Gary Nunn says that the moment he found out his book was going to be published was spine tingling. He immediately rushed to tell his family.
“My mum cried,” Gary says. “It was one of the last things I told my beloved nan before she died. She'd always ask when I was going to publish that book.”
Although he had a successful career as a freelance journalist, Gary turned to the Australian Writers' Centre to help hone his craft in writing fiction and creative non-fiction. The result is his first book, The Psychic Tests: An Adventure In The World Of Believers and Sceptics, published by Pantera Press.
“The AWC was such a key part of that: meeting other writers, access to those who'd done it, the community that forms around those taking a course. Writing can be such a solitary pursuit for a gregarious, garrulous person like me! The AWC was the antidote to that.”
Studying for success
The path to writing The Psychic Tests was a step-by-step process for Gary. He started in PR and communications before moving into freelance journalism. People would frequently ask him when he was going to write a book, but he was aware that it was a big learning curve.
“I think there comes a critical mass time when enough people encourage you in that direction that you kind of relent, and the storyteller in you squeals internally,” Gary says.
He enrolled in several creative writing courses at the AWC, determined to write a novel and be published. After securing a spot at an artist’s residency in Bilpin, Gary got to work and finished his draft fiction manuscript.
“That's when I took everything I'd learnt on the courses I did and applied it. Every day there I'd wake up and just write and write and write till night came,” Gary says. “Somewhere dedicated just to writing, with nobody else around and hardly any internet reception. I deleted all social media apps. My God, the productivity that flows when you do that! It's actually scary.”
Despite successfully finishing his draft, Gary wasn’t entirely happy with it. And then he had an epiphany. Creative non-fiction was more closely aligned to his current style of writing, and he could still employ his creativity.
“I decided to transfer all the skills I'd learnt at AWC's courses and apply them to a fresh idea I had for a narrative non-fiction book,” Gary says. “Everything took off from there.”
Inspired by non-fiction authors like Jon Ronson, Caitlin Moran, Rick Morton and Ginger Gorman, Gary turned to the question of psychics and their role in shaping the world we live in. His sister Taren regularly consulted psychics, and Gary felt she was being exploited. So he began to wonder at the surprising people who believed in mediums and the reasons why.
Asking the tough questions
In The Psychic Tests, Gary pits his own skepticism against the faith of his sister in a series of tests. But Gary was interested in more than just answering the question ‘is this real?’
“We've overlooked so many other tests,” Gary says. “Can psychics harm? Can they heal? Can they encourage lifelong romance, alleviate loneliness, lift the discomfort of uncertainty, decode mysteries, stroke egos, cure impostor syndrome, untangle the chaos with dazzling flair or enliven the pedestrian monotony of modern life? The answer, in every case, is yes.”
Once his proposal was accepted by Pantera Press, Gary had to get down to the business of actually writing the book, while still working as a freelance journalist. That meant putting in long hours at the State Library of NSW, from opening to closing time.
“My approach was to just belch out the first draft like thought-vomit. I wrote 157,000 words! We had to get that down to just over 70,000 words. It seemed impossible and I could only do it with my amazing publisher, Pantera. They helped enormously,” Gary says. “I really enjoyed the collaborative part of restructuring the book. It was difficult, but rewarding.”
That collaborative aspect was something Gary had enjoyed in his AWC courses, as well.
“Every writer should spend some time with other aspiring book writers. Creativity flourishes around the margins, before you've enjoyed success,” Gary says. “We'd have all these nerdy discussions about how useful adverbs really are and why verbs are sometimes more powerful than adjectives. I was in my element; I was with my people.”
“She couldn't actually speak, all she kept saying, repeatedly was ‘Oh Gary. Oh, Gary!’ It was a moment, for sure. Bless her,” Gary says. “So Nan's in the book, and it's partly dedicated to her, too.”
This was important for Gary, because although he had dreams of being published one day, he didn’t think he fit the author’s mould.
“I guess I looked at authors and heard them discuss their work and they didn't sound much like me. They sounded elegant and articulate and terribly grown up!” Gary says. “That's why people like Caitlin Moran, Rick Morton and even Russell Brand have been inspiring for me: they sound or look more relatable than the plummy, eloquent authors I heard speaking as I got older.”
Having gained valuable creative skills and industry advice through his courses, Gary has now joined the ranks of those ‘grown-up’ authors. And for those who are looking to do the same?
“First, don't procrastinate a moment longer, book it! Get amongst your people. Bounce off their creative energy,” Gary says. “Second, start with a beginner's course and work your way up. That's what I did. You'll blossom and mature as a writer as a result, I guarantee it. And keep going back. The work never stops! Nor should it.”