Tony Parsons is an amazing person. It seems he has always had a pen in his hand! If he hasn’t been writing bestselling novels, such and Call of the High Country and Return to the High Country, he has been penning articles for Agricultural magazines or books on how to train the most magnificent breed of dog, the Kelpie.
He founded the well-known Kelpie stud “Karrawarra” in 1950 and later, in 1992, he was awarded the prestigious Order of Australia Medal for his “contribution to the propagation of the Australian Kelpie sheep dog”.
Before that, he was a professional sheep and wool classer.
I feel very privileged that Tony has agreed to answer some of my questions. Tony’s books are favourites of mine and are wrinkled, dog-eared and creased, to prove it!
Nearing eighty, Tony still has a pen nearby and is due to release a new nonfiction books ‘The Kelpie – a definitive guide to the Australian Working Dog’. Today he answers some of my questions.
1. I began writing articles in dog magazines when I was 16. I was largely influenced by my clever creative mother who pushed me to read very early. I could read the Sydney Morning Herald from cover to cover when I was 7.I read the Billabong books every Christmas holidays from about that age. I went sick and well to primary school for four successive years because they offered books for exceptional attendance. These books were the beginning of my library. The only thing I was any good at, lesson-wise, was essays. I was no good at anything else but sport and I adored opera (still do) and great singing. I suppose that I always wanted to write books but it wasn’t until my last child (we had five) left school that I could opt out of fulltime work, take a part-time administrative job (for not much money) and start writing books. Since coming to Queensland in 1984 I have written drafts of 18 books.
2. Julie Watts (Ali’s mother) who was publisher/Children at Penguin, read Call of the High Country and recommended it’s publication. I wasn’t unknown at Penguin because Viking published two of my three Kelpie books. Nelson published the first and Penguin/Viking acquired certain categories of their books. The two Call books have sold over 100,000 copies and are still selling. The Call got up to No 6 on top 10 lists and Valley of the White Gold was in the top 10.
3. Story line. You either have imagination or you don’t. Sometimes it’s working actual events into a story. Or maybe something suggests itself and you add to it. You need to have a good knowledge of bush life so that what you write appears to be absolutely authentic. I think this has been one of the strengths of what I’ve done. People have told me so, anyway. I think you absorb facts and they’re in your head and they come out when you need them.
4. The new book The Kelpie is to some extent an amalgam of my three earlier Kelpie books which are out of print. These books were/are making hundreds of dollars on E-Bay and they were too dear for all but the most committed Kelpie people. Rather than reprint any of them I suggested that we do a new book and bring it up to date as a lot has happened since the third book was published in 1992.So we’ve got the best of those three books plus a great deal more. It’s a beautifully presented book- the best thing I’ve ever done and I understand Penguin think its great too. There’s a mix of technical and story and some wonderful colour pics. The book will go on into the future long after I’ve gone.
5. There is a novel manuscript (Back to the Pilliga) at Penguin but I haven’t heard whether they like it or not. It’s a kind of detective story with the Pilliga Scrub ( a million acres of forest and scrub) as the backdrop. I camped there years ago with my dogs and it’s a spooky place at night. I have the draft of a huge novel about the search for a war criminal here and if I rewrite that it might see me out! Penguin read it and suggested some changes. I did a lot of research and read a great number of books after speaking with a German soldier who fought in Russia.
6. The next book is always rewarding and exciting because writing is a lonely game. You put a lot of effort into a book and to see it finally finished and then published gives one a lot of satisfaction. There is also the fact that you build a bank of readers and they’re always wanting more books. The problem is that they read a novel in two or three days and then want another one without recognising how long it takes to write a book and then get it through the publishing system. This is where a book like The Kelpie will have it over a novel because Kelpie people will keep referring to it.
7.When I’m in full flow I try to write from breakfast to lunch and perhaps for a little while after lunch. I have to feed and water animals early and late.
8.The ending. I think it is for everyone. The endings of many notable books have been disappointing. How do you finish? That is the big question. You usually have something to say so you begin well and you tell the story but bringing it to a close is another matter.
9. Re covers. I think I should give Penguin designer Karen Trump most credit for creating the covers of Valley of the White Gold and Silver in the Sun. I suggested certain approaches and I obtained the pictures used for the latter book. I can claim some credit for the cover of The Kelpie which is simply stunning. I wasn’t stirred by the first two approaches as they didn’t depict Kelpie ‘character’ which is what I sought. Feedback from here and overseas for the cover has been fantastic. It will really stand out in the book shops.I worked very closely with Karen on this cover.
10. I don’t think anything is more exciting than getting married and knowing you’re going to be with your lady fulltime. Now, nearly 55 years later, we’re still together and Gloria has been with me through good times and bad. I’ve had a few successes and a few failures but having the right partner makes a huge difference. The successes are transitory
but a partner that’s there for you can’t be equalled.
11. Books. Goodness. There have been so many. I began with the Billabong books and have read a great variety up to Bertrand Russell. One of the most interesting books was Eastern Approaches by Brigadier Fitzroy McLean. I was hugely impressed with Louis Bromfield’s books on Malabar Farm and with some of his novels. Hemingway has his moments but some of his endings aren’t so hot.Liked Mark Twain and some of Truman Capote’s writing. I was very taken with Agatha Christie’s autobiography What a woman. I like some of Arthur Upfield’s novels because some of his descriptive writing about the Australian outback is as good as I’ve read. It isn’t as much ‘over the top’ as Zane Grey’s descriptive writing of the American West. Likewise, I like some of Ion Idriess’s ( I met him) books. Very authentic.I could write for a week about war books.Les Carlyon’s books on The Great War and Gallipoli are terrific. Likewise Chester Wilmot’s Struggle for Europe and Lord Slim’s book on the Burma Campaign.
I read Aldous Huxley and wasn’t impressed. His books didn’t do anything for me. But there have been so many outstanding books I’ve read since I was seven years of age that I couldn’t name them all.
12. I hate to ‘give’ advice. Writing is a hard game. It’s like finding a job. You sometimes need experience to land a job and how do you get experience if you haven’t had a job.
Some publishers won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts and it’s even tough to find an agent unless you’ve got a name.You just have to keep trying with the publishers that will accept manuscripts or part thereof. There’s plenty of instances where stories knocked back by certain publishers get accepted by others and go on to be bestsellers. You have to persevere and believe in yourself.
13. Dinner. Who would I favour as a dinner partner? That’s a tough one. Maureen O’Hara was my fantasy woman and the idea of having dinner with her would be unreal. But I think that being a great Kelpie person I’d settle for dinner with John Quinn(deceased) so we could discuss Kelpies then and now. Who was John Quinn? You’ll have to read The Kelpie to find out…………………………………..