Writer’s imagination just the start of a long, hard slog

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“They’d put their best publicist on the job and the interviews and events stretched ahead like an endless obstacle course,” writes author ROBERT MACKLIN

I’M guessing that one image of an author is that of a bespectacled woman, with a half smile, tapping away on an old computer, having just decided who the murderer will be.

Or if it’s a man, when he’s done his morning quota of 1000 words, he’s off to a restaurant for lunch with a friend.

No one ever thinks of that other horrible, terrifying part of the business – the selling game. Or if they do, it’s a reflection of the movies with glamorous hotels and adoring audiences.

Ho, ho, ho. Do I have a surprise for you.

Right now I’ve just finished the first week of the tour promoting my 29th book, “Castaway”, the story of Narcisse Pelletier, the French cabin boy who in 1858 was abandoned by his shipmates on a far-north Queensland beach. He lived with the Night Island Aboriginal people for the next 17 years before he was ripped away by passing British sailors who probably thought they were doing him a favour.

The other half of the book tells of the Frontier War that was then taking place in Queensland as the squatters and the Native Mounted Police did their best to destroy Aboriginal society throughout the state.

I finished it about a year ago and it’s taken all this time for the publisher to decide when and how to bring it to the world; and they chose the middle of winter so that by Christmas it will have been so exposed to readers that they’ll rush out and plonk down their $32.50 for a present to a close family member (that way they’ll get to read it after – or even before – the recipient).

In this case they’d put their best publicist on the job and the interviews and events stretched ahead like an endless obstacle course. It was terrifying, not just because I knew the awful pitfalls from earlier books but in the interim I’d actually written another totally engaging book and “Castaway” seemed like a distant memory.

And when I read it again, like all authors, half the time I think it’s utterly brilliant, and the other half I envisage critics who would attack my endeavours.

I was terrified that during an interview I’d forget some vital fact or look like a complete idiot. That had certainly happened before. And first on the agenda was “Conversations” with Richard Fidler – an entire hour on the ABC with the biggest podcast audience in the country.

“Don’t worry, mate,” said my friend and author Paul Daley who was going to launch it in Canberra. “You’ll have no problem – great book, great interviewer.”

It didn’t help. For two nights beforehand I barely slept and by the time I reached Aunty’s Sydney HQ I’d forgotten every word I’d written. In fact, I carried a big list of vital names from the story, quite sure I’d never remember them at the time.

Then suddenly we were in the studio, Richard was doing the intro and saying: “So, Robert, tell us what it’s all about”. And in a flash it all came flooding back and I was off and soaring.

Days later the phone was running hot with friends who had heard the show.

Next day with John Laws it was almost the same – one question and I was flying. So, too, with the launch at Harry Hartog bookshop at the ANU.

“This is great,” I told myself and my dear wife who’d come along for the ride. “No worries! Bring on the next one”.

Oh dear, the next one… what was that saying about “pride” and a “fall”.

Next week… disaster!


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Robert Macklin
Journalist and author. Contact robert@robertmacklin.com

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