“I was 18 years old, I’d just left school and got a job in London, working in an insurance company. I was working inside – in an office! My mother thought that was like being CEO of Shell Oil.
“I was late one morning, I took a short cut through the church yard to the station to catch my train. I’d just finished reading The Sun Also Rises the night before; and here I was looking at all these gravestones, I remember thinking: Gee, we’re not here very long. Better make it count.
“So I went home, told my mother I was quitting my job and going to Morocco. She damned near fainted.”
He emigrated to Australia where he helped a mate establish a new advertising agency. “We could only afford this derelict building for an office. Once we were pitching to a client during a thunderstorm and the roof flooded. A piece of the ceiling fell down and just missed his head. Fortunately he had a sense of humor. We got the account!
But I really wanted to be a writer, not a copywriter. When I told my mate I was leaving to try my luck in the Big Smoke, he offered me 40% of the business. It was 40% of nothing at the time. I saw him a couple of years ago, and he’d just sold the agency for twenty million dollars. I worked out what 40% of that was on a pocket calculator. It’s quite a lot of money, apparently.”
Colin went to Sydney and worked in TV and radio and freelanced for many of Australia’s leading newspapers and magazines before becoming a full time novelist over 20 years ago.
He lived for many years in the beautiful Margaret River region in WA, and helped raise two beautiful daughters with his late wife, Helen. While writing, he also worked in the volunteer ambulance service. “I’d be at my desk typing, then thirty minutes later I might be crawling into an overturned car or running along a beach with the oxygen for a near drowning. It was an interesting time.”
He travels regularly to research his novels and his quest for authenticity has led him to run with the bulls in Pamplona, pursue tornadoes across Oklahoma and black witches across Mexico, go cage shark diving in South Africa and get tear gassed in a riot in La Paz..
His fiction comes from dedicated research and what he calls a quest for Hemingway’s ghost; characters with a passion for life, for love and the courage to face down their demons.
‘When I was walking through that graveyard I made two promises to my gawky 18 year old self; one – that I would not die feeling that I had not lived, and two – that I would follow my siren call to write, no matter where it lead. I feel like so far I have my promise to that 18 year old kid.
What inspires you to write?
My primary school teacher’s name was Mrs Boyne. She once told my mother at a parent interview: “Your son is a complete dreamer. He’ll never amount to anything in this life.” I still think that was a pretty harsh judgment on a seven year old. But she was right, of course, I was a dreamer. It was my greatest asset.
It was about the time I first read Jules Verne’s Michael Strogoff. To get my hands on it, I had to endure a slobbery wet kiss from my Aunty Ivy, but I considered it well worth it. By the end of that first afternoon, I was hooked on books.
Every week my Aunty Ivy took the train down from London to visit with us in (what was then) rural Essex, bringing with her a collection of Classics Illustrated comics. She must have picked them up in the markets in London. There were some Beanos and Victors mixed in, but I threw them out. My treasure was the cartoon versions of some of the world’s greatest books. They were the stories and places I had been thinking about while Mrs Boyne was teaching, only with speak bubbles.
And so began my love affair with stories. By the time I was eight I had read Moby Dick, Doctor Jekyl and Mister Hyde, The Moonstone, The Black Tulip and Ivanhoe, was familiar with most of the major works of Alexandre Dumas (Père), Mark Twain and William Wilkie Collins and had even read most of Homer’s Odyssey (although I never found out how it ended because the last page had been ripped out.)
I don’t think that back then Aunty Ivy knew she was giving me primers for my future career, for no one in my family had ever used their hands for doing anything other than making pies or fixing corner cupboards So wherever she is in Heaven, I hope there’s an angel making her a nice cup of tea and letting her rest her sore feet, God bless her heart.
Tell us about your writing process.
I have learned how to outline from scriptwriters. Structure is not mechanical; if you study them, you’ll see that Cinderella, Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Pulp Fiction all have the same underlying structure. So a writer can learn structure, how to out a story together and this is absolutely vital. But voice; this is what is different about every writer. I have yet to find any writer who has taught me or anyone else anything about voice. It comes form inside; whether you’re a painter, a sculptor or a novelist, whether you’re Hemingway or Mickey Spillane, you go inside to find it.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I listen. Start talking to them and you’re one step away form the nut farm and I have one foot in the door already, so I try and avoid it.
What advice would you give other writers?
Learn. In this internet age, there are so many teachers out there. Be careful – there are more people making money from writers than writers making money. But learn, learn, learn. Because we can write English does not mean we can rush off a story any more than holding a paint brush means we can paint the Sistine Chapel.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I published most of my books long before the internet age, when there was only one choice. Fi.nd an agent. Find a publisher. Feed the kids.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I love it. It’s a golden new age. I don’t think print publishing will go away and I’m damned sure eBooks won’t either. The dust hasn’t even started to settle on this revolution. But as Bob Mayer says – the reader is God now.
What genres do you write?
Historical Fiction, romantic historical fiction
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print