Battling through the barrage of interview questions for us today is Justin Sheedy, author of “Goodbye Crackernight”, “Memoirs of a Go-Go Dancer”, “Nor the Years Condemn” and “Ghosts of the Empire”.
Justin, without making our thrilled readers wait a moment longer, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I’m an “independent author” living in inner-city Sydney where I’m currently writing my 5th book. “Independent author” means lots of people read and enjoy my books even though they’ve been ignored by giant publishing companies who could have made lots of money out of them and who still could if they’d only come back from lunch. “Independent author” also means people are reading books published by Me instead of the books published by the giant publishing companies who make SO much money that they don’t mind me cutting into their profits. Which is really nice of them, eh?
When did you first look at yourself in the mirror, and see a Writer?
I’m not sure when the first time was but, even after writing and publishing 4 well-received books, every morning while shaving I see in the mirror an “aspiring author”. Which is what I feel sure even the best and most successful authors must be: Authors who are always, always, always aspiring to take their readers somewhere they have never been.
When and how did you decide to be a writer?
About 10 years ago, I met a man who, in his early-90s, looked in his early-70s as when he was 21 he was an Olympian type young man. He had to be as, when he was 21, he flew a Spitfire in air combat in World War II. Despite all the death and destruction this man had once meted out, all the death and horror he must have been through and narrowly survived (I didn’t dare ask him how many friends he’d lost), this old man looked at me straight and said, “Justin. It was the best time of my life.” And when I heard that, I said to myself, “THIS is a story that has to be told.” This story of shining young men. And I have to write it. The result was “Nor the Years Condemn”.
Where do you get your ideas for plot, characters and scenes from?
The plots for my historical fictions, “Nor the Years Condemn” and Book 2 in the series, “Ghosts of the Empire”, come directly from the stunning true history on which the books are based. These novels of mine strive to bring to life the amazing saga of how, in World War II, the best and brightest young Australians volunteered to fly and fight against the worst evil imaginable (Nazi Germany), did so in the most exciting way imaginable (in the real-life air combat which surely inspired the ‘attack on the Death Star’), and WON, albeit at staggering cost: These young Australian airmen had less chance of survival than if they had been at Gallipoli or in the trenches of the Western Front in World War I. To do the job, they had to be the best and brightest of their generation, this ‘best & brightest’ fact making plausible in my stories a line-up of truly exceptional young characters, the loss of such youth ramming home for my readers the passionately anti-war message of my books.
In a general sense, what do you think is the easiest part about being a writer?
Saying thank you to my readers.
And the hardest part?
Getting a review in the Sydney Morning Herald as an “independent author”: Apparently they don’t give reviews to independent authors, only to household name authors backed by the giant publishing companies. Which is a shame as a review in the Sydney Morning Herald would turn me into a household name author.
What about Writers Block? Myth or Reality in your world?
Every morning while shaving, and this is true, I say to myself, “I haven’t the FAINTEST idea where my next page is coming from.” And I’m writing my 5th book! But then I say to myself, “Justin, you said that every morning for the last 4 books and the next page always came, didn’t it, so have a little faith in yourself.”
Any tips on how you or others can unblock the block?
Personally, I get up from the blank page and go for a bracing 30 minute walk. Day or night. At about the 27th minute (almost punctually) comes the IDEA.
His name is Daniel Quinn and his story is this: At the beginning of World War II, Britain was in the deepest trouble imaginable. 5 minutes flying time away crouched a monster. Alone against it, Britain called out to her Empire. For pilots. From all corners of that Empire, they volunteered. Only the best & brightest were chosen. Australian Daniel Quinn was one of these young men who came to fly against the monster. They had a 1-in-3 chance of survival. In their late teens and early-20s, for the job at hand they had to be the ‘shining ones’, rendering the death of so many of them doubly heart-rending for the reader. Daniel Quinn, flanked by the often hilarious young men of his elite ilk, leaves his peacetime life behind to fight tyranny in this portrait of doomed, brilliant youth. Daniel’s is a story of once-in-a-lifetime friendship on a knife’s edge, of shining young men destined never to grow old, and of those who do: the survivors ‘condemned by the years’, and to their memory of friends who remain forever young.
How much research did you do for “Nor the Years Condemn”?
10 years of it.
What was the hardest scene in the book to write, and why?
Your favourite character from the book, and why?
Easy. Colin Stone. “Stoney” to all. A classic ‘rough diamond’ character, the boy from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’, the mean streets of Great Depression era St. Kilda, the abandoned child who becomes the greatest fighter pilot of them all, the soul from the gutter who rises to the top from where he sees a world only worth leaving. “Stoney” became real for me and I love him; he’s the underdog, the unselfish hero, the classic Aussie warrior (based in historical fact) who wins war because of the unconventional he fights it, whose lacks respect for Authority because Authority gets young men killed.
If you had your choice, which actors would you have playing the main characters in your book?
Well, “Stoney” would have been perfectly played by a young Bryan Brown. Perhaps by Eric Banna. Many times now I have been told (to my relief and delight) that “Nor the Years Condemn” and Book 2 in the series, “Ghosts of the Empire”, should be made into movies. However, if they ever are, the tricky thing would be that (if accurately cast) the characters would have to be played by actors in their very early 20s, as that was the age of fighter pilots in World War II (the ‘old man’ of the squadron being an ancient 25). However, as Hollywood requires it leading roles to be filled by major ‘stars’, it’s likely that my 20-year-old characters would be played by 30-somethings as mega-stars are rarely as young as 20.
Can you tell us something fun/interesting/scary/unusual about the behind the scenes of writing this book?
One of the veterans I interviewed as part of my research APOLOGISED to me for that fact that, while a young Australian fighter pilot in World War II, he had not actually ever been in a ‘dog-fight’ against an enemy aircraft. He had only ever taken part in ultra-low-level ground attack. (The most dangerous of all air combat jobs.)
If you could go back in time and change one thing in this book, what would it be, and why?
In complete honesty, I wrote, re-wrote, crafted and re-crafted “Nor the Years Condemn” so many times that, to my mind anyway, now I would not change a thing in it. I can only hope that my readers think I ‘got it right’ as I put my whole self into trying to and that’s the truth.
Is there a hidden message, or not-so-hidden message you want the readers to grasp?
That war is the criminal mis-use of youth by old men, whether they be evil, greedy, incompetent, stupid or just bone lazy. That wars are started and run by what, in peacetime, we call ‘ineffective management’. Ineffective management which, in war, gets millions killed. Also, much as John Le Carré put it in “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”, the tragedy of history is that in the struggle between Good and Bad, East and West, it’s always the innocent who get slaughtered.
I’m currently writing Book 3 in the series, which is rough diamond Stoney’s story and entitled “No Greater Love”, taken from the Bible phrase, ‘No greater love has a man than to lay down his life for his friends’. “No Greater Love” should be published (either by me or a giant publishing company if they ever get back from lunch) this time next year.
Can you tell us more about the process of writing this book? i.e. did you have it mapped out completely before starting to write, or did you fly by the seat of your pants? Did you use an editor, proof readers etc?
Re the story being ‘mapped out’ or spontaneously evolving as I wrote it, “Nor the Years Condemn” was a combination of both. And for me quite a magical combination at times: sometimes the story took me places that I never expected and which, to me as its writer, thankfully worked, even though the story felt on occasion like it was ‘writing itself’. This is part of what I meant by the book becoming a ‘living world’ for me as I wrote it. In any case it seems to have worked for those readers who have told me that they profoundly ‘entered into’ the story, its characters ‘becoming friends’ to them, or even that they ‘became’ characters. And with “Nor the Years Condemn”, the editor and proof reader was basically me (also my dear Mum & Dad) though I did put the manuscript through the NSW Writers’ Centre ‘Mentorship Program’, a profoundly painful yet utterly invaluable process of learning how to structure, prune, craft and re-craft a beautiful piece of junk into a book that people will not only read but re-read, all the time keeping in mind that though your ‘Mentor’ is an experienced author (and there’s no substitute for experience), it’s YOUR BOOK, not theirs. And THAT was the hardest thing: learning how to walk the tightrope between taking advice and rejecting it.
I designed it myself on Photoshop. I went through 14 different versions (conducting a Facebook campaign of public opinion and criticism of all 14) until I ended up with the final version which after 4 years now I look at with a sigh of relief and satisfaction.
If you could go back in time, and give your younger self some advice, what would it be?
You’ll do good work by assuming your work is crap. As a result you’ll strive not to be crap and do good work. But never fall into the trap of thinking that Other People ‘know better’ than you. They mostly went to the ‘University of Near-Enough-is-Good-Enough’ anyway.
Is there any advice you’d give an aspiring writer if they asked?
1. Come up with a Great Idea. Then re-do it 20 times until it ends up the Book it DESERVES to be. 2. Any aspiring writer who claims to be ‘lacking motivation to write’ will provide You with the empty space on the bookstore shelf into which Your 1st book will fit, get sold from and be enjoyed by a reader while the ‘lacking motivation’ author posts about their lack of motivation on Facebook. 3. When your first manuscript is ready, don’t bother looking for a Literary Agent. They will come looking for you when they see 15% to be made from your earnings.
So when you’re not busy writing, how do you relax?
Classic movies, iconic documentaries, sipping wine talking with good friends who remind me that there IS intelligent life out there.
Do you read much from other writers? If so, who?
I’m sure I’d read more if I wasn’t writing all the time, all the while holding down a day-job until such time as I get picked up by a Giant Publishing Company…
What are you reading right now? And do you have the next book to read decided already?
“Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege, 1940-43” by James Holland: research text for my next book, “No Greater Love”.
How can readers find out more about you and your work?
At my personal Facebook page, my Facebook pages for “Goodbye Crackernight”, for “Nor the Years Condemn” and “Ghosts of the Empire”, for my latest book, “Memoirs of a Go-Go Dancer”, and at my website, JustinSheedy.com and at Goodreads.
Do you hear from your readers much? And what kinds of things do they ask?
Certainly do and am privileged to via my Facebook pages and website, also at my Sydney area in-store book-signings, details of which I religiously post online. One of their most frequently asked questions is ‘What was your inspiration to write this book?” My inspiration is to share OUR story: Whether it be my make-you-laugh-and-cry portraits of growing up in “Goodbye Crackernight” and “Memoirs of a Go-Go Dancer” or my more serious Australian war historical fictions, all the time I am striving to hold up a mirror to US. To tell OUR story. Though the most rewarding communication I receive from my readers is the reviews they submit of my books, HERE.
Have you done Author Interviews before? If so, can you share them with us?
Yes indeed, I’ve been interviewed by prominent Australian author and most excellent soul, Walter Mason (see HERE & HERE), also by lovely leading author Lisa Heidke, by journalist Kathy Mexted and more. For recent radio interviews: 2UE with Angela Catterns re “Memoirs of a Go-Go Dancer” book-launch, with Clive Robertson re “Ghosts of the Empire”. Other print media coverage HERE. An article I was commissioned to write for the NSW Writers’ Centre, “The Power of Perseverance” HERE.
Thank you so much for the time and energy you’ve taken to complete this interrogation/interview. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we finish up?
I’d like to say thank YOU for interviewing me and to my readers, who are my motivation and my sanity.
To read another interview with Justin, click HERE