Ep 259 How to get invited to writers’ festivals. And meet Stuart Coupe, author of ‘Roadies: The Secret History of Australian Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

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In Episode 259 of So you want to be a writer: Meet Stuart Coupe, author of Roadies: The Secret History of Australian Rock ‘n’ Roll. Congratulations to AWC graduate Frances Chapman for winning the 2018 Ampersand Prize. Discover how to get invited to writers’ festivals and 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

Links Mentioned

Congratulations to Frances Chapman winner of the 2018 Ampersand Prize

Writer in Residence

Stuart Coupe

Stuart Coupe is an author, music commentator, independent artist publicist and radio broadcaster who has been involved with music all his life. Amongst the books he has written, edited or collaborated on are The New Music (1980), The New Rock ‘n’ Roll (1983), The Promoters (2003), Gudinski (2015) and Tex (2017).

His latest book is Roadies: The Secret History of Australian Rock ‘n’ Roll, published by Hachette.

Follow Stuart Coupe on Twitter

Follow Hachette Australia on Twitter

(If you click through the links above and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission from this purchase. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)

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Interview transcript

Valerie

Thanks so much for joining us today, Stuart.

Stuart

Thanks Valerie.

Valerie

Your book, Roadies – the secret history of Australian rock and roll. Now, many people know that you have been around the music industry for basically ever. But what made you decide now’s the time to write a book about roadies?

Stuart

A couple of things made me think that roadies were an interesting subject. I was finishing off my biography of Michael Gudinski a couple of years ago and I was starting to think, you know, what great Australian music stories hadn’t been done. Because I’ve increasingly realised that my writing is a lot of recording stories of people who of very obvious reasons won’t be around forever to tell those stories.

So I was thinking about what to do. And I’d been helped in my research for the Michael Gudinski by a guy by the name of Adrian Anderson, a former roadie. And he was telling me about Melbourne in the late 1960s, early 1970s, the period when Michael Gudinski emerged as a force in the music industry. Because I wasn’t in Melbourne then, and I wanted some colour, I wanted some names and bits and pieces.

And Adrian told me about the formation of an organisation of the Australian Road Crew Association. And initially I went, oh, that’s good. Roadies getting together and chatting about good gigs, bad gigs, people they like working for, people they didn’t like working for.

But then Adrian told me that there was a far more serious reason for the formation of ARCA. And that was Valerie that anecdotally Australian roadies have four to five times the national suicide rate. And that floored me.

And I guess I started to go, well, why? Because on many levels, roadies would look to have this fantastic life. They travel around Australia, or they travel around the world. Some of them fly, they stay in good hotels, they get to go and watch rock and roll concerts every night. And I’m going, what causes or creates an environment when so many of them find themselves in dire circumstances. Because aside from the suicide rate, there’s a massive litany of mental health issues.

So I thought, okay. And then soon afterwards I was watching an Aria Awards telecast. And Neil Finn was getting an award. And he thanked his roadies. And the fact that that stopped me in my tracks meant something to me. Because I went, how infrequently do we hear this? Normally at shows and at awards ceremonies, artists will, they’ll thank their girlfriend, their boyfriend, their boyfriend’s girlfriend, their manager, their… You know, their record label, their cats, their grandmother. All of their fans. Anyone that they could possibly think of to thank, particularly if they’re getting multiple awards.

And I thought, how often do you hear them say thank you to the people that basically spend their working days and nights making them look and sound as good as they possibly can? And so I went, maybe there’s just something here.

And I guess, there was also the fact that no one had done it before. There is one book about, well, written by an Australian roadie. Robert Clayton wrote, has written a book about his – wait for it – 50 years as a roadie for the Ted Mulry Gang.

Valerie

Oh my god.

Stuart

Yeah. Oh my god is one way of putting it. So 50 years, just working with one band. That was really the only book.

So that’s the long winded answer to why I decided to investigate the world of roadies.

Valerie

So once you decided that, did you… How long did it take before you ended up with a first draft? And how did you decide which roadies were going to end up being profiled? Because there are these great vignettes of all these different roadies with different bands, different experiences. How did you decide which ones made it in?

Stuart

Look, I could have written seven War and Peaces about roadies. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them. So that’s a good question.

Look, I started… Because, you know, roadies are notorious for only talking to other roadies. There is a rock and roll cliché that what happens on the road stays on the road. And that, to a large extent, is true. They are the custodians of all secrets, good and bad secrets.

And since the book came out, people said, how did you get them to talk? They don’t talk to anyone except themselves. And I adopted what I’ve now come to call the Tony Soprano principle. For anyone who watches The Sopranos, or loved The Sopranos, like I did. It’s basically if you want to hang out with the mob and get to know them, you go to Tony Soprano, right? You go to the big guy. And then once you’ve got his stamp of approval, then any door that needs to be opened, opens.

So I’m not for a moment going to suggest that he’s ever had anything to do with organised crime, but I went to the man that I consider to be the Tony Soprano of Australian roadies. And his name is Howard Freeman. He’s a very big man, covered in tattoos. A very funny man, a very loud man. He is 70 years of age and is still working in the music and entertainment industry.

So I went to Howard and I got his okay. Then I went to another legend – and they are legends. Because it’s an overused word. But these figures from that era, I think, justify the use of the word legendary, particularly in the music industry.

And then via Howard, I also went to Scrooge Madigan. Scrooge does spell his name like the Donald Duck comic, with a dollar sign for the S. He writes it that way and that’s how it appears in the book.

And then via those two I went to some of the other figures from that era. Mickey Cox, Nicky Campbell, John Darcy. And so once I had their okay, when I went to some of the roadies and they were going, “oh, I’m not sure I want to talk to you. Oh, bit uncertain about this.” So I’m, “well, Howard’s talked to me, Scrooge has talked to me, Mickey’s talked to me, Darcy’s talked to me.” And they go, “oh, okay.”

And then a couple of places I had to ask Howard, can you just call him and tell him that it’s a really good idea that he talks to me? And Howard would go, yep, leave it with me.

Valerie

Great.

Stuart

And then I let them be in some ways a sounding board. I listened to them about who I should talk to. And I talked to other music industry figures. And I felt my way through it.

At the very end, or what I thought was the end of the research, I called Howard up and I said, “you know, I’m done. I’ve talked to 55 or 60 roadies. Most of whom are in the book.” And he said, “have you talked to Kerry Cunningham?” And I said, “no, I haven’t. But I’m really, you know, I’m done. I’m finished.” He said, you’re not finished. You haven’t talked to Kerry. Call Kerry. Then tell me you’re finished.”

And on Easter Monday of this year, 2018, I walked out of Kerry Cunningham’s apartment over in Leichhardt in Sydney after three or four hours with Kerry, going, “thank you so much, Howard, that was one of the best interviews that I’d done.”

So I had all of this. And then the hardest thing, Valerie, was actually trying to work out how to write it. And that took me forever. Because I didn’t want to compartmentalise… I didn’t want to put them in compartments. That’s a better way of saying the word that I’m struggling to pronounce, isn’t it?

And so I didn’t want to go, okay, let’s have a chapter about performance. Let’s have a chapter about lighting. Let’s have a chapter about drugs. Let’s have a chapter about sex. I thought, no, that’s not going to work. And I kept going, how do I write this? How do I write this?

And I also said to everyone who asked, I said, well, one thing I can tell you right now is that it won’t be chronological. There’s no way. Of course, it’s chronological.

So I was going, how do I write this? And I was going to my publisher going, I’ve got all this stuff, I just don’t know how to write this book. And then I just sort of, as I am prone to do, I just sort of wandered around my home thinking, what’s the common point that links all of these people? And I went… It just hit me like with that moment of clarity and so obvious that probably everyone I knew had been just waiting for the idiot to work it out himself. That what linked them all was that they were just amazing characters.

So that’s when I decided to not try and write this intertwined narrative about roadies. I was just going to look at 50 or so of them and their particular time and place working as roadies, fully aware that some of the stories might overlap. They all travelled a lot, they all hated loading in upstairs, and all that. And that I would in fact put them in a loose chronological order.

Because I also realised that as the decades went by, there was a difference in the conversation, there was a difference in the characters. There was a difference in the why they spoke, the lifestyle they lived, their approach to their work.

And so I decided to do it that way. And I think it works. It interests me that I don’t quite start with a woman, but I almost begin with a woman, and I end with two women. Because one of the traditional stereotypes about roadies is… I should point out that Australia invented the expression ‘roadie’ because we add a ‘Y’ to everything. Everywhere else in the world they’re just road crew. But of course, in Australia, they’ve got to be a roadie.

And so it’s considered a very male world. And look it largely has been. It’s changing now. But I was pleasantly surprised to realise that there had been a number of very, very significant women working in the world of road crews over the years. So it was good to acknowledge that.

Particularly Tana Douglas who, without question, Valerie, is the world’s first female roadie. And look, there have been maybe 20 books written about AC/DC. And I think one of them maybe mentioned Tana. And I was thinking to myself, okay, let me just think this through for a minute. She’s a woman. She’s the world’s first female roadie. She’s Australian. She mixed sound. She didn’t just push boxes and PAs around. She was actually their sound engineer when she was 16 or 17.

Valerie

Yeah. Ridiculously young.

Stuart

I mean she floored me when I said, you know, “how old were you when you finished?” She said, “almost 18.” And I went to myself, doesn’t this warrant something significant in all these books on AC/DC? You know, how come, you know, woman, first roadie, sound engineer for AC/DC – that’s not important! Oh well, why would we put… And I just went, you’ve got to be joking! I mean, here’s a really, really significant person in the history of Australian live music, for starters.

So it was also great to tell her story. And she’s currently working on a memoir which I hope she gets published.

Valerie

And you obviously know how to get interesting stories out of them. And I don’t mean, you know, the sex, drugs and rock and roll stories. I mean, you’re obviously able to ask questions to get other things like Tana talking about how she wanted to go to Woodstock and her dad was really cranky. And all that kind of stuff.

So apart from the obvious sex, drugs and rock and roll stories, how do you then get the other stuff out of them? That’s unexpected from a roadie?

Stuart

Well, look, yeah, one of the things I told them right at the start when I approached all of them, I said I don’t want to write just a sex and drugs story. I said, they get boring to me, they’re probably really boring to you, and therefore I assume they’re probably really, really boring to a reader after a while.

Look, I’ve been interviewing for now probably about 40 years. And I guess what I’ve learned, I never really prepare any questions. And I… Look, I have the, if all else fails, ask them this question. But I never, I can’t remember the last time I walked into an interview with a written list of questions or anything.

I think I listen. I’ve learnt to listen. And I’ve learnt to just quietly probe. And I do all of my interviews face to face. I really… Well, I did a couple for this book on the phone. Reluctantly. I like spending time with the people. I like watching their body language. I like to be able to see when they warm to a topic or when they slightly bristle. I like to see them in their environment.

One of the best complements that I was ever paid in my early, in the early days of me learning to be a journalist was a really great Australian woman writer Annie Burton, came up to me one day and she said, Stuart, you’ve got really great eyes. And I thought she was coming on to me, right.

But then I realised that she was in fact saying that, she said, “you hardly ever look anyone in the eye.” And I said, “okay, so what’s great about my eyes?” And she said, “your eyes are flicking around and you’re watching and looking at everything that’s in the room. And I bet you could walk out of the room and you could tell, out of a hotel room with a rock star, you could tell me every magazine and book that’s in the room, what’s on the room service food that they’ve had and what they’re watching on television, what’s on their tape player or CD player and so forth.”

So I kind of just try and… And also I learned early on that more often than not, when you’re talking to musicians, and I think it goes to an extent for road crew, in most cases the last thing they want to talk about is music. You know, they create it, they do it. But it’s like, you walk in and go, “oh hi, Bill, Fred, Sue, Jane. Let’s talk about the recording of the new record.” They have so moved beyond that. And they’ve probably been asked it 50,000 times.

And so I’ve had conversations with Mick Jagger about cricket. He much preferred talking to me about cricket than he did to talk about The Rolling Stones.

Once I walked into, I did an interview with Sting, who I find insufferably pretentious and boring. But I was talking to him at the end of a day, those press days where they’ve done 15 interviews. And I thought, he is so sick of every question. And I thought, look, let’s just try something. So I sat down in front of him, and I thought this could go really badly really quickly. I could get thrown out of this hotel room in about 30 seconds. But I looked at him and I said, Sting, what’s your favourite colour? And he spent 45 minutes telling me why it was black.

Valerie

Wow.

Stuart

And A) he was really warming to this. And I got a great piece. And so, you just… I guess I’m not afraid to throw curve ball questions at them. You know, and just probe a little bit. And ask them maybe, sometimes you’ve actually pushed the boundaries of asking some personal stuff. And when you’re doing it face to face, you can just see, if they’re shutting down or if there’s a little twinge where you go, okay, maybe we’ll just back off this now.

So I think it was just, I just chat with people. Just hang out with them and talk to them.

Valerie

So you say you’ve been doing this for 40 years. So take me back 40 years ago, if you can, and just maybe talk me through how did you get into writing in the first place? And why? Did you always want to get into writing? And how did it happen?

Stuart

Yeah, I did. I had an amazingly supportive teacher called Jon Woodruff. I grew up in Tasmania, in Launceston. And I, thanks to the encouragement of Jon, I actually started my first magazine when I was about 14 at school. I mean it was ostensibly a school magazine. It was called Labyrinth. But it was really an excuse for me to write about music that I loved. And then I put the obligatory sports news and sporting results and all that sort of stuff in there as well.

But yes, I always just… I don’t have a musical bone in my body, so clearly becoming a musician was not an option. But I loved expressing… I mean, I still think that at 62 I think of myself as a music fan. And I’ve always wanted just to convey my enthusiasm and excitement for music to other people.

The same person who told me I had great eyes said, “always write like you talk, Stuart. The way you talk is fantastic. Try and write like that.”

And so I had this magazine. Then I ended up going to Flinders University in Adelaide. And I didn’t finish my degree because I got bored, but I did become one of the editors of Empire Times, which was the Flinders University magazine.

And then I started a punk rock fan zine in the mid 70s called Street Fever, which evolved into one called Road Runner. Then I got… And I used to goad Anthony O’Grady, the editor of Ram Magazine in Sydney going, oh, here we are, the new kids, your magazine is tired and boring, blah blah blah.

And he rang me one day and he said, “dear boy, would you like to come to Sydney and work for a real magazine?”

Valerie

Wow.

Stuart

And so I did. But I don’t… I still type… I don’t have a university degree. I style type with one finger.

Valerie

Really?

Stuart

Oh yeah. People say it’s like watching a chicken.

Valerie

Oh my god.

Stuart

I can almost touch type about 80 words a minute with one finger.

Valerie

Oh my god.

Stuart

I use the other hand to space. It’s not all one finger. I mean, I space bar with the left hand and type with one finger. I don’t know how to do it any other way. So I write millions – well, I have written and I have published millions and millions of words and they’re all typed with one finger.

And I just, I really just did it. And I read a lot. And I still read a stupid amount. I only turn the television on when the Swans are playing.

And I just, I read good music writing. I read good journalism, good writing in general. I copied as a kid, when I look back.

Valerie

What do you mean copied?

Stuart

I almost rewrote famous music writers. In the very early days. I was so inspired by their way of writing and I can see that I was using the same phrases, the same descriptive words. And I didn’t have my own voice then. I hadn’t learned who I was as a writer in those days. So I was just trying to be my heroes. And my heroes were a combination of musicians and writers.

Go on.

Valerie

No, no, you go on please.

Stuart

So I really just did it. And then I got to a period, after Ram, one of the editors at the Sun Herald newspaper made this magnificent decision that they should maybe get someone, instead of having the motoring writer also write the music column, they should maybe get someone who knows about music to write the music column. And I thought, that’s great. I don’t drive, so I’m not going to write the motoring column.

And I just did it. I kept learning. I kept listening to people. I got some really great simple advice at the Sun Herald, particularly working for a proper, at that point, the most successful, the biggest selling newspaper in the country. David Dale, who was my editor there, he just, he told me some simple things that, you know, and I say to people still to this day, he said, “if your first paragraph is not interesting to hold a reader’s attention, why in heavens name Stuart would you assume they’re going to read paragraphs two, three, four and onwards?”

And in journalism, he said, “your first paragraph should relate to your final paragraph.” And he taught me how to tell a story within 500 words or 1000 words or 1500 words. Really, really simple things which sadly I realise are not being probably taught to a lot of people these days.

Valerie

These days, yeah. I have to say, your first paragraph, or your first few paragraphs of… Even though you say that it’s loosely chronological, your book actually opens with a scene from Cold Chisel, which is a bit out of chronological order. But it’s such, it just sets it. It just starts off with a bang and it just makes you want to turn the page and keep on going. Because it is, it’s the power of that first few paragraphs.

And I have a confession to make to you, Stuart.

Stuart

And I already know what it is, but go on.

Valerie

Do you?

Stuart

I think so. I think so. Does it start with ‘D’?

Valerie

It does. It starts with ‘D’, that’s right. So I think I confessed this to you over Twitter five years ago or something. But anyway, I’m not going to tell the world.

So for listeners, I actually started reading Stuart when he wrote for Dolly. And I was, I must have been 12 or 14 or something. And to this day, I’ll never forget one of the first articles I read that you wrote and I just went, oh my god, this is amazing! I want to do this.

And to this day I can still see it. It was Sarah Nursey on the cover. And your article was on groupies. And I just read everything that you wrote after that point. And it was just the way the story was told. It was not told in a, even though it was accurate, it was full of facts and all the rest of it, it’s painting a picture, it’s putting you right there at the scene. It is, it’s the thing about your eyes. It’s about including all of the other little bits of detail that really bring it to life.

And yes, so you were a huge influence in me wanting to pursue that path.

Stuart

Well, thank you.

Valerie

Yeah.

Stuart

Dolly is… It’s a very strange one. And I am of course still humbled by the impact that it’s had on you and other people. Because I suspect, Valerie, it’ll be the one thing that will stay with me forever.

I mean, I certainly know over the years if I call up say a… You know, I spent almost 20 years being a crime fiction reviewer for The Sydney Morning Herald. Because I got a bit tired, I wanted a break from music writing and I love crime fiction.

But I remember distinctly I would ring up publishing companies and I’d go, you know, can I possibly get a copy of the new PD James book or blah blah blah. And they’d say, oh yes, of course, what was your name? And I’d give them my name. And if it was a woman of what I guess to be a certain age, there would be a pause. And I grew to know what was coming. And the next words were, “no the Stuart Coupe from Dolly?” And I’d go, “yeah, that’s me. That’s me. Forget that I’m reviewing for the Sydney Morning Herald and I’ve done all these other things. Yeah, I’m that guy from Dolly.”

Valerie

That’s hilarious.

Stuart

And look, I think I was lucky that I had that opportunity. And I also, I realised again the impact of Dolly when Facebook became a big thing. Because I started to get an inordinate number of friend requests from women who… And I usually accept them.

And then I, a lot of times I’d get a note from them, saying, “thank you. I grew up in Wandong, in Bunbury.” You know, the ones that really touched me were particularly from women who had grown up in regional Australia. And they would say, “I read what you wrote in Dolly.” For people listening to this, it was in the mid-1980s. And they’d say, “you turned me on to Bruce Springsteen. Or because of you I listened to the Go Betweens.” And they’ll talk about various musical things or whatever that was…

And the Dolly thing was weird. Because as you would know I became this “super star”. Partly because Lisa Wilkinson, who’d employed me in the first place, they blocked my eyes out so no one knew what I looked like, supposedly, knew what I looked like. Looking back at the Dollys, they did a really bad job of blocking my eyes out.

They gave me a lot of freedom to write about really whatever I wanted to. And of course, as you would know, but maybe people listening won’t know is part of my thing was that I was very critical of so many of the things that the typical Dolly reader held near and dear.

There was a running gag that I hated Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. And a whole lot of things like that. And of course, the Dolly reader really couldn’t stand it because I got to hang out with Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet and all that. And then I’d go, “oh yeah, they’re really boring. I just spent the day talking with Duran Duran. You haven’t missed anything. They’re really dull.”

And they’re of course tearing their hair out going, I would give anything to spend 20 minutes with Duran Duran.

So it was, look, it was a fortunate time. And I think again, Valerie, it was just that thing of those stories, I mean, I wrote like I talked. So they were me having a yarn. Or I’ve always thought that it’s… You’re talking to… And I do a lot of radio these days, and I have done for a long time now. And it’s the same thing. It’s second nature for me to talk on the radio as if I’m talking to this one person.

And so what I’ve always tried to do with my writing is go, hey, it’s you and me Valerie. No one else exists in this conversation. We’re just talking about how great The Models were, or this experience or why Duran Duran completely suck. Or whatever we may be talking to.

And I guess that comes through to an extend in Roadies. I’m not good at using big words. I’m not good at flowery/poetic… I’m good at, or I’ve become better, I should say, at direct talking words that we understand, expressions that we understand. And just talking to you about particular, in this case, Roadies.

Valerie

With something like Roadies, and all of the music stuff that you write, obviously you’ve got a wealth of experience and knowledge and a ton of interviews in your brain somewhere that you can draw on. Do you actually have an encyclopaedic memory? Or do you also keep meticulous notes? Because I know I wouldn’t be able to retain all that information in my head.

Stuart

No, I don’t. I mean, I have a fairly good memory, but I also have what I realise some incredible blank spots. Someone will show me a piece or talk about something I’ve written that I’ve got no recollection of writing that whatsoever. Maybe the drugs were better when I was younger.

And look, I mean I’m surprised at what I can remember and what comes to mind. I’m not a completist. I don’t understand… People will go, oh you must be a music obsessive. And I go, no I’m not.

I mean, I’m obsessive about music. But I don’t think I own every Bob Dylan record, and Bob Dylan is one of my heroes. And in fact, I don’t know if I own every Bob Dylan record. And you know what? I don’t really care? You know, I can find them if I want them. Bruce Springsteen looms so large in my world. I don’t think I actually have every Bruce Springsteen record these days. I certainly don’t have ever B side and every unreleased this, that and the other.

I’m not wired like that. And I’m not one of these nerds that can go, oh yeah, that was on the B side that was blah blah blah, and the catalogue number is. You know? I’m more likely to remember some anecdote or what someone was wearing at a particular gig. Some more colourful or interesting little sidelight to things.

So no, I don’t, I’ve never kept what I’ve written. I mean, I have some things somewhere. But I don’t, again, have the sort of mind that is going to put things in filing cabinets and order them. If anyone’s vaguely interested when I’m no longer around, it’ll give them something to do for a few years.

And so I don’t… Yeah, there are definitely interviews and things that have happened where I go, what? No, I’ve never spoken to them. And someone will go, well, here’s the piece you wrote about them. And I’d go, okie dokie. All right.

But I can’t remember, for instance, we just talked about Mick Jagger. Now, I can remember talking to him about cricket. But what I remember more is having my photo taken with him at the George Sand Hotel in Paris on the balcony. And I remember more the fact that we were kept waiting, he kept the photographer waiting half an hour because he had to get a footstool to stand on because he was embarrassed that he was going to look so short next to me. I am not 8 foot tall. I’m not even 6 foot tall. But I’m clearly taller than Mick Jagger.

So you remember all of those little things. I ended up getting the use of his suite in that hotel for a night because he’d flown back to London. I can probably tell you everything that was in the mini bar. I can tell you what colour the couch was that I slept on using his phone, the phone in his room to ring all my friends around the world, saying, guess where I am?

But I don’t remember much about the interview. It’s little bits and pieces.

Valerie

Why are you working on now? Now that this book is done, and it’s released, are you working on your next project?

Stuart

Yeah, I’m writing something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. And just literally as Roadies was finished, I mean, I’m a great believer in karma and things happen for a reason. But I had been pestering Paul Kelly and his manager for about…

Well, the very first interview I did was with Paul Kelly in June 1978. That sounds very authoritative. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that until I found that piece recently, okay.

Valerie

Right.

Stuart

So it sounds like I’ve got this amazing memory. I can name the month and the year, but no, I couldn’t up until recently. I actually thought it was 1976. So I was only out by two years.

And then I was of course Paul Kelly’s manager for a large part of the 1980s. And Paul has written his own book, How to Make Gravy, which has been one of the more successful books written by an Australian musician. I mean, I think it’s only been superseded by the two Jimmy Barnes’ books.

But I just have been thinking there’s a really great book in Paul Kelly. All the stuff that he doesn’t put in his own book. His own book is over 600 pages. And it’s a masterful piece of writing because it kind of tells you everything and nothing about Paul.

And so I thought, you know, there is still a great book to write about him. And I’ve been, just literally at the moment, thinking what’s not in his book? And of course, one of the things that’s not in his book is the voices of everyone else around him who have been involved.

So I’m at the moment tracking down all of the members of the High Rise Bombers, which was his first band, and then the Dots which was his other first band. Or his second band, I should say. You can’t have another first band.

And so he has given this book his blessing.

Valerie

Great.

Stuart

And has agreed to sit for some long interviews towards the end of the project. So that’s… I want it to be about his life and times and the Australian that he has come from, the Australia that he has written about. And something a little bit more than just, oh, he made his second record on this date.

So I’m at the moment, you know, he grew up in Adelaide and was in Adelaide in the early 70s before I went there to go to University. So at the moment I’m reading a lot and talking to people, not so much about music, I’m just trying to get information about what Adelaide was like in the late 60s and early 70s. What it was like politically, what it was like socially, what it was like economically. What music was around. Was it as radical in the early 1970s as it became in the mid 1970s, or was in the mid-1970s when I was there. All of that sort of stuff and trying to place him in that world.

So that’s probably… It’s due in theory to come out towards the end of the year. I mean, I’ve had three books in three years. 2019 I’m having, there will not be a book, I don’t think, in 2019.

Valerie

Right.

Stuart

I think this will be towards the end of 2020. Maybe even later. It just depends. It’s a big project. I want, like with all of my books, I want to do it right. And we’ll just see. Look, it might come quickly and we might be having this conversation about this time next year. And you’re going to go, god, you wrote that quickly.

I don’t know, yet. I don’t know.

Valerie

And so finally, related to that, what would be your top three tips for… When people are writing nonfiction, and for them, what are your suggestions on what they need to be aware of in order to bring it to life, in order to make it not just a, you know, recitation of facts. In order to write like Stuart Coupe?

Stuart

Look, I mean I… It’s all about storytelling. It’s all about trying to get the… For every section or chapter in Roadies, which is, you know, an average of about 1800 to 2000 words. That’s probably distilled from maybe four or five hours of conversation.

And one thing I’m a really stickler on, I transcribe all my own interviews. I have so many friends who use transcription services. And I did that, I got lazy. I’ll be honest with you. The very last, there’s one chapter in Roadies where I did it at the very end and I was really mentally tired and I went bugger it. I’m going to use one of these transcription services.

And they were really good. Came back within 48 hours and it had everything and it was meticulous. It actually ended up being the hardest chapter to write, because I hadn’t listened to that person’s voice. And I hadn’t listened to the nuances and the emphasis.

And I find, I write really easily. I can write 8 to 10,000 words a day of semi usable text.

Valerie

Oh my god.

Stuart

But, that’s because I’ve lived with – and one finger, too, I will add. But that’s because I’ve lived with that voice. And all of that information for all of those horribly long arduous back breaking hours that it takes to do the transcription.

So by the time I’ve finished transcribing all of, or the majority of four hours conversation, I know exactly what I want to write. I know the story. I know how it starts. I know how it ends. I know what’s important. I know what’s not important.

And so I think transcribing your own tapes is really important. Exercising is really important. People say to me, writing’s hard work. And I go, you bet it is. Physically I find it harder than mentally. You are actually having to sit in a seat for seven, eight, ten…

You know, I walk a real lot. I force myself to get up. You want to write like Stuart Coupe? Get a dog. Because it has to be walked on a regular basis. And that is great thinking time. When you get that nudge going, if you don’t take me out right now there’s going to be a disaster and you’re going to have to clean it up, that is a really good break.

And the other thing, the third, you asked for three. I have a really fabulous publisher, Matthew Kelly. And he believes me to read very widely whilst I’m writing a book. But he never recommends books about music. He will tell me to, he will suggest that I read…

In the last couple of books I’ve read books about the stock market in America, I’ve read a book about something, it wasn’t The Perfect Storm, I think maybe it was. It was a book about a bunch of sailors that got swept out to sea.

I read an amazing sports writer called Jack Smith, an astonishing piece about a runner. It’s got an astonishing ending which I won’t give away, because part of the power of it is the conclusion.

And so he would just go, why don’t you … And when I was writing, he said, at one point he said, “you need to read Chris Masters.” And it was a great story that Chris Masters wrote about some organised crime figures out on Sydney Harbour and a dog was irritating one of them so one of them pulled out a gun, I think it was, and shot the dog.

Valerie

Oh my god.

Stuart

Horrible. But he leads me to read terrific pieces of storytelling that are not music related. And quite often they’re outside my… He got me to read – he never gets me to, but he suggests – but I always do what he suggests. He got me to read a book on the history of Amazon, for instance.

Valerie

Oh yeah.

Stuart

Yes.

Valerie

The Everything Store.

Stuart

Sorry?

Valerie

The Everything Store.

Stuart

Yeah, that one.

Valerie

Excellent.

Stuart

So he will just go, why don’t you… And if I’m having trouble with something, he’ll go, why don’t you just take a break for a day or two? Read this. Or read this. And I still do it now.

For this book on Paul Kelly, I’m reading a biography of one of my favourite ever tennis players. A big 700 page biography of Arthur Ashe. Maybe I just want to read about Arthur Ashe and I’m justifying it as pre-emptive work.

Valerie

As work!

Stuart

But I’m reading a biography of a surfer who I’d never heard of from the 70s. And I’m just dipping in and out of other biographies to see how people have taken lives and made them interesting.

And I’m particularly interested, if I can find, you know, like I’ve never heard of this surfer, but I’m already gripped by this book. And I’m going, okay, if I can find stories by people that fundamentally I know nothing about, or should probably not be that interested in, and if they can seduce me into reading 3, 4, 500 pages, then I’m going, okay.

And then of course, how are they doing this? Why are they, how are they making this person really interesting and captivating? So that’s a really long-winded answer.

Valerie

No, it’s a great answer.

Stuart

I think there are three things in there.

Valerie

Yes. Awesome. Well, congratulations on Roadies. And thank you so much for chatting to us today, Stuart.

Stuart

My pleasure. Thanks so much, Valerie.


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