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Ep 101 Women in 20s and 30s loving “grip lit”; And meet Andrew Faulkner, author of “Stone Cold”, about Australia’s deadliest soldier.

podcast-artwork In Episode 101 of So you want to be a writer: Women in their 20s and 30s driving sales in “grip lit”, perfect bedrooms for bookworms, tips on how to pitch in a digital age, and up-level your word-geekiness with synecdoche. Meet Andrew Faulkner, author of “Stone Cold” the story of Australia’s deadliest soldier, find out how to format your manuscript for submission, and much more!

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes

Harry Potter’s female readers now driving the boom in ‘grip lit’

13 bedrooms literature lovers would love to sleep in

Women who pitch: freelancing in the digital age

Writer in Residence

Andrew Faulkner
Andrew Faulkner is an Adelaide-based journalist and author of the highly acclaimed biography Arthur Blackburn, VC. He has been given exclusive access to Len’s copious diaries and has interviewed many of Len’s comrades for his latest book, Stone Cold: The extraordinary story of Len Opie, Australia’s deadliest soldier.

Find Andrew on Twitter

Find Allen and Unwin on Twitter

Working Writer’s Tip

How do I format and present a manuscript to submit to an agent or publisher if they don’t specify?

Answered in the podcast. 

Things no one tells you about being a literary publisher

The Friday Pitch: Adult fiction, non-fiction & illustrated books

Competition

WIN a book pack!

Also

Pick Allison Tait’s brains

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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Episode artwork for episode 101

Interview Transcript

Allison

Andrew Faulkner is an Adelaide-based journalist with 25 years of experience, and the author of the highly acclaimed biography, Arthur Blackburn, VC. His second biography, Stone Cold, is described as the extraordinary true story of Len Opie, Australia’s deadliest soldier, and is out now.

 

Welcome to the program, Andrew.

 

Andrew

Thank you very much for having me on.

 

Allison

Right, so let’s go back to the beginning. Let’s go back to Arthur Blackburn, VC, how did you come to write your first biography?

 

Andrew

Well, I’ve always had an interest in military history. And I read Les Carlyon on Gallipoli and he mentioned Blackburn and he mentioned that Blackburn had got the furthest inland of an Australian solider with a comrade on the first day at Gallipoli.

 

And he sort of trailed off by saying for Blackburn it was the start of an extraordinary life, and it mentioned his extraordinary life in probably 60 words.

 

So, I went searching for a Blackburn biography and there was none. I later found out that all the noted military historians assumed it had been done. It had never been done, so I decided to do it.

 

Allison

So, you did that classic thing of writing the book you wanted to read?

 

Andrew

Exactly, exactly. Yeah, I wondered whether people were going to read my books because I have fairly eclectic taste in military history, but I’ve been lucky with both of my books. It’s been topics that I’ve been interested in myself.

 

Allison

Now I should actually point out at this point that we are actually speaking from the newsroom, so if there is any atmospheric chatter in the background it’s just a fast breaking story, and something along those lines, right?

 

Andrew

Exactly.

 

Allison

All right. Now, your other Blackburn biography came in at 552 pages, which is a serious… there’s some serious dedication in that. Were you actually working full time as a journalist when you wrote that?

 

Andrew

I was. I was. It was actually about 160,000 words, I think, the first draft. I fully expected that it would have to be chopped back, but they actually asked for more in the end. I think it ended up about 180,000 words.

 

Allison

Wow.

 

Andrew

But, it was a labor of love. I mean as I rule I would so something on it every day, whether it would be checking a fact or reading a chapter of a book as a background. That was my rule and I stuck to it.

 

But, now looking back at it I wonder how it actually happened. It doesn’t seem real.

 

Allison

When you’re doing a project like that, because that’s a lot of research to create something of that size. How did you manage the writing and research? When you say you did something on it each day, how did you keep track of the research in the sense of where you were up to in the writing? When you were busily doing other things, you know, like a full time job as well?

 

Andrew

A lot of manila folders.

 

Allison

 

Andrew

Pretty old-school, of my generation, a huge amount of manila folders.

 

The thing about Blackburn was there were so many different compartments to his life. There was WWI, Gallipoli and the western front, and there was VC.

 

Then there was between the war stuff, where he was one of the founders of the RSL. He was one of the founders of Legacy. He was a state coroner, he was involved in the strikebreaking in the 1920s. He was in the militia, and then of course he was in WWII.

 

There was always different compartments to his life. I had to keep them separate and keep them pretty well organized, which for me was quite astonishing because I’m incredibly disorganized.

 

But, as far the actual workload went I actually looked forward to doing it. After a day in the newsroom I really enjoyed getting home and actually… it was an adventure. It was a journey, a ‘journey’ sounds like a bit of a cliché, but it was a journey of discovery, finding all of these different little interesting facts about him.

 

The thing about him is that he… when I think of the Australian war experience and I think of Gallipoli, I think the of the Western front in WWI, you think of the Middle East, you think of the war against the Japanese and you think of the POW experience of the Japanese. Blackburn was at the heart of all of those particular aspects of the Australian war stories.

 

So, that’s why I found it so interesting.

 

Allison

Where does this come from, this interest in military history? Is this something that you’ve always had?

 

Andrew

Just a child of my generation, you know? Saturday afternoons in the ’70s there was always a war movie on TV, toy soldiers. I grew up a lot at the RSL, the local RSL club, which in Adelaide it’s very different to the Eastern states, because there’s not pokies. They’re just little suburban community hubs where they have a barbeque and my father was very involved in the RSL. So, I grew up at the feet of the original Anzacs, the local sub-branch was rich in that history, a lot of blokes were at Gallipoli at the landing.

 

So, that sort of imbued in me, in a way, I suppose, and the interest has lingered, endured.

 

Allison

What made you go from that to, “I reckon I could write a military biography that doesn’t exist on one of Australia’s greatest…”

 

Andrew

It’s not really that great, really. No one had done it, so it wasn’t going to be held up to anything.

 

To me, I just did it as an extended piece of journalism. I mean I’m not a historian. I don’t pretend to be a historian. I don’t have any historian training. I looked at it as an extended piece of journalism. But, what I really enjoyed about it was having the freedom to actually be able to express myself and not be bound by newspaper style and convention. So, we’re talking a series of long features where I could just start, where I wasn’t really being subbed.

 

Allison

Do you think then that it’s important for a biographer to have a true interest in the subject, or do you think as a researcher/writer/professional that you are you’d be able to find the interest in any subject?

 

Andrew

I don’t presume to speak for others, but I think for me I think I needed to have an interest in it. I think I’d find it a hard slog if I was writing about something that I wasn’t interested in. I think I’d find that very difficult. I mean with Opie, Opie was in a way was harder to write, because it was based on his diary, so it was very different to the Blackburn book.

 

I did it almost begrudgingly, but Len asked me to do the book for him, but then he died and I didn’t really think I had time to do it. But, I was talked into it by another author, a bloke called Peter Brune, who’s written a lot of books about the New Guinea campaigns. He’s probably the foremost expert as far as that goes. He said, “Look, you’ve got to do it…” so I did it.

 

Allison

That was it, he said, “You’ve got to do it,” and off you went?

 

Andrew

Yeah. He said, “Look, you’ve got to do it,” and he took me to Allen & Unwin and Allen & Unwin did the book, and I think they’ve put out a good book.

 

Allison

You obviously knew Len, before he died obviously. Did you think of him as a natural subject? Like, did you think to yourself, “Yeah, this guy has got a great story, there’s definitely a book in this?” Or, like, was it more a matter of, “Well, Len’s asked me to do it and here’s his diary, so I’ll just get on with it.”?

 

Andrew

It was the former. It was the former. He was definitely… all things being equal if I was doing nothing else in the world and I was getting paid $100,000 to write a book then he’s a great subject.

 

Allison

Yes, he is. He is an amazing story.

 

Andrew

He is, yeah.

 

 

Allison

He is an amazing story. I’ve been reading the book and I am just, you know, slightly dumbfounded that these people are just out there doing their thing, and you don’t even… you could meet him down the street and not know, do you know what I mean?

 

Andrew

That’s the thing. I mean Len is an extreme example, but there are so many biography subjects in the Australian war story that haven’t been addressed. There are so many stories out there that haven’t been done.

 

I mean it seems like every week there’s a new book on Monash, or a new book on Dakota, Gallipoli, I mean the shelves are stocked with Gallipoli books. I don’t think there was anything left to say about Gallipoli, but there are so many other stories out there that haven’t been told that need to be told.

 

Allison

Yeah. So, you’ll do another one, do you think? Just going down the track?

 

Andrew

I’ve got a few ideas, yeah. In the meantime I’m doing something quite different, I’m doing a history of a cricket club, which doesn’t sound terribly fascinating, but it is the history of my cricket club, the club I’ve played at for 30-odd years, which is the club that Don Bradman played for in Adelaide, The Kingston District Cricket Club. So, that’s commissioned work and it’s been a labor of love over about ten years. I’ve got another couple of years to finish that off, but I think at the same time I’m going to start on another war book or two.

 

Allison

So, just out of interest with that, because I think one thing with biography is there are a lot of people, as you say, out there with great stories to tell. And there’s a lot of people like as soon as you publish a book someone will come up to you and tell you that you should write their story for them, because that’s pretty much how it works. But, how do you choose, like when you’re looking at your… you were saying to me that you’ve got a few ideas, perhaps, for another biography, how will you choose the subject? How will you decide which one is the one that is actually going to make a book?

 

Andrew

You go with the passion. I mean, you go with what interests you, you go with the moment. You go with the spark, I think.

 

Allison

 

 

Andrew

You’ve got to have some passion in your writing, and that lightbulb moment where you get the inspiration for something. Just like a news story, really. You’ve got to strike while the iron is hot. You’ve got to do it and go with the passion. I couldn’t write on something that I thought was pedestrian. I mean, why would people want to read something that I find pedestrian?

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Andrew

Yeah, so I’ve got a few ideas for war books and I’m trying to get stuck into them while sort of the light’s on.

 

Allison

  1. With the two that you’ve done, how long does it actually take you to bring all of the research together and actually write the book?

 

Andrew

Well, again, as I’ve said I’m very disorganized, but Blackburn was — I think it was seven years from start to finish.

 

Allison

Wow, OK.

 

Andrew

And Opie was about four or five years.

 

Allison

 

Andrew

So, yeah, my output’s not great. I’m no Peter Fitzsimmons.

 

Allison

But, I think it just goes to show you too the amount of work involved, the amount of research that’s actually involved and the amount of, you know, the time that you need to put into something like this to bring out something that’s worth reading, don’t you think?

 

Andrew

Exactly. And we’ve got to eat.

 

Allison

Yes, there is that.

 

Andrew

Yeah, there is that. You don’t make your fortune out of it, so…

 

Allison

No, that’s right.

 

Andrew

I don’t think people really understand that. Like, they see books reselling for $35 and they go, “Gee, why has the author made it so expensive,” without actually realizing that we get about $2.50 per copy, but…

 

Allison

That’s so true. That’s true. So, that’s why we have day jobs, right?

 

Andrew

Exactly.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Andrew

Yeah.

 

Allison

I guess when you’re dealing with a lot of research like this, I think one of the problems that people have, and I know that I often get asked this question, is knowing when to stop, in the sense that you could just research forever, couldn’t you? Because it’s so interesting and it’s so much easier than actually writing, because you’re just reading stuff and all of that sort of thing.

 

How did you know when you had enough to actually write the book?

 

Andrew

That’s a really, really, really good question and a really interesting one, and one that I haven’t actually thought of. Well, I think perhaps it might have been an automatic thing that’s built into me with the deadlines for journalism.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Andrew

At some stage you’ve got to say, “Right, that’s it. Deadline’s looming, get it done.”

 

Allison

Deadlines are very motivating, aren’t they?

 

Andrew

Oh, they are. They are.

 

I mean with Blackburn it was such a rich story, there was so much stuff. I suppose I did have to draw a line somewhere, but I suppose also the length, when it’s getting up towards 150,000 words you start to realize it’s time maybe to stop researching.

 

Allison

Yes, and just finish the story.

 

Andrew

Yeah.

 

Allison

How do you stop the facts then from overwhelming the story? Because that’s the other problem, I think that people have, is that they want to share every single thing they’ve ever learnt about every aspect.

 

How do you stop that?

 

Andrew

That’s where the editors come in. This is taking me back to Blackburn, actually. I mean they did actually ask me to do another 20,000 words, but they probably had about another 20,000 as well, you know?

 

Allison

 

Andrew

While this is interesting it’s not, you know, it’s not essential, you know, gone, you know, whole pages cut out. You’re familiar with this, the editing…

 

Allison

I am.

 

Andrew

…process.

 

Allison

It just makes you cry.

 

Andrew

Killing your darlings.

 

Allison

Yeah, killing everything, and hopefully leaving a breathing corpse at the end of it.

 

Andrew

Exactly. I mean where would we be without them? They are wonderful.

 

Allison

We’d be nowhere, that’s right.

 

Andrew

Yeah, it’s so important.

 

Allison

All right, so let’s just switch to Len Opie, to the book Stone Cold. You’ve got a subject like Len, who we’re calling on the cover Australia’s Deadliest Solider. There’s a fair bit of killing involved, and a family still around, because you spoke to family members, you’ve got Len’s diaries — is it difficult to thread a line between telling a story and managing a family legacy? If you know what I’m saying.

 

Andrew

I know exactly what you’re saying. That’s another good question. There were even a few things in Blackburn where things had to be chucked out.

 

What I did was, in the first instance, was I wrote it pretty hard, I wrote Len pretty hard. Len’s dairies are very uncompromising.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Andrew

He was highly critical of a lot of people. He called people cowards, including people who are still alive.

 

Worse than that, he probably accused people of war crimes.

 

So, I had to be a bit discerning with that, but I think it’s like a contentious news story, you write it hard, you write it as hard as you can and then send it off to lawyers. And then they — that’s what they make money for. So, that’s a pretty good rule to go by.

 

But, we had to be careful because there are some people still alive, and not just that, there might be grandchildren who think, “Well, my grandfather was a war hero,” what’s the point in actually saying, you know, Len says that he wasn’t a war hero, that he was actually a coward. With no right of reply from the person who’s dead.

 

Allison

No, and we’re reading Len’s subjective perspective.

 

Andrew

Exactly.

 

Allison

In some of those cases Len was having a pretty hard time of it, by the sound of things too, just quietly.

 

Andrew

That’s true, but there’s all of these different moral issues, and issues of fairness. And again, the journalism kind of kicks into it… you’ve got to be fair to people. You’ve got to give people a right of reply, and if you can’t give people a right of reply… it’s weighing it’s up. It’s risk and reward. Like, what’s the point in actually doing it if it’s just going to offend people down the track? If it’s going to offend the descendants?

 

Allison

But, you also have to tell the truth, don’t you? Because at the end of the day you’re writing a record that is going to be read down the track. So…

 

Andrew

Yeah.

 

Allison

Yeah. You must have days where you feel like you’re walking on eggshells as you’re writing this stuff.

 

Andrew

You do… you do, but you can check it as much as you can. There are avenues of checking things.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Andrew

There are collaborating sources… there are, you know, you can take it a fair way before you make your call about what goes in or not.

 

Allison

I particularly enjoyed the disparity between… let’s say the color in Len’s diaries compared to the official company logs, which I’m assuming that you read or had available to you.

 

Andrew

Yeah.

 

 

 

Allison

I really, actually, really enjoyed that aspect of it, in that sense of you really get the sense of there you are with Len and this is the official line. I liked that aspect of it.

 

Andrew

I’m really glad you liked that, because I hoped people would like that.

 

Allison

Yeah, I think it’s great.

 

Andrew

Len didn’t want to walk the company line, so to speak. Excuse the pun, but, yeah, I know what you mean, the office diary would say, “So and so was a causality in the night, but Len would explain that he was shot by a comrade coming in, by a sentry, coming in from, you know, going to the toilet.”

 

Allison

Which is just awful, when you think about it.

 

Andrew

Yeah, I know. But, it’s… he didn’t suffer fools, and in a lot of ways he actually sort of bot debunks that legend, but gives it some perspective, gives it some truth.

 

Allison

Very, very true.

 

So you are working from Len’s own diaries, which were faithfully transcribed for you by Vic Pennington.

 

Andrew

Yeah.

 

Allison

Which is mentioned several times. So, Vic is obviously putting quite a lot of work to transcribe those diaries for you.

 

Andrew

Oh, many, many years of work. You know those tiny little notebooks, those really small ones?

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Andrew

And his writing, I couldn’t read it, but Vic read it and it would have been over 200,000 words’ worth.

 

Allison

Thank heavens for Vic is all I can say.

 

Andrew

Yeah.

 

Allison

Because that would have been a nightmare.

 

So, you had also known Len, so did that help, like, in the sense of getting… I mean obviously you knew the sense of him, even if there were no formal interviews?

 

Andrew

Look, it was such a big help. One of the questions that I get asked about Blackburn is, “Do you feel you knew him?” I think I knew him as much as I could, and I never met him. He died in 1960, but Len I was lucky enough to meet him three or four times.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Andrew

I was so lucky to meet him. It gave me a bit of color for the book.

 

Allison

Yeah, yeah.

 

Andrew

But, it also gave me perspective, and it also… I think if I’d come to it without actually meeting him I might not have liked him as much.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Andrew

But, I did… there’s aspects of Len’s character that aren’t really all that likable.

 

Allison

Yep.

 

Andrew

But, sitting there with this old man, with his lapdog sitting in my lap and him making me these cups of tea and telling me these incredibly dry one-liners, that old, you know, sort of depression-era generation of Australians that have that really dry, you know, sense of humor.

 

Allison

Yep.

 

Andrew

I was so blessed to have that. And it just made such a difference.

 

Allison

Well, he is surprisingly likable, like in the sense of some of the stuff that he’s saying and what’s going on and stuff like that. You kind of… you feel like you shouldn’t like him as much as you do, but you do. He’s a very opinionated man.

 

Andrew

I think you’re absolutely spot on, Allison. I think you’re spot on.

 

Yeah, you feel like you shouldn’t like him, but you do.

 

Allison

Yeah, you do.

 

Andrew

And he was a funny man.

 

Allison

Yes, I can imagine he would have been.

 

So, I’m reading this book, it’s a very blokey, man’s-manny kind of book, if you know what I mean, the voice of it.

 

Andrew

Yeah.

 

Allison

But, it’s surprisingly easy reading, given I have zero interest in detailed troop movements, but I still found the whole thing quite readable.

 

Andrew

I might have overdone that a little bit, but it is very boy-zone, and in a way that’s indulgence on my behalf.

 

Allison

I was going to say, is it a conscious thing, or is it your natural voice? Like…

 

Andrew

I think it was, as I say, I think it was a bit of an indulgence. I was taken back to my boyhood a bit writing this book.

 

Len was a train spotter. So, when he was in the battlefield if there wasn’t any trains around, which often there wasn’t, they’ve been blown up or… he became… he was just a plane spotter, par excellence.

 

And he would mention every single plane that landed at the airstrip. In Vietnam he was forever in the air and he’d detail what type of plane it was, how many engines, you know, the whole deal.

 

So, there I was on the internet — I would have been lost without the internet. There I was on the internet the whole time just looking up these planes. It was just sort of boy-zone adventure into aerial hardware.

 

And the same with the weaponry, like, he had mentioned an M60 or a different type of weapon and I would have to look that up. I think I probably did over-indulge a little bit. But, mind you, I think the editors and I cut a fair bit of that sort of stuff out.

 

Allison

To be honest, I think people who are interested in… the kind of people who are probably going to pick this up in a bookshop are going to really love that aspect of it. It’s not probably what I — I mean my dad’s got a lot of these. But, I did find it, you know, surprisingly interesting. I think it was because he’s such an interesting subject. I was trying to put it together, he’s a total nerd, really. Like the whole train spotting, plane spotting thing is totally at odds with this other side of him.

 

Andrew

Well, that’s the thing, the Len book is a maze of contradictions, and the many contradiction thing is his character, the way he’s this great warrior, this supreme hand-to-hand fighter… just the pinnacle of Australian soldiering. But, at the same time he didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t swear… I reckon in some respects, but mostly was. So, the contradictions were the heart of his story.

 

But, just getting back to the aircraft, things such as… I mean I found out that the CIA had drones in Vietnam in the 1960s. Things like that I just found fascinating. Drones are so much in the news now, but they had them then.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Andrew

I really enjoyed finding out the details. I really enjoyed that.

 

Allison

So, you’ve just got that slightly nerdy aspect yourself?

 

 

Andrew

Yeah, I think that — yeah, maybe not slightly. I think more than slightly.

 

Allison

OK, fair enough. Let’s just go with that, shall we?

 

So do you see long-form writing like this, is this an extension of your journalism skills, or is this a whole new challenge again?

 

Andrew

I figure it’s built from the base of the journalism skills, so that’s the base and you have to expand on that. Like I said before, I enjoy the freedom. I enjoy being able to explore a slimily or a metaphor that you wouldn’t be able to get away with in a feature, and often you’re only allowed to get away with it in a book. Thank goodness for the editors.

 

But, yeah, I mean people say writing’s hard, as if it’s something they don’t like. I find it bizarre that writers would say that. Yeah, it’s hard, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not enjoyable. Like, hard can be good. Hard can be fun. Hard is rewarding. And once you get in that zone and you’re writing — you know this yourself, you know when you’re in that zone and it’s a good place to be and it’s a very satisfying thing.

 

Finding just the right turn of phrase, just the right slimily or metaphor is something that is really, really pleasurable, I think.

 

Allison

When you’re writing something like this are you conscious of story structure? Of narrative structure in the sense that, you know, yes, you’re putting in a whole lot of details and doing history and whatever, but you’re telling a story from start to finish. Are you plotting that out, or is that just something —

 

Andrew

No, no, no. No, it didn’t naturally come along, it’s, again, edited. No, I’m not very good at that. I’m not very good at that at all. But, I think that’s probably the negative of the journalism side, as I said, the sort of connected list of features that needs to have that narrative retrofitted at times, I think.

 

Allison

So your editors helped you with that structure?

 

Andrew

My two editors were Angela Handley and Rebecca Kaiser, I’ll mention both of them were excellent at that. They are very good at that.

 

Angie is straight of the path here, “This contradicts that… you need to sort that out.”

 

Again, I hope they’re listening to this. So, yeah.

 

Allison

We’ll make sure they do. We’ll tag them.

 

Andrew

They haul you back onto the path, so… yeah.

 

Allison

Yeah. That’s great. But, I would imagine that now having done two you would have a clearer idea of that going into a third, or not so much?

 

Andrew

I think so, yeah. Yeah, I think so. I hope so.

 

Allison

With regards to your work, have your publishers talked to you about building your profile as an author? Do you do social media or any of those sorts of things? Is there an andrewfaulkner.com that we can go visit?

 

Andrew

[heavy laughter]

 

Allison

Why are you laughing? You should have one of these.

 

Andrew

That sounds ridiculous.

 

Allison

That should be there.

 

Andrew

I have a Twitter handle.

 

Allison

Oh, there you go.

 

Andrew

It’s mostly cricket stuff. And, thanks for following me this morning too, by the way.

 

Allison

Yeah, no worries, any time.

 

Andrew

No, they haven’t talked to me about that. No.

 

Allison

Right, so that’s not something that you would… like, if you were going to try to build yourself a long-term career as a biographer is that something that you would do?

 

Andrew

Well, how many people have got a long-term career as a biographer in this country?

 

Allison

Andrew, you could be the first. If you get andrewfaulkner.com going right now, you could be the first.

 

Andrew

Yeah, no… I don’t think so.

 

Allison

 

Andrew

No.

 

Allison

So, that’s a ‘no’ on the author platform.

 

Andrew

No, I don’t like the idea of being poor.

 

Allison

Fair enough.

 

All right. Well, let’s finish up today, let us talk about three tips for writing biography. Have you got three hot tips for any aspiring biographers…

 

Andrew

Oh gee.

 

Allison

I should have warned you.

 

Andrew

You’ve sprung this one on me, haven’t you? Gee.

 

Allison

I should have warned you about this, sorry.

 

 

Andrew

Three tips. I can only think of one.

 

Allison

Oh, come on.

 

Andrew

Read. Read — read. I mean just like any writing, read. It’s like journalism these days, the young journalists coming through, “Young journalist coming through today…” they’re not well enough read. You need to read. You need to read.

 

Allison

And when you say ‘read’…

 

Andrew

That’s really all you need to know. You need to read.

 

Allison

Am I reading biographies, or am I reading everything?

 

Andrew

Read everything. Read anything and everything, be worldly. Just read as much as you can.

 

I shouldn’t be bagging the young journalists.

 

Allison

Don’t bag them, because then it looks like a generational issue.

 

Andrew

Look, it’s very hard. I mean a.) I wouldn’t get into journalism today, because the entry scores are too high. But, it’s really hard for them. But, they’re not reading enough, there’s too many weasel words coming through in their copy, you know? Too many facilities and initiatives, affected, you know? ‘People affected by bush fires,’ instead of ‘victims.’

 

Allison

OK, so that would be maybe your second tip would be to avoid weasel words.

 

Andrew

Just get away. Read — read good stuff, you know? Read the great authors. Read the beautiful writers. You know? Read Patrick White. Read Wodehouse. You know? Read Eva Moore. Broaden your horizons. I mean that helps you with your actual writing. But, just be a sponge, absorb stuff.

 

 

Allison

All right, then for your second tip talk to me about research. How do you research?

 

Andrew

That was two.

 

Allison

No, that was only one. Sorry, that’s one. I’m a very hard task master. That was one.

 

Andrew

Ah, research… well, again, as I’ve said before, I’m not a historian, so I’m not the best person to ask about that. But, for me, you need to walk the ground. I walked the ground that Blackburn walked back to Gallipoli.

 

Allison

Oh, you did?

 

Andrew

Ah, yes. Yes.

 

I walked the ground that Blackburn walked at Pozieres, where he won his VC.

 

Peter Stanley has written a very good book, it’s called A Stout Pair of Boots. Have you heard of Peter Stanley, he’s probably Australia’s leading war historian?

 

Allison

No, sorry.

 

Andrew

I can highly recommend A Stout Pair of Boots, which is about researching a military book.

 

Allison

 

Andrew

And as you can guess from the title it’s about walking the ground.

 

Pozieres, I’ve read a dozen books about Pozieres, the biggest and bloodiest battle in Australia’s history. Blackburn was the heart of that story, he won his VC. Not a dozen, maybe 20 books about it. I had a picture in my mind of what it was and it was nothing like I imagined, and when I walked it, it gave me that perspective. It also gave you some color. At the end of the Pozieres chapter, I did just a two page color piece on what it’s like now and what it might have been like then, even though it’s unimaginable.

 

Allison

Yep.

 

Andrew

But, you’ve got to walk the ground. It’s like a reporter doing a feature, you’ve got to go out and sit down and have a cup tea with the person, you know?

 

Allison

Yep… yep.

 

Andrew

It just makes such a difference, so, yeah.

 

Allison

 

Andrew

Walking the ground is another thing.

 

But, also military history, the Australian Memorial is a wonderful resource. There’s so much material there. I spent a lot of time researching there in Canberra, probably about three or four trips over there of a couple days each.

 

The staff was incredibly helpful. I mean they dug out — I didn’t even know this existed at the start, Blackburn had a filled notebook in the trenches on The Somme.

 

Allison

There you go.

 

Andrew

I got to touch it and feel it and see it. So, the war memorial is a wonderful… and your local library. The state libraries in Australia are wonderful. I mean all of these things are fairly easy to access — national archives. So, there’s all of these things out there that are tremendous resources that don’t actually cost you any money, other than travel.

 

So, yeah.

 

Allison

All right, so that’s two — read, walk the ground. What’s the third one? Writing, when it comes to the actual writing of the biography?

 

Andrew

Look, everyone’s different, aren’t they? When do you write? What’s the best time of day for you to write?

 

Allison

The middle of the night.

 

Andrew

The middle of the night — well, I’m the same.

 

Allison

Yeah, there you go.

 

Andrew

I’m the same. But, so many other people get up at eight o’clock and do three hours, have a break and I couldn’t do that. My brain doesn’t get going, the caffeine levels aren’t high enough.

 

Allison

So maybe find your best time of day to write and do it then, would that be it?

 

Andrew

Yeah, well, thank you for summarizing that.

 

Allison

Anytime. It’s just, you know…

 

Andrew

Well, done. You’re a good sub.

 

Allison

… that’s just how I roll.

 

Andrew

Well, for me, it’s nighttime.

 

I mentioned Wodehouse before, I’ve been reading a bit of him lately. He used to write between 4:00 and 7:00 every day, seven days a week, and almost not at any other times. And would churn out 3,000 words a day — 1,000 words an hour. He’s like one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. I think you’re spot on, you just find a time that works for you.

 

Allison

Because then the words flow and you’re not feeling like you’re just shoveling uphill, are you?

 

Andrew

Yeah.

 

 

Allison

All right. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Andrew. It’s been an absolute pleasure, and I’ve really enjoyed our chat — just as I’m enjoying your book, Stone Cold, by Andrew Faulkner. So, if you’ve got interest in military history, or just a man with a great deal of contradictions, you should definitely have a read of that one.

 

Best of luck with the book and the cricket club history. I might not be reading that one, sorry.

 

Andrew

I sort of gathered you’re not really into cricket.

 

Allison

It’s probably not my thing, but, yeah.

 

Andrew

I’m happy with the fact that you’re actually interested in the military history.

 

Allison

Look at me, I’m all over it.

 

Andrew

Allison, that was a wonderful interview. Thank you very much.

 

Allison

Thank you.

 

Andrew

Thank you for taking the trouble to read the book and prepare for the interview. It’s been a great pleasure. Thank you very much.

 

Allison

No problem at all.

 

Thank you, bye.

 

Andrew

Thanks, bye.

 

 

Mar 23, 2016 Podcasts Australian Writers' Centre Team

Written by Australian Writers' Centre Team

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