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The secret public life of an author


TUMBY BAY - If you write books, people will seek you out.

They will write letters to you, send you emails and come knocking at your door.

Even my abject and humble efforts have had that effect.

_Man bilong buk _Met2 _FightingWhen I lived in Hervey Bay, Queensland, it was a regular occurrence.

I’m not talking about a deluge, but every few months I’d be sought out.

I thought our move to the relatively remote west coast of South Australia would put an end to that. But it hasn’t been the case.

A bloke who had read some of my books held in our local library turned up at my door yesterday.

I’m not complaining. I’m only human and I’ve got an active ego like everyone else.

Talking to readers who have read my books is enlightening and instructive and I generally enjoy the experience.

That’s not to say I’ve never run afoul of people who wanted to take me to task about what I’ve written.

It’s happened a few times. I deal with their complaint by agreeing with them.

They were generally fixed in their views and my approach tended to disarm them.

And, of course, some had valid points that I gratefully took on board.

You can’t be arrogant as a writer unless you are very, very successful.

Humble is my default position when dealing with prickly critics.

The reasons people contact me vary.

The fellow who turned up yesterday had been born in Wau shortly after the end of World War II.

His father had been a wheeler and dealer in Papua New Guinea who had served time as a coast watcher.

He had been around when John F Kennedy (later the United States’ president) was rescued by Solomon Islander Scouts under the command of Australian coast watcher Arthur Evans.

They had seen Kennedy’s boat explode after a collision with a Japanese destroyer.

My visitor had a photograph of his father with JFK shortly after his rescue and wanted to talk about this, as well as Wau and Papua New Guinea in general.

He left with a copy of Jim Sinclair’s book about Edie Creek and a promise to return it when he has read it.

A visitor prior to that arrived on my doorstep with a manuscript she had written seeking advice on how to publish it.

She had been a nurse in the outback and had read my book, Dogger, about dingo trappers in Central Australia in the 1930s.

We had several interesting conversations and I learnt a lot. My wife, Sue, had also been a remote area nurse and they had a lot in common.

Even people from Papua New Guinea drop in to visit.

Last year a lady from Milne Bay came through with her husband and dropped in to see me.

Our chattering in Tok Pisin over lunch at the coffee shop attracted some interested stares from other customers.

Believe it or not but there are several Tok Pisin speakers in this part of the world.

A bloke who came to measure our windows for some new blinds last week had been a child in the Highlands.

His father worked for Dillinghams when the construction company was pushing the highway through to Mendi in the late 1960s.

My visitor had read a couple of my books and we had a great chat in Tok Pisin, much to the mystification of his offsider.

I’ve had to develop another persona to deal with people who are interested in what I write.

Two reasons. The first is because my normal retiring and taciturn personality is not fit for purpose. The second is so that I can try to live up people’s expectations.

If they’ve come to talk to a writer I have to act like a writer.

That’s not as easy as it sounds because it took me a hell of a long time to build up the courage to even call myself a writer. Prior to that I was just a scribbler.

Acting like a writer requires quite a bit of investment in building up a credible knowledge base.

I’ve got a double major in English literature but that is no use at all. The knowledge base I’m talking about is practical rather than theoretical.

All the technological changes make keeping up with what’s happening in publishing and writing a lot harder than it used to be.

I write my first drafts by hand on paper but after that they become binary numbers in the great electronic maze that finally spits them out as eBooks or computer printed hard copies.

When someone comes to me hoping they have a fabulous manuscript bound to be a best seller and make them an overnight millionaire. I feel duty bound to be honest with them and point out that that isn’t the way it happens 99.9% of the time.

To do that without crushing someone’s hopes and ego, you have to sound authoritative.

Being rather naïve, and because nobody told me any different, I never envisaged my early unsure scribbles would end up placing me in this guru-like position.

I just had a compulsion to write. Fame and fortune were not even secondary considerations and I’ve always regarded the idea of self-promotion as crass and crude.

I also figured that I’d have to have another job to support my writing aspirations and that’s pretty much how it’s worked out and how it works out for most Australian writers.

So if you come knocking at my door be assured of a friendly but underwhelming welcome.

And if I sound like I know what I’m talking about be terribly wary.

As the old line goes, I’ll probably be making it up as I go along.



Each title is linked to Amazon, where you can preview before buying

Some recent books by Phil Fitzpatrick:

Inspector Metau: The Case of the Great Pumpkin Heist (2020) paper & kindle

The Unusual and Unexpected Case of the Rise and Rise of Inspector Hari Metau (2019) paper & kindle

Dogger (2018) paper & kindle

Fighting for a Voice: The Inside Story of PNG Attitude and the Crocodile Prize (2016) paper or free download from PNG Attitude

Edited with Keith Jackson:

Man Bilong Buk: The Francis Nii Collection (2020) paper or free download from PNG Attitude

And an oldie, a boldie and a goldie:

Bamahuta: Leaving Papua (2005) paper & kindle

There are many more titles. Go to Amazon Books and search for 'Philip Fitzpatrick'


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