Ep 167 How to work with beta readers. And Australian Idol judge turned barrister Mark Holden on his memoir.

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podcast-artworkIn Episode 167 of So you want to be a writer: Do you love the smell of old books? What you need to know about your narrator and how to work with beta readers. Win our Mother’s Day book pack! We chat to Australian Idol judge turned barrister Mark Holden on his memoir. Discover how to schedule your Instagram posts in advance 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.

Shoutout of the Week
From Rachael:

I’m a regular listener of the podcast and love the inspiration it provides. I’ve picked up some great tips along the way which have helped me with my writing. The author interviews are always interesting and are proof that a writing career is not beyond the realms of possibility. Thanks Val and Al for providing great content each week.

Thanks, Rachael!

Show Notes

If you love that old book smell, you’ll love this

Back to Basics: The Narrator

How to Work With a Beta Reader: 5 Tips for Success

Writer in Residence

Mark Holden

From Carnation Kid and early pop stardom, to LA songsmith and actor, to producer and manager, to Idol judge, to barrister, Mark Holden’s memoir My Idol Years is a startlingly honest, unique portrait of the music and TV industries, of family and ageing in the public eye.

Mark Holden made his name in the mid-1970s as the good-looking carnation-carrying pop star who sang hits like ‘Never Gonna Fall in Love Again’ and ‘Last Romance’.

Mark was signed by EMI Australia, for whom he went on to record three album and he is best known for being a judge on Australian Idol.

Visit Mark’s website

Follow Mark on Twitter

Competition

WIN 7 books in our Mother’s Day pack!

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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Interview Transcript

Valerie

So Mark, thanks so much for joining us today.

Mark

Thank you very much, Valerie.

Valerie

Now, your book, My Idol Years, I read this last week and it was just full of so many surprises. And it was a great read. But for those readers who haven’t read the book yet, can you tell us what it’s about?

Mark

Well, in 2006, I had a really fabulous year with Australian Idol. We were on top. It was Kyle Sandilands, Marcia Hines, and myself. Dicko had left. We’d come back, we’d had a drop in 2005, and we’d come back bigger and better than ever. And the world was fabulous.

But within my spirit I felt like that for some reason, 2007 was going to be my last year. I didn’t really know why or how. So I thought, you know what? I’m going to write every single day this year. I’m going to write whatever happens in the year 2007. And that’s what I did.

I love to write. I enjoy writing. And this was a task I set myself, that my intuition told me that I ought to do. And as it turns out, it was a pivotal year. And as it turned out, it was my last, but not through choice of my own in the end. But I did write every day, and so I got to write about my family as well as what happens when what they call a tent post television show, one of the big shows on a network, when it hits the wall. And when we were really swamped by the Channel 7 Kath and Kim tsunami. And when that hit, the show was shaken to its core. And everybody started pointing the bone at everybody, and it got very intense.

So I was recording it as it happened, and I was recording it as truthfully as I possibly could. But also it captured… So it captured a big TV show, a big shiny floor TV show hitting the wall, and the stresses that that creates.

And at the same time it was about the time that I was 50, well, actually past 50. And I was looking at myself in a different way and struggling under the glare of being on a young person’s network, on a young person’s TV network as an old chap, as an older chap.

So you know it was a moment in time, the year 2007, and it captured my relationship with my wife. So it’s a very big… It took a lot for her, when she read it, to accept that this was going to be public. But god bless her, she’s been my muse in one form or another since about 1982. So, she rolled with it.

Valerie

And so at what point did you think this is going to be a book? Because I can totally understand, of course, just writing it down for your own personal reasons, and reflection, and journaling. Did you always think it was going to be a book from day one?

Mark

I thought it might be just that. The 2007 diary. But as it turns out, 365 days is an enormous amount of writing. And a lot of it is, you know, mundane. There are many mundane days in 365.

And so I was asked if I wanted to do one of those books, a publisher approached me, one of those books where somebody else writes it for you, and you tell them, you speak the story and then they write the story. But that’s not what I wanted to do. And I already had this. So I said, “well let me at least meet the person that you want to write it with me. I’d just like to meet them and see what they’re like.” And so I did. I did. And the first thing I gave her was my diary, a woman called Laura Fulton, who in the end I didn’t want to do it their way. And their deal was obnoxious. And I just didn’t want to do it their way.

But I had met this woman and I had given her my diary, my 2007 diary, which she ploughed through. And then she… Then I essentially paid her to be an editor for me.

Valerie

Right.

Mark

And so I asked her to be an editor. And I had two editors. One with Transit Lounge who, obviously, in the end published it. But she was the first one. So I kind of discussed it with her and she picked out what she thought were the better days of 2007, and then I just started piling on to her all these other things that I had written. And I had written, I had committed bits and pieces over the years at different times. When I was going through the Bar Reader’s Course to become a barrister, I was writing during that time.

So I just threw it all at her. I said, “Look, here’s everything that I’ve written. And now you’ve got everything I’ve written, plus the diary.” And then it was her idea to sort of just use 2007 as the spine and flip back and forth between the past and the near past.

Valerie

Yes, because the book is not just about 2007. The book starts off in 2007, but as you mentioned it’s kind of like there are two parallel timelines. There’s the 2007 and onward, and then it does flip, it intersperses different aspects of your life from much, much earlier. From the 70s and from The Young Doctors, and from whenever.

Mark

Yes, from the 70s onwards.

Valerie

And so I’m interested to know a couple of things. Did you keep a diary all those times? And you fished them out?

Mark

No. No. But I write a lot, I do write a lot. In fact, I just had a storage space down in Brighton and over Christmas I decided it was ridiculous to be paying $2000 a year to have a storage space when I’ve got a house! So I edited my storage space, and there was so much stuff that I’d written.

Valerie

But written in what form?

Mark

In books. Just little journals.

Valerie

Oh okay.

Mark

I wrote, for example, I wrote for a whole year my dreams every night, was one lot. I threw it all out though. Which was a terrible thing to do. I just threw it all out. I just decided that I couldn’t deliver that to my daughter when I’m dead.

Valerie

Okay.

Mark

Seriously. I thought, no. It would be horrifying for her to have to actually sit and read all that crap. But there was tonnes of poems and tonnes of stuff. But the better bits, the bits that jumped out the most ended up in the book, and the rest I’ve thrown away. And I kind of regret that in a way. But it was just, it was an act of purging.

Valerie

So you went to your storage space, you found all these old journals and things, and picked out the best bits and gave them to Laura, your editor.

Mark

Yes.

Valerie

And did she kind of assemble it? The timelines? Or did you work with her?

Mark

No, no. I assembled the timelines. It was her idea, but I assembled the timelines. And then I, you know, sought advice on whether it was working. And obviously, the thing was to really get rid of stuff, really. I mean there was just so much. So the biggest job was really just removing stuff. And that’s very hard to do.

Valerie

Especially when you’ve lived such a full and colourful life as yours. I can imagine that would be very hard to do.

Mark

Yes. I also left out the more lascivious things. I did. I chose consciously not to include many things that I perhaps could have that I just thought, no, I just don’t feel good about that.

So essentially, no, I decided to not, to omit some of those stories. And I keep asking myself whether I could or should write a kind of a work of fiction, that’s not fiction, about my life as a pop star. And even set it in the 70s.

Valerie

Right.

Mark

But sort of tell the truth in another way, you know?

Valerie

Right.

Mark

But I don’t know whether I’ve got the courage or the energy to do that. But I love the idea of just writing the story of a teen idol, but from my own personal experience, and how truly nutty it really gets.

Valerie

Yeah, I bet.

Mark

But I haven’t done that in this case. But not to say that I won’t.

Valerie

Sure. Now as you say, you’ve left out some of the more lascivious things. But you write very candidly, and very honestly. Not only about yourself but also about your thoughts about other people, some other people.

Mark

Yes.

Valerie

At some point were you concerned about what would be in print, and how other people would feel?

Mark

Yes. I was. Only to the degree of, is it defamatory? That’s really about the extent, that’s the extent to which I would… Because that year was, it was real. I didn’t want to cut out the edge. I cut out the non-edge. I cut out the bland. That was the… I cut out the bland days. I didn’t want to cut out the days that had edge. That was the actual story. Obviously, there were some things in there that were actually public.

Valerie

Yes.

Mark

So, for example, the executive producer threatening to punch me was reported at the time. So I didn’t feel bad, even though, you know, I mean, I love Greg. Greg is… I think he’s brilliant. But he’s highly strung. And at that time he really did want to punch me, you know?

Valerie

Sure.

Mark

And he fired me in the end, you know. But I’ve seen him since. I’ve forgiven him. I’m thanked him for firing me.

Valerie

Right.

Mark

Because I wouldn’t have become a barrister if I hadn’t been fired. The shock and shame and terror of being publicly fired was so humiliating and such a shock to me that after, it took me a year to get over it, and then I decided, no I need to do something else. I need to have one more crack at another chapter of life, a new chapter. So it drove me into an area that I had no experience in, being a barrister. And had to start from the absolute bottom again.

Valerie

Yes.

Mark

And I wouldn’t have done that without the upheaval of being fired. If I hadn’t been fired I would have stayed an extra two years, I would have been 57, and I would have gone, ah, that’s enough. I’m done. As for the other ones, which I guess is really more about Dicko…

Valerie

Yes.

Mark

Well, you know, I’ve seen Dicko since. And I’m sure he will be pissed off with this. But there’s no part of it that’s not a true recollection of exactly what happened. So if he were to threaten something, all I would plead is ‘truth’.

And in fact, really, now years later, I just see that he outplayed me. In a business sense. It’s like chess. And he checkmated me, and he won. And I understand now, looking back on it, that he was just a lot better at playing the corporate game, the bureaucratic game, the TV game.

And he actually, that was actually his skill. His skill was certainly not finding artists, because he never found any. And his skill wasn’t developing artists, because he never developed any. But his skill was… And his skill wasn’t creating hits, because he never, you know, every show he went on he killed. He did! In multiple continents. But he had and continues to have this extraordinary skill of being able to network, and being able to put the pieces together and being able to sell himself.

Valerie

His background’s in corporate.

Mark

Correct. So now in the fulness of time, I see how good he was at that. And once again I can only see it as happy days. You know, now, all these years later, I look back on it and I go, “thank you Jesus.”

Valerie

And so you left Idol, and you studied law.

Mark

Well, I didn’t leave Idol. I was shoved off Idol.

Valerie

Okay. And you studied law, and became a barrister. And that’s the interesting thing about reading this book. As I reading this book, the number of times I would say to my partner, “Did you know blah blah blah blah? Did you know that Mark wrote this song? Did you know that Mark…?” And so it’s full of lots of these did-you-knows, in my opinion, which are really, really interesting. Now, when you’re studying law, was it surreal?

Mark

Well, I went back to law in 1997. When I came back in 1996 from America, I really didn’t know what I was going to do. And for all intents and purposes I wasn’t going to have a show business career. So I figured very quickly that I ought to go back and get my law degree. But then in the middle of it, Vanessa blew up.

Valerie

Yes. Vanessa Amorosi.

Mark

Vanessa Amorosi. But this time, being an older bloke, I was not going to allow myself to be shaken off. And I actually enjoyed it the second time around. So I hung in and I got the degree and graduated in 2001. I was studying in tour buses, and in hotel rooms, but I got it. And then Vanessa blew up so I just put it aside. And so when 2008, or 2009 came around, and I’d had my year off after being fired, I had a degree but I didn’t have a practising certificate. So I went to Leo Cussen – where I now teach – and then I didn’t want to be a solicitor. That was, you know, your life being determined in five minute increments is something – six minute increments – was something that I was not prepared, I just couldn’t… Plus, I’m unemployable. No one would employ me. I am. I’m unmanageable and unemployable.

Valerie

Okay.

Mark

And the story I tell in the book is standing in the line at the Optus store in Elsternwick and getting there early one very, very cold June morning and spending an hour in the line. And as it turns out the guy that was right next to me with his, at that stage, 16-year-old son who was the same age as Katie, were both waiting to get the iPhone. He was a barrister, and he explained to me what a barrister’s life is. That you can’t incorporate, you’re not employed, you’re a totally independent and sole practitioner. And it just struck me… And you’re fighting for people’s rights. And I like that.

And in truth, it’s been brilliant. I have loved it. I’ve really, really, really loved this extra chapter that I’ve had. And I’ve made some good friends at the Bar. And I would say now, I’m in my eighth year or ninth year, because that year I did the practicing certificate situation for six months with Leo Cussen, then three months in the Bar Reader’s Course. So basically by the end of 2009, I was a barrister. And then I got cancer, and that threw me out for a while. But now I’ve been doing it for eight years.

And now I’ve sort of come full circle. I’m more interested in making music. I’m more interested in… I’ve written a show. I go back, and it happened just recently, I was down in Drysdale, which is on the Bellarine Peninsula, workshopping my show which is about my family circus, the Holden Brothers Travelling Circus. And I realised as I was going to work on that show that morning, that I was excited to get to work, I was not anxious to get to work. I was full of the joy. Whereas when I go to court, you know, I don’t sleep the night before, I’m stressed, you know. You know you’ve got people that the only reason that they brief a barrister is because everything else has failed. No other resolution has worked, and so they litigate.

And litigation is horrible. It’s truly, truly, truly horrible. And anyone that’s been involved in litigation will tell you, it’s just an appalling horrible experience. So it’s stressful. And I value it, and I’m very privileged to have the ticket. But I now know that that 21-year-old young person who three months before their final exams of their final year bailed out and took a recording contract with EMI, I pat that 21-year-old on the back and I go, thank you young man. Thank you. Because I’ve had 40 years of music, and recording, and travelling the world, and singing, and producing, and writing songs. And I just can’t imagine that if I had spent those 40 years in court…

Valerie

Now, at what point in the last few years did you think, “you know that diary that I kept in 2007?” When did you start editing it and actually shaping it into a proper memoir?

Mark

Ah, it’s got to be, it’s probably around about 2014.

Valerie

Okay.

Mark

Because that’s when I did Dancing With the Stars. And that’s when a publisher came out of the woodwork and asked me if I wanted to do a book. And that’s when I met Laura and I started to drag all this stuff up and turn it into a book. So it really wasn’t probably until 2014, 2015 I’d say.

Valerie

Right. Now, when I started reading it, I did at first think, “oh, I wonder if this diary thing, you know, approach is going to work?” But it really does work. And the two timelines really work as well. But one thing you also include, is you include really quite detailed descriptions about your dreams. And by that I don’t mean your dreams and goals, I mean the dreams that you have while you’re asleep.

Mark

Yes.

Valerie

Now, I never remember my dreams.

Mark

It’s something that you have to… You will. I tell the story in the book of meeting this lovely woman, Lilya, who is actually… I was probably 30 at the time, and she’s my age, she was my age that I am now. She drove around in a red Mercedes, she was just a very funky… She was a psychologist.

Valerie

This is in LA, right?

Mark

In LA, yeah. And I met her at a Carl Jung film. And I just happened to be sitting next to her and when the movie ended we just started talking about it and then had coffee. And then I’d meet her on a regular basis. And she said, “read every book”. And so I did. I read every single book, that Carl Jung book.

And then – I tell this story too – of how ‘Lady Soul’, the song I wrote for The Temptations, that’s on Motown’s Greatest Hits, which I’m very proud of, and that came out of a dream. Because I had crashed and burned, I had a record deal that failed, I tell that story, that Bette Davis story, and the Man Chinese Theatre story, which is in the book. Meeting the fabulous Bette Davis and doing a scene with her to present me as the star of the future, and then it all crashing and burning.

And this happened around that time. And was I going to go back to Australia with my tail between my legs a failure? Was I going to go back and do law? What was I going to do? Should I stay or should I go, you know.

And I decided through reading all the Carl Jung books to actually analyse myself. And part of that was to write down my dreams every day for a year. And once you do that, once you get in the habit of doing it, even when you wake up at night, you kind of capture the dream. If you bring the dream into your consciousness, it will stay there. It will stay there. And if you write first thing in the morning when they’re fresh, you can even remember the several that you’ve had during the night that you’ve gone back to sleep for.

So it just becomes, you know, a thing that you get used to. And then once you have all these dreams – which as I said, I just threw them all out, which was perhaps a bit nutty – but once you’ve done it for a year, and you can go back over several months, and you can see that what actually happens is that your brain, or your spirit, whatever it is, will regurgitate stuff but from different angles. And so if I have a dream about being on stage, one dream will be from the audience, the point of view of the audience, and then another dream three weeks later will be from above or behind the stage. And you see it. You don’t know it at the time, but when you’re writing them all down, and then you go back and you see them over a period of months, you’ll see all these patterns evolving. And your spirit and your brain working through these issues.

And some of them, you could write a book, there were some that were real space age dreams. And that I’m certain if I could actually just write, that that was the outline of a whole book right there. Some science fiction book, you know.

Valerie

Wow.

Mark

But it’s a habit you get into. Of just bringing them to the surface, and not allowing them to dissolve.

Valerie

When you were going through your life, because I’m sure that writing this memoir, putting together this memoir had a lot of self-reflection and remembering stuff that went on in your life – was it something that was enjoyable? Was it something that was nostalgic? Was it something that was confronting?

Mark

Yes. No, not really. No. It was enjoyable. I love, I love memories and dreams. No, there’s something really beautiful about that movie that goes on in your head. But it’s important, I find, to do it as close to the time as possible, and when it’s fresh, so you can get the detail. And particularly as I’m getting older, the stuff that I haven’t written down is gone. I can’t… It’s very hard to recapture the detail. You’ve got to do it in the moment. No, I love it.

I made five 25 minute short films about my family circus a few years ago, which no one ever saw. It’s on iTunes. But it was really, it was a big mishmash. It cost me a fortune. But I just loved chiselling at it, like a watchmaker. I loved working on a frame or an idea or… I could have spent more years on it, you know. And more… And in fact, now I am. Because that actually ended up being, those five 25 minute short films, really ended up being more or less a whiteboard, or something where I’ve just thrown all the ideas up and hopefully I will get to use them at some point. Or, you know, my grandchild that I’ve never met will.

Valerie

Are you now focusing on that? Or has this process of writing this memoir whet your appetite to write other long form things?

Mark

It has. It has. I’ve got two or three ideas that I’m dreaming about at the moment, that I’ve just got to bring myself to just to start, really.

Valerie

In that case, what do you enjoy about the writing process?

Mark

I just love it. I can’t express, I don’t know. It’s like writing a song. What do you enjoy about writing a song? It’s… I don’t, I can’t tell you. It’s just something that I love doing. It is a form of meditation. It is a form of…

It’s like painting. I wish I could paint. I can’t paint, I tried to paint. I wrote that in the book too. My girls gave me a Christmas present of painting. And it was so horrible, they were so bad. And it just disappointed me so much that I was so bad.

But with songs, I can’t stop myself writing. I write regularly. I now, instead of… I’ve just recorded an EP with my brother. But mainly… That’s three songs with my brother that are on Apple music and Spotify and all those things. But mainly what I do now is I just record them on a thing called Photo Booth on my computer, and just sitting in front of the computer, however I happen to look that day, I just perform them straight in there. There’s a video and a recording – boom! it cost me nothing.

Then I post it online on Facebook and my 10,000 friends, like I posted one on Saturday night called ‘Get Your Meds Right’. Which my daughter was appalled by, because I dedicated it to a friend of hers, and I had to remove that part of the song.

But I just like the act of creating. The act of creating. And I like the act of creating. And I find that as I get older, I have more trust in myself. I know how to do it with the minimum effort, and get out of the way of it. So when it happens, I just love the outpouring of it.

And I’m toying… I’ve just got a big pile of stuff to my right which you can’t see, but it’s a whole pile of history of the Holden Brothers Travelling Circus. That might be the one that I start because it’s something that exists. There’s the one that I’ve been telling you about before, about writing about a pop star’s life in the 70s. But you know, completely unfiltered.

And I have another one I’d like to write, I’d like to write about my life with my wife now in my 60s and the challenges that that creates for us, having been together for so long, and now being in an empty nest, and the physical aspects of being older, and the reconnection, deconnection. There’s… She can be my muse again, I’m sure. That one would be seriously personal. But that one has been pulling at me. I almost started it last week. I almost got to the point of just doing a dump, and I didn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t.

And there’s another one that I had actually put the time aside for that we’re using right now, these three weeks in January, a woman in America who I’ve got to know a little bit, who is the first lady of Motown, and was the first woman to put a record out on Motown. And the story of her life. And I had given her this three weeks that we’re in right now, but I couldn’t get a commitment from her. But I would commit, I couldn’t get the commitment to her to actually say “come on over and do it.” But I haven’t given up on that one, because it’s an extraordinary story that one. That one is one that I’m burning to tell.

Valerie

Wow. Okay. Well, I can tell by the passion in your voice that there’s obviously going to be another book. Because I would have to say, I never really thought I would ever read a book by Mark Holden.

Mark

Bless you.

Valerie

But I have. And I enjoyed it. And I’m actually looking forward to the next one.

Mark

Good on you, Valerie. Thank you.

Valerie

So thank you so much for your time today, Mark.

Mark

I appreciate it.

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