Tick tick tick tick tick tick… Nicholas Lee discusses his new 60 Minutes memoir

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Nicholas Lee worked for Channel 9 as a 60 Minutes cameraman for three decades, before retiring in 2012. And now he’s released a book. It has been described as a ‘deliciously gossipy and humorous memoir’, as he shares his tales from that time. This all sounded worthy of a story, so we shone the spotlight on Nicholas and asked him some questions of our own. Tick tick tick tick…

Hi Nicholas. So can you tell us a little more about your book, All This in 60 Minutes?

“All This in 60 Minutes is about my 30 years as a cameraman with the TV program 60 Minutes. Thanks to the show’s huge budget we went anywhere and everywhere searching for that great story. The world was my blank canvas. I was always excited to go searching for those extraordinary, sometimes elusive pictures. Looking back now, having filmed Idi Amin’s torture chambers, the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, the death of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands and east Berlin before the wall came down, I realised that I had witnessed history unfolding. Though it wasn’t only history unfolding… I did a little unfolding myself, thanks to the fear of being in war zones.

“But history and fear are quickly forgotten when your expense account is unbelievably generous and Paris, London, New York beckon. The fun, the food, the camaraderie, and the absurd situations, continued to remind me of just how lucky I was to have this job.”

That’s a candid answer. So clearly you had a lot of material from those 30 years and countless locations, but what tipped it from being stories you’d tell at a dinner party to being a book?

“I was always being told I should write a book – nothing to do with great writing skills, just that I had seen a hell of a lot of the world. I thought it was a great idea until I read Christopher Hitchens’ quote, ‘everybody does have a book inside them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay’. That put me off writing for a few years. Then I thought, bugger him I’ll do it for the (now grown up) kids, and maybe they’ll learn why I missed half their lives. So I started typing. I know they’ll say they love it, because that’s what kids do for their Dad.”

So, how did you approach the writing of this book?

“I wrote every day, even if it was only one paragraph. I found it much easier to write at night, between 8pm and midnight. Though all the best ideas appeared (unfortunately) at 3am. Sometimes they were so amazing I couldn’t wait to get them on paper. By morning those great ideas had completely deserted me. Did they exist or was I dreaming? I took to sleeping with a pen and paper by my bed. The great ideas did exist. I highly recommend having a pen and paper nearby at all times. But, remember the adage ‘there is no great writing – only rewriting’.

That is a great adage. So, what’s next? Any more books inside you?

“I have nothing planned, but writing this book was so enjoyable I will attempt another. It’s the fun of putting words on paper, even if they never get near a publisher.”

Amen to that. So, got any final parting words of advice for writers who’d love to be published one day?

“Forget Christopher Hitchens, just write. It is fulfilling, it is cathartic, but it is hard work. You will never be happy, even with the endless rewriting. Although it sounds blooming obvious, you must have a beginning, middle and an end.  Even with brilliant writing, it’s all about structure! Go for it.”

All This in 60 Minutes by Nicholas Lee is published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99, available now.

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