I was so lucky to meet Tony while in Perth recently. We discovered a mutual love of Michael Connelly’s writing and talked the craft of writing. It was so exciting to listen to what Tony had to say.
Fleur: Welcome to the amazing author Tony Park. Tony has published over eight fiction novels plus a selection of non fiction books and I am thrilled to have him here talking to us today.
Tony, it may be a while ago, but can you tell us how you were picked up and your experience into the publishing world?
Tony: I was incredibly lucky. The first book that I’d written and was comfortable sending to a publisher was my first novel set in Africa, Far Horizon. I’d written it during a four-month trip may wife, Nicola, and I did around southern Africa. I sent it to Pan Macmillan Australia and it turned out they just happened to be looking for a mass market fiction thriller set in Africa. Amazingly they gave me a publishing deal.
I’ve had a fantastic run with Pan Macmillan Australia and found them to be very supportive. In fact, I’ve made good friends with several of the people in the company and have travelled in Africa on holiday with a couple of them.
What made you start writing?
I’d always wanted to write a novel, ever since I was a little kid. It was the one thing in life I knew, from as far back as I can remember, that I really, really wanted to do. I had a few false starts – I worked out I wasn’t the sort of person who could get up early before work and tap away at a novel, or come home from work and write in the evenings. I knew the only way I’d be able to write a novel was if I quit my day job (I was working as a public relations consultant when I finally did quit) and devote myself to writing full time.
This happened in 1997-1998. It was a big risk, but my wife supported me and the gamble paid off.
I listened to a radio interview with you, recently and you talked about yours and your wife’s love affair with Africa. Can you tell us a little about that and why you set your novels there?
Nicola and I first went to Africa on a three week holiday in 1995. We thought it would be a once in a lifetime experience and 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. We’ve been back to Africa every year since 1995 and now spend six months of every year there, and the other half of the year in Australia.
It was on our first extended trip to Africa, 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!
You’re touring for your new book, African Dawn which is a sequel African Sky. Can you tell us what it’s about?
African Dawn traces the recent history of Zimbabwe (formerly known as Rhodesia) from 1959 to the present through the eyes of three families, one black and two white. Zimbabwe has gone through incredibly upheavals – war, economic ruin, the disastrous program of farm invasions, and political corruption and state-sponsored violence the likes of which are hard to imagine. I can’t explain what went wrong in Zimbabwe, but I wanted to describe it through the lives of these three families.
Two of the families, the Bryants and the Ngwenyas, had their genesis in my third book, African Sky, which is set on a pilot training base in Rhodesia during the second world war. All my other books have been stand-alone novels, so this was new territory for me, writing a sequel. This is probably my most serious book to date, given the nature of life in Zimbabwe.
Which is your favourite book you’ve written and why?
I don’t have one (and that’s the truth). I enjoy each and every book when I’m writing it – I become totally absorbed in the story and the characters – and then when it’s finished I’m ready to move on to the next one. The good thing I find is that when people I know, or readers who’ve emailed me, nominate their favourite book they all seem to pick a different one. I think that’s great.
Are you writing your next book yet? Or at least do you have an idea of what it will be about?
I’ve recently finished my ninth novel, set in Rwanda, Australia and South Africa. It will be out in late 2012. Nicola and I are just about to leave for another six-month trip to Africa where I’ll be writing a tenth novel. I have no idea what it will be about!
What authors have influenced you and why?
I don’t know that I’ve been directly influenced by any other authors, but there are things I certainly admire and aspire to, such as Ken Follett’s clarity of story telling; Nelson Demille’s charactertisation and sense of humour; and Bernard Cornwell’s ability to make historical fiction and characters seem so believable.
I found your female main character in The Delta, Sonja Kurtz, really interesting. How do you get inside a female head and write from her point of view?
When I first started writing my novels I thought they were ‘boys’ own’ books that would mostly be read by guys, but as it turned out most of my readers were women. Given that this was the case I thought it was high time I had a female as the true lead character of one of my books, and that’s how Sonja came about.
On one level she’s the same as any other character I’ve written, but I did talk to a few of my female friends about some of the aspects of her life (for example, Sonja’s a single mum with a teenage daughter and my wife and I don’t have children, so this was something my friends with kids were more than happy to share their experiences about!). Before my book goes to print it’s only read by women – my wife, my mother, my mother-in-law, and my publisher, editor and copy editor, who are all female. I get not shortage of comments if I’ve got something ‘wrong’ with a female character!
If you could have dinner with one person in the world, who would it be?
Nelson Mandela. I’d ask him how come he’s the only politician in the world who was smart enough to quit while he was still ahead.
F: Tony, thanks so much for your time today. I can’t wait to read African Dawn.
T: Thanks for asking, Fleur!