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Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Book and Me

When I took long service leave, I'd hoped to get a book to write while I was away from work. I had taken an extravagant twelve weeks, only a small part of which was to be spent travelling. At some stage I'll be grabbing my superannuation early and hoping to write full-time, so now was the time to establish a relationship with, perhaps, an education publisher or any publisher I've worked with or hoped to work with. I even had an idea, forensic science, which I'd just spent a lot of time researching for my article in the NSW School Magazine. Not that I wouldn't do whatever else was required.

One publisher after another was not interested. Great idea, forensics, but we're not doing non-fiction right now, it's not on our list of subjects, we're full for this year, try again in July...

And then, out of the blue, came an offer from the new Ford Street Publishing, run by Paul Collins, whom I have known since he was running a bookshop in St Kilda and who has published some of my short fiction. His partner, Meredith Costain, once did very well with a children's book about "Fifty famous Australians" but never got around to the infamous ones. Would I like to have a go?

Someone has offered me a book? I'd write it if they wanted a book about deep-fried squid!

So off I went, on-line, to the library, wherever I could find information about Aussies on the other side of the law - or illegal things going on in Australia, whoever did it. Fascinating stuff, from the Batavia mutiny to the cannibal convict Alexander Pearce, from the bushranger Matthew Brady to the Melbourne Gangland Wars. I found some funny stories, some bizarre stories, some sickening stories that had to be toned down for kids. I'm 39 down and 11 to go as I write this, although I also have to do a pile of "Did You Know...?" snippets. My favourite Did You Know is that until a few years ago, convicted criminals could claim all their guns, bullets, etc. on tax as a business expense!

This is my ninth book, hopefully not the last. It's a fascinating subject and I feel strange to be so near the end of the research process. Over the years, I have been working differently on each book. The first one, on monsters, was mostly researched at the State Library. Those were the early days of the Internet. My little Mac Classic 2 computer wouldn't take it. I used to travel a long way on the tram to an Internet cafe which actually was a cafe; you could buy coffee and cake while you went on-line. I did this once a week. It cost $12 an hour, but you got a discount ticket each time you went on, so I ended up paying only $6.

I also used the State Library for the second one, though I went on-line a bit more. I had to buy a few books on various sciences, because the book was on women scientists and I wasn't much of a scientist myself. Each book had a higher level of personal books and Internet research. My last book, Your Cat Could Be A Spy, had some books involved, but mostly for background to help me find more on-line. The CIA web site, where I found a lot of stuff about gadgets, was a lot more fun than the Australian equivalent, which was a public service web site.

I think I've been going about half-half with this one. Not everything is on-line. But you have to be careful with the books, because sometimes things have changed since they were published. For example, one of my criminals had hanged himself in jail since the book I was reading came out.

I ran out of dialup time for the month, so I have been visiting the local cafe, the Presse, which has wifi facilities, to send off my stories and do some more research. I don't usually do this, of course, because I;m at work during the week. I will miss it when I get back. There are so many regulars in here, so many others with their computers, doing what I'm doing, going on-line, checking their e-mail. One woman I spoke to yesterday has no Internet connection at home and can't get even dialup right now, because she has no landline phone!

They're really getting to know me at this place. I will have to go on weekends once I'm back at work.

The place is peaceful and I can get my work done better than at home, with the temptations of DVDs, CDs, the fridge and the kettle... I buy a pot of tea here and someone else makes it for me while I work and it lasts me till I'm finished.

And no telemarketers ringing me!