Letting the novel out

EVERYONE, they say, has a novel inside waiting to get out, and it seems that everyone assumes I have inside me the Great Australian Novel waiting to emerge on my retirement. ‘‘I suppose,’’ they say, ‘‘you’ll be writing the Great Australian Novel when you retire,’’ and some add ha ha, and I’m never sure whether that means I could not, and I could not, or whether they see themselves as having uncovered my big secret.

There won’t be even the Great Australian Short Story and I’ve all but abandoned hope of writing something I’d like to write, a year in my backyard, because I know I don’t have what it takes to spend a year at a keyboard. Well, I don’t have it in me to spend even a day at a keyboard when I have a choice.

Which reminds me that I have not begged off an invitation by one of the regular contributors to my blog, chaffandoats, to contribute to a chapter of his book about his family’s struggles, including the death of his teenage son Tom three years ago after a long and harrowing bout with cancer. So just now I’ve asked if including the column I wrote at the time of Tom’s death would fit the bill.

I admire people who write a book, not necessarily for the content of the book or for the expertise assumed by people who say ‘‘he’s written a book you know!’’ but for the determination and discipline. And I’m interested that many people who write a book have not allowed poor writing skills to deter them, just as I’m interested that many of the most confident public speakers are embarrassingly poor speakers. Not that the two novels I’m going to tell you about now fall into that category.

The first has been written by a Novocastrian you may remember as the starving artist, which was his description to promote the Gallery in the Garage sales of his wincingly bad paintings. Tony Moffitt’s paintings were not, though, terrible for long, and within a couple of years he’d won an Australian Artist magazine’s national art prize and his arrestingly detailed paintings were selling for many thousands of dollars.

Well, in an email inviting me to read his novel Tony tells me he has ‘‘always hated bloody painting’’, that the novel is his first chance to do something he loves, that he always wanted to be a writer. And it seems that Tony’s success as a writer has happened even more quickly than his success as an artist. Last week his novel, Die By The Sword, hit the top of Amazon Kindle’s best-selling list for sea adventure fiction and was ranked at 16th in the men’s adventure list. In the sea adventure list it has swapped places with Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, an interesting brush with a classic, and I see that Tony has Hemingway’s preference for short sentences.

Die By The Sword is about a Newcastle man who finds himself in an international military plot, and readers may recognise a few Hunter landmarks. ‘‘It was a warm day. Neither of us wanted to waste the afternoon. Our ideas were different. I looked at the bed longingly. Lacey led me into the foyer. We rode the elevator to the ground floor. I took Lacey’s hand for the walk to Nobby’s Beach.’’

It is an ebook available through Amazon at about $2, and Tony tells me more than a thousand people a month are buying it in the US alone.

The second novel is by another Novocastrian, former copper and miner John Hicks, a regular on my blog whose comments on crime, drug abuse and anti-social youth show that he understands the dark side more than most. From Coal to Cops tells the story of a Jake Campbell as he moves from coalmining to corrupt police along a trail of ‘‘fights, beer, fast cars, bikies, crooks, women and many new friends and enemies’’. The novel is in book form, published by John and for sale on eBay from mid July.

John’s writing is devoid of pretence, unusually for most people, and his language and the story itself is earthy, while Tony’s language is more descriptive and his plot more complex. Even if they didn’t sell a single copy, they’ve both succeeded!

Do you have a novel inside you? A novelette? A poem? How about a peek at it?

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