I’m guessing that the typical view of the Author is that of a woman in spectacles with a half smile as she taps away on her ageing computer having just decided just who the murderer will be. Or if it’s a male, then he’s done his morning’s quota of 1000 words and is haring off to a favourite restaurant for a long lunch with a mate (or a lover) and several bottles of crisp chardonnay.
No one ever thinks of that other horrible, terrifying, despairing part of the business – the selling game. Or if they do, it’s a reflection of the movies with glamorous hotels and adoring audiences and especially that gorgeous girl in the second row who slips him her phone number when he signs her copy of his bestseller.
Ho, ho, ho. Have I got a surprise for you.
Right now I’ve just finished the first week of the tour promoting my 29th book, Castaway, the story of Narcisse Pelletier, the French cabin boy who in 1858 was abandoned by his shipmates on a Far North Queensland beach where he would have perished were it not for the local Night Island Aboriginal people who took him in. He lived with them for the next 17 years before being ripped away by passing British sailors who probably thought they were doing him a favour.
The other half of the book tells of the Frontier War that was then taking place in Queensland as the squatters and the Native Mounted Police did their best to destroy Aboriginal society throughout the State.
I finished it about a year ago and it’s taken all this time for the publisher to decide when and how to bring it to the world; and they chose the middle of winter so that by Xmas it will have been so exposed to readers that they’ll rush out and plonk down their $32.50 for a present to a close family member (that way they’ll get to read it after - or even before - the recipient.)
In this case they’d put their best publicist on the job and the interviews and events stretched ahead like an endless obstacle course. It was terrifying, not just because I knew the awful pitfalls from earlier books but in the interim I’d actually written another totally engaging book and Castaway seemed like a distant memory.
And when I read it again, like all authors, half the time we think it’s utterly brilliant, the other half all we can envisage are the critics who would attack and destroy a year or a lifetime’s endeavour.
I was terrified that during an interview I’d forget some vital fact or name and look and sound like a complete idiot. That had certainly happened before. And first on the agenda was ‘Çonversations’ with Richard Fidler – an entire hour on the ABC with the biggest podcast audience in the country.
‘Don’t worry, mate,’ said my friend and author Paul Daley who was going to launch it in Canberra, ‘ýou’ll have no problem – great book, great interviewer.’
It didn’t help. For two nights beforehand I barely slept and by the time I reached Aunty’s Sydney HQ I’d forgotten every word I’d written. In fact, I carried a big list of vital names from the story, quite sure I’d never remember them at the time.
Then suddenly we were in the studio, Richard was doing the intro and saying, ‘So, Robert, tell us what it’s all about.’ And in a flash it all came flooding back and I was off and soaring. Days later the phone was running hot with friends who had heard on their car radios or on podcast.
AUDIO: Conversations with Richard Fidler and author Robert Macklin - LISTEN HERE
Screen image ABC
Next day with John Laws it was almost the same – one question and I was flying. So too with the launch at Harry Hogarth bookshop at the ANU. ‘This is great,’ I told myself and my dear wife who’d come along for the ride. ‘No worries! Bring on the next one.’
Oh dear, the next one…what was that saying about ‘pride’ and a ‘fall’.
Castaway: The extraordinary survival story of Narcisse Pelletier, a young French cabin boy shipwrecked on Cape York in 1858 The astonishing and unknown story of Narcisse Pelletier - a French cabin boy cast away in 1858 on the coast of Far North QueenslandIn 1858, fourteen-year-old French cabin boy Narcisse Pelletier was aboard the trader Saint-Paul when it was wrecked off the eastern tip of New Guinea. Scrambling into a longboat, Narcisse and the other survivors crossed almost 1000 kilometres of the Coral Sea before reaching the shores of Far North Queensland. If not for the local Aboriginal people, Narcisse would have perished. For seventeen years he lived with them, growing to manhood and participating fully in their Uutaalnganu world. Then, in 1875, his life was again turned upside down. Drawing from firsthand interviews with Narcisse after his return to France and other contemporary accounts of exploration and survival, and documenting the spread of European settlement in Queensland and the brutal frontier wars that followed, Robert Macklin weaves an unforgettable tale of a young man caught between two cultures in a time of transformation and upheaval. Robert Macklin has carved out a unique place among Australia’s literary biographers and historians. He has won numerous literary prizes including the 2009 Blake Dawson award for business literature with Peter Thompson for their classic THE BIG FELLA – the Rise and Rise of BHP Billiton.His Kevin Rudd: The Biography was shortlisted for the ACT Book of the Year; and he has won three Critics Circle Awards for his military biographies and histories. He has completed a lecture tour of three Chinese universities based on his works and is presently writing a history of Australia/China relations over the last 200 years.Queensland born, he has been a journalist at the highest level, a confidant and biographer of two Australian prime ministers; a documentary filmmaker in 32 countries of Asia and the Pacific; and is also political columnist and commentator in the nation’s capital. He presently divides his writing time on fiction, non-fiction and screenplays between Canberra and Tuross Head on the NSW South Coast.