- Guest Author -
Welcome to an interview conducted with an author who arrived in Australia in 1973 - John Hickman.
Welcome, John ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
My name is John Hickman. I am 69 years of age, and a self-funded retiree.
Carole, my wife of forty-eight years says that should make me a mature writer.
I was born March 1945 in the ‘little room’ upstairs at 8 Barlby Road, Kensington, London, England.
My Dad was away at the time of my birth dropping bombs on Hitler, but Mum told me he was at home for my conception.
I was educated at private schools in London.
I joined the Westminster Bank, and then became an hotelier. It was while I was working in the hotel business with my Dad that I met my wife Carole in 1965.
I joined the Pest Control industry based in the UK before migrating with my family in 1971 as ‘ten pound Poms.’ We became naturalised Australians in 1973.
I specialised in pest control, fumigation, and timber preservation throughout S.E. Queensland and the South Pacific Islands my entire working life. My family and I also farmed deer in the South Burnett region of Queensland.
Family was instilled into me by my mother and father. In my life nothing takes precedence over the welfare of my family. My wife Carole and our two children are devoted to each other. Family was the reason I worked all of my life, and the opinion of my family of me, and my actions, is important. More important to me than what others may think of me.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
After retirement in 2003 I started to ‘smell the flowers’ and realised how most of them smelled the same. We intended to travel. I wanted to play golf and go fishing. The travel and the fishing went well but the golf was a disaster. No matter how many lessons I took, nor how hard I tried I couldn’t get that little white ball to consistently go where I wanted it to. I found the frustration outweighed the pleasure. At one stage I enjoyed the walk without using a golf club at all. Frustration led to me being under Carole’s feet when she wanted her alone time. One day she said to me, “Look if you’re bored, and can’t think of something better to do. Go write a damn book!”
And so being unable to play golf, I discovered a passion for writing.
Besides being unable to play golf my relationship with my father had always been a very close one. Initially, he was reluctant to speak of his wartime experiences, but over time he talked with me at length. At dinner parties when other people told jokes, being a poor joke teller myself, I often told one of his more suitable wartime experiences. Usually something with a tad of humour. You could say I fed off the stories he’d told me. Reaction was always good. So good that I was often told, “John you should write a book.”
What with being under Carole’s feet, I thought Dad’s story would be worth telling, and WW2 was still topical. The war may be over but it’s not done with, is it? Then I realised that if his story was to be told I was the only one alive to tell it. Carole said, “So you’d better get on with it. I’m off to the shops.”
Women are so often right, don’t you think?
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
Because I only write true stories I tend to shoot from the hip! I have my beginning because after I completed my first book Reluctant Hero the beginning of Tripping Over by definition was the end of Reluctant Hero. Same with Sex, Lies & Crazy People because it follows on from Tripping Over. I try to summarise the beginning so that readers who are following me don’t become bored with reading the same stuff over, but each book needs to be stand alone should a reader pick up other than Reluctant Hero.
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
The freedom! I’m free to relive the past, explore the future, and I get enormous pleasure when I receive compliments about my books. Readers have told me they were unable to put Reluctant Hero down. Comments vary from “It’s a miracle we won WW2” to “Thank you for telling me what it was really like. I cried.” Or, “My father was a navigator on Liberators and never would tell me what it was like. Thank you for explaining to me what he went through.”
With Tripping Over I enjoy hearing what parts of the book made readers laugh the most. Classics are the Thames River scenes, the upside down wallpaper, and Rotten Row, but occasionally someone will pick up a little gem like the 6 inch nails in the fuse box, or the Police interview. Makes me chuckle all over again. I really enjoyed writing that book.
I can’t wait to get feedback from readers about Sex, Lies & Crazy People.
5. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Finding the time. I know that sounds ridiculous for someone who’s retired but I often tell people I could never go back to work as, “I don’t have the time.”
6. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
Probably a writer in hiding. I always enjoyed writing business letters to government departments and major contracts. It was an opportunity to think outside the square and be a little forthright. If you can cheer up a government employee’s day with a tad of humour, it’s a public service, right?
On the serious side I specialised in pest control, fumigation, and timber preservation throughout S.E. Queensland and the South Pacific Islands. I also farmed deer in the South Burnett region of Queensland. I’m contemplating a book about the pest control experiences. Not unlike All Creatures Great and Small except the pests weren’t loveable like Alf’s animals. I’ve been contemplating a name. Any suggestions? The Pest Man is too straight, too English, don’t you think? I like Bug Off! but worry it’s too Americanised. Maybe we should run a competition for suggestions?
The Deer farm was a family superannuation project that lost money instead of making it. A familiar ring to many, I’m sure. We farmed Javan Rusa deer in Nanango. The farm is still there but not operational the last time I looked. It was compulsorily purchased by the State Government to make way for a Coal Train project that never eventuated. Another example of government incompetence and wastage of the public purse. Another book, perhaps?
7. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
Completing and publishing three books to date; Reluctant Hero, Tripping Over, and Sex, Lies & Crazy People would have to top the list. But not forgetting the journey with each were life changing experiences for me. Mike Bruce, a journo for Queensland Newspapers summed it up well, I think, when he described my achievement as leaving a legacy!
My Dad always said that everyone has one book in them, but so few ever write that book. Since I retired the number of times I’ve heard people say that they would love to write a book about; when their father worked as a taxi cab driver, or their life as an ambulance driver, or whatever. But how many do? Very few unfortunately. I’m sure if they talked with Ocean Reeve, he’s my guru at In House Publishing, he’d soon inspire them, as he does me.
8. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
Another sequel and a true story entitled G’day Down-Under! It follows on from where Sex, Lies & Crazy People finishes. It’s the continuing story of my life and my family. From when we decided to migrate down-under in 1970 until after we became naturalised Australian citizens. Looking back a lot of funny things happened both on the way to Oz and when we got here. I hope to complete it in time for Christmas 2015. I’m on track so far, as I’ve started it. Trouble is so far it’s about 33,000 words of crapola that need to be sorted and expanded in to the funniest book I’ve written so far.
I call it my next challenge!
9. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
The desire to be good at what I do. The desire to enjoy what I do. To get out of bed any morning and look forward to improving or writing a chapter when other people less fortunate are commuting to their work place. Clever well known authors also inspire me, but I still buy Lotto tickets!
10.WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
Non-fiction. True life drama but with with a tinge of comedy preferred. I enjoy trying to write comedy. One of my greatest pleasures is getting positive feedback from a reader and being told they thought my book was hilarious.
11.DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Yes. Above all never give up. Perseverance. And to quote a line from Reluctant Hero - Nil bastardi carberandum! (Don’t let the bastards grind you down!)
12.DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
All the time. But I do have the luxury of not having to meet deadlines except those that have been self imposed. Not like a writer who works for a magazine or newspaper and has to perform on time. I find that sometimes a change of pace helps. If I’m stuck on Chapter 3 and can’t quite get it to flow the way I want. I’ll switch to Chapter 10. That might help. Otherwise bring wine-a-clock forward from 4pm - that’s always a solution for me.
13.DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
No. Although if I’m honest my best work has been achieved early morning. By late evening I’m too stuffed to work on my manuscript.
14.DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
Yes. My study. Carole calls it my bunker! I have everything I need close to hand in there, and no one is allowed to tidy or interfere. I believe that a writer needs their special place. Some argue that they can do well in a coffee house or a pub. If it works for them, then fine. But I prefer my bunker. There I have my computer, land line, printer, notes, TV, and a comfortable work chair, even TV. Everyone should have a comfortable place to sit. I can’t perch just anywhere and be expected to be inspirational. If I’ve got cramp in one leg and pins and needles in my hand I get grumpy!
15.WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Finishing it. The journey is fun but the greatest pleasure of all is being able to say to Ocean Reeve at In House Publishing. “There you go, mate. Final draft! Over to you.” He’s not a bad bloke for a Kiwi.
16.WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
I don’t have a single favourite author but I’ve enjoyed immensely the work of James Herriot, real name Alf Wight. He wrote All Creatures Great and Small, and of course the venerable Bill Bryson.
17.WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
I was truly flattered to be told that Reluctant Hero is that rare creature, a book not afraid to be honest about war, but immensely readable and entertaining as well. Many readers have praised it as one of the best anti-war books they’ve read. I’m very happy with that. What a tribute that is to the air crews who never came home.
Tripping Over and Sex, Lies & Crazy People are intended to be entirely different to Reluctant Hero in that I attempted comedy. Messages are cryptic or masked except by Gramps, the straight shooter of the family. Both Tripping Over and Sex, Lies & Crazy People are so entirely politically incorrect throughout. So much so that readers are encouraged to read the PREFACE before the book. That’s to avoid accusations of me being in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act, which by now should have been revised to suit Australians!
With Tripping Over I’ve been told it’s hilarious! I’m happy with that.
The jury’s still out on Sex, Lies & Crazy People. I’m still waiting to read a review, but fingers crossed.
18.WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
Someone read Reluctant Hero and wrote to say that my Dad was not patriotic enough to King and Country. He took the trouble to point out that people trudged miles in Australia just to sign up and salute the flag and that my Dad’s attitude was entirely wrong. I wrote back and thanked him for taking the trouble to comment, and apologised on behalf of my Dad if he’d been offended. I also suggested that as my story was based in England, the thought processes there may have been different to down-under? Thankfully, that was the only detrimental comment I’ve ever received about Reluctant Hero.
A friend read Tripping Over and asked me where the funny bit was? I scored him “0” on the giggle scale. He hurried to tell me that he thought Reluctant Hero was the best book that he’d ever read but emphasised how disappointed he was with Tripping Over. Again, I thanked him for his honesty and expressed my sorrow that my humour in Tripping Over had not appealed to him.
The jury’s still out on Sex, Lies & Crazy People. Fingers crossed.
19.WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
All the time, but that’s the principal reason why I choose not to write fiction. I write only true stories about myself, my family and our lives. To avoid the story becoming a boring diary of events I try to look outside the square. Usually no matter what the circumstances it should be possible to see a humorous side to anything. It’s a question of searching your mind to find the answer. Once found you still write the truth but put a self deprecating slant on it. An example would be one of the River Thames scenes in Tripping Over. The calamity of my Dad steering our brand new cabin cruiser into a foot bridge at low tide because he thought he’d get under it, is in itself horrific. But my Dad having no knowledge of tides and misreading the situation was, in itself, funny. Or at least I choose to think so. Similarly, when asked a simple but meaningful question in the hotel bar relating to another boating incident. “Bill, why didn’t you throw out the anchor?” A valid question. We hung on his response, which after a drawn out pause was, “I didn’t want to get it dirty.”
In Sex, Lies & Crazy People my role is more mature. It’s from 1965 through to 1969 when I became an hotelier in my Dad’s Harewood Hotel in Royal Tunbridge Wells. Best described as a true life Fawlty Towers - but without Basil it’s where I met my wife. I’m hoping for good reviews.
20.OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Does eating and drinking alcohol count? I love my family. I’m devoted to them. Carole, my wife of 48 years, has always been there for me. She tolerates my obsession, which is writing. She’s been a model of calm and reassurance. She said, “Being married to you was nothing like I expected - but has been interesting.” I never have delved into that remark. Maybe some things are best left unsaid? We love where we live and I enjoy my life. Friends have been supportive of what I do.
As I’ve become older I’ve also mellowed. Become more tolerant. But I enjoy peace and quiet.
I don’t like too much noise, too many crowds, or queuing. Generally English people are passive in that they’ll wait years for something they want like a new fridge. I don’t like waiting. Carole says sometimes I complain too much, but I like complaining and I’m good at it, if there’s a purpose to it.
21.DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Yes. I have two editors. My story editor, the irreplaceable Tricia Eban has given her time unselfishly. Kept me focused and never given up on me. Tricia prevented my stories from becoming a boring diary of events and toilet humour jokes. Her many valuable suggestions and changes allowed my voice to come through. Tricia is Fiction Editor for SCOPE a monthly magazine of Fellowship of Australian Writers (Qld) Inc - of which I’m a member.
Also Linda Daniel. Editor for In House Publishing who proved not only to be honest and sincere but her integrity, consistency, and fairness easily brought out the best of details I’d missed.
22.DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Coffee and write. Lunch and write. 4pm call a halt for drinky poo time. Become inspired with alcohol and make notes of brilliant ideas for the manuscript. Drink more alcohol and become more inspired with more brilliant ideas. Eat dinner. Retire and watch the news, which is guaranteed to put me to sleep. Dream of writing the world’s finest novel.
Perfect days happen infrequently.
23.IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
Dead people: Robin Williams, John O’Grady.
Live people: Billy Connolly, Tom Selleck, Bill Bryson.
I’ve always admired their work, and on a desert island I’d have them to myself. Selfish of me, I know.
24.WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
I’d quote a line by my Gramps from Reluctant Hero about WW2. He said, “It’s been proven throughout history, it’s not a real war unless someone’s making a good profit. I’ll bet this one will turn out to be a real doozy.”
25.WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
To keep writing for as long as I’m able. That depends to a very great extend on the gift of time.
My Dad used to tell me everyone has one book in them. I’ve written three; Reluctant Hero, Tripping Over, and Sex, Lies & Crazy People. My next manuscript is G’Day Down-Under. After that hopefully more books!
26.WHAT FIVE BOOKS WOULD YOU TAKE TO HEAVEN?
WOW! Only five? And I am going to heaven, am I? The jury might be out on that one?
As an Agnostic I’ll take your promise with a pinch of salt, but I’d be delighted to be proven otherwise. One question though. Is my heaven with the five books the same heaven as terrorist extremists and their 72 virgins? If so I’ll pass.
27.DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
I appeared at the end of Reluctant Hero. I’m pretty well the central character throughout Tripping Over, and Sex, Lies & Crazy People. That could be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective of my writing.
28.DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
It did before I met Ocean Reeve of In House Publishing. As manager and head consultant he’s made the management of my processes enjoyable from our first meeting to the published book. He has a natural flair, which comes from his love of what he does.
29.DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
Many times during Reluctant Hero, which is probably why it took me so long to complete it.
I started in 2003 and published in 2011. Many times I went back to trying to play golf. Then I’d get enthusiastic and have another shot at it. God only knows how many drafts I went through before I met Tricia Eban and she agreed to be my editor. She sort of saved a floundering project.
Our daughter Sara Jayne greatly influenced my progress with Tripping Over and Sex, Lies & Crazy People. It was her artistic genius that led me to complete both books. Her contributions benefited me in so many ways. In particular our journey together with Sex, Lies & Crazy People became my greatest pleasure. Her insights at times saved a tottering sequel. Together I’d like to think we put the fun back in to being dysfunctional. Thank you, Sara.
30.WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
I’ve enjoyed all three but I don’t like getting started. I enjoy the journey but prefer getting on the train half-way to my destination.
31. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER.
Unfortunately, dosh or financial reward must figure in there somewhere. I suppose it’s fair to say that the more books you sell, the more popular you think you are. Being a writer if no one reads your work isn’t being much of a writer, is it?
32.WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
I don’t write to educate, I write to entertain. But one reader of Reluctant Hero expressed the view that it was amazing we’d won the war! I agreed with her that if it hadn’t been for the sacrifice of the USA we may have ended up speaking German or Japanese!
Then, again, and it’s a frightening thought that both Japan and Germany have prospered economically and are both more successful today than we are today. Not much of a legacy for all the poor bastards who made the ultimate sacrifice, is it?
33.HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
Heaps. Although now I have Ocean Reeve of In House Publishing in my corner I hope choosing the next cover for G’Day Down-Under will be hard work for Kevin Palmer and less for me. He’s the In House head designer and a whiz at design! It was Kevin’s genius that hit the nail on the head (apologies for the cliche) with the cover for Sex, Lies & Crazy People. Take a bow Kevin.
34.WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
To live long and prosper!
35. WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
In House Publishing assist me with that. I’m told that marketing books today is all about social media. My brand is me - John Hickman. I’m still trying to understand Facebook.
36. ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
37.DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
Likeable, honest, trustworthy, talented, grumpy.
38.WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?
Politicians, liars, cheats, thieves, dishonesty, criminality…actually politicians sums it up!
Self-serving, egoistical, toe rags! As Dad said, “They’re a waste of skin!”
I’m also pissed off at the light sentences we give to bad bastards in this country. I like the US system of 999 years for rape or murder! Bring it on. If they can’t behave in a modern civilised society then lock them up and throw away the key. As Gran said, “The only thing that was wrong with the death penalty in England, was that it wasn’t used nearly often enough!” Go Gran!
39.WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
Don’t Tell Mum I Work On The Rigs She Thinks I’m A Piano Player In A Whorehouse by Paul Carter.
40. WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
“All the money’s hidden. Remember to look in the….”
41. WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE?
I’m a pretty happy bloke. I’d be over the moon if we found a cure for cancer. My mother was taken at 39 years of age. World Peace would make me cry with gratitude but that’s not likely due to greed and corruption on an enormous scale.
In the meantime let’s do unto others as others would do unto us - but get in first!
Make love - not war, people!
42. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Thank you for interviewing me. And my publisher asks, “Please like me on Facebook!”
Clancy's comment: Thank you, John. I agree with you about the cure for cancer. I also hope you sell heaps of books, and keep writing.
Think about this!