Tell us about yourself and your books.:
My rather convoluted life story goes something like this: conceived in California, born in Zimbabwe, schooled in South Africa, emigrated to Australia, worked in New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, China and now living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
With a background in psychology — and a career as a copywriter and creative director in the Mad Man world of multinational ad agencies — people watching and understanding the human spirit have always come naturally to me.
The 10 books I’ve published to date have sold over 100,000 copies, thanks to a very engaged readership (if that includes you, thanks so much).
I write military history (WW 2 books), business behaviour (especially involving creativity and cognitive skills and the science and art of persuasion), Asia expat books, and travel.
This eclectic mix of genres makes me slightly unusual as a writer, where authors tend to specialize in one category. But I’ve checked the rule books and nothing says I can’t do this!
My bucket list is mostly comprised of two-wheeled motorcycle adventures in remote parts of the world. Riding and writing – two of my favourite things in life.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
My MOST unusual writing habit? That's not fit for publication here!
For me, writing starts with the feint sniff of a story angle. A topic I'd love to know more about, and love to share with my readers. Regardless of whether it's something historical, or something that I'm going to create from zero.
At any one time I've probably got 10 books on my long-list to tackle. Of those probably 4 are in various stages of writing progress at any one time. I'm quite methodical in mapping things out, ie chapter orders etc, less so in organizing all my research papers and shoeboxes, but the real storytelling doesn't start until I know what the first line and first few paragraphs are going to be. That gives me a ‘true north’ to work towards and it flows from there. Openings and closings are very important to us psychologically.
Mostly, I'll start with the most emotional event within a story to get us off to the races with a bang … then work backwards to explain how we got there.
Sometimes when working on a longer book I might feel I need some instant creative gratification, so I'll set it aside and write a shorter book (or a magazine feature article) quickly just to get the creative fix.
What authors have influenced you?
I probably plough through 50+ books a year. I'm not a fast reader, just voracious.
I love musical biographies and autobiographies. Loved the authentic voice of Keith Richards' Life. (It was just like Keef speakin' to me.) Just finished Bruce Springsteen's autobiography too. What a great work ethic, and he deserves all the success that came his way. To me it’s the self-belief and overcoming the naysayers to achieve your dream that I find most compelling there.
I also devour behavioural economics and pop psychology books in great quantities. Gladwell. Dan Ariely. The Freakonomics gang. Robert Cialdini. Kahneman: brilliant but heavy-going (even for me with a background in psychology).
And military history. The Japanese theatre in World War 2. Especially Singapore, Malaya and the Thai-Burma Death Railway in Kanchanaburi. I'm a special interest military history tour guide and have become something of an expert on this. I can learn at least one new thing from each military history book that I read. At primary school, Paul Brickhill's The Colditz Story and Reach for the Sky (The Douglas Bader Story) I probably re-read a dozen times because I was gripped by the derring-do.
I'm not a big fiction reader, but I'd say Noel Barber's Tanah Merah is probably the most emotionally engaged I've been with a fiction book. I also respect his non-fiction works, such as Sinister Twilight, greatly.
I went to the same primary school as Wilbur Smith in South Africa, and grew up with his wonderfully descriptive (and well-researched) novels of action and adventure in exotic settings.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Just. Start. Writing. Oh, and read a lot.
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