Good Reading Magazine Blog
Posted At : 8:18 AM | Posted By : Alesha
Related Categories: General
After a lifetime in the aviation industry, Jim Eames helps us understand his passion for flying and his new book Taking to the Skies.
Very deep, I guess, dating back to my days as an aviation writer on the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial in the 1960s, through some years with the Australian Department of Civil Aviation, as a Press Secretary to a Federal Civil Aviation Minister and finally some years as a Director of Public Affairs at Qantas.
2. What has been the most memorable experience of your aviation career?
Flying to the South Pole as a journalist in the 60s.
3. Why do you think flying is such an intense human experience?
Because it’s not our natural environment and it forces you to acknowledge the amount of knowledge and expertise which has gone into achieving it.
4. It’s such a wide-ranging book; how long did it take you to put it together and what resources did you use for research?
The main task in terms of major research and writing for Taking to the Skies took less than 12 months, but that takes no account of personal memories, clippings and other files gathered over many years, along with the fact that I had known many of the people mentioned in the book throughout my own career.
5. Were there stories you wanted to tell but couldn’t because sensitive or embarrassing information might have been revealed?
No, not really in this case, although I’ve certainly put aside some of the more sensitive or embarrassing information I’ve gleaned for future reference!
6. Do you think Qantas will last?
Yes, I certainly do. It’s going through a difficult period at present, but then I can’t recall any period in civil aviation where serious challenges haven’t had to be faced largely due to the highly technical and competitive nature of the industry, along with its high cost structures. Suddenly you can find that decisions made years before can have a serious bearing in the present day.
7. What was the scariest experience you had on a plane journey?
‘Scary’ probably isn’t a term I’d use although I can certainly recall some nervous moments while flying a light aircraft into tiny airstrips while living in Papua New Guinea in the 60s, dodging around mountain peaks covered in cloud.
8. Can you recommend a favourite book on aviation?
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, mainly because it told the story of an exceptional airman, Chuck Yeager, who was at the leading edge of the most exciting time in aviation. He was a fighter pilot in World War II, broke the sound barrier as a test pilot in the early days of the jet age and pioneered flight on the very fringe of space. The astronauts may have received much of the subsequent glory, but men like Yeager showed them the way.
9. Do you have any plans for another book in the near future?
Yes, I have a thought or two. Perhaps another aviation book.
10. What do you hope people will get out of Taking to the Skies?
Primarily the ability to look back at what has been the most exciting time in world aviation and the vital role Australians have played in it, along with some of the long-forgotten or largely overlooked highs and lows of our industry since World War II.
Posted At : 2:57 PM | Posted By : Alesha
Related Categories: General
What inspired you to write The Dynamite Room?
The Dynamite Room really was the result of many interests simultaneously coming together. For example, I have a History and English degree and I knew I wanted to write a World War II novel, but it is a well-trampled period for novelists and so I wanted to find a new and interesting angle. I toyed with the idea of an alternative history – what if the Germans had successfully invaded Britain in 1940? Then, in the library at Wimbledon, where I live, I stumbled across a book called Where the Eagle Landed by Peter Haining. It is a book of World War II myths that includes a story about Nazi bodies in the summer of 1940 being washed up on Shingle Street beach in Suffolk and the fear the locals had that some were still alive and loose in the Suffolk countryside. That was it. I had it. This was the start of the story. I wanted to keep the characters enclosed in one space so that I could build a claustrophobic tension. The house, Greyfriars, came from my love of gothic horror. It is a house that is haunted but not in a traditional sense. I then needed to put someone else in the house with my Nazi officer – the most unlikely person for him to be ‘trapped’ with. From that Lydia was born.
This period inspires a lot of fiction. What sets The Dynamite Room apart from other WWII novels?
Two things. Firstly, it takes the huge, all-consuming expanse of a global war and reduces it to the smallest setting possible – a single house. It is a war story with very few bangs and blasts. Instead, the setting is domestic and claustrophobic, with the tension in the main plot building from the two characters rather than outside circumstances. It is not the war that is the threat but the way war changes people. Secondly, I deliberately chose backstories and secondary plotlines that involved elements of the war that, previously, I had known nothing about. My view was that if they were new and interesting to me, they might be new and interesting to readers too, and also areas that were less well travelled by other writers. The Norwegian Campaign and Eva’s plotline in Berlin are examples of this.
What did you read by way of research?
Naturally I started by reading a lot of general books about the war and watching countless films. Then, once the plotlines were forming, I focused my reading on those areas. Hitler’s Preemptive War: The Battle for Norway by Henrik Lunde is a fascinating investigation in the struggle between the German and British Navy to control what was a neutral country, whilst books on being a nurse in Nazi Germany, the origins of Nazi genocide and Pioneer Group 909 all provided information for the other plot strands. The Third Reich in Power by Richard Evans, and Germany: Jekyll and Hyde by Sebastian Haffner, both gave an invaluable insight into everyday life in Germany.
I also find other novels, set in the same period, are good inspiration. Resistance by Owen Sheers is the book I might have written if he hadn’t already done it so brilliantly. Alone in Berlin by German writer Hans Fallada is a great story set in Berlin in the early days of the war. I spent hours in the British Library as well as the Imperial War Museum, not only reading books but rummaging through naval documents, letters, and anything else I could find. For me though, the most important research is visiting the locations. No amount of reading beats walking around the streets, paths and countryside that your characters travel through. Sometimes you stumble across things that set your novel off in all sorts of exciting new directions. When I was visiting Narvik in Norway I took a train up into the fjords and spent hours walking through the mountains. I got ridiculously lost. (My sense of direction is appalling!) Just as I was really beginning to panic, thinking I might have to spend the night sleeping under the trees, I found a concrete store, just there. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was my dynamite room, there in the trees. I would never have found it in the pages of a book.
In Lydia you have conjured an extremely authentic young girl. How did you get her voice just right?
For me, the important thing about Lydia is that she is at a turning point in her life, as neither a child nor an adolescent. I made a conscious effort that, given her circumstances, she would try to act like an adult and do the things that her mother might have done had she been around; yet she is still a child at heart and so any attempts to act like an adult would be done with a child’s awkwardness. In spite of her best efforts she would slip back now and again into her childish ways. I tried to bear this in mind in everything she said and did. I also looked at other strong, young female characters in fiction, Briony in Ian McEwan’s Atonement being an obvious one. On top of this, I’m a trained actor too, so there are many acting techniques that I used to create the characters, not just Lydia. These include finding their physicality or acting scenes out as the character might do. I dread to think what my neighbours must have thought every time they walked past my sitting room window to see me crawling around on the floor pretending to be a scared eleven-year old girl or hiding under the window clutching a dinner knife as if I’m a Nazi officer on the run.
Novelist or playwright?
Novelist first, definitely. I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember. It’s just that none of them have been published until now. The playwriting is a fairly new venture for me. I see it as the meeting of two worlds: my novel-writing experience and my actor training. I’ve had my work performed at a number of fringe theatres in London, and most recently had a pilot for my play, Claustrophobia, at the Bush Theatre in Shepherds’ Bush, which was supported by the Old Vic. I’m currently reworking the script so hopefully we’ll be putting it on soon! The great thing about acting, playwriting and novel writing is that they feed into each other. Being a novelist helps me structure the narrative arc of a play, whilst being a playwright helps me develop realistic dialogue and keep the writing crisp and uncluttered. That’s the theory anyway. I’ll let you be the judge of how successful (or not) I’ve been.
How do you feel on the brink of publication?
Like I’m suddenly living someone else’s life. It’s been a very long journey and one plagued with countless delays and disappointments, so finally to reach this point is, of course, a complete thrill, but I still can’t quite believe it. It’s very surreal. I fluctuate between childish excitement and total panic that my writing is about to be released for everyone to either enjoy or pull to pieces. A few days before writing this I received the typeset pages of the novel. I was so excited I didn’t know whether to do a little dance or cry. I had a go at both.
Which authors do you most admire?
There are so many. I was very fortunate in that I used to be a bookseller for many years in Oxford and then Bath, so had ready access to all sorts of amazing writers that I might not have discovered if I’d had any other job. In terms of novelists, the usual suspects are on my list: Ian McEwan, Sebastian Faulks, Michael Ondaatje, and Kazuo Ishiguro. When I was doing my A levels, my teacher forced me to read Iris Murdoch’s The Bell. I have been in awe ever since. The same teacher also introduced me to early Susan Hill. Her debut, I’m the King of the Castle, in its portrayal of the cruelty of children, is another book I wish I had written myself. In my grumpy teenage years I devoured Thomas Hardy, and at university I wrote a dissertation on gothic fiction so all the old-style gothic writers are firm favourites, as well as the shamefully undervalued Lesley Glaister, whose novels put a surreal gothic spin on domestic life. Anthony Doerr’s About Grace, Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, and Mark Slouka’s The Visible World are some of the most beautiful books I have recently read; and William Trevor’s The Story of Lucy Gault is the one book that made me cry. In hindsight, its set-up (girl left alone in house) might have inspired The Dynamite Room. Finally, I must mention that I have never quite grown out of folklore and fairytales, so Angela Carter deserves a special mention for both scaring me silly and still keeping the child in me alive.
I’m currently working on a new novel set during the closing days of the war. It’s about a man who wakes up in a field in the middle of Europe and doesn’t know where he is or how he got there. He tries to find his way home through the war-ravaged wastelands of Europe and – aided by an unlikely group of comrades – pieces together his past as he goes. I’m thinking of it as the surreal love child of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain and Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity. Oh, and set during World War II.
Posted At : 9:00 AM | Posted By : Alesha
Related Categories: General
We chat to Ben West about his book The Red Rucksack, a personal story of growth, travel, and giving everything up in the search of something more.
What were your favourite books when you were growing up?
When I was a child, every night one of my parents would sit on my bed and read Roald Dahl books to me. He is still one of my favourite authors. I love Dahl’s relaxed style and his characters, not to mention his incredibly poetic character names. The way he managed to paint such vivid worlds using simple English was an incredible talent. My favourite Roald Dahl book by far is The BFG. I am still waiting for my dream in a bottle ...
Tell us about your new book, The Red Rucksack.
The Red Rucksack covers a 12-month period in which my life completely changed. It starts when I was a stressed business owner thinking dark thoughts and follows my adventures after liquidating the lot to explore.
I struck out alone through Nepal, Mongolia, South America and Europe, met many interesting characters along the way and climbed a few mountains, trekked all over the place, learned to paraglide and invented paintball paragliding. During my South American adventures I also gained – and actively encouraged – one very attractive international stalker.
There is an underlying theme of self-development, but I do not labour it. The tone is kept very light and fun.
What inspired you to write about your travel adventures in The Red Rucksack?
As a young lad, I had an avalanche of books on my bedside table. My mum, who was a librarian at the time, wholeheartedly supported this habit. Following the success of Posh Dog, which I wrote at age seven, it has been my long-held dream to write another book. I was pretty busy between the ages of seven and thirty-four, so when my blog started getting serious traffic in 2011 I decided that it was time to realise this dream.
Did you notice any quirky habits that surfaced once you started writing?
You mean like jumping out of bed in the middle of the night to jot down ideas or verbalising dialogue to myself on trams?
While writing The Red Rucksack I became a completely impossible, obsessive, one-track-minded horror to live with. I would tap away, hunched over in my dimly lit den from 7am until 9pm, then delete everything to start again.
Considering the candid nature of your book, did you find it challenging to write at times?
Yes and no. It is often easier to open up to strangers. This is how I managed to be so raw and honest in the prologue. That said, I did write and rewrite this part more times than I cared to count. Even though at times it’s uncomfortable for us blokes, it was my goal to be completely open and honest about how I was feeling without hurting any friendships I respect, or even people I don’t. Writing about the incident in Nepal, however, didn’t bother me; soiling one’s sleeping bag in the foothills of the Himalayas at midnight is more funny than embarrassing, right?
What do you think was your best experience while writing The Red Rucksack?
Although it took a lot of self-discipline and hard work, writing The Red Rucksack was quite enjoyable. I’d write all day, show my work to my wife, and then we’d spend the night on the couch reviewing it together. My goal was simple; to write a book that I could honestly say I was happy with. The incredible feedback I’ve received since has been a massive boost for my confidence. In his radio show, one reviewer favourably compared my writing with Bill Bryson and Paul Theroux. I was both stunned and thrilled!
If I had to single out one thing, I would say the best experience during the writing was when I got the proof copy from the printers. I returned home stinky from six weeks in Nepal, to be greeted by a grinning wife who was holding my book like a baby. Flicking through the pages it became abundantly clear just how much of me went into this thing.
And the worst?
Notwithstanding the time I lost three day’s work because I didn’t bloody backup my file, I would have to say the hardest experience was writing the prologue. It was a few years since my near meltdown and I thought I’d put that angst behind me. Writing about those times, and trying mentally to put myself there, really brought it all back to life. There were a few sleepless nights, but I didn’t want to skip over anything, so I persevered and penned a prologue that shows the reader where I started without being too gloomy.
What are you hoping that readers will take away from The Red Rucksack?
It is too easy to forget that life is meant to be fun. Sometime over my seven years in business I sure did. I would love for even one person to write and tell me that they went somewhere, or did something really fun as a result of reading The Red Rucksack. This, and wash your hands before eating.
Can we expect another book in the near future?
Absolutely! Even as I was finishing the acknowledgements for The Red Rucksack I began planning the next book. There has been over two years of frantic adventuring where The Red Rucksack leaves off, so the hard choice is what to write next.
Currently I am working on a mostly fun, partly serious, pregnancy survival guide for guys. My wife had her 12-week scan in late September, the same day I left to climb Ama Dablam in Nepal. Clearly there was plenty of soul searching on this expedition! When I was climbing, and while my (ridiculously understanding) other half was at home growing a baby, I realised that there is a shortage of fun, Up the Duff-style guides for men. I am hoping to offer some useful advice, or just comic relief, to prospective dads.
Do you have any advice that you could offer aspiring writers?
Really? You want to spend all your spare time pouring your heart into a book that has no guarantees of success, while your friends nag you to get a life?
My advice would be to do it!
To date, writing The Red Rucksack has been one of the most satisfying projects I have undertaken. Disregard that gargoyle on your shoulder telling you that you can’t, ignore the dishes piling up in the sink, switch off Facebook and get writing (after you’ve read my book, naturally). The worst-case scenario is that you have spent your time doing fun stuff.
Finally, keep a diary and write something,anything, in there every day. Daily contact with the keyboard keeps the creative juices flowing, and you never know when a record of even the most mundane details will be useful.
Posted At : 12:00 AM | Posted By : Alesha
Related Categories: General
Zimbabwean born author T M Clark talks to us about her first contemporary novel My Brother-But-One.
What were your favourite books when you were growing up?
Books written by Rudyard Kipling. The Jungle Book – I loved Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the mongoose in India who kept the family safe from snakes. (I have a phobia about snakes). Just So Stories – especially ‘The Elephant's Child’. I loved it that he knew ‘the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees’. His stories were so real to me in the environment I grew up in.
As a teenager: Thunderhead by Mary O’Hara. I was given this book as a child, but it was too thick and intimidating for a non-reader. But once I began reading as a teenager, I pulled it out of the drawer and read it. I loved it then, and I have managed to hold on to this book. Although the pages are yellowed and fading, the story is just wonderful. Having had to grow up fast at the age of 12, having had to give up my horse and having to take on adult responsibilities earlier than others of my age, it resonated with me a lot.
Why did you decide to become an author? Is writing something that you have always been passionate about?
Which authors have most influenced your writing style?
Also in my genre is Tony Park. His stories pinpoint the exact pulse of Africa with amazing attention to detail. But it is his personal encouragement that influenced me more in my writing, his encouragement to keep writing, to not give up.
I tried so hard to squish my writing into the romance genre, into a category romance, as so many of my friends were writing for these lines. But I just couldn’t fit them into the world counts. I always had too many characters and too much plot for a short novel. Writers like Sidney Sheldon also influenced me. I wanted my love story to be huge and sweeping. It was only after I was told that I wasn’t writing romance but rather contemporary or literary fiction, that I allowed myself to expand my stories into what they wanted to be. When I read more of Nicholas Sparks’s books, the penny dropped that he influenced the arc of my stories. I wanted to keep the intense emotion in relationships throughout the story, but that happy ending that the romance reader wants isn’t always there.
What have been some of your most memorable experiences as a writer?
Getting to see my book in a shop. When my children’s book was published, it went directly into schools, but My Brother-But-One went into shops and I saw it on a shelf. My mum came for a visit from South Africa and I could take her into the shop and go, ‘Mum, that's me on the shelf.’
At the Romance Writers of Australia conference in August 2013 I saw the book cover for the first time. It was postage-stamp size, but I couldn’t stop staring at it. And then the next morning I saw it on this huge screen, and I couldn’t stop shaking, knowing that that beautiful cover was going to be wrapped around my story. I loved it, and I was so glad that Harlequin hadn’t listened to a word I said about what I wanted, and had done their job. It’s beautiful!
Tell us about your new novel, My Brother-But-One.
Scott Decker and Zol Ndhlovu are partners in a private game ranch in Zimbabwe. They have a friendship formed in Africa — a brotherhood that endures the generation gap and crosses the colour barrier. When a gender mix-up secures Australian Ashley Twine a position on their volunteer program in the Hwange National Park, she bursts into their lives, and things are never the same again.
Ashley witnesses the devastation left behind by poachers, and she finds herself drawn to the chauvinistic but protective Scott. Nothing, however, can prepare her for being ambushed and held captive by the psychopathic Rodney — an old enemy of Zol’s from a war fought years ago. But now that their world has been threatened, circumstances take hold of their lives and begin to shape and change them forever.
What was your best experience while writing My Brother-But-One?
What do you hope readers will take away from My Brother-But-One?
Can we expect another book in the near future?
Yes, you can. I have signed a new two-book deal with Harlequin. My next book’s working title is Shooting Butterflies, and it will be out in December 2014. Then there will be another book in late 2015.
1. Write. Put your butt in the chair and write the story from your heart.
2. There are so many avenues open to authors, but don’t rush at the first opportunity that comes along. Stop, think with your business head, take your time and get it right if you are publishing anything. Writing might be your passion, but it’s also your business, so treat it with a professional attitude.