- GUEST AUTHOR -
Today I welcome a very interesting man - Norman Wheatley. Norman is not only an author. He is a software QA engineer and Energy and building scientist and researcher, with strong project management and presentation skills; passionate about sustainability and the environment.
Welcome, Norman ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
As a British Army brat I grew up all over Europe and Africa before we moved to Perth, WA, when I was 12. I have three brothers and every 2 years or so the Wheatley Boys would descend upon another unsuspecting school. It was great fun and spurred my intense curiosity in understanding new accents, idioms cultures and histories.
I was very good at school and enjoyed making up stories and writing and researching both in history and in science. I read most of Homer’s works by age 11 and used to read encyclopaedias before going to bed. Study was my way of trying to be better than my brothers (I’m not of course but young boys are competitive).
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
After 10 years in Perth, I moved to Sydney to do a PhD in Astrophysics. That didn’t work out, I got itchy feet and embarked on a decade long trek to England, Norway and Germany. I think I missed the adventure. During that time I wrote a few short stories but I was too itinerant and busy finding myself to really focus.
Years later when I’d left Australia that I realized that I needed to write down why I left and weave in some of my passions and experiences. That’s when I began to work on WHITE FELLA, BLACK FELLA.
I left “the lucky country” partly because I felt it was racist and sometimes sexist. It took me decades to leave. My brother lives in Hobart, and my aunt lived in London. I was fascinated by the historical connection and saw writing WHITE FELLA, BLACK FELLA as a way of exploring my feelings as well as exploring Australia’s dark colonial past and troubled present. Australia seems like an adolescent child from an abusive and broken home. This was a great topic for a novel and it was very hard not to write the story once I began my research.
WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
Ready, Fire, Aim! No, not me. I like to use stories to explore themes so I need a plot that will guide me through my jungle and I need strong characters to make the story interesting and real. Having read a lot of bad historical fiction, and being something of a scientist, I cannot write a story that is implausible – stories about time travel and going to distant planets drive me up the wall!
But I don’t believe in too tight a rein. I can start writing once I know the themes I want and the characters and rough plot I need to investigate them. I also re-write a lot, especially the crucial parts, the vignettes that I want to make especially memorable or thought provoking.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Exploration; it’s a blast learning about things and communicating them to others in a fun and meaningful way. Self-reflective learning is especially rewarding. When you realise that you didn’t know anything about your favourite MasterMind subject at all - that’s just wonderful!
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Getting things published. It’s so frustrating and annoying when you read some the rubbish out there and it’s no consolation to know that the authors got their through momentum or celebrity.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
A nerd. I did quite well at science and have worked as a computer programmer and tester quite a bit. I also have a Masters in environmental physics as I’m concerned about the mess we’re making of our planet.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
Finishing WHITE FELLA, BLACK FELLA. It’s a long novel and took a lot of research but it was great fun.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
The next phase of WHITE FELLA, BLACK FELLA. I now live in
San Francisco which saw a real upheaval in the 1850’s so that’s a super setting for a story.
San Francisco which saw a real upheaval in the 1850’s so that’s a super setting for a story.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Injustice and ignorance or perhaps gullibility and complacency. People seem oblivious of the past and the trials and hardship undertaken by their forebears. Our society is ambivalent about the future and has silly notions about science and the future. Denial of global warming and a belief in unrealistic physics goads me into trying to educate by telling realistic stories using believable characters and credible settings. Well, I try my best anyway.
WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
Historical fiction and realistic science fiction.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Find somewhere quiet and comfortable, pick a theme and weave a plot then look around for characters you know who could enact your little tapestry of life. Read aloud the important bits. Carve out a niche in your schedule, writing doesn’t happen spontaneously, it’s a planned and sometimes arduous process. Don’t expect to make any money. Writing is like a marathon or a Uni degree, you need to believe in yourself and do it for yourself.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
No, I occasionally suffer from writer’s not starting. Once I’ve begun I can go pretty well. The problem is making sure you have the time to sit down and write.
I also find that going for a long run is very useful for distilling ideas – make sure you don’t go so fast that you can’t talk to yourself J
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
When I wrote WHITE FELLA, BLACK FELLA it was all I did. That’s the best way – total commitment. So find a rich partner and quit your day job.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
Big computer screen, preferably several so I can have the reference material to hand. Unfortunately my place isn’t ideal yet.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Getting a little scene or message nicely wrapped up – a little package that says or shows precisely what you want. You want to transport the reader to a different time and a different place so they see what you see in your mind’s eye and can really feel what your character feels.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
Solzhenitsyn – great at scenes and making you feel miserable. Alfred Duggan – great at historical fiction but with a bit of a romantic touch. Gerald Durrell – a deft sense of humour and human interaction.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
“When can I read the next book – I read a new chapter to my nephews and nieces every night.”
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
“I’ve had your book for 3 months now – I’ll read it soon.”
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Yes, seeing the squalor of the life of aboriginal misfits in Sydney’s suburbs and seeing how some tribes are fighting for their heritage and dignity was a strong motivation for WHITE FELLA, BLACK FELLA
OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Running. The beauty of the Marin Headlands and Cradle mountain after the rain has cleaned the air. You can see the gorgeous scenery for miles. I also like a nice cup of vanilla tea and getting together with my 3 brothers for a good laugh.
DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Yes, Sally Odgers, Tasmania. Very good proof reader with great attention to detail.
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
I wake up early and have a bit of rumpy pumpy (well, you did ask!). Then a cup of tea and some cheese scones for brekky before a long run over the Marin headlands, seeing bobcats, deer and coyotes on the way and the blanket of fog over the Golden Gate bridge before reaching the Pelican Inn for a pint of cider. Then a nap and a walk on the beach to see the proposises and pelicans and the green flash of the sunset.
IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
My wife, Leslie, because she’s my best mate. Great fun to talk to and always a good laugh. Plus she can put up with me!
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
Guys, please think about the future not your personal future or your party’s future but the future of the poor kids in your country. Imagine their great grandchildren saying thank goodness for you, the politician so many years ago who has made our lives worth living. Do something. Leave a lasting and positive legacy. You can’t be Nelson Mandela, or Mother Teresa but you can try.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
To complete the sequel to WHITE FELLA, BLACK FELLA. To write some more short stories and perhaps a science fiction novel.
WHAT FIVE BOOKS WOULD YOU TAKE TO HEAVEN?
This assumes that there is a God and is a heaven of course, and that I’d be going there rather than the other direction! My choices are My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell because it’s amusing and touching. Ulysses by James Joyce because I haven’t read it and it’s an interesting challenge. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins – it’d be fun to have a chat with god about it. The Origin of species so I can have a chat with Charles Darwin about it. Finally, I’d take an empty writing journal so I can write down all my experiences and answer all the questions that mortal man has and send it back down to Earth J
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
I suppose there are parts of me in some of the characters. Billy is a bit like me when I was a teenager - naïve and when I was an adult – cynical but he still has a gritty sense of humour.
DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
Immensely. It’s self-serving, designed as a business to make a profit rather than to promote meaningful works. I hope the digital era will overcome that but it’s an uphill battle.
DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
No. It’s fun and I’m not doing it to make money, I’ve given up on that.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
I really enjoyed writing WHITE FELLA, BLACK FELLA. I learnt a lot about the subject and about myself. I found that my opinions were pretty accurate and that I am good at research and can get a good story down on paper with lively characters and arcs.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER?
Writing a complete story. Length is irrelevant, selling it is irrelevant but the icing on the cake is when someone besides your Mum takes the time and effort to read it and likes it.
WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
Happy, entertained, amused and hopefully in some small part enlightened and wanting more.
HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
Heaps. Every picture tells a story. It sets the scene, the background for the story. For historical works I like using old pencil drawing done at the time of the story.
WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
To be able to write full-time rather than have to work on other things for a living.
WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
I’m lousy at it, I’m not an Ad-man, I’m a writer. I’m hopelessly inept but I’m trying to improve and blow my own trumpet.
ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
Yup. Or rather, the eBook is … not sure how and if I should make hard-copies, it’s all so daunting. You can get WHITE FELLA, BLACK FELLA here from Amazon, dirt cheap!
WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
And the world lived happily ever after.