I’m a former newspaper journalist who is now free to be frivolous. I write humorous mysteries and funny crime capers. I have set myself a challenging publishing schedule for 2017. My main focus is publishing digitally with Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other platforms. My aim is produce eBooks much faster than a traditional publisher is able and produce a product that’s just as professional. I keep stay abreast of current indie-publishing trends by listening almost daily to craft and marketing podcasts from the U.S., Britain and Australia. I’ve read dozens of books, done a number of writing workshops. Now I’ve teamed up with a great cover artist, Maria Connors, and worked already with an editor in New Zealand. I format my books with Vellum now, which does a very professional job.
How I got here
My fortunes changed the day I slipped in the hallway and broke my leg (fibula and fibula). I now look back and realise that’s when I was propelled on to a path for a new career as a fiction writer. If it had ended there and then I might have successfully resumed my career on newspapers that had begun in 1976 when I was barely 18 and had taken me to papers up and down the eastern seaboard of Australia and to Papua New Guinea. But I contracted golden staph, and had to endure six more operations, machines attached to me 24/7, more antibiotics and painkillers (administered both intravenously and orally) than you’d reasonably expect to have to have in a lifetime, months in and out of hospital and hospital waiting rooms and a hospital diet than left me anaemic and craving for Italian food again. I did eventually get back to work (determination kicked in) but I wasn’t the same. Years ago I was diagnosed with a neurological problem that affects my balance and my speech. My theory is the treatment for the golden staph exacerbated things. I couldn’t blame my colleagues forever thinking I might topple over again and break something else. When it was suggested I retire early on medical grounds, I didn’t think there was any point quibbling. It wasn’t the way I had planned to go out but c’est la vie. I’m not ready to pack it in yet though. Sure, there are things I can’t do anymore — but I’ve always tried to figure out what I can do. Truth is, I’ve dabbled in writing fiction for years. Mobility is much less a problem in my home and when you’re working alone no one has to try to fathom what you are mumbling about.
Somewhere around home I have a copy of The Karwyn Chronicle, which a mate and I produced for Christmas 1980 for the 30 people (mainly Australians, five or six of them from Goondiwindi) who lived with us in a house in Trinity Rise in Tulse Hill in South London. We did a lot of typewriting, used letraset stencilling for headlines and shelled out for a bit of photocopying. I only tell you this because I think it might have been my first foray into self-publishing. I can only hope that a libel lawyer never finds my copy though because it was all quite scandalous. If one of those Australians abroad is now rich and famous, it was the other bloke who wrote the libellous stuff. OK?
My brush with someone else’s fame
In 1982 I worked as a sub-editor on the Post-Courier in Papua New Guinea. We had been working on computers and in clean, quiet offices in Australia for some years — but at the Post-Courier we stepped back to typewriters and hot metal. Many were the times I scribbled a headline on a piece of copy paper and handed it to the bare-foot copyboy to take to the print room, and he’d return a few minutes later shaking his head. Sorry, but the printers had run out of the letters L, P and T. Could I write something without those letters in it? That added a new skill set to my writing bow! Why am I telling you this? I’m just trying to give you some context. PNG was grappling with its fairly recent independence at this time, and there were many rewards ahead for bright up-and-comers the country was producing. One such fellow we knew was a very bright mathematics student at the local university. One day he came to us and said he had packed in his studies to buy the PNG franchise for something called Microsoft software. Now remember: we we’re still using typewriters and getting our international copy on telex machines. So what if our friend got in on the Microsoft ground floor
A is for Apples
I wrote my first paperback novel in 1993. It was called Apples. I still have some copies in my garage. I self-published at a time self-publishing was a dirty word. But I had baggage. I grew up in a household that had a couple of my father’s old novel manuscripts around. He had submitted them to umpteen publishes before he gave up. I always thought bugger that for a joke. In 1993, I found myself with the time to go it alone (I was single and I had just stepped down from a demanding, time-consuming job to one that paid a much higher per-hour rate). I had a computer with word-processing software, I had the skills to write it, the skills to edit it, the dubious skills to design the cover, and the ability to oversee the printing. What I didn’t have were the skills to market it. My idea of marketing was to drive around Tasmania begging book shop owners to take a few copies of the book. I wasn’t very good at this, and when I look at the book now I realise I didn’t really know much about writing novels either. The inverted pyramid style I had mastered on newspapers didn’t really cut it with a novel!
I ventured on to the Internet for the first time in 1996. It was in Goulburn in New South Wales, where I went to work on the local newspaper, the Goulburn Post. The Internet then seem a thing of wonder. My wife and I bought ourselves a modem and a long phone cord that we snaked from one end of the house to another. We soon found the trick was to start loading a page, leave it and go and get a cup of coffee, and when we returned the page would be visible. Maybe.
A year or two later
I was working as a sub-editor on the sports desk of The Canberra Times, and I was really annoyed whenever I heard about a student designing a home page as part of their studies at high school. I think I had The Fear of Missing Out way before the expression was coined. I shouldn’t have been annoyed. I started working life using a typewriter and by now I had worked on several different computer systems. But I thought I was missing out of an exciting, new technology. In the late 90s, most Australian newspapers embraced the web in a very half-hearted way. Often the copy person was instructed to take the main stories of the day and put them on the newspaper’s web. I knew this wasn’t right. What drongo thought putting yesterday’s news up today was a good use for this technology. But there weren’t too many visionaries running the newspapers. They really thought publishing newspapers on line would never catch up because no one would come at sitting in front of their desktop computers. I can’t tell you how many odd looks I got when I told people they had to start envisioning the portable devices that I thought would soon to developed, and would drive the revolution.
In circa 1998, a colleague and I decided to venture into this Internet frontier alone. I call it a frontier, but it was really geocities.com. We decided to teach ourselves how to build web sites. We had to learn rudimentary html, which wasn’t so hard. We had used similar commands on various newspaper computer systems. We exchanged tips and blundered our way to make a reasonable go of it. The problem for me once I learnt how to drive it, was what content I was going to populate it with. What came to hand were various humour and parenting columns I had written for newspapers in recent years. Next thing I know I was contacted by a bloke in the United States who was starting a group called The Netwits, a group of internet humour writers. At the height of my involvement, there were 140 of us — most from the US. We critiqued each other’s columns and articles, shared market opportunities, bombarded plagiarises we found with nasty emails (I had some of my columns plagiarised by a weekly newspaper editor in Calgary, something I would never had known about but for the eyes of colleagues in that part of the world). We even did some work together. One job was writing humour content for WAP-enabled cell phones in Canada — something for people to read when they were stuck in traffic. I wonder why that technology didn’t catch on! Oh well. They paid in American dollars and we had a very favourable exchange rate at that time, so I earnt a bit of drinking money.
2004: my first eBook
You heard it here first, folks. Before Kindles and iPads, .mobi and ePub, I did a PDF eBook called Adventure by flip-flops under the Southern Cross with independentbooks.com. From memory, I offered the content free for charity. I just wanted to say I had done an eBook. Again, the content I offered were just old columns and scribblings I had lying around. In 2004, I packaged some of those same columns into a print-on-demand book called How Much Is That Scorpion in the Window? I followed this up with another POD novel called Major BS: A Top-Secret Mission in 2009.