their global audience. So I can continue to bring you high-calibre guests, I invite you to go to iTunes or Spotify, click Subscribe, leave a review, and share this podcast with your friends. Today I’m thrilled to introduce one of the funniest and most entertaining men I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet – Dave O’Neil.

Dave: Gee, that’s a big introduction. I’ve met funnier.

Elizabeth: There’s more Dave.

Dave O’Neil has been in the business of comedy for 20 years, and is one of Australia’s most recognizable stand-up comics, having put in 15 Melbourne international comedy festivals and dozens of comedy clubs nationally.

On screen you will have seen Dave as Team Captain in the ABC TV comedy quiz show Tractor Monkeys, as well as dishing out life advice in The Agony of LifeThe Agony of Modern MannersThe Agony of The MindCan of Worms, plus messing about on Adam Hills In GorDave Street Tonight and Good News Week. He is probably most well-known for the honour of being the guest with the most appearances (over 50) on ABC TV’s ever popular Spicks & Specks.

Dave O’Neil, welcome to Writers’ Tête-à-Tête with Elizabeth Harris.

Dave: Welcome. Thank you. Lovely to be here. Pleasure to be called a writer, as opposed to a comedian.

Elizabeth: Well, isn’t this your fifth book?

Dave: Yeah yeah, two were kids’ books. My partner and I did them in Australia before we had kids.

Elizabeth: When you had more time.

Dave: We had more time, that’s right. And one’s called Lies That Parents Tell You, so I wouldn’t write that now. My daughter sits up in bed reading it and quotes it back to me.

Elizabeth: How old is she?

Dave: Ten. Yes, it’s tough.

Elizabeth: I was at Kaz Cooke’s book launch about …

Dave: On girl power? Yeah, she’s great. I’ve got to buy that book!

Elizabeth: So Dave, you’ve been through so much in your career, but today I want to concentrate on your hilarious book, The Summer of ’82.

Dave: Sure.

Elizabeth: It’s a real feel-good book, and you cover some intense themes. Discipline. Masculinity. Sexuality. Mateship. Stalking.

Dave: Stalking – that’s right. I followed a girl in Mildura. Back then it wasn’t known as “stalking”; it was known as “unrequited love”. Sexuality – there’s not much sexuality going on in there, I can tell you that. There’s a lack of activity in that department, that’s for sure.

Elizabeth: You were talking about how you were giving advice to 17-year-old virgins.

Dave: That’s right. A little girl at school would ask me for romance advice. I was like, that’s not who you go to for romance advice. You see, I was a nice guy, so the girls talked to me.

Elizabeth: We like nice guys. So getting back to this book: What inspired you to write it, and what’s your favourite memory from summer?

Dave: I always wanted to write a memoir from the 80s, and I wrote a few chapters and put it aside. I saw that TV show This is England on SBS, about the young guys growing up in the Housing Commission area, and I thought I’ve got to write something like that, because that’s in my era. But their show ended with incest and murder, whereas that never happened to me, so I thought why not write a more positive recollection of that time. So I wrote a few chapters and put it aside. And then my son started high school, and so you go to the local high school and it brought back all these memories from when I was in high school.

Elizabeth: At Mitcham High?

Dave: I went to Mitcham High, yeah. Back then we had a choice of the tech or the high school, and if you were Catholic, you went to Catholic school. We weren’t Catholic. So now, and I’m talking about the government schools, not the private schools – you can choose from 3 or 4 around here, so you go to this school or that school, and they’re all the same basically. They haven’t changed much since 1982. They look the same. You’ve got the oval, the canteen, big classrooms, kids sitting around, so they haven’t changed at all, so I thought I should write that book again. It brought back all those memories, and so my son started school, and that’s why I did it. That’s why.

Elizabeth: Now we know.

Dave: It’s just something to do. As comedians, we’ve got to have something to do, apart from studio gigs.

Elizabeth: That’s good. So talking a bit about your children, you mentioned your parents Kev and Joyce – “Joyce the Voice”.

Dave: Yep, “Joyce the Voice”.

Elizabeth: And what I’m wondering now is, are you parenting your children differently from how you were parented then?

Dave: Definitely, definitely. We got hit for a start.

Elizabeth: What with?

Dave: A belt. So Kev would get very angry – it’s in the book – he would get very angry, come running in in a singlet, trying to hide his nether regions, swinging a belt above his head, and whack us in the ...

Elizabeth: My dad had a strap up on the fridge. I think we had a very similar upbringing.

Dave: I don’t hit my children, but obviously parenting your kids back then was a bit easier, because you’d just say “I’ll hit you”, and that was a full stop to the conversation, whereas all I can do is yell at them.

Elizabeth: How about cracking some jokes – does that work?

Dave:  Yeah, crack some jokes, try and alleviate the situation, but my daughter in particular doesn’t like that.

Elizabeth: Is that because she’s heard them all before?

Dave: Yeah, she’s heard them all before. “It’s not funny Dad!”

My mum and dad were pretty involved with us. My dad was a Scout leader and staff, so we spent a fair bit of time with him. He was a good role model, and Joyce was introvertly involved in our lives. But he’s even more involved these days – at school pickup and all that. There’s a lot more dads involved now.

Elizabeth: That’s fantastic, so you’ve got that support as well. When we met at your book launch, you told me that you only know comedians.

Dave: It’s true. I don’t know any writers really.

Elizabeth: Well, you know me.

Dave: I know you. And I know Arnold ... who lives around here, who wrote Scheherezade Cafe. He's famous! (Ed: Cafe Scheherazade by Arnold Zable)

Elizabeth: Maybe you can introduce me to Arnold. Is that like Arnold on Happy Days?

Dave: (Laughs) He’s had a book out called Fido – the Box of the Fido.

Elizabeth: I can’t believe I made Dave O’Neil laugh.

Dave:  So I see him on the street here, in Fairfield, and I talk to him about writing and stuff.

Elizabeth: That brings me to something about fame. You’re a very famous star.

Dave: Not that famous.

Elizabeth: Well, we think you are. So, what we want to know is, do you like being recognized when you’re out and about, or does fame have a downside?

Dave: No, my level of fame is pretty small, so people like Dave Hughes or Glenn Robbins, or Carl Barron for instance – they can get hassled all the time.

Elizabeth: Well, in my network, I have a number of people who would love to meet you.

Dave: Really? Well, tell ’em I’m around.

Elizabeth: And they’re going to be really disappointed that here we are, at the Grandview in Fairfield – it’s a stunning place, gorgeous building, lovely people.

Dave: They’re nice people here.

Elizabeth: Michael?

Dave:  Michael and Noah, yep.

Elizabeth: Jenny?

Dave: Michael, Noah and Jenny – they’re all the higher level management here.

Elizabeth: They are, and they made me feel very, very welcome. Made me a coffee. Smiled and when I offered to pay, wouldn’t take my money. It’s fantastic!

Dave: Ah that’s good. I didn’t tell them – you tell someone and they pass it on. It’s all on my tab, probably. My level of fame is not that high. Occasionally when you go interstate – the more you go interstate like Queensland – people get excited about you, but certainly around Fairfield Road, no one cares about you.

Elizabeth: Well, they could have chimed some…”Captain Cocoa”…

Dave:  What, with the band? That’s right. Well when the band broke up, someone did say, “How is Dave O’Neil going to be famous now?” Ambition for fame…

Elizabeth: Let’s stop right there. Was it to meet girls?

Dave: Probably. Definitely not music. We went and saw bands, and just thought: Why can’t we be in a band? And the guy at high school was … famous 80s band … “hands up in the air”…I didn’t see it. And so we thought, that’s the way to meet girls, get up on stage.

Elizabeth: Did it work?

Dave: Well, I met Sonia, who…but anyway, definitely does work. Being in a band definitely does give you the attention you want as a teenager. We used to play at Catholic girls’ schools …dances …You didn’t have to be good; we weren’t good musicians.

Elizabeth: I want to talk about Sonia. You did invest a lot of time and you write about that in your great book. Then you say you end up having a better relationship with her younger brother.

Dave:  Well, that’s right. What happened was that I hitchhiked to Mildura to see her on New Year’s Eve to surprise her. And she was surprised, particularly her dad. And they gave me a lift to the caravan park where I stayed for New Year’s Eve. And the younger brother – I can’t remember his name – he was a great kid, and so we got on really well. He’s probably a year, two years younger than me. Was it Shane – Shane? So we ended up hanging out together.

Elizabeth: Was it Malcolm?

Dave:  Malcolm, that’s right. And we got on really well, whereas Sonia and me didn’t get on well.

Elizabeth: Well, that might have something to do with the boyfriend too.

Dave: She had a boyfriend who I also got on well with. Probably married, those guys. So, yeah, good times.

Elizabeth: So getting back to that, I just want to know, for all those young men who think they’ll never get a date, much less have a child: you’ve had three, haven’t you?

Dave: Yes.

Elizabeth: What dating advice can you offer?

Dave:  Dating advice? That’s a good one. It’s been so long since I’ve gone on a date…not since the 80s. Surprise question – dating advice. Ask someone out – you know a good thing is to ask someone out for a drink or for something during the day. That’s what I read on some dating websites. Ask someone out during the day where there’s no pressure. At night I think there’s a fair bit of pressure. I reckon ask them out for a drink during the day or late afternoon.

Elizabeth: What about a play date?

Dave: Well, if you’re parents, definitely.

Elizabeth: That seems to work well.

Dave: Yeah, I think in our age group - I Dave’t know how old you are, but I’m middle-aged – there’s definitely a bit of that going on with divorce and separated parents. And fair enough.

Elizabeth: And there’s a really good place to go in St Kilda called St Kilda Adventure Playground.

Dave: Oh, I’ve never been there!

Elizabeth: It’s great.

Dave: That’s great.

Elizabeth: And there’s a fellow who runs it – he’s a youth worker but he’s also a musician. Adrian Thomas. Check him out – he’s fantastic.

So what do you like to do in your spare time?

Dave: I like to watch TV.

Elizabeth: Yourself perhaps?

Dave: Not myself. I don’t like watching myself. I did a spot on one of those comedy galas this year. I hadn’t seen it; I watched it, I thought it was pretty good. I’m pretty happy … I was judge of myself.

Elizabeth: Of course it’s good.

Dave: What happened is…so I spend a lot of time with 3 children. Once I get them to bed at night, or if I’m home during the day, I do like to watch a bit of TV. And I watch a mixture of – I watch a few movies but more serious these days. There’s a mixture of comedies and drama. I do like a good drama, you know like Vikings or something like that.

Elizabeth: I’m a fan of Doc Martin myself because I’m a nurse.

Dave: Oh ya Doc Martin. Is he Aspergers? Yeah, must be Aspergers. I’ve been watching … the comedy show … it’s quite funny … so I watch that, get some laughs out of that. What else have I been taping…oh yeah…West World on Foxtel.

Elizabeth: Oh yes. More fun to watch yourself, you know.

Dave: Watch yourself? Yeah, no thanks.

Elizabeth: What I’d love you to do is share an excerpt from your great book.

Dave: Sure. Do you want me to read it to you or tell you it?

Elizabeth: Whatever works for you.

Dave: I’ll tell you a story. This is the story of The Bomb, the laying of The Bomb. Basically, what happened was we finished school and we went home. No, we went and registered for the dole, and then we went home.

Elizabeth: As we all did.

Dave: And my kids said to me, “How did you know how to make bombs before the internet?” Well, we didn’t need the internet. We had this chap called Brian every night, 6 o’clock. He used to tell us everything we needed to know on the Channel 9 news every night.

Elizabeth: Can you sing the song?

Dave: (Sings)

Brian told me, Brian told me, Brian told me so

I know everything I need to know, cos Brian told me so.”

Elizabeth: Great tone.

Dave: Great tone, yeah, I wasn’t just a comedian; I was a singer.

So you can imagine these four teenage boys and Mum and Dad, and we couldn’t see the TV – Dad was the only one who could see the TV – we could hear it. He positioned himself in the chair that sits there. So we could hear it. We heard this Brian guy say: “Two boys were arrested today in suburban Adelaide for making homemade bombs.” We were like, oh my God, you could hear a pin drop in the house. Then he told us how to make it, by using chlorine and brake fuel. We were looking at each other, like, we’ve got chlorine – we’ve got a pool – and we’ve got brake fluid; Dad’s a Trades teacher. “So can we please be excused from the table, Dad?” Within 10 minutes we were making bombs.

So the next day we got my mates together and we made – we decided to up the ante and make some really big bombs. And we made this great bomb, but we didn’t want to throw it; we were gutless like any terrorist organization, so we recruited younger, stupider people like Phil, who lived in the house backing here on the paddock. He stuck his head over and said, “What are yous guys doing?” So we got him to throw the bomb, and he threw it. And it bounced – boom, boom – and it sat there, and then it went BANG! Real loud explosion, the biggest one we’d made. It showered us with dirt, and we were all laughing, and the neighbours came out. An old lady said, “It shook the foundations of my chook shed!” And we’re like “It works!”

And then the cops turned up. We heard it. The car screeched up, the doors go, a cop pulls out, and we recognized him – he went to our high school, he was one of my Dad’s Scouts from his Scout trips – obviously he was in his twenties now. Darren, his name was. And he gets out, and it was the easiest case he’d ever solved. He looked at the bomb, then he looked at our house, and he was like “Oh yeah, case solved.”

And then Dad had rocked up. Dad thought Darren had just dropped in to see his former Scout leader, and Dad goes up to him and goes, “G’day Darren, how are you?” And Darren goes, “Ah, this is no social visit Kevin. Do you recognize these containers?” “Yeah, they are my sons’, sitting in the garage.” And we were like, “Oh no…”

So we went to the police station. And the bomb expert from India was on the site, and he couldn’t work out what was in the bombs.

And he said, “What’s in the bombs?”

“Chlorine and brake fluid.”

And he’s like “How’d you know how to do that?”

And we went, “Brian told me.”

“RIGHT, WHO’S BRIAN?!”

So we sang: “Brian told me, Brian told me, Brian told me so”.

I love that story.

Elizabeth: Such a great tune, isn’t it.

Dave: Yeah, it’s a great tune, and they used it in Sydney too, you know. Brian Henderson. Value for money. That’s in the book – lots of detail about the 70s and 80s in The Summer of ’82.

Elizabeth: See, that crime history continued because being from a family of four boys … your brother Mark captured my attention.

Dave:  Yeah Mark’s quite a character in the book. That’s what my mum said the other day: “You were the worst, and now you’re the best.” He’s very good with Mum and Dad.

Elizabeth:  He was a slow starter.

Dave: He was a slow starter, classic middle child out of four boys, and he was very naughty. Got in trouble a lot with the police and he got kicked out of school for setting fire to the chemistry lab. He was meant to be getting changed for Oklahoma I think it was, and he set fire to the lab, and got kicked out.

Elizabeth: See, I’d actually like to read this – I know you don’t like to, but I do.

Dave:  Go on.

Elizabeth: Page 88 – you write: “We’re talking about a kid who’s kicked out of school for setting fire to the chemistry lab while he was meant to be getting changed for his part in the school musical. Hmm, there’s young Mark in the lab where he’s supposed to be putting on his farmer’s overalls to sing in Oklahoma. Wait! The chemicals are too tempting, so it’s time for a quick experiment. Va-voom! Up in flames the lab goes.”

See, I have a brother who is an illustrator. His name is Bernie Harris, and he’s going to illustrate my second children’s book which will be out next year. But he’s similar to Mark in that he used to enjoy lighting the Bunsen burners in the chemistry lab.

Dave:  Ah yeah, they’ve still got Bunsen burners too. Yeah, Mark was very naughty.

Elizabeth: So the difference between our brothers was that he wasn’t caught.

Dave:  Yeah, right, Mark was caught.

Elizabeth: But you had your own way of managing Mark when your parents were away. Do you call it “MYOB Night” or “M.Y.O.B. Night”?

Dave: Oh. Make-Your-Own? Make-Your-Own.

Elizabeth: You were very inventive Dave, and strategic in managing your brother.

Dave: Yeah, he was put in charge of us when Mum and Dad went on holidays, and at that stage he was an apprentice at Telstra. And so he would invite his mates over for a card night. And I was working in a factory and I had to get up early. And he was like …

Elizabeth: You get Endangerment, don’t you?

Dave: Yeah, I was working in a factory and you look at the pay packet and we got Heat Allowance and Dust Allowance. It wasn’t a great job but it was certainly a wakeup call. If I’d done the job at the start of Year 12, I probably would have studied more, I think. Should have done that. But Mark …

Elizabeth: There was something about connectors and fuses, I think.

Dave: Ah yeah. He invited his mates over for cards and they were having this big party, and I pulled the fuse out of the fuse box, threw it out on the lawn, and went back to bed. And the music went (mimics sound of music dying out suddenly)… And he blamed the neighbor of course. So I think when he read the book, he found out it was me.

Elizabeth: It was brilliant. So that job, crawling through those … crawling through those tunnels. And the hot dog …

Dave: Hot dog shop.

Elizabeth: With Cindy.

Dave: With Cindy. So I got a job in a hot dog shop: Alecto Hot Dogs on Toorak Road. People from Melbourne may remember.

Elizabeth: Sorry I don’t remember.

Dave: You don’t remember Alecto Hot Dogs ’92? Yum. So I worked at Alecto Hot Dogs with a girl named Cindy, whom I eventually went out with. She was dressed up like Boy George or Hazie Fantazie and she had all these outrageous outfits. Turned out she was from Mitcham where I lived; I’d just never met her. She was a Catholic and I was Protestant. Different sides of the railway track. So that was very exciting. But I eventually got sacked from the hot dog shop because the owner accused me of stealing the rolls and selling them to an opposition shop, when in fact I was just eating them.

Elizabeth: Was there proof of that?

Dave: Yeah, I was eating them. But then my twin brother was also working there – I have a twin – and he got a full-time job so I just took his job, the part-time job, and kept turning up as him.

Elizabeth: Are you identical?

Dave: Yeah. And they’d say “Didn’t I sack you?” And I’d say “No, that’s my brother.” He’d probably be 20 kilos lighter than me now. He lives in Switzerland; he works for Red Cross. He’s the good twin; I’m the bad twin. He’s doing good stuff.

Elizabeth: The ability to make people laugh is such a gift, and not everybody can do it.

Dave: Not everybody can do it. It takes practice.

Eizabeth: So tell me about that.

Dave: Making people laugh? When I was at school, I was pretty funny, and when I was at uni and stuff, a few girls said “You should be a stand-up comedian – you’re quite funny.” Now when you’re in your twenties and girls say that, that’s a call actually.

Elizabeth: Means something, doesn’t it.

Dave: Yeah it’s a call actually. You should do it. And so I always wanted to do it; I didn’t know it was a job. I had no idea, especially in the 70s – comedy wasn’t prevalent, it was fringe. There are a few comedy clubs that have started, but maybe one work function with comedians. We’ve seen comedians on Scout camps; we used to have comedians turn up to do gigs on Scout camps. So it was definitely something I wanted to do; I just didn’t know how to do it. I thought it was something too out of my reach, but turned out anyone could do it, if you wanted.

Elizabeth: For those that want to launch their comedic careers, is it really the hard slog of gigs and being heckled? And if so, what’s the best way of dealing with the heckling?

Dave: Well I don’t get heckled much anymore, but certainly when you start out, and you’ve got to do a lot of bad gigs – they call them “Open Mic Nights “. Anyone can get up and do it – and if you have an inkling, there’s plenty of them around now, more so than when I started. I would advise people to go and have a look first, and then approach the person running the night and ask to go on the next week and just jump up – write some stuff down and jump up and do it.

The hecklers? Best thing to do with hecklers: repeat what they say. So they say: “You’re a fat idiot.” And you say “What did you say, mate? I’m a fat idiot?” Which lets everyone in the room hear what they say. Because a lot of hecklers do it so no one else can hear what they say, especially in a big room. “You’re a blah-blah.” “Oh really, mate.” And so you repeat what they say, and then you think of something really quick to say back. It doesn’t even have to be that funny; it just has to be quick. I can’t think of any

Elizabeth: On the front cover of this great book, you are pictured wearing a Devo Energy Dome, Dave. Can you explain the impact it had in your life, and what the proclamation “Are We Not Men?” means?

Dave: “We are Devo”. I don’t know what it means – just something they say in one of their songs – album name.

Elizabeth:What it means more so on the train?

Dave: Oh on the train! We went and saw Devo. They had a 9-day tour; they had a few No. 1 hits in Australia.

Elizabeth: What were they?

Dave:  “Whip It”. “Girl U Want”.

Elizabeth: You’re not going to sing to me.

Dave:  No. “Whip It cracked that whip…one sat on the greenhouse tree…”

Elizabeth: Did you bring your guitar?

Dave: No. I play the bass. Anyway, so we went and watched Devo. It was a great night and we were all dressed up in our best; we were slightly alternative kids.

Elizabeth: Does that mean you used to wear makeup?

Dave: No, I didn’t wear makeup, but I had makeup on that night because I’d been rehearsing for The Game Show, which is a TV show. They’re really cool people…and so we dressed up in our best trendy gear: nice jeans and lemon vintage jumpers.

Elizabeth: Lemon.

Dave: Lemon vintage; might have had a pink one if someone was in a brave mood. Then we had these homemade Devo hats, these red flower pots Mum had made.

Elizabeth: Joyce made them!

Dave:  Joyce made them. Crafty. And so we were on the train. We were on a high, singing these Devo songs. Unfortunately for us, The Angels and Rose Tattoo were playing the Myer Music Bowl that night, and all their fans had gone on to Richmond, so this was a classic case of “last train out”.

Elizabeth: For those that weren’t kids in the 80s, tell me about The Angels and Rose Tattoo and Henry Anderson.

Dave: Yeah, bald-headed guy, tattoos. They’re basically hard rock; they’re a great band. They have fans who are hardcore bogans, so guys from the outer suburbs in mullets, stretch jeans, moccasins – tough guys.

Elizabeth: What sort of suburb are we talking about?

Dave:  We’re talking about Moroolbark, Lilydale, Ringwood. I grew up in Mitcham – there are plenty of them in Mitcham, so they would get on the train and they would look at us and be like, “What the … who are these guys?” And so we were like their enemy.

And so one of them came over and he didn’t know where to start, so he started at the shoes. “Where did you get your shoes from?” And I’m like “The shoe shop.” And he’s like “No, you got them from the op shop.” Like that was an insult. I wanted to ask “Where did you get your language from? Your nan’s wardrobe?” But I didn’t say that. I was hoping my Energy Dome would transform itself and he would get picked up and thrown out of the window.

Elizabeth: But it didn’t work.

Dave:  It didn’t work.

And he’s like “Do you have makeup on?” And I went “Why would I have makeup on?” I did have makeup on. So I had come from The Game Show rehearsal and I did have foundation and lipstick on, and I had forgotten to take it off. And he goes “I’m going to bash you!”

And at that point in the book – when I do it live, it’s different – … came through the carriage. He was the tough guy from high school – he’s now a lawyer – and he came through the carriage, and he was a big Greek guy, and he was a big Devo fan so we got on very well. And he was like “What are you…?” and he pushes this guy aside – “What are you doing to him?” And then these guys “Yeah, nah, nah…” and then we pull up at the station. They pull the door open and he fell out on the wrong side of the track - the tough guy. Classic tough guy move – they pull the door when they’re not meant to, and then jump out. He jumped out on the wrong side of the tracks and fell on the tracks so all his mates laughed: “Yer, Gary!”

Elizabeth: Oh, his name was Gary.

Dave:  Yeah, Gary, classic name. And then everyone was like “Are we not men?” And then we were like “Yeah, we are Devo!” and we were chanting on the train. Good times.

Elizabeth: Well, the whole book’s great, cause I’ve read it cover to cover.

Dave:  Oh, good on you. You’re the only one.

Elizabeth: No, I’m sure many, many people will be reading it, especially after our podcast goes live.

Dave: Cool.

Elizabeth: No, truly. What’s your next project, Dave?

Dave:  I’ve written a TV show that I’m going to film soon. I’m just doing a pilot though; it’s based on my life as a stand-up and dad, so we’re going to film it soon, in December.

Elizabeth: Can you talk about the people involved in it?

Dave:  Oh yes of course, it’s based on my life as a comic, so I play myself. Glenn Robbins is in the first episode - he plays himself, because I’m always trying to get him to do charity gigs. He plays himself. Brendan Fevola - he plays himself.

Well, it’s all based on an incident where I did a football club gig 15 years ago, where I insulted … I didn’t know Lance Whitnall - Carlton legend – came from that club – that was his original … and his mum was there when I made it. So I’m using Brendan Fevola in this. I’m too scared to ring Lance Whitnall, let’s be honest. So I know Brendan Fevola and I rang him, and he’s like “Yeah, yeah, no worries!” So that’s going to be out next year. I’m also working on a comic novel – I’ve written a chapter of a comic novel. I had no plans to do it at all, but I got this idea, so I started writing it, and I think it’s pretty funny.

Elizabeth:  Of course it’s funny – it’s you. What else would it be?

Dave:  And again it’s a satire based on the entertainment industry.

Elizabeth:  That would be interesting, and funny.

Dave:  I’ve got to change everyone’s name.

Elizabeth: Are these people going to be recognizable?

Dave:  Yes.

Elizabeth: Of course they are. (Laughter)

Dave:   There’s an amalgamation of people in there – part me, and other people, you know.

Elizabeth:  Composite characters.

Dave: Composite characters, so you don’t get sued.

Elizabeth: So do you have a website or blog where my listeners can find out more about your work?

Dave: Yes. Just go to my Facebook page. I update my Facebook page a lot. It’s “Dave O’Neil”.

But if you just go to my website – dave-o-neil-dot-com-dot-au - there’s a link to my Facebook page. I don’t update my website that much, but I do update Facebook a lot because it’s so easy. I’ve got a public page, like a fan page. I don’t spend any time on my personal page at all.

Elizabeth: So Dave, this is a signature question I ask all my guests because of my book, Chantelle’s Wish: What do you wish for, for the world …

Dave:  World peace.

Elizabeth:  … and most importantly, for yourself? We’ll start with you.

Dave:  For the world? Well, as Rodney King once said, why can’t we all just get along?

Elizabeth: Good point.

Dave: That’ll be good, if everyone got along. I don’t see wars stopping, but if we just looked after the – I saw this great documentary about astronauts, and this astronaut, when he was up in space, he looked at the earth and he said, “It’s like an oasis, and we’re killing it.” So, interesting from an astronaut, ‘cause they’re like military guys, you know what I mean? So if we could look after the planet, that would be good, but I don’t know what I can do, you know. I do the occasional benefit.

Elizabeth: I was going to say you mentioned fundraising; let’s talk about that.

Dave: More of my benefits are for schools - local schools and kinders, that’s what I do, just because I’m in that world.

Elizabeth:  They must love that, though. That really helps them.

Dave:  I do benefits, and I’ll tell you what, if the benefit’s no good, I just get up on stage and I say: ‘I’m here to support the cause. See you later!” Some of the people have benefits in bars, and people are talking and not listening, and I think, “What’s the point?”

Elizabeth: Well, I’d like to invite you to help us out. Pat Guest – he’s a children’s author, and he has a son, Noah, who has Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, and we are creating an event where Rosalie Ham, author of The Dressmaker, will be there.

Dave:  Oh wow.

Elizabeth: She’s got a book out called There Should Be More Dancing. Aric Yegudkin and his wife Masha will be dancing, so he would like to do a bit of …

Dave:  Sure.

Elizabeth:  And all the donations will go to Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy to help those kids, because unfortunately that is terminal.

Dave: Alright.

Elizabeth: And I’ve nursed a couple of those children, so it’s …

Dave: Full on.

Elizabeth: It is full on.

Dave: Yeah, I can help with that.

Elizabeth: Thank you. So thank you Dave O’Neil.

Dave:  Thank you for having me.

Elizabeth:  It’s been an absolute delight.

Dave O’Neil, thank you very much for guesting on Writers’ Tête-à-Tête with Elizabeth Harris.

Dave:  Thank you.

[END OF TRANSCRIPT]

00:0000:00

Episode 2: Interview with Patrick Guest

November 9, 2016

Patrick Guest is an Australian children's author, Olympic physiotherapist, and father of three.

He is most noted for his children's books That's What Wings Are For - dedicated to children with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and their parents, and The Ricker Racker Club, written for his boys when their baby sister joined the family.

Find out more about Patrick's work at PatrickGuest.com.au.

What you'll learn:

1. What Patrick's first career was, and why he gave it up for writing.
2. The true story that inspired Patrick to write That's What Wings Are For.
3. How The Ricker Racker Club is being used to touch and inspire school children in Melbourne, Australia.
4. What success means to him.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Elizabeth: Welcome to Writers’ Tête-à-tête with Elizabeth Harris, the show that connects authors, songwriters and poets with a global audience.

So I can continue to bring you high-calibre guests, I invite you to go to iTunes, click Subscribe, leave a review, and share this podcast with your friends.

I’m delighted to introduce children’s author Patrick Guest (PG) – father of three, Olympic physiotherapist, children’s author.

Patrick Guest – born into an ever loving, ever growing family, 7 siblings, in the beachside suburb of Seaford, Melbourne, Australia. Patrick was blessed with all the things that make a childhood magical – plenty of family, friends and freedom to explore this wonderful world. An assortment of careers along the way – cobbler, elephant washer, failed accountant, anatomy demonstrator at Monash Uni, national team physio for Mozambique. Little wonder he’s been dubbed the Forrest Gump of Frankston.

Adventures and stories seem to follow him around and now he’s writing them down. 5 books, (signed with a little hair) in the past 2 years, many more in the pipeline.

Patrick Guest, welcome to Writers’ Tête-à-tête with Elizabeth Harris.

Patrick: Great to be here, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Great to have you here, Patrick, on this lovely sunny day in Melbourne, believe it or not, we’ve got the sun.

Patrick, we recently discovered we attended the same secondary college. 

Patrick: We did.

Elizabeth: I had to smile when I read you initially became an accountant. Please tell my listeners about that transgression - and how you escaped.

Patrick: Ah, the transgression. Let’s start with that. Look. Fear, insecurity, there was a recession kicking in. But really I think, as a 17-year-old, having to work out what subjects to choose, I didn’t know how to make that decision at 17.

Elizabeth: So you did Economics … is that right?

Patrick: Economics, Accounting, Legal Studies, Maths. I was really probably inspired at that time by my favourite TV show, Family Ties – Michael J. Fox.

Elizabeth: Wasn’t he great? He’s great. Still.

Patrick: At the time, I think back now – what a dork he was – it probably says a lot about what a dork I was and still am. I thought he was cool.

Elizabeth: He was funny, and you’re funny.

Patrick: He was cool, and I thought “Who do I want to be like?”, and I thought “Michael J. Fox”. I went down the corporate path, which was a terrible decision. I don’t regret it – I made some friends for life, and I realized early on that money doesn’t make you happy.

Elizabeth: It’s such an important lesson at that age, isn’t it, cause many people learn that quite late, if at all.

Patrick: Yeah, so that’s something that has stayed with me, and I’m really grateful.

Elizabeth: Was there a pivotal moment when you realized “This accounting thing is just not me”? Was there an incident?

Patrick: There was.

Elizabeth: Can you share that, or is that private?

Patrick: No, no, let’s share this. It’s all about sharing in this session. So I’m walking down Flinders St Station, and I’m walking down in my suit and tie, down the ramp…

Elizabeth: How old were you at the time?

Patrick: It would have been in my first year out of graduation, maybe 22 or something. 21, 22. Walking down the ramp, with cattle class, just walking down, we were all off to work. Against the flow, this lady came through the crowd and just gently put her hand on me and said, “Smile!”

Elizabeth: (Laughter) I promise you it wasn’t me.

Patrick: She just said “Smile” and I’m walking down – I must have looked so miserable.

Elizabeth: Was she an angel or a real person?

Patrick: I don’t know. But I hear where you’re coming from there, because from that moment – and I blame Banjo Patterson – and maybe my dad for putting me onto Banjo.

Elizabeth: Why? It’s good to blame other people, isn’t it?

Patrick: My favourite Australian poem would be The Great Clancy of the Great Overflow…

Elizabeth: Oh wonderful.

Patrick: …And where Banjo writes:

And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me

  As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,

With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,

   For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.

 

So that poem was just ringing in my ears as I was off to the office sitting there, and from that moment I had come to the end of my fancy – I had a lot to change with Clancy. But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy of the Overflow. And for someone who had had that instilled in him, the spirit of adventure at a very young age, and parents – wonderful parents that had fostered that– and here I am in this shoebox, little partitioned office thing, and it just wasn’t for me.

Elizabeth: Soul-destroying.

Patrick: Soul-destroying. For some people it isn’t, and some of my best friends have continued along that path, and it’s a great path for them, but for me it wasn’t.

Elizabeth: We need everybody, don’t we, the array of professions and tradespeople, everybody to do their bit. But you had much more important things in store, Patrick. Which brings me to – our school was really quite traditional in lots of ways, being a Catholic coed college, with all the gender bias that goes with that. And I remember going back to Economics, and I remember being one of the few girls in Chemistry and Economics, because it was always the boys who were going to be the accountants, and the girls were going to be teachers or nurses. And in fact I did go on to be a nurse, but I was very happy to do that.

So to me in our school, there was a real gender bias. And you address this in your fantastic book, The Ricker Racker Club. Can you tell us more about this great book please?

Patrick: The Ricker Racker Club is based on a real club, invented by real people: my two boys, Noah and Reuben. So Noah and Reuben were roughly 4 and 3 at the time when the Ricker Racker Club was formed. And there was one hard and fast rule: No Girls.

(Laughter)

There were a few other rules: do something incredibly brave, do something incredibly kind, but the real rock-solid rule was No Girls. And then what happened…

Elizabeth: I’m sure that’s changed now.

Patrick: …They had themselves a sister, little Gracie. Gracie was born, and really the story of The Ricker Racker Club is what happened next after Gracie. Now Gracie is perfectly named. She is pure grace, she is pure joy. She does have an intellectual disability, and her capacity for joy is extraordinary. And she would – as happens in the book – walk up to the wolf next door and give the wolf a big hug. Her courage, her kindness, her unique joy, won the boys over very quickly. They won us all over, and the story sprung from there.

Really, it’s a celebration of the joys of being a kid, and the innocence of these rules. They’re not coming from a nasty place, these rules – just boys being boys. But then, just the power of kindness, if there’s one thing that runs through all my books, it’s the power of kindness…

Elizabeth: Yes, definitely.

Patrick: …to change hearts. So that’s how that happened. And really The Ricker Racker Club is about a father saying to his two sons, “Be good to your sister.”

Elizabeth: And you do it so well, Patrick.

Patrick: And so it’s done really well.

Elizabeth: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Patrick: From the moment I could write. So I started very young. I do remember a series, ‘Powerful Patrick’. And I must have been about 5 or 6. I was doing the pictures back then and I was stapling them together, making these little books. And I’m sure Mum and Dad delighted in them. But I’m not sure anyone else did.

Elizabeth: Have you still got them?

Patrick: I haven’t been able to find them.

Elizabeth: Oh no.

Patrick: I hope I can find them one day. Mum was always a little bit of a hoarder, so it’ll be somewhere in the house. They’re still in the same place I grew up in, so they’ll be somewhere in that house. So I’ve been a natural storyteller my whole life. The vehicle for that telling a story was just verbal stories and emails and love letters to Lisa my wife … I’ve always found a way to put things on paper. But certainly through the barren accounting years, then really trying to work out where my lane was that had been lying dormant, and then the birth of Noah – my first son, Noah – came a flood of stories and the desire to get these things down on paper. The rest is history.

Elizabeth: What was it particularly about that event - the birth of Noah – that opened the floodgates, so to speak?

Patrick: Well the birth itself…even before the birth I was starting to work on a book. But it’s, I think it’s just this natural, just as we have a desire to breathe, have food and water, a desire to be heard and understood, and then as a parent, it’s just this innate desire to share stories and to bond through stories.

Elizabeth: Legacy.

Patrick: Legacy. What my dad did was the same with me. My grandfather – I vividly remember my grandfather declaring over me that “You’re going to be an author one day.”

Elizabeth: Oh wow. Did he write?

Patrick: My grandfather, no. It was more my grandmother – she was a gifted storyteller. She kissed the Blarney Stone a few times, Ma, and... So it’s flowed through, that Blarney Stone – the kissing of the Blarney Stone gift has been passed through, through Grandmother to my dad.

Elizabeth: We have a similar heritage then.

Patrick There you go. And I can see it in my kids as well. Noah and Reuben, they love telling stories and they love hearing stories. So it’s been passed on for sure.

Elizabeth: That’s fantastic. Can you advise all the aspiring writers out there how to get started, and more importantly, how to keep going?

Patrick: How to get started… I can only speak, maybe quote Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” So I can only speak from the authority of my own experience. I don’t have a technique or a tactic or a ritual that I go through. I pray. I pray, and one thing that I’ll say to people when asked this question – again I don’t want to get too preachy here – but if you want to get creative, it helps to get in touch with your Creator. That’s all I can say. That might be a bit controversial but for some ears, but that’s what works for me. I don’t get on my knees and say “God, give me another book!”

Elizabeth: “Give me a bestseller or a …”

Patrick: “Give me a bestseller!” What I actually do is I surrender my agenda.

Elizabeth: So ego is left aside.

Patrick: Ego is left aside, and any preconceived ideas are left aside. So I’m not sitting there going “Give me inspiration”. I’m giving myself out, and saying “Take away”.

Elizabeth: Use me, as a conduit.

Patrick: “Use me”, and if that’s to be the best barista in Mornington, or go back to my cobbling beginnings, or elephant-washing beginnings, so be it. So most of – no, really all of – my flashes of inspiration you could say… There’s that great poem by Rumi, Listening, where he says, “When that voice speaks, may I sell my tongue and buy a thousand ears.” So when I’m hearing that voice, that is always followed by a period of prayerfulness or meditation which just opens up that creativity. Sounds easy. I know when I hear that voice, and I sell my tongue, I know that there’s a double emotion. Joy, and dread. Because I know that I’m in for some hard work.

Elizabeth: ‘Cause writing can be hard work, can’t it. And the discipline that’s required – and you know you may not particularly feel like writing that day – but you have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going.

Patrick: Yes, so back to the question, which was “How do we keep going?” How do we start? For me, I don’t really start until I’ve heard the voice, I’ve heard that voice, I’ve heard that spark of inspiration. How do I keep going? I know that I won’t have peace until it’s done. So I’m listening to that voice but I also know that it’s a collaboration after that. So I’m seeking opportunities to get it on paper or get it onto the computer. And they are taken in the busyness of my life with 3 young kids and a fulltime job as a physio. I have to be creative just to find that time. So often it’s my wonderful patients – patient patients – lying on the physio plinth – and I’ll just seek an opportunity to say, “Now that you’ve got all those needles all over you, there’s no way to run out of here. Would you mind listening to my latest? What do you think of it?”

Elizabeth: Do they come back for another appointment after that, Patrick?

Patrick: Normally they do. I don’t think I’ve managed to scare anyone off yet.

Elizabeth: I might need to book for a session. Do I have to have a needle?

Patrick: Not always, but it does – has that influence on my clinical judgment. Might be, if I’m honest. But I call it ‘bibliotherapy’. That works well, so I’m looking for opportunity. Sometimes I’ll pull the car over and send myself a text message for a sentence. Or middle of the night, off to the computer, or scribbling in bed on a bit of paper. I don’t have a routine about how to get these things down.

Elizabeth: 2 a.m. is a common time for me to receive a sentence too.

Patrick: In the shower can be a good place – you can scratch it into the wall, into the mist, write it down, whatever it is. But I’m in the posture of seeking the opportunity to find that time to write that down once I’ve heard that voice.

Elizabeth: Can we talk about your work – who you work with, the wonderful men and women that you care for? Can we talk about that?

Patrick: Yes, so 2 days a week, I work at the medical centre at Victoria Barracks, which is a service based in Melbourne. They are wonderful, so when I first started working for the military, I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about war and the work of the military.

Elizabeth: In what way?

Patrick: I’d been a bit of a hippie, a bit of a peace lover, a bit biased against the war machine, or whether it’s a valuable service that the Army and Navy and Air Force offer. And then you get to meet these people and hear their stories.

Elizabeth: Amazing.

Patrick: Amazing, the sacrifice made. I see the plague of PTSD is becoming more public or known as an extension of the epidemic of general mental health problems in the world. As a physio you get a front row seat really, and you get the rare – it’s a real privilege to offer probably two of the greatest needs of the human being: to be heard and understood, and to be touched.

Elizabeth: Yes. Beautiful.

Patrick: To be touched. There aren’t many mainstream medical professionals that offer both. So as a physio you’re in a really good place and space to offer that service and in that way to gather stories. So in that way it does feed into the other half of my career, which is becoming more than half really, the writing side of things, and the gathering of stories from the confessional plinth is part of that, and the sharing of stories is part of that.

Elizabeth: They’re exceptionally lucky to have you.

Patrick: Goes both ways.

Elizabeth: You’ve had wonderful success with your book sales. What does success mean to you?

Patrick: About three bucks fifty? (Laughter) So I remember when my amazing editor and publisher Margrete Lamond sat me down – we met face to face for the first time – she’s based in New South Wales – one of her first pieces of advice was “Don’t give up your day job!”

Elizabeth: I’ve had the same advice before.

Patrick: So in terms of success it’s been humbling and mind-blowing to think that That’s What Wings Are For – my first book – has cracked the magical 10,000 books sold in Australia within 6 months.

Elizabeth: Wow. Congratulations. That’s wonderful.

Patrick: So now we’re into our second year of sales. I’m not sure where we’re up to now, but has been picked up internationally and translated internationally to Chinese and Korean and several other languages. What does it mean to me? It means that – it gives me a voice, a chance to talk to your lovely self, and to visit schools. I love that side of being a writer. Most writers are more comfortable in a darkened room tapping away. To my surprise, I was a very reluctant public speaker but I absolutely love going out to the schools. On Wednesday, I had a full school assembly, hundreds of kids there, and the audience and ability to speak and share…

Elizabeth: ‘Cause you make that fun, don’t you. We’re just going back to The Ricker Racker Club for a moment, and can we know how you make that fun for the kids? ‘Cause the parents listening there would be really interested – we know we’re there to do hard work but school can be fun as well. So how do you make it fun for them, Patrick?

Patrick: Well, The Ricker Racker Club – I invite everyone to join this very exclusive club, The Ricker Racker Club, IF they pass the test. So I read the story, but along the way we pause and issue challenges to the members of the audience to come up on behalf of the whole school, see if they can pass this test. So we follow the story. And one of the characters is Max, and in the first week he sticks his head into the fox’s hole. So I make up a little fox’s hole, and find a willing kid to stick his head into this fox’s hole. The whole school are counting 20 seconds and I bring out this little stuffed fox. So the poor kid doesn’t know I’m tiptoeing up behind him and “Raaaahhh!”

Elizabeth: (Laughter) Do you get a lot of screams?

Patrick: We get a few of those, and then the villain of the book is this wolf next door, which is based on a great German Shepherd that lived next door to me, and I have the scar to prove, the moment the basketball flew over the fence. I rescued the basketball – and Chance (the dog’s name was Chance) – got me. And so the wolf next door – it would normally have a wolf suit – and it’s normally the PE teacher who dresses up as a wolf.

Elizabeth: Would you go to our school? They’d love you.

Patrick: I’d love to.

Elizabeth: Ours is a service school, so you’ll like it. Ours is a service school, so we have a lot of service families that go to... Nice connection for you.

Patrick: I’d love to come out. Absolutely. So the kids build up and up and at the end, “Who wants to join this club?” “Yeah!” “Who wants to learn the secret password?” “Yeah!” So I force it down a little and say, “Unfortunately you haven’t done quite enough yet.”

Elizabeth: (Laughter) Oh my, the kids will go “Oh what?”

Patrick: So it’s a case of “Do not put up your hand, do not raise your hand, unless you are extremely brave.”

All the hands go up.

“I mean it, I’m warning you now – extremely brave.”

Elizabeth: What age group are we looking at, with the hands going up?

Patrick: Prep, all the way to 6.

Elizabeth: The whole school, wow.

Patrick: At this point, some of the Grade 6s I can tell – folded their arms; it’s a bit babyish for them. So picture it: I do target them a bit at this point. So I’ll normally look for the guy who’s lost interest – the kid can be too cool for school here. And I’ll grab this fellow and bring him up. “So on behalf of the school, let’s talk about Courage. Courage comes in many forms. You’ve already demonstrated Courage by standing up in front of the whole school. But Courage comes in many forms. The courage to make a mistake when you know it’s going to get you in trouble. You’re scared of something. And then there’s taste buds. So we go back to Week 3, if you were listening, what did Zack do in Week 3?” And he’ll say “I’m sorry, I can’t remember.” Again in a loud voice, “What did Zack do in Week 3?” And you get the book out again: Zack drank a tomato sauce milkshake.

At this point I’m standing behind him with milk, and then I bring out the tomato sauce.

And what’s he do now?

At this point he’s shaking his head ‘no’. And the school have already started the chant without encouragement: “Drink! Drink! Drink! Drink!” So I make this milkshake, this foaming tomato sauce milkshake…

Elizabeth: Oh no.

Patrick: And I pause again and say “Unfortunately my friend, Zack did that for one person. You’re doing it for 700 people right now. That’s not enough. So I look around – I shop for the largest Brussel sprout I can find. And I bring out this Brussel sprout, drop it into the tomato sauce milkshake, and present it to this fellow.

Elizabeth: Poor kid.

Patrick: The poor kid. Originally, I used this – it occurred to me that this is peer group pressure of the highest order. So I now use this as an opportunity for this poor unfortunate kid to – they’re saying no at this point – I really esteem that courage. I say “Look, you have done something extraordinarily brave. Everyone here at some point is going to face a baying crowd of people saying ‘Drink! Drink!’ or whatever.

Elizabeth: That’s so clever, Patrick.

Patrick: And to say no in the face of that, is true Courage. So I give him a round of applause and he sits down. “Now who wants to be a legend?” (Laughter) So someone else comes up. Or I’ll turn it into the “What would the kind person do now?” Or even better. “Maybe there’s a teacher in the audience…”

Elizabeth: So what I’ll do is I’ll leave it there, because if the school listens to that one they won’t book you. I will leave them in suspense. When I first read That’s What Wings Are For, I was sitting in a coffee shop, with tears rolling down my cheeks. The other patrons respectfully averted their eyes. And you know you’ve found a great book when so much emotion is ... Can you please tell us about your inspiration for That’s What Wings Are For?

Patrick: So That’s What Wings Are For … Maybe I can mention one of my favourite poems of all time, which is The Hound of Heaven. The Hound of Heaven, for those who don’t know, written more than a hundred years ago by a homeless opium addict in London, Francis Thompson. So he was asking the big question: how could a loving God allow such suffering in the world, and particularly in his own life? And the penny starts to drop about halfway through. He says maybe, just maybe, You allow us in Your love to burn and burn until we become charcoal, and You pick us up and You create Your masterpiece. So That’s What Wings Are For – I’m not calling it a masterpiece – it certainly came from a burning charcoal in process. And that process was the great sadness in my life.

My son Noah has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which is a devastating condition that involves the wasting of muscles. And the heart’s a muscle, and it’s a devastating disease. So in light of that I was asked to write a book about a certain blue dragon Bluey, who is the mascot for all the families affected by this devastating disease. So I was working on another book at the time, and I was asked to write this book. And I jumped at the chance, but I also knew there was a heavy responsibility writing that. So really you can look globally at that and look at the whole community impacted by that, but really it was a love letter from a father to a son.

Elizabeth: Beautiful.

Patrick: And that’s how it was written, and that is something I do say when I go out to the schools. You’ve heard Ricker Racker – it’s quite a boisterous, joyous occasion. When I go out to talk about That’s What Wings Are For, I basically start off in a fun way, and then I bring it back sharply and I say, I bring out Bluey, the actual mascot, a blue plush teddy, and I say “I actually met Bluey on the worst day of my life.” And to have a school go from being quite boisterous, and the teachers go “Shh! Shh! Shh!” to your pin drop in one sentence…

Elizabeth: Wow, that’s powerful.

Patrick: They get it. They get it. From the preppies all the way up to the Grade 6s, they get it, and there’s a real reverence suddenly about the book and why it was written. And then I explain what’s happened from there and we go from there. I still struggle to read it without crying, but they are tears of – what will I say - I heard this line yesterday – “what we sow with tears, we reap with shouts of joy”. And there’s something joyous – it’s bigger than me, this thing. It’s bigger than me.

Elizabeth: What you’ve created is magnificent.

Patrick: Thank you.

Elizabeth: You’re welcome. You mentioned in an interview that 80% of That’s What Wings Are For was written over breakfast with your family, and then one sentence that brought tears to your eyes took you 3 months to write. Can you please share that sentence with my listeners and what it was that finally led you to discover the sentence that made you cry?

Patrick: What it was was my incredible ego. I just – it went to my head. The idea of being a published author and all this went absolutely to my head.

Elizabeth: Well you are only human after all. (Laughter)

Patrick: Well, I’m sitting back there, I’m imagining red carpets, imagining walking up the stairs. It was shocking! And here I am, I’ve written a book for my sick kid, and my ego’s having a field day. At this point I hadn’t even had the manuscript finished…

Elizabeth: You were strutting around…

Patrick: It was appalling. I’m embarrassed about it, at the way I was carrying on in my head anyway. So we needed – Bluey needed a reason to be doing what he did ultimately, which is find a reason for his wings. And I was trying all these sentences about sending him off to Margrete, and very gently and respectfully she would be saying “That is rubbish.” (Laughter)

Elizabeth: Thanks Margrete. She just knew there was more to you – she knows how deep you are.

Patrick: She knew how to push the buttons and what’s right. And equally my wife Lisa as well. And more so my wife Lisa, she has a great ability to tell me when I’m writing something that’s rubbish - and good as well.

Elizabeth: Good.

Patrick: So the to-ing and fro-ing went on for months. And then I had this moment of “You complete goose! What are you doing?” And certainly at that moment I decided that every cent from this book would be given to charity, which it always should have been anyway, and I made that decision, and entered some prayer and reflection, and within really minutes of making that decision – within minutes – I was given this sentence.

And I have to set the context of that time. And at the time we had a crudely termed … we called it a ‘year of adventure’ – you could call it a bucket list, and we were doing all sorts of things around the world. So the sentence – Bluey was coming back from the Royal Children’s Hospital. It was broadened to be a magical building filled with magical creatures with all sorts of ailments. So at that moment when Bluey looks out, and when I’m reading the story to the school, I’ll have people close their eyes and put their hands on their hearts, and feel.

Elizabeth: Which I’m going to do now.

Patrick: And if you keep feeling, you’ll feel something. You may not feel it straightaway, but if you keep trying, you’ll get there. You’ll feel something warm and fuzzy. And that feeling has a name; it has lots of names. Kindness, and hope, and love, and what happens – and at this moment, Bluey looks across, and I share this sentence: “Bluey saw the boy’s soft, floppy legs, and at that moment, something happened in Bluey’s heart. He stopped for that moment thinking so much about his own situation, and he looked inward. He looked out, and saw this boy sharing a similar path. That word ‘empathy’. That changed everything for Bluey; it helped him work out what his wings were for.”

So we go on from there.

Elizabeth: Beautiful. That compassion for another person. The author-illustrator relationship is such a pivotal one. Can you describe what is important to you in such a relationship?

Patrick: Respect, and trust, and space. So ‘let there be space in your togetherness’. Certainly for the first two books – the first one, Daniella Germain, extraordinary talent. And then the same with Nathanial Eckstrom, rising superstar of the illustration world. So first book, I had no contact at all with Daniella until after all the illustrations were done. Had no input into the illustrations at all. So in terms of relationship, it’s one of trust. Slightly different with the second book – some feedback.

Poor Nathanial, I saw his amazing illustrations, but – and it was amazing that he managed to draw my 3 kids without having seen a photo of them, quite accurately – except for Gracie wears glasses. And I just politely asked whether he might pop glasses on Poppy (Gracie is named Poppy in the book). So he went back and put glasses on. Then I had a look at that and thought, “No. Makes her look too old now. Can you take the glasses off?” So that was a bit of a diva moment for me, I suppose.

But other than that it really is letting go and not being too precious and trusting in the selection of the illustrator – that’s up to the publisher – and I trust Margrete to make that decision, and she hasn’t failed me yet. I know how she is with me with the words, and she’s that way again with the illustrator.

Elizabeth: What a wonderful person to find!

Patrick: She is great, she’s fantastic.

Elizabeth: What are you working on at the moment?

Patrick: Well, the undercurrent to all the picture books that have been picked up in the last couple of years has been a novel for children called The Last Secret of Ernie Pigwinkle, and I’ve been working on the story for more than 10 years. And it comes and goes, and then another idea overrides that. But I keep coming back to The Last Secret of Ernie Pigwinkle. That is lying dormant again, but I know I will go back to that, so there’s always that in the background.

That story is the story of an old man who loves to tell stories. And he has this great secret. Great secret, that he's burning with this secret, to share it with his grandson Arthur. Long story short, he gets invited to the World Storytelling Competition in Marrakesh, Morocco, up against the greats of storytelling. Professor Chinwag from China, Lord Blabbermouth from England. I won’t give too much away, but he makes it to the final and he tells this great secret, but the secret is revealed slowly as the story goes along.

Elizabeth: Suspense right through…

Patrick: Right through. It has been a lot of hard work, also joy, and I have a sense that one day it will happen. I’ve also recently finished another picture book manuscript that is very, very dear to my heart, called Tiny Dancer.

Elizabeth: The Elton John song.

Patrick: The Elton John song, so hopefully Sir Elton will approve, and that’s really dear to my heart, and I’m in an acquisitions meeting on that one. And we’re in the process of illustrating and that process does involve some word changes. My next release which will be next year, I thought that was going to be a book called The Second Sky. It sounds like – based on this week’s emails – it sounds like it will be called Rabby the Brave.

Elizabeth: You’re just prolific – you’re pounding on aren’t you, one after the other.

Patrick: Look, it’s been a blessed couple of years. There’s been a very rich vein of inspiration and creativity that’s happening at the moment. Really grateful.

Elizabeth: We’re very, very pleased too, I must say. Can’t wait to read them. What do you like to do in your spare time to unwind from all this work you’re doing – the physio work with the military, your family, and all this wonderful writing you’re doing? What do you do to unwind?

Patrick: I’m clinging to my childhood in terms of chasing a bouncy ball around. I still play basketball. There’s a competition going on in Victoria Barracks actually, so at the ripe old age of 45, I’m taking on the burly soldiers, I’m taking on the burly soldiers in this basketball competition.

Elizabeth: Well you have to keep up on being brave. (Laughter)

Patrick: I love it. I must say I’m shamelessly, every goal I score – there aren’t many of them – I’m celebrating them like they could be my last. So there’s the fist pump and the whooping after every goal I score. And would you believe I’m still sort of – don’t let Lisa know but I’m still playing football. Full contact. There’s a wonderful competition – Reclink, midweek, battlers’ competition. You may have heard of the Choir of Hard Knocks – Reclink was spawned from it and there’s a football league for battlers, whether it be homeless refugees or people battling addiction. So we’ve set up a team in Frankston, and I’ve been the …

Elizabeth: You are brave. (Laughter)

Patrick: Madness, absolute madness. And so I’ve been the physio, the chaplain, the halfback flank and the water boy, whatever goes on, whatever’s needed for that team. And there’s just something primal about playing Australian Rules football that I just can’t let go of. And if I ever get the chance, I’ll go out surfing as well.

Elizabeth: Isn’t it great to tap into that raw energy and just let yourself go?

Patrick: It is. With surfing, it’s one of the few pastimes or sports where you spend 95% of the time staring at the horizon. So you get a chance to unwind – then it goes from the serenity to scrambling for your life. It’s great.

Elizabeth: It’s a bit of a metaphor, isn’t it?

Patrick: It’s great. Yes, so those are the 3 main things.

Elizabeth: Do you want to remain in the children’s book genre?

Patrick: Absolutely. Maybe one day a book for grownups, but certainly at the moment I’m loving – when you write a picture book, you are writing for grownups – you’re writing for two generations.

Elizabeth: It’s that connection, I think, with parent-child. It’s so special. And you both learn so much when you’re reading together.

Patrick: Absolutely. And I’ve been trying to make the transition from picture books into early readers, and I’ve found that quite hard. I might have to leapfrog that and go into older early readers. Because to go from a picture book to an early reader is – you got to dumb it down. You really have to dumb it down. That’s a crude way of saying it, but you do. There are certain concepts you have to avoid, and using poetry or metaphors is a bit more tricky. So maybe that’s not for me, that niche. So certainly The Last Secret of Ernie Pigwinkle is for an older reader, an older young reader. And then the picture books as well. I might stick to those, to genres within the broader children’s book genre for now. We’ll see what happens after.

Elizabeth: You’re so insightful. Because you haven’t actually studied Creative Writing or completed a formal uni degree in writing, and yet your knowledge is so vast. Is you’re your intuition at play again, do you think?

Patrick: Not sure. I think it’s a blessing. Don’t want to use the word ‘gift’, but I think it’s nothing to be proud of if it’s a gift.

Elizabeth: I really have to disagree, because so many people are given, receive gifts, it’s then what you do with that gift. And so many people do not do anything with what they’ve been blessed with. I do think you can claim that proudly and whoop, like on a footy field. (Laughter)

Patrick: Maybe. I do love whooping when there’s a sense of victory, a sense of accomplishment – once you finish that manuscript, submit to send, and you know it’s off, and have such a beautiful relationship with Margrete. I should mention Alyson O’Brien, who is also with Little Hare – I’m increasingly involved with her. I know that they will read it and give it the full attention and get back to me quite quickly, so that agonizing wait has been reduced to, in some cases, a few hours now, which is great.

Elizabeth: It’s cause you’re so clever, and they know it. Do you have a website or blog, Patrick, that my listeners can go to find out more about your wonderful work?

Patrick: Yes, there’s a shiny new website, “Patrick Guest dot com dot au”. I know nothing about the technical side of websites, and a great friend of mine, Jeffrey County, has helped set that up, and it’s sparkling.

Elizabeth: Aren’t tech people great? I’m not one of those.

Patrick: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. There’s no way I could do that. So that’s up and running now, so there’s opportunity to email me and contact me through that. Happy to do that.

Elizabeth: Patrick, this is a signature question that I ask all my guests. What do you wish for, for the world, and most importantly, for yourself?

Patrick: That’s a big one. Look, the first thing that springs to mind is a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

Elizabeth: I’m with you.

Patrick: That would be the first thing. But if I thought more about it, more broadly…

Maybe I could go back to Ernie Pigwinkle, The Last Secret of Ernie Pigwinkle. So I’ll give away a little bit, so we get to the end of the story. We’re at the World Storytelling Championships, so Ernie, this old man from Ballarat, has made the final and won, thanks to his grandson. So the secret starts off as “Do you know why dogs wag their tails?” We move on from there to “Why dogs and cats fight – the origins of war”. Then he finishes with a little song, a little poem he says to the world:

It’s a war that’s continued to this very day.

It’s a shame that Dog and Cat couldn’t think of a way

To listen and learn and be understood,

And love one another as all of us could.

You don’t have to carry on like a dog or a cat.

You’re not a baboon or as blind as a bat.

There’s a heart in your chest and a brain in your head.

So before you lose faith, hold on instead.

Hold on to your faith in the goodness of others.

Never give up on your sisters and brothers.

You’ll see for yourself, as sure as the sun,

That there’s something worth loving in everyone.

He says that.

Elizabeth: I need a box of tissues. [Laughter] Oh Patrick, my goodness, that’s so beautiful. Thank you for sharing that.

Patrick: That’s the world premiere of The Last Secret of Ernie Pigwinkle and…

Elizabeth: What a coup on Writers’ Tête-à-tête with Elizabeth Harris. Wow, Patrick! Superb.

Patrick Guest, thank you so much for joining me on “Writers Tete-a-Tete with Elizabeth Harris”. We look forward to more of your stunning work. I totally agree with you: hugging is what wings are for. Thanks for tuning in everyone, and may your wishes come true.

[END OF TRANSCRIPT]

00:0000:00

Episode 1: Interview with Rosalie Ham

October 20, 2016

Rosalie Ham is the author of The Dressmaker, Summer at Mount Hope, and There Should Be More Dancing.

The Dressmaker was made into a movie starring Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth and Hugo Weaving, amongst others, and opened at the number one spot at the Australian and New Zealand box offices, and became the second highest grossing Australian film of 2015. 

Find out more about Rosalie's work at RosalieHam.com.

What you'll learn:

1. Rosalie's thoughts on the Hollywood box office success of The Dressmaker.
2. The one trait you must have to succeed as a writer.
3. How a negative review has turned out to Rosalie's advantage.
4. Why Rosalie prefers the company of the main characters in There Should Be More Dancing.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Elizabeth: Welcome to Writers’ Tête-à-tête with Elizabeth Harris, the show that connects Authors, Poets and Songwriters with their global audience. So I can continue to bring you high-caliber guests, I want you to go to iTunes, click Subscribe, leave a review, and share this podcast with your friends.

I’m delighted to introduce today’s guest, Rosalie Ham. Rosalie was born and raised in Jerilderie, New South Wales, Australia. Prior to Rosalie’s life as a bestselling author, she worked in a variety of jobs, including a stint in aged care. Rosalie completed a Bachelor in Education majoring in Drama and Literature in 1989, and completed her Master of Arts (Creative Writing) in 2007. In 2000, Rosalie published her first novel, The Dressmaker, now a major box office hit. The Dressmaker opened at the number one spot at the Australian and New Zealand box offices, and became the second highest grossing Australian film of 2015, and the eleventh highest grossing film of all time at the Australian box office. The costumes from this poignant film have been featured in several costume exhibitions. Rosalie is jetting off to New York soon for a special screening of The Dressmaker before its release on September 23rd. Rosalie’s second novel, Summer at Mount Hope, was published in 2005. And in 2011, we were privileged to receive yet another great novel, There Should Be More Dancing, which we will feature today.

Rosalie Ham, welcome to Writers’ Tête-à-tête with Elizabeth Harris.

Rosalie: Thank you, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Rosalie, we both worked in aged care before launching our writing careers. Can you tell me a little about how serving others has impacted you?

Rosalie: Enormously. Looking after elderly people was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. And I think possibly because of all the information, all the learning, all the experience, all the history, and because of their outlook on life at that stage in their life. They seem to be quite – a lot of them seem to be quite resigned to the life they’ve led and others are quite happy about the life they’ve led and others are quite bitter about the life they should have led, I suppose. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, I learned a huge amount. I enjoy enormously old people and of course it makes you see what’s important and what’s not.

Elizabeth: Just because they’re usually perceptive, isn’t it.

Rosalie: Yes.

Elizabeth: And learning too from their wisdom, whether they actually enjoyed their life or whether they have not quite enjoyed, they laugh as well.

Rosalie. Yes, and we learned about war and why the men were like that. We learned about some of the lives of the women. Most particularly, a lot of the women got married early because that was what was expected of them, and a lot of women were actually quite disappointed in the whole thing.

Elizabeth: That sense of duty to the country, wasn’t it.

Rosalie: Yes. And then of course you see the elderly ladies coming and sitting at their husbands’ bedside, the devoted true-love matches that have endured 60 years. That’s very sad when one of them has to be looked after by other people. It’s sad for their wives. They come in, sometimes twice a day. It’s just very real.

Elizabeth: Sure. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Rosalie: Do you know, I’ve always known it, but it was only hindsight that told me that I had always known it. I wrote stories as a kid, I put on plays with all my imaginary friends, and my best friend Terrie and I put on acting performances at primary school. So there’s always been a sense of story and drama. And there’s always been a sense of an audience for all those things. But of course if you weren’t raised in the way I was, be able to get a good job and support yourself and that … Happily, I was given the alternative, like if I was unfortunate enough to not get married and be supported, my parents always wanted me to have a job. So I trained to have a job and I put any writing aspirations to the side. But I always wrote letters and I always kept a bit of a journal. And occasionally I would write a short story. And I knew that I could spin a yarn because people would say to me, “Can you write me a letter, like in your letters?”

And then one day I just got bored with life and seeing that I’d done everything else that I was supposed to do, it seemed there was something a bit not there, something a bit missing, so I went off to writing school. And I think I was sitting in that writing class for about three weeks before I went, actually there was something physical emotional sensation that came across me and I went, “Aha!” This is where I remember the classroom and this is where I remember “I can do this”, where I feel good. That moment there – it was excellent.

Elizabeth: Can you advise all the aspiring writers out there how to get started, and more importantly how to keep going?

Rosalie: It’s tenacity – and I kind of believe that everybody could be a writer if they wanted to. But you’ve got to have the inclination, and you’ve got to want to sit in a room on your own for a very, very long time, and you’ve got to be quite comfortable doing that, and then perhaps being rejected.

But I just think you need to be bored enough as well. Like there needs to be something not in your life that you can find happiness in doing that – in doing that menial task, just sitting in your room on your own with that computer and being dedicated to all those characters. A huge amount of writers will drop out of a writing course partway into it. They discover that it’s not for them, so I think that if you were still sitting in that room after a year and you’re still walking around thinking about your story, then you have the temperament to sit down and be able to do it. You’ve got to have a degree of talent, and you’ve got to have a degree of tenacity to be able to do it. You just got to stick at it. My personal philosophy is that you need to get it all down on the page, and then once you’ve got all the words, then you have something to craft.

Elizabeth: They talk about writing junk, don’t they, and then eventually you fine-tune that.

Rosalie: You do, and that’s a skill too. I think that’s a really important part of writing. You can go back and recognize what the junk is. You’re quite happy to chop it out, and you feel quite confident that you’ll be able to write more, and write again, and keep writing, that there’s something in you that will keep doing that. So if you have to cut out ten pages, it’s not a problem.

Elizabeth: It’s almost like there’s that sense of non-attachment too, because you are too attached to what you’ve written down, you can’t let it go. You need to have that free-flowing feeling about things.

Rosalie: But you’ve got to write – I agree with you completely, you’ve got to be writing so that other people will read it. Other authors say they don’t write for an audience, but I write something that is well-crafted, well I try to anyway, and other readers might disagree with me, but I do try to write something that’s well-crafted that will keep the reader engaged. So I do have a reader in mind when I’m writing, so therefore I’m quite happy to edit and get rid of things, I learned that earlier on. With my first edit actually, I learned that you have to let things go, and I was quite happy to do it.

Elizabeth: Great. And I know that when I read your work, I giggle right through. Do you do that too?

Rosalie: Yeah you know sometimes you need to. I was preparing for this interview a few weeks ago, and I picked up There Should Be More Dancing, and I read a couple of pages and I thought, “Gosh! That’s…that’s quite okay.”

Elizabeth: Absolutely.

Rosalie: And I was watching an interview with Edna O’Brien on television last night, and the interviewer read something of hers to her, and she had to ask him which book it was from. He said it was The Country Girls. And I felt quite happy about that, because honestly I’ve forgotten a lot of what I’ve written.

Elizabeth: When you’re writing, Rosalie, what is your major source of support – or who?

Rosalie: No one. I suppose I will have to say my husband; he knows not to – I think he can tell by the tone – and my shoulders are … Then he will ask me a question and then he kind of backs off, because you know, I’m in the middle of doing something. I speak a lot to the dog that’s lying there on the …

Elizabeth: Yes, Eric’s there, having a bit of a sleep.

Rosalie: And I’ve got a really good friend Terrie, and I talk … whinge to her about it. She doesn’t really listen to what I’m saying, but at least I can air my thoughts. And there’s a couple of other writers that I have dinner with from time to time, and we’ll have a little bit of a whinge. And so I think those things…But there’s not one huge great thing.  I guess it’s my desire to get to the end of it too that keeps me tripping over, sitting there typing.

Elizabeth: Letting you come back into it again.

Rosalie: Absolutely.

Elizabeth: You’ve had phenomenal success with The Dressmaker. What does being successful mean to you?

Rosalie: You know, people ask me that, and it actually hasn’t altered my life at all, really. I’ve got a nice car and I’ve paid off my mortgage, which is a huge relief. It’s a blessing to have that off there, but I think what it means now is that when I do publish my … when publishing houses get hold of my fourth manuscript that I’ve just finished, they will look at it in a different way, given the success of The Dressmaker. And along with that, that has meant people have started reading Summer of Mount Hope and There Should Be More Dancing, so they are reaching a wider audience, and I can’t tell you how happy I am about that.

Elizabeth: Wonderful.

Rosalie: And of course that means I’ve been published in other countries as well. And all of that is amazing. It’s amazing to have that kind of affirmation, and people pick up your book and look at it differently because there’s been one successful book, so they have a certain expectation about the others. There are some people that will go into my other books with trepidation and possibly a little bit of cynicism. But there are others who will go with a lovely attitude. So I’m really, really happy about that but I think most importantly, it’s an affirmation for me. It’s a double-edged thing; I feel quite affirmed by that success, but also slightly more terrified because there is that expectation.

Elizabeth: And does it in one way create a sense of pressure?

Rosalie: Absolutely, it does. But that’s alright. It comes back to that boredom or tenacity or something, but I just seem to be okay with that, and I’ll just try really hard not to read the reviews. I think that’s probably the best thing – just don’t read reviews, because they will scrutinize more, the reviews, so I will just have to deal with that.

Elizabeth: Have they upset you in the past?

Rosalie: Look, the very first review I ever read of The Dressmaker, I think was the worst review I’ve ever read of any book, ever. It was scathing, it was awful, and I photocopied it. And I was at home at the time, and my friend was with me, and I photocopied it and we took it to class. And we read it out to the class. They all looked – I can still see them, they were looking at me like “Oh my God”, and the teacher – bless him – said, “Right, okay, this is a good lesson to us all. What we’re going to do now, is we’re going to do some therapy with Rosalie. And I want everybody to close their books; we’re going to the pub.”

(Laughter)

So we went to the pub. So I of course have blown that review up, and it’s on my wall in there, and what I do with that review is … often, because The Dressmaker is on the VCE Lit. list, and often they study The Dressmaker – and one of the questions they’re asked when they’re doing their SAC’s, you know, other people’s opinions of the book as opposed to theirs. I happily had photocopied thousands of copies and handed them out to the schoolchildren of Victoria, to show them how one reviewer’s point of view can differ from theirs and how you don’t take literally or to heart every review, and how that can be damaging. So there’s a whole lot of schoolchildren out there who now know that particular reviewer got it terribly, terribly wrong. She missed the point. She missed the point entirely of the whole book.

Elizabeth: So thank you very much to that person, because she certainly increased the determination all over Victoria, Australia, possibly the world… people who might be feeling a bit bruised. That’s great. In There Should Be More Dancing, I was particularly drawn to your main character Marjorie Blandon. I especially loved this quote: ‘Marjorie Blandon has led an upright, principled life guided by the wisdom of desktop calendars.’ As the novel progresses, the reader discovers that there are many secrets contained within Marjorie’s supposedly principled life. There Should Be More Dancing is such a great book, and showcases your wit beautifully. Can you please share one of your favourite passages from There Should Be More Dancing?

Rosalie: I think – possibly – it would have to be the public scalping incident with Pat across the road. I think that’s probably the one I enjoyed writing the most. But actually Marjorie is my favourite person on the planet. She’s one of those people in the aged care facility, a little bit bigoted and a little bit prejudiced.

Elizabeth: So I’ve looked after many Marjorie’s in my time in my nursing career… (Laughter)

Rosalie: Look, I’m going to read the Public Scalping Incident, and it’s quite long. So I might just start off.

It happened at the 1976 Ladies Legacy luncheon. Pat and Bill were big in Legacy, and for the ladies’ luncheon, Pat was allowed to take a guest as it was her turn to give the address. As she was rehearsing her address one last time, articulating and emphasizing her words to her assembled ballroom dancing frocks, the phone rang. She was disappointed to hear her guest Betty say her car had broken down. “I know it’s a long way Pat, but we could go halves on the price of a taxi.”

So of course Pat doesn’t want to go halves on the price of a taxi. So she is forced to ask Marjorie to be her guest at the Legacy luncheon where she is to give her address, because Marjorie’s got a car.

Elizabeth: That’s right.

Rosalie: And so Marjorie ends up on the top table. And I’ll just read that bit there.

So Marjorie found herself at the top table – the Legacy leaders’ table, a dignitary to her right and Pat on her left. Before her a sea of soft brown and blue curls and ample-bosomed ladies, floral and pastel with fleshy earlobes, wattles and dewlaps, all maintained by step-ins and various prosthetics. Before her propped a saucer of geranium petals surrounding a floating chrysanthemum, was a white card advertising the day’s proceedings. First on the program was the local choir, who sang ‘God Save The Queen’. The assembled ladies then sat through Number 2: welcome speech by the Chairwoman. Number 3: the main meal would be served – chicken or ham salad followed by Number 4, the choir singing ‘Morning Has Broken’, while the ladies enjoyed a fruit compote with custard. For Number 5, a lass from St Joseph’s School wrote a composition on the effects of war on those left behind. Her story was based on the life of her great-grandmother, who had grown her own vegetables and milked her cow and ploughed her own fields during the war to help the Land Army.

Then it was Pat’s turn. The emcee said, “I give you Pat Crookshank, and this month’s address titled ‘The Unseen Effects of War on Women’. Pat bared her teeth to Marjorie and said, “Any fruit seeds stuck to my dentures?” “No,” said Marjorie. And Pat turned to stand up.

At that moment, Marjorie noticed the tag poking out of the back of Pat’s cardigan. “Hang on,” she said, and reached out to tuck it in, when the catch on her wrist watch caught on one of Pat’s curls as she rose. Marjorie had no idea Pat wore a wig, no idea her hair had snapped off and fallen out from years and years of peroxide and perming fluid. Pat stood frozen before the room of fellow legatees, her rival addressees past and future, the thin tufts of her brittle hair flat against her damp shiny pate, and her wig dangling from Marjorie’s wrist watch.

(Laughter)

Finally someone started clapping. Pat had turned a deep red, and the audience, moved by her brave humility, started to applaud thunderously.

(Applause)

Elizabeth: This is weird, classical, absolutely delightful. How can we better that? (Laughter)

Rosalie: Thanks.

Elizabeth: What are you working on at the moment, Rosalie?

Rosalie: I’ve just handed in my fourth novel. I think that’s the third or fourth time I’ve mentioned that in the last fifteen minutes – I’m so pleased.

Elizabeth: We want you to mention it again.

Rosalie: The fourth manuscript is … again, I’ve returned to a small community. A small community is a good palette for life’s tragedies, and it doesn’t really matter if it’s in a rural community or urban community or in your street or your football club or whatever. But small communities…

Elizabeth: It’s all group dynamics, isn’t it.

Rosalie: It is, absolutely. So this one’s set in a small country town and has to do with irrigation water and the effects of government buybacks and water allocations on this one small community. And one man – whose name is Mitchell Bishop – and he has a 12 km stretch of channel that needs to be replaced. But there are three areas in the town that are affected. There are the riparians who live along the river and there are the town folk and the shopkeepers, and of course there are the irrigators. And the impacts that the water renewal projects and the water restrictions and irrigation allocation has on that community.

Elizabeth: Which would be huge, being a life force, water.

Rosalie: Absolutely, yeah. And if you cut the allocation to the irrigators, they have to produce more with less water, and they have to spend more money to get less water to support the upgrade, and therefore they don’t spend money in the town. And so when one liter of water leaves the community, so does one job more or less. But in order to stay afloat, you need the water. You all need to work together. And of course the town people are resentful. Their water rates are going to go up to support the irrigators. The riparians are resentful because they’re going to suffer, they’re going to take more water, yet at the same time the world needs food. We have to feed people, and there are more people, so they need more food. So it’s a sort of distillation of that in a small community.

Elizabeth: And all the dynamics that go with that, no doubt addressed very cleverly by you.

Rosalie: Oh well actually there is love, and there is a bit of tragedy, and there’s a few things that go on.

Elizabeth: If you had decided not to write your novels, what sort of career do you think you would have taken?

Rosalie: Do you know, I often think about this, and I think that I probably would be a teacher. I still am a teacher. I still teach two days a week, but I think I probably would be working fulltime as a teacher, possibly in a secondary college. You know years ago I went for an interview to be a State Registered Nurse, you know, a nursing sister. But I just never did it. I was having far too much fun, so I only tried to be a State Enrolled Nurse, which was just the one-year course. And I think that was the key to my writing success, because if I’d been a State Registered Nurse, I think I probably would have been quite content with that, and I would have had a perfectly lovely life around that.

Elizabeth: Ironically, I am a State Registered Nurse, but I have continued on to write, so maybe not, because you’ve got that enormous talent that we could not do without.

Rosalie: Possibly, but it’s hard to speculate, but yeah, perhaps you’re right.

Elizabeth: What is it about teaching that you love?

Rosalie: Do you know, I think probably communication. Communicating ideas, and for me it’s seeing the light bulb go on. If you’re explaining something – and I teach Literature – explaining Shakespeare or reading Shakespeare or poetry or something and you stop and you look at those people and you go, “Okay, now this is what is happening”, and explain what is going on, they go “Oh…right…” and you send them off on a journey of self-exploration and you get them to find all those things. I think if you’re enthusiastic enough it infects the students, and they get carried away with the whole thing. You just – it’s communicating the information and seeing them go “Oh okay, I get it”.

Elizabeth: And you’d be a fabulous teacher – very, very entertaining. (Laughter) What do you like to do in your spare time to unwind?

Rosalie:  I read. I read books. And I play golf. I love to play golf. Go for a lovely long walk. And I enjoy going for a nice drive in the country, going home to the farm, doing something quite different.

Elizabeth: Do you have a special place you like to go other than the farm?

Rosalie: No, it’s just the farm – the family farm. And there’s something about standing on a farm and being able to see the horizon, with no obstructions, nothing to block your imagination and stop your vision at this point. There’s nothing, so your vision goes on, and as it goes on, things fall away and you understand what’s important. One of my favourite things to do is sit in the ute with my brother as he goes about his sheep work. And my job is to open the gate – that’s something I’ve been doing since I was able to open a gate – and just watch him go about doing his business, asking dumb questions about farming things. It just puts everything back into perspective for me and time is slower in the country.

Elizabeth: Yes, it’s wonderful. What does your brother think of your success?

Rosalie: Oh they’re thrilled to bits. They were all very good you know, because it’s in a small community - they love it if someone is out there kicking goals. You know, they really think it’s a terrific and wonderful thing and I’m very grateful to that. We’ve been back to Jerilderie and they’ve received us very well. It’s been really good, and the Ham family up at J seem to be coping with it all quite well. Of course a lot of them were in the film as extras and they come down if I have a book launch. They’ll come down for a special trip you know, and they’ll make that effort to come down, which I appreciate enormously.

Elizabeth: And you were in the film too!

Rosalie: Yeah, no, I’m an extra as well.

Elizabeth: I’ve seen you in the film. How was that for you? How did you feel when you were doing all that great acting?

Rosalie: Do you know, I probably … I think I’m more content in the company of Marjorie Blandon and her lovely son Walter in There Should Be More Dancing. I think my days of being an extra have come and gone. It was fun, and I enjoyed it, but really when I finished that fourth manuscript the other day and handed it in, it was just such a heartwarming thing. Because that whole thing about your characters and creating the arc and all that sort of stuff, and me doing it rather than participating in somebody else’s, is probably some sort of vanity or narcissism, but I actually prefer that. I actually prefer that, to be doing my own thing in my own room, creating my own little story, rather than revisiting them when they’re out in the world.

Elizabeth: And the characterization of There Should Be More Dancing is so rich.

Rosalie: Yeah, no, I loved writing that book and I loved all those people. I love that Judith came good in the end. I had a huge amount of fun writing that book.

Elizabeth: I enjoyed every page; I must say thank you very much for that book. It was fantastic. Do you have a website or blog where my listeners can find out more about your work?

Rosalie: I do. It’s www-dot-Rosalie-Ham-dot-com and there’s a blog there. And I wrote that while I was being an extra in The Dressmaker. But now that I’ve handed in the fourth manuscript, I’ll probably go back and write a few more things on different topics. And Summer at Mount Hope is being published in the United Kingdom right now, and I’m hoping someone will pick up There Should Be More Dancing. They told me that it’s not a story that will translate well in other countries but I’m just really hoping it does.

Elizabeth: I really disagree, but then that’s me.

Rosalie: Yeah, no, I disagree too but let’s just see what happens…my third one…my third child

Elizabeth: Rosalie, this is a signature question I ask all my guests. What do you wish for – for the world, and most importantly, for yourself?

Rosalie: It’s basically the same thing, it’s Health. For the world of course – I just think … I hope we get our act together … climate change. I hope we get our act together over less advantaged countries and poverty and educating women in disadvantaged countries. If the women rise, the village will rise with them. You always hope for those sorts of things. I don’t think we’re ever going to stop any kind of war; I think that’s human nature. But basically for my health I just would like for me and everybody else around me to be healthy and happy. That’s all that’s important.

Elizabeth: That’s one thing you can’t have too much of. Rosalie Ham, thank you so much for guesting on Writers’ Tete-a-Tete with Elizabeth Harris. We look forward to more of your work and your fantastic characterizations. I totally agree with you and Florence: “There should be more dancing.”

Thanks for tuning in everyone. If you enjoy this episode and want more high-caliber guests, subscribe to Writers’ Tête-à-tête with Elizabeth Harris on iTunes and may all your wishes come true.

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