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My wife, Nicola, and I first went to Africa on what we thought was going to be a once in a lifetime holiday in 1995. We thought that we would ‘tick the box’ to say we’d ‘done’ Africa, and that would be the end of that. In fact, what happened was something that we’ve seen happen to a number of other people. We breathed something in, or drank something, or got bitten by something and soon found we were hooked – addicted to Africa. We had to come back, and we did, time and again.
In 1998 my wife and I bought an old Series III Land Rover and it was while driving this truck around southern Africa that I wrote my first novel, ‘Far Horizon’
No. I left full time work as a public relations consultant in 1997 with the intention of writing a book. I failed. Starved of inspiration in my flat in Sydney, I drifted back into doing freelance journalism and public relations. In 1998 my wife decided she’d like to take a break from her work and it was in that year that we bought our Land Rover, shipped it to the UK and enjoyed our first extended trip to Africa.
It was on that four-month trip in 1998, that I wrote ‘Far Horizon’. I’d found that as well as not having the time to write in Australia I’d lacked stimulation and inspiration.
I’d also tried writing the way all the books said you should – having a plot and sticking to it – but found that didn’t work for me. On that first long trip to Africa I ignored the writing textbooks and decided I would just make the story up as I wrote it, and draw my inspiration from the countryside, wildlife, and people of Africa. It worked!
From all sorts of sources: conversations I’ve had with interesting people I’ve met in Africa, and also from unusual stories I’ve seen reported in the African media.
My first book, Far Horizon, was published by the first publisher I sent it to, Pan Macmillan. I beat the odds and was published first time, without an agent, because Macmillan just happened to be looking for a thriller novel set in Africa.
I write on location, in Africa. My wife and I spend six months of every year living in the African bush and this is where I draw much of the inspiration for my writing. Generally, I make the action in the book follow our journey and set each scene wherever I happen to be at the time.
It takes me about six months to write the first draft of a novel. I then read through the manuscript and do my first edit. After that my wife and other people close to me read it before it goes to the publishers. All up the editing process is spread over the course of another year or so.
In fact I’ve never received any negative feedback from anyone in officialdom in any of the countries I’ve visited. I try not to use the books as a soap box from which to preach my views (or any other interest group’s) but nor do I shy away from telling it like it is in Africa. I don’t think you can write a book set in Africa these days and ignore things such as political mismanagement, corruption, crime and health issues such as HIV Aids, but neither do I want to dwell on the bad things.
I am my own harshest critic, so there is nothing anyone else can say that will offend me. I used to work as a journalist and one of the first things you learn as a young reporter is to develop a thick skin.
I don’t pay any attention to bad reviews, but I put copies of the good ones on my website. Also, my favourite thing is to take the best line from a bad review and stick it on the cover of my next book.