Ep 29 We chat to Owen Beddall, author of ‘Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant: True tales and Gossip from the Galley’

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In Episode 29 of So you want to be a writer, Tom Hanks releases a writing app, disappointing book covers, do your thing – even if in stolen time, welcoming magazine readers, how to submit your writing to literary magazines, blog like a journalist, Writer in Residence Owen Beddall, typing shortcuts, the ethics of changing a quote and much more!

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Show Notes

Tom Hanks Creates iPad App Inspired by the Typewriter

Stolen Time (via @KellyExeter)

Welcoming magazine readers

How to Submit Your Writing to Literary Magazines

Blog Like a Journalist via @ScienceSarah

Writer in Residence

owen-portraitOwen Beddall was born in Darwin and is of Anglo–Aboriginal descent. He studied Arts/Law at the University of New South Wales before leaving to work in Hong Kong and then London. Owen worked in an Aboriginal community and at an Aboriginal college before being accepted to Qantas in 2001.

During his career with Qantas, Owen travelled to over forty countries on six continents and met countless leaders and celebrities.

Owen suffered a workplace injury, breaking his back in three places. After a period of rehabilitation, he intermittently returned to flying but could no longer take the long, manual and tiring conditions of an international ‘hostie'. He has since put his energy and time into writing and retired from Qantas in 2013.

Currently, Owen is writing, working with charity Beyondblue, and still recovering from his injury. He has signed with an agency in New York and lives between Sydney and a country home in Grafton.

Owen's first book is Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant.

Owen's website
Owen on Twitter
Owen on Facebook
Random House on Twitter

Web Pick

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Active Words (Windows)

Working Writer's Tip

Can I change a quote – eg, condense it, change a word that is obviously incorrect, etc? And what is the correct way to use quotation marks?

Answered in the podcast, and here.

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Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers' Centre

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Thanks for joining us today, Owen.

Thank you very much, Valerie. My pleasure.

I’ve been reading your book and I have not been able to put it down, I have to say. If there are some people who have not yet read or bought Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant: True tales and Gossip from the Galley, can you tell the listeners a little bit about what it’s about.

The book really details over a decade of my flying career. It looks at the good, the bad and the ugly and intertwining the story at the time it was written was the juxtaposition of me in having a severe workplace injury and being grounded and coming back to work and also reminiscing about all of the destinations or the anecdotal tales and all of the celebrities that I met up in the air over the last decade.

Tell us why did you decide that you wanted to write it? When did it sort of come to you that, “I might write a memoir.”?

I actually started out in about 2006 or 2007 just really compiling a lot of photos and a lot of memorabilia. I had tickets from Venus Williams that were signed, and Australia Open tickets from Lisa Raymond. I had passenger lists that I had all sorts of different celebrities on. I was sort of collaging them into like a coffee sort of book, because every time I went to dinner parties people would just ask me to regale stories and to go over the most exciting things. I wanted to sort of be able to do that through pictures. I realised that there was a lot more to the job and a lot more to the actual story than just those pictures.

When I had my workplace injury in 2011, I actually fell down the stairs of a 747 flight simulator trainer at Mascot and I broke my back in three places. I was paralysed, I had to learn to walk again. It was a really harrowing time. In some ways it was actually very cathartic, just for me to — I always call the very first version when I handed it in to Random House, we look back and we laugh, we call it The Confessions of the Satanic Verses, because it was such a dark period of when everything is going wrong in your life. My relationship broke up at the time, I ended up being forced into selling my house. All of these things were going on in my personal life. But what that did was it actually opened up — once I got that all out, like a good fart, it opened up the avenue for me to write the really funny light stories that are in there now and really look back at it with the tongue in cheek attitude I’ve tried to approach the book with.

Prior to this had you done much writing?

At university I had written a couple of stage shows and stuff, but obviously they didn’t make it to Broadway. I’ve always been a writer, I’ve always loved the art of writing and I really love books. Nothing infuriates me more than seeing these young kids on Wikipedia, they don’t really appreciate that art of going down to the park with a book. It’s funny I used to say to some of the younger kids that came onto flying that said, “Oh, aren’t you going out partying and aren't you doing this?” I’m like, “No, I’m going to have a Radox bath and take a book.”


There’s nothing more indulgent in life. That’s something that I really wanted to bring back. I’m so happy when I go to places now and see people reading my book. I really want people buying the actual book version, because there’s nothing better to me.


You said that you wrote the satanic verses first, and then was able to come back as you got better. Presumably, you kind of got that out of your system and then you could write the lighter, very witty, very funny, hilarious in parts, version. How much of the original satanic verses version ended up in the final version?

Very little. It was almost completely rewritten. The satanic verses manuscript will be like a collector’s item now. It was actually not written with any purpose or structure. It was just me writing about my experiences. A lot of it really centered around my injury and around the Workers’ Compensation component, almost like court-like practices that go on within a corporation, especially the self-insured corporations.

It was a very, very different manuscript, all of the other funny stories were there, like the Katy Perry stories and the Lily Allen stories and the destination stories were still the same, of course they all made it, but even some countries that I didn’t particular like or I thought there were a lot of human rights issues — it was like an Alanis Morissette song. It was like fingers on a chalkboard.

Alison, my publisher, was so funny. She’s just such a dear, dear lady. She said to me, “Yes, Owen, there’s some very good stuff here,” she’s British, she said, “But, I think we need to try to really bring out your personality a little bit more. Maybe the more light side of Owen.”

Tell us, so many people will be interested to know, can you take us through the process by which you got a publisher, because that is the holy grail to many people. How did you go from that cathartic period where you had your injury and all of that then to actually securing a publisher?

As I said, I started this book and collating it together in about 2007. In about 2008-2009 I did the rounds of all of the publishing houses and I wasn’t very strategic, to be honest. I just found publishers that I liked, who published books that I liked, and sort of approached them. I was able to meet with a couple of them and they saw glimpses of things, but nothing where they were happy enough to put down money or to sign contracts or anything like that. And nothing that they even wanted to develop at that stage.

I really took their advice on board. I think that’s where a lot of people sort of bow out, but I really took their advice on board, they’re the experts in the industry, I then went home and honed those skills, and honed those chapters where they said I needed more or I needed to look at. I then really started putting the structure around the book after the satanic verses. I had actually met a publisher from the UK on a flight to London and he had read a couple of sample chapters and had really fallen in love with it. He fell in love with my personality and he said, “This could be such a big thing because authors are usually so introverted, it’s hard to get them out into the public to do the actual other side of things, the social media side of things and the meeting side of things. If we can garnish this we’re onto a winner.”

I then got on, through the advice of Random House, I got on Libby Harkness, who’s a professional writer, and I got her to help me just put the things into structure and to give me another set of eyes, to really look at things that are not obvious to someone who doesn’t travel all the time. Even though the stories were interesting, like things like the beginning of the book, like where I just start talking about being a flight attendant, she was more interested in, “How did you get into being a flight attendant and what’s the recruitment process?” “Thousands of people want to be a Qantas flight attendant…” That give it another layer of oomph.

Then through Libby we actually strategically sat down and we found the non-fiction publishers at the different publishing houses. I then reached out to the UK, to the publishers interested there. On my sort of last few trips I went to see publishers in the United States as well and used my sick time to go and really market them. We had a quite a good list then. We sent out to the publishers and six of them came back and pushed the book into a bidding war, but it was very much about having a very confident manuscript, or a very confident synopsis at that stage, because we then had a few sample chapters, and being very strategic in who we approached.

Great. So you worked with Libby Harkness, who is a wonderful writer. She also worked with Turia Pitt on her book and also the book about the widow. Tell us about how that works, because so many writers write in isolation and they tap away at the computer, how did you work with Libby? Tell us about did you write it first and then she kind of reviewed or do you work on it together? How did it work?

We worked on it completely together. We always said it was like a collaboration with an actor and a producer. I had the stories there. I would give her a story and then she would sit down and we would then take the story, because she really wanted to get the essence of my personality. As you probably know one of the hardest things to write is comedy, because it doesn’t necessarily translate onto the page. She wanted to get my comedy.

So we would sit down, each chapter we would go through and I would tell the stories as I want them told and I would take notes, and she would take notes and we would collate them together. She was very, very good at picking my voice and bringing out the things in me that I would take for granted or that she would think might have interest to a wider audience.

Then each few chapters we would then submit that into Random House, of course they decided, “We want more of this…” or, “We want less of that…” Or, “More details needed here…” It really is a collaborative process all the way around. The book wasn’t finished until about five minutes until it went to the typesetter, you know?

How long did this collaborative process take? From when you got the book deal, presumably, until five minutes before it went to print, how long did it take? How much of your life or your day did it take?

It took a year, it took about six months of solid writing and storytelling. Libby and I both moved up to Grafton, where my family are from and rented a little apartment and lived and worked and breathed the thing.


We were able to do that because we were able to secure quite a good advance from the bidding war, which was helpful. And we just really, really lived and breathed it for about six months. By the end of it I was so over it.

Then the next six months it went into the actual Random House process. The title was changed somewhat. They did the marketing and stuff, which we always collaborated back on, or I collaborated back on to decide whether that’s what I wanted. I then had to get up other parts of the business, because really writing is a business, if you want to be in this for a profession.

I had to learn things that I had learnt from Katy Perry and translated that through to Random House in terms of getting my social media up in order and getting the sales all across the world set out, because Random House Australia looked after Random House Australia and publishers overseas generally come on as the book starts to sell out and you’ve got figures to show, because we knew this book would start hitting very quickly and flight attendants by nature are literally taking the book across the globe we had to have things set up internationally. I had to hire PR people over in the UK and the United States while Random House worked on that simultaneously and also worked on the translation rights into other countries. There was quite a lot of stuff that went on behind the scenes that you wouldn’t necessarily suspect from being an author.

Yeah, absolutely. 

How did you juggle everything? Did you have other commitments at all? Tell us about when you were in the middle of that head full on six months did you have a set routine? Did you and Libby say, “OK, we’re going to work from 9:00-6:00 and we’re going to have a one hour break,” or did you just sort of let it flow? How did it work?

We would start everyday and we would have the set chapter that we were going to start on and we would work through — Libby would have a set of questions. I would start telling the story, if she didn’t fall asleep she would ask me questions. Then we would actually have a look at what she did. She would then go back and transcribe it and I would then look at the story and see whether it was actually representative of what happened, because sometimes when you’re talking it might be a little bit different to the way it looks when it reads on paper. Then we would tighten up every chapter. I would say we probably did about a good six hours solid everyday of taping and writing.

Then I would work into the night, I was working into the night setting up the social media part of the book, setting up the marketing, working with that department within Random House.

The role of an author, Libby was doing the writing, my role was really sort of a multi-layered role. That’s something that I think in the traditional markets with authors and with writers they haven’t had to sort of deal with those frontiers, whereas now with ebooks and ibooks and with our book being so successful in those markets they’ve had to be just as equally important because a lot of my questions and a lot of my readers are coming from other parts of the world.

Something that you said previously peaked my interest, what was the previous title before you changed it?

It was actually originally called Galley Gossip, that’s what it started as, and that’s why it’s in the sort of subtitle. What we actually found, which is another interesting part of the process, the marketing team when they have their little focus groups and stuff, and even within the higher ranks of Random House a lot of people didn’t immediately associate a ‘galley’ to a plane.


That was a bit problematic, because you only get a couple of seconds if someone is looking at you on the internet or in a bookstore. If that doesn’t sort of relate to them straightaway then you miss that opportunity. We really wanted people to know this was an airline story from the get-go.

Absolutely. When you read the book it is full of countless vignettes and little stories and little scenes that could almost be comedy sketches.


But there are seemingly thousands of them. How did you remember them? Especially from way back in 2000-whatever? Did you have to sit there and reflect for ages and try and pull up the inner recesses of your brain? How did you remember everything?

Well, I had a lot of it documented from sort of journals and things that I had kept. Also because of emails that I had throughout the company and with other people, and thankfully Facebook, I was able to go back and look through different phases of it. In fact, everything — when I said to Libby, “OK, this happened in 2004…” so many times we would actually — we’d be checking, doing the research, and we’d be like, “Oh, no, that happened in 2002…” “That happened in 2006…” Every single thing was checked and looked at to make sure the chronology was right, down to when I met people, down to when I started different things, when I lived in different places, because we wanted the story to ring very true to someone who is seeing this over a decade, not just over the space of a few flights.

Now you’ve been really strategic, as you’ve mentioned, in terms of planning your social media, planning to be ready to take it internationally, where did you learn all of this? Many authors put their head in the sand and just want to write. Where did you realise that you needed to be strategic about it and learn what you needed to be strategic about?

It was actually through Katy Perry. I had her on a flight, I’d met her a few times, actually. I had her on a flight with Russell Brand, and I knew that I was putting this book together and I asked her, I sort of broke the ice with her and she come out and I was sort of putting my collage together and looking at — I was actually reading about her and she said, “You know, what are you doing?” I said, “I’m reading about you, you kissed a girl and you liked it and you’ve made $50 million. I kissed a girl and I didn’t like it and I’m making you breakfast.” She laughed and I said to her, “You need to help me, Katy. I’m writing this book and it’s an airline book…” and so I told her about it. She was so interested. We took photos together.

She taught me a lot of things about the industry. She said, “You have to know how to connect with the people that are buying your product, if they’re overseas, or if you’re overseas and they’re in Australia, you need to be able to connect with them. It’s very important that you have social media. It’s very important that you have an entertainment lawyer. It’s very important that you try and get an agent onboard, otherwise you’ll be juggling everything yourself, and unless you’re very good at keeping records and a diary, things just get really, really full on very, very quickly.”

I literally, just like I did with the publisher’s advice, I took her advice, because obviously you don’t get a much bigger star than Katy Perry. So I really heeded the advice that she gave me. Whilst we were doing the creative part of it and running that, I was looking at the business side of things, the marketing, the social media elements, the contracts, the obligations, the worldwide promotion and stuff. I really looked to her advice from that.

Did you have an agent for this?

Ironically enough, I didn’t. I wish I had from the beginning now, but I didn’t because in Australia it’s really sort of weird. In America it’s so easy to get an agent, if you’re American, but in Australia they’re a lot more reluctant to invest in you if they don’t have facts and figures to go by. Now that I’ve just put out the book I’ve had about 50 agents contact me. But when I really wanted an agent it was very difficult to get one on.

After the book was about to come out I was able to get Rick Raftis involved, which has been great. He’s got a lot of experience. At the very beginning Libby and I were sort of negotiating with the publishing houses on our own. We were very lucky through her connections and my work in meeting publishers and going around those rounds that we were able to push it into a bidding war.

Rick’s a great choice because he has so many connections in the film industry, because I can totally see this as a movie.

We’ve already been approached by some companies. We’re very, very excited about that. I mean the book — I wanted it to open up and read like a movie. I wanted it to be really easy for people to imagine, to be caught into the imagination of the book and the imagery. Of course, that then lends itself to naturally progressing into a film or a TV series.

That was a deliberate structure that we set out as well, because it’s something that nowadays you can’t sort of avoid. I mean the movies are often just the next existential bit of the book.

Yeah, I love how strategic you’ve been with this. 

Tell us what’s next for you. Obviously the book is done, you’re promoting it, but I’m sure you’ve got something planned. Please share that with us.

We are going to New York on the 17th with the book. We’ve had some really, really great offers for some shows and stuff over there. I’m then going to the United Kingdom with the book in early August. I’m then coming back from mid-August to late-August I’m just going to sit down and look at all of the options that we’ve got and look at what I really want to achieve out of this, because one of the things that’s important to me is not just taking the largest offer, but having some level of creative control and if it does turn into a movie having that done with the authenticity that I want it to be done. I won’t know that until I’ve actually sat down with some of the producers in America and the United Kingdom.

Then later in the year I am looking at doing a show called So You Want to be an Author, funny enough, it’s so identical. I’m hoping to do that with Turia Pitt. We’re looking at just all the sort of fun things and the things that you don’t know about being a first time author.

Oh wow.

Obviously she’s got her story. It will be coming in, everyone will have the tissues out, crying. I will come in and tell my story and hopefully everyone will have the tissues out crying for a different reason.

From that we’re looking at maybe developing it into a television sort of show, but we wanted to just do a sort of three-part stage show to show people out there, because I’ve had so many emails from people saying, “I want to become an author. I don’t know… I’m stuck in my writing.” Or, “I don’t know if I’m better as an editor…” So, I really wanted to reach out to those people because I know what it’s like to be there myself, of course.

I thought around Sydney uni and around Newtown, around UTS, there in Sydney particularly, there are just so many people in the parks reading and enjoying that art. I really want to bring that back into fashion. I want people out reading again and going and supporting the local bookstore. There’s nothing better, I think.

Yeah, I love it. 

Have you got any thoughts about your next book?

I do have some thoughts about my next book. We’re discussing that at the moment. I can’t really tell you what it is, but I think it will be something along the same lines as the Confession series.

Do you think it will be — what you can probably tell me is whether it’s going to be memoir or non-fiction or fiction, that sort of thing.

It will probably be non-fiction and will probably be another element of my life. It will probably be looking at, because funnily enough my life seems to be able to be categorized into so many different layers. People are saying, “Oh, we’d like you to write about something about that…” or, “We’d love to hear about that…” The thing is as well I’ve had some interest from different places about being more specific about locations and more specific about different elements of the book that we talked about. I’m also still recovering from my surgeries. I’ve just had my last spinal surgery in March, so that is still taking its toll. My end goal is to be Australia’s next Graham Norton. I want to be taking those conversations with Katy Perry and Lily Allen and Russell Brand and whatnot onto the couch in Australia. We’re looking, some people have reached out to me about that. So, that’s something that I’m really aiming towards doing as well.

I love it. Finally, for some of the listeners who are thinking, “I would really love to do that. I would love to get a deal with a publisher and write my memoir,” or a book, what’s your advice to them?

Well, my advice is that you go on Twitter and contact me @OwenBeddall, or reach out to me on Facebook, I’ve got a professional and a friends page, which is Owen Beddall and I will help you as much as I can.

I think that the thing is a lot of people say they’re writing a book and what they mean is they’ve got an idea for a book. Having your idea is like literally one percent of the battery. You have to then sit down and really think, “How is this book going to unfold for the reader?” So, just literally, Chapter 1, what is it? Chapter 2, what is it? Chapter 3, what is it? I mean obviously you know the end story, but how is the book actually going to unfold? Once you’ve got that then I would say have a look at, “Who is my audience?” “Who wants to read this?” Then, “Is this simple enough?”

I think if you stick to the very basics of things like, “Is this simple enough?” “Can other people engage with this?” The way that you will find that is not by hanging around with your friends, I don’t think, and not by hanging around people that are in your industry, but going out into places that you wouldn’t normally go, like maybe go out… for me going into straight bars, or going to bookstores, or going to — I went hiking with a group of ladies one day and I was telling them about the book and reading them snippets, they were like, “Oh, I would love to hear more about this,” or, “Tell me more about that…” Just to really widen your audience, because, I mean, there’s a lot of talent out there. There really are some people with some great Australian stories.

Fantastic. On that note, thank you so much for your time today, Owen. It’s an awesome read, I can’t wait for the next one.

Thank you so much. It’s so lovely to talk to you.

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