Hall of Fame

   2020 started off really well for me when this week, much to my total surprise, I was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Western Australian Young Readers Book Awards at their 40th Anniversary celebration. 'Heck!' I might have exclaimed. :) Never in a million years could I have imagined I would belong to the same group of inductees as Roald Dahl, Paul Jennings and John Marsden. Phew!!

The WAYRBA is a children's choice award where kids in primary and secondary schools choose a shortlist of books that are then are voted on throughout the year by kids across the state as they read them. The winners are announced in November each year.

As you can imagine, winning this award because kids voted for my books is about as good as it gets as a writer. The people I wrote them for actually like them. :) I was completely thrilled at the announcement and more than a little shocked, but I soon recoverd and have been living in a warm glow ever since. I wonder how long I can drag out the feeling before I have to get back to the keyboard? A sequel awaits and I'm on the final pages!

Thank you so much wonderful hardworking committee members of the WAYRBA.  Long may you reign.

The Smuggler’s Curse ISBN 9781925164190 Paperback fiction. Middle readers $17.00. 320 pages. (198 x 128 x 20mm) Fremantle Press Publisher. Year 2016

My Publishing Career. An Interview by Fremantle Press PR Dept.

Can you give a short overview of your publishing career?

Twenty years ago, while working at a specialist children’s bookshop, I wrote the text for the graphic novel Ashe of the Outback. It was written specifically for reluctant readers, who predominantly seemed to be boys, and increasing in numbers. The style was inspired by Asterix and Tintin, who were both incredibly popular with these readers.

Two picture books, In Flanders Fields and The Call of the Osprey, both illustrated by Brian Harrison-Lever, were then selected by Fremantle Press. After that, I produced two semi-autobiographical comedy novels for teenagers, A Fine Mess and Another Fine Mess 002, about two boys in a county town getting into all sorts of trouble. I had loads of fun writing them.

In 2008 Jack’s Island, a historical novel set off the coast of Western Australia during World War II was released. Then in 2011 James Foley and I created the picture book The Last Viking and soon after The Last Viking Returns, the sequel. I also have several other picture book texts and I am working on number 3 in The Smuggler’s Curse, series.

Has it changed in the last few years? In what way/s? Do you think it has become harder to stay published? Or have more opportunities arisen?

I don’t think my actual writing career has changed that much. I get more work, though, talking to school kids because I’m better known now, but even with winning awards and reasonable sales, I still can’t afford to write full-time. Being from faraway Western Australia, I’m not that well-known to the publishers, so haven’t had too many approaches to write for them or to appear at east coast festivals.

What strategies for ‘staying published’ have you adopted—and how have these changed over the years?

Basically, I just keep writing. I have tried different styles, including graphic novels, picture books, comedy novels, serious historical novels, and the occasional article, mostly, I suspect, to see if I am capable of writing them. I think if I were to write only picture books I would go totally mental, always trying to keep to the discipline they require. Writing a story in so few words and then watching the carefully chosen words get slashed as the pictures develop is so difficult to handle.

I’m looking forward to being an ‘overnight success’ after twenty years slogging away at it. Perhaps that’s it, you just have to keep slogging away at it until you do the magical ten thousand hours? As Churchill said, “never, never, never give in.”

I have stayed with Fremantle Press for most of my career with only two editors, originally Ray Coffey, but mostly, and happily, Cate Sutherland, and because they have completely different tastes you would think I might choose subjects to write about to suit their preferences, knowing it might improve my chances of being accepted. In reality, I write to keep myself amused, hoping that there are some other twelve-year-old kids out there, just like me, who might just ‘get it.’ Being a forever twelve-year-old trapped in an aging writer’s body is not so bad.

I keep up my membership with ASA and SCBWI. I find it very valuable meeting with the members of SCBWI, who in WA are a really marvellous bunch of supportive creators. We are very encouraging of each other and we share industry news such as which publishers are looking for submissions, but also discuss each other’s plots and writing styles, as well help each other through the successes and inevitable heartaches.

What do you think are the main pitfalls today for writers aiming to maintain a long career?

Other than losing heart after too many rejections and giving up writing altogether, the obvious pitfall, other than a serious Facebook addiction, is not having a runaway success early in your career, otherwise, you have to work at something else to earn a living while trying to write. Even with the lack of time by having a full-time job, just being worn out at the end of a regular working day can kill creativity stone dead. Though many of the writers who are career authors also spend so much time on the road touring schools that they too have little time or energy left to create either. And creativity does not flow easily while you are all alone in a dingy county motel. You, somehow, have to maintain the passion in spite of the slings and arrows of the daily grind.

Do you have any advice for writers who have already started their publishing career—i.e. have had one or two books published—but are having trouble maintaining publisher interest?

Treat your writing as a business – as a way to make money, otherwise, you will need a regular job to support yourself.  The business is not just composing words, but just as importantly, promoting. Publishers like that. They want you to have as high a profile as possible. The more you are seen, the more likely people are to buy your books.  The way a great many children’s writers earn their real incomes is by school talks where you are spruiking your word to something like a thousand kids a week.

Even if a publisher thinks a particular story of yours is only okay, they might take a chance on it because you are seen as an excellent salesman for them.

My other two pieces of advice are firstly, not to take rejection personally. That is the hardest part of putting your soul on the page, but when a publisher says, ‘your work does not fit with our list’, they probably mean just that. It does not have to mean that your writing sucks and you should go back to flipping burgers. Maybe, too, the publisher has contracted to publish twelve books this year, and yours is the thirteenth to come along. It could just be luck.

My second piece of advice is that quote from Churchill that I mentioned earlier, never give in, ever. The publishing world is full of long delays and endless waiting for things to happen, so learning patience is recommended. When I am rejected I immediately think of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury Publishers and the fifteen other publishers who rejected Harry Potter, to their collective horror, I suspect. Can you imagine being one of those editors and sitting at your desk knowing what you had done, while watching as the sales figures over at Bloomsbury went completely ballistic?

Wearing your prophet’s hat—how do you see the publishing industry in the future?

I see fiction continuing to be published both as print and e-books for quite some time, but Google is hurting non-fiction. Children’s and young adult books are still selling remarkably well, with no slowdown in sales at all and, in fact, have helped maintain many publisher’s profits during an economic downturn. That market seems likely to be encouraged and will grow, though I don’t know what will be replacing wizards, vampires and angels. I did notice in my local Dymocks that YA fiction now takes up over a third of the fiction shelves, whereas, for most of publishing history, it was shoved away in the back corner. What stands out in the YA section, though, is that nearly every book cover is dramatically coloured black. I do hope YA will lighten up a little in the future. I’m well over angst.

Swashbuckling tale of terror in the tropics

Swashbuckling tale of terror in the tropics


Swashbuckling tale of terror in the tropics

WA author Norman Jorgensen's pirate tale The Smuggler's Curse is a rollicking read.

"I cannot believe it. My mother has gone and sold me. Sold me — her only child! And to the most notorious cold-hearted sea captain ever to sail the wild, west coast. What sort of a mother would do such a thing, knowing I will be carried away in a black-painted sailing ship to face untold dangers and probably death a hundred times over on treacherous seas and in exotic ports?”

So begins Norman Jorgensen’s latest rollicking read, The Smuggler’s Curse, a swashbuckling tale of terror in the tropics partly inspired by one of the West Australian author’s all-time favourite books, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

Jorgensen’s previous historical novel for younger readers, Jack’s Island, found best friends Jack and Banjo facing the threat of a Japanese invasion on wartime Rottnest. Set in the late 19th century, The Smuggler’s Curse finds Red Read leaving his mother’s inn of the same name before being forced to follow the infamous smuggler Captain Bowen through thick and thin, from Red’s Broome home to Singapore, Sumatra, Fremantle, Albany and even the Pilbara coastal town of Cossack.

Surprisingly, Jorgensen, who was himself born in Broome and learnt to sail in his father’s dinghy at the age of 13, says he hates writing picture books. He is of course being facetious — but there may be at least an element of truth to what he says.

“It’s because you’ve got the whole story in your head,” he says. “So you write it. Say you describe a character wearing a red jumper. The illustrator comes along and draws a character with a red jumper. So you don’t need to write that. It comes out. You describe a dog. The illustrator draws the dog. That comes out. And so on. It can be very frustrating.”

“I hadn’t set the novel in Australia at all at first,” he says. “My editor asked me if I would consider doing so and that it would be easy.” He thought Broome would be a good location because in the 19th century it was “a wild, tempestuous place where men went to get away from their families”.

The trouble was he’d set the novel during the early 19th century, with the Napoleonic War and the illegal trading with France as backdrops. Broome wasn’t even gazetted until the 1880s.

“So we had to shift the time period forward,” he says. “Then I had the novel opening on this jetty which didn’t even exist until 1895. Now, by this time we’re well into the steamship era.” Which of course didn’t preclude using sailing ships, which were still being used extensively at the time.

“The point is if you’re writing an historical novel, you can do what you like with your imaginary characters but you can’t change history. I get annoyed at people who do that. Even if I do occasionally do it myself,” he suddenly recalls, laughing.

The other area that is sometimes problematic when it comes to writing for children is violence. Needless to say, in a book filled with smugglers and pirates and guerilla warfare, someone’s bound to get hurt. Jorgensen has an appropriately novel approach.

“I write a book like this as if I were a 12-year-old,” he admits. “Which isn’t that hard as most people reckon that’s about my mental age. But I ask myself, ‘What would a 12-year-old find acceptable?’” Quite a lot, it turns out.

The solution? Make it comic violence, never graphic.

As for writing for children in general, Jorgensen says it’s the immediacy of feedback he loves the most. Again, reading out loud in schools helps.

“That’s why I wrote this in the first person, present tense,” he says.

“I wanted the reader to be right there with Red. And I was able to test passages out on the kids. It’s fantastic because you can sense when their attention’s flagging or when it’s totally engaged.

The Smuggler's Curse is published by Fremantle Press  / Buy now

By William Yeoman

Books Editor & Travel Writer
Seven West Travel Club & The West Australian





Award Winning Children's Book Smuggler's Curse

Swashbuckling? Me? Only in my Head.

I have been amused in recent months, ever since The Smuggler's Curse was published that reviewers have been using the word 'swashbuckling' about me. Nothing could be further from the truth as I'm such a  gentle soul, though, in my head, there are all sorts of swashbuckling scenes going on. It's like living in my own private movie, with cannon firing, endless sword fights, pirates swinging from yardarms while all accompanied by scores of dramatic soundtracks from loads of old movies I've seen.

One problem I have  is getting all this dramatic stuff down on paper while still making it sound exciting. The other is talking about it to groups of people who have read the book, like is this case at Koorliny Arts Centre, Kwinana,  on Wednesday March 29th.

I have no idea how many people will be attending, as  it can be a bit of a hike south, but even if you've heard all my jokes before, I gather that the centre is really good and food provided by Monique Mulligan, the organiser and interviewer, is well worth the journey, and I know she'll be right on the ball with her Inquisition, thumbscrews and torture rack extracting every detail and entrail from me .  See you there?  I sure hope so.








Another Prince of Denmark on Stage? (I wish!)

March  29th, 2017 at 7pm.


Koorliny Arts Centre,

Theatre 1

Sulphur Road
Kwinana WA 6167

COST: $15 all tickets

BRIEF DETAILS: The swashbuckling Norman Jorgensen will kick off the 2017 programme.

SUITABLE FOR: Adults who love reading and writing

 ADDITIONAL INFO:  Norman Jorgensen was born in Broome, and has lived in several country towns since. At a young age he developed a love of books, especially historical novels like Treasure Island, and old movies. At age thirteen Norman learned to sail. These days he loves travelling and researching exotic places for his books. His latest book is The Smuggler's Curse.

Stories on Stage is a series of evening 'meet the author' events held in Theatre 1. Each event includes an author talk, Q and A session, meet and greet over supper, book sales and signings. Tickets cost $15 each and include supper.

In 2017, events will be held on:

  • March 29: Norman Jorgensen (children's fiction)
  • May 24: Rashida Murphy (historical fiction) in conversation with Monique Mulligan
  • July 26: Alli Sinclair (romance fiction) in conversation with Monique Mulligan
  • September 13: David Whish-Wilson (crime fiction) in conversation with Monique Mulligan
  • November 22: Gabriel Evans (book illustrator)


Thank you for a terrific evening at the Koorliny Arts Centre. The facilities were superb, the organisation of the event was excellent and the audience was fun and receptive -  and the cakes at the end were an unexpected bonus. - FELICITY YOUNG (The Insanity of Murder)

(Stories on Stage) was beautifully organised and welcoming, and I really enjoyed myself, in a part of Perth that I'd never been to before. - JOAN LONDON (The Golden AgeGilgamesh, The Good Parents)

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to present my Stories on Stage at the Koorliny Arts Centre. The event, hosted by the brilliantly organised Monique Mulligan, allowed me to engage my audience in an intimate theatre setting. Literary conversations continued during the delicious supper, generously supplied at the conclusion of my presentation. I encourage all those interested in books and writing to visit the Koorliny Art Centre and enthusiastically support the diverse range of authors Monique has lined up for future Stories on Stage events. - MARK GREENWOOD (The Legend of Moondyne Joe)

What I loved most about being part of #DateNight at Stories On Stage was the setting. The theatre is lovely, intimate and friendly, and I felt like I was chatting about romance books and romance writing with people I'd known forever. Monique has a wonderful knack for interesting and intuitive questions, and the evening moved at a cracking pace. I didn't want it to be over, and one day, I'd love to be invited back again. LILY MALONE (Fairway to Heaven, His Brand of Beautiful)

Loved being a part of Stories on Stage. Fabulous facilities, yummy home-baked goodies, great hostess, well-organized, awesome community spirit and loads of fun. The audience was relaxed and friendly which went a long way toward calming my nerves. Keep up the good work! JUANITA KEES (Under Cover of Dark)

I really enjoyed the causal, intimate atmosphere of Stories on Stage and the opportunity to chat with the warm and generous audience members. - ANNABEL SMITH (The Ark)

Stories on Stage was a lovely opportunity for me to connect with readers. I was able to spend several hours talking with them, hearing their stories and answering their questions. I suspect I enjoyed their company more than they enjoyed mine! - ROS THOMAS, Weekend West columnist (Was it Something I Said?)

What a treat to be with not only an enthusiastic, interested, engaged and generous audience, but also in such a wonderful facility.
The presentation at Koorliny Arts Centre was truly a moment where everything came together beautifully - the people and the place, and for, me, the combination of a words-and-music performance, and then a more formal "talk" about travelling and writing, which I hadn't done before. I have received some kind feedback from those who came along (and about Monique's delicious supper, too).
The whole thing was a delight, and I very much appreciate being invited. - STEPHEN SCOURFIELD, Travel editor and author

Thank you again for inviting me to take part in your wonderful Stories on Stage program for 2014. It was an excellent event, very well organised, and such a lovely audience, too. – AMANDA CURTIN (ElementalThe Sinkings)

The audience was pleasantly responsive, and I had several interesting conversations with people afterwards. The venue, which I hadn’t previously visited, was excellent for the Stories on Stage kind of arrangement, and I’ve been enthusiastically telling friends about what Koorliny can offer. – IAN REID (That Untravelled Road, The End of Longing )

I had a terrific  time at Koorliny Arts Centre; it's a lovely light and friendly place, with great facilities in a delightful setting and Monique looked after me so well.  But the best thing was having the chance to meet people there who were so obviously interested in books and reading and the arts generally.  It was so nice to be among such and interesting and friendly group of people and I enjoyed the questions, the laughs and the sense of being among friends.  And they have the very best cakes!  I felt like stuffing some in my bag to eat on the way home, but the friend who was with me suggested that might be a bit unladylike!  Thanks to Monique and Koorliny Arts Centre for making me so welcome. – LIZ BYRSKI (The Company of Strangers, Last Chance Cafe, Gang of Four)

Stories on Stage was well organised and I had the chance to meet and talk with several lovely readers. Monique was a pleasure to deal with and made the event run as smoothly as possible. – NATASHA LESTER (If I Should Lose You; What is Left Over, After)

I enjoyed participating in the Koorliny Stories on Stage event.  It had been very well publicised and organised and attracted a good, engaged audience. No author could ask for more. – ALAN CARTER (Prime Cut; Getting Warmer)


The Anzac Stories: Behind the Pages exhibition has many fabulous Australian and New Zealand authors and illustrators in it. Go to Authors/Illustrators/Books to see the full list. Each week, I'll highlight one of the authors or illustrators in the exhibition - this week it is Norman Jorgensen. Norman also received great news recently ... Western Australia Young Readers Book Awards(WAYRBA) shortlisted one of his books - 'The Smugglers Curse'. Congratulations, Norman! His book 'In Flanders Field' is in the Anzac Stories: Behind the Pages Exhibition. Norman loosely based In Flanders Fields on a historical event during WWI. The British and Germans held a truce on Christmas Day 1914, while they buried their dead and played soccer in no-man's-land. Instead Norman has an Australian soldier rescue a robin caught on barbed wire in no-man's land.

The Anzac Stories: Behind the Pages - Feature Author - Norman Jorgensen / The Smuggler's Curse

Repost from: http://anzacstoriesbehindthepages.blogspot.com.au Maria Gill

The Anzac Stories: Behind the Pages

The Anzac Stories: Behind the Pages exhibition has many fabulous Australian and New Zealand authors and illustrators in it. Go to Authors/Illustrators/Books to see the full list.
Each week, I'll highlight one of the authors or illustrators in the exhibition - this week it is Norman Jorgensen.  Norman also received great news recently ... Western Australia Young Readers Book Awards(WAYRBA) shortlisted one of his books - 'The Smugglers Curse'. Congratulations, Norman! His book 'In Flanders Field' is in the Anzac Stories: Behind the Pages Exhibition.

Norman loosely based In Flanders Fields on a historical event during WWI. The British and Germans held a truce on Christmas Day 1914, while they buried their dead and played soccer in no-man's-land. Instead Norman has an Australian soldier rescue a robin caught on barbed wire in no-man's land.

"I wanted to capture what the film director did in All Quiet on the Western Front. The image of the butterfly is so simple and stands for the whole of humanity in its brokenness. For me, the robin is also a symbol of humanity but it also has the additional association of the redness of blood spilt in battle and the traditional colour of Christmas."

Norman said he is a pacifist. "I wanted the book to be anti-war and show that these soldiers, in their quiet way, are caught up in war which they oppose. In the end papers, where I have the two armies looking inwards from their trenches, the shades of grey and khaki merge. It is not their war. They are scared young men."

20 Questions from 'Write Note Reviews' by Monique Mulligan

  1. Your latest novel for children is The Smuggler’s Curse. Tell me a bit about it.

The story is set in 1896 and tells of a boy called  Red Read who lives at the Smuggler’s Curse tavern in Broome with his single mum. One day he discovers she has sold him as a cabin boy to a Captain Black Bowen, a notorious  smuggler, and before he can even believe it, he is whisked away on a sleek sailing ship to perilous adventures in Singapore, Sumatra and the South China Sea. Along the way, he is forced to grow up quickly in the rough and dangerous world of the smugglers especially when all hell breaks loose, with cannons and guns firing, cyclones at sea and facing murderous pirates and deadly head-hunters.


  1. What’s the feedback been like for this book? What do you think the attraction is for younger readers?

The feedback has been fabulous, and the half-dozen reviews have all been wonderful. I’m not sure of the reason, but maybe the old-fashioned plot and the relentless action. I tried not to leave room for the reader to get bored.  Boys, mostly that I have talked to have loved it, including one who said it was his favourite book, ever, in the entire universe.


  1. Do you prefer writing novels for children or picture books?

Even though the word count is horrendous, I think I actually prefer writing novels. Picture books are told using both words and pictures, so many of my original words have to be cut out as the pictures take over.  And that can hurt when you’d spent hours carefully choosing them. Also, most picture books are restricted to about 600 words, and that takes an awful lot of skill to get across a plot in such a small number. You have so much more freedom in a long novel.


  1. Do you have a favourite character in your books? Which one are you most like? (You can tell me.)

 I like Nell, Jack’s mum from Jack’s  Island. She is based directly on my beloved grandmother and in the book she is actually as she was in real life - no exaggeration necessary for dramatic purposes. Red, the hero from the Curse and my latest creation,  is a bit of a favourite too as I love how he grows from been a skinny little weakling afraid of everything into a fully-fledged, swashbuckling pirate.


  1. What draws you to writing stories for children rather than adults?

My family all think it is due to my arrested development. Even at Christmas, they sit me at the kids’ table.  Childhood was a  special time for me and was the time I developed my love of books and reading. The books of that time still influence me greatly when I’m writing.  For some reason too, every time I have an idea for a new book, it mysteriously seems to be for a children’s book. It is not a conscious choice


  1. What are some of the challenges children’s book writers face? Do you think children’s books harder to write than adult fiction? If so, why?

The biggest challenge is having to think like a child all the time and, unfortunately, or fortunately, it tends to rub off and become the new reality.  Another is the amount of time you get to actually write. Earning a living means that you have to accept every request for school or library talk or paying festival event, which takes you away from your writing desk for days at a time.  Royalties are small, and I get only $1.70 for each novel sold or $1.24 for a picture book, so unless a book is a huge bestseller, poverty is the biggest challenge.

I’ve tried writing adult novels, and that is a hard task as there are no restrictions on what you write, so you have too many choices, while kids’ books are more difficult in that they involve a lot of self-censorships and boundaries. Keeping to a consistent reading level and being aware that parents and teachers don’t want their children exposed to too much of the seedy side of life can be difficult. For instance, in reality, people swear a lot, and  I was writing about sailors, famous for it, so making their dialogue sound realistic without including any swearing proved bloody challenging.


  1. How do you start a new story?

I start with one word or a few notes on the closest bit of paper, usually an envelope or a napkin. Next, I’ll expand it in my trusty old notebook, the one I try and carry everywhere, but, of course, it is always somewhere else when I really need it.  I make as many notes as I can longhand and even try out a few sentence or chapter headings. Often too I will take loads of photographs of where the story is to be set, or trawl back through older photos that may have twigged the setting.  As a novel usually takes such a long time to write, in that time,  I will try and visit the places I'm going to write about. I believe you need to be on the ground, searching the landscape, breathing the smells, hearing the noises, watching the people and soaking up the atmosphere, so your story will sound authentic.


8. What have you learned about writing over the years? I am amazed at what appears on screen as I type. It is as if someone else is controlling my fingers. Images and scenes that have nothing to do with any of my experiences suddenly appear, and then characters I’ve just invented take control of their own lives, leaving me surprised and often dumbfounded at the things I do.
I’m also a peaceful, gentle sort of bloke, so the total mayhem and wholesale murder that appeared in The Smuggler shocked me. Where for the life of me did that all come from, I found myself asking over and over.


  1. What other writing-related projects are you working on at the moment?

Desert Rose is a YA novel set in the Coolgardie goldfields just after the pipeline arrived.

Dessert Island is about kids marooned on an island made entirely of sugar, lollies, chocolate and lemonade waterfalls.

In Search of Jack Kelly is a non-fiction book about the brother Ned Kelly who grew up to become circus performer and a policeman in the Western Australia police.

Mary Christmas is about a little girl who is accidently appointed the next real Santa when the current old man retires.


  1. Where did your desire to write spring from?

The desire came from my earliest years while I was reading Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven. I loved the series so much that I wanted to be a member of the gang, even though I lived 12,000 miles away and didn’t own a thick gabardine raincoat or a red Cub cap. I started writing little stories where I was the eighth member of the Secret Seven - it never occurred to me that seven was important to the title. The new eighth member, Norman,  turned out to be the real hero of the books and solved all the crimes and captured the wicked smugglers single-handed. I haven’t progressed very far in 55 years,  have I?


  1. What do you do when you're having doubts about your writing? What happens when you get stuck?

Every time I read something by one of the ‘greats’, I have a crisis of confidence, and then, luckily, I’ll read something really poor and think, maybe,  I’m not as bad as that. When I get stuck, I go and have a long, hot bubble bath. All my best ideas have come when I’ve been up to my eyes in steaming hot water.

When I get stuck, I just write any old drivel knowing that I’ll be back to edit it out before too long. I also try and kid myself that I am writing just to keep myself amused and not really for publication, so as to relieve the anxiety. Though, if that were really the case, I’d be bitterly disappointed.


  1. What’s your typical writing day like?

I sit in my studio in the back garden on an old armchair with a board across my knees, and a dozen sharpened pencils...  no, that’s Road Dahl.  I, Norman,  sit in my studio in the back garden in darkness with all the lights off, so there is just the screen and whatever is at the ends of my fingers and slam away at the Apple keyboard. I need one with big letters, like Apple’s,  as I can’t type very well. At school, I had a choice of  Woodwork or  Typing, and, like an idiot, didn’t choose Typing. I never really needed the skill until quite late in life, but now I live by it and could really use an increase in speed and accurayc.


  1. What’s the biggest myth about being a writer?

How much money we all earn. Most of us would be financially better off working at Maccas. True.  We have way more fun, though, so I shouldn’t complain too much.


  1. What has writing taught you about resilience?

It has taught me that at least I have some resilience. Bouncing back from rejection with your enthusiasm intact is hard, as is ignoring lukewarm reviews, but I keep doing it, just as I keep on writing.   Writing has also taught me patience, lots of patience. The book world moves at a snail's pace. I have grown old polishing manuscripts, waiting for publishing decisions, editing, waiting for production and distribution, for the royalties to be paid, Public Lending Rights payments to come, and everything else that takes so much longer than you’d like.


  1. When you write, what is your biggest weakness?

At present, it seems to be over-researching. I spend hours on Google finding obscure facts that are not worth the amount of time it took to search for. Just write the bloody book,  Norman!  My other weakness is I am easily distract...oh look, a shiny thing.


  1. What do you think about the phrase ‘write what you know’?

It’s a great start. Later on, you can research, travel and find out about things, people and places you want to write about. Even then, after a lot of research, you’ll still be writing about what you now know.


  1. Which authors / books do you admire the most?

Once, when I was still a teenager, I was reading John Steinbeck's Pastures of Heaven and didn’t realise until the sun came up that I had been reading all night, I was so engrossed.



I also love historical fiction, and I admire comedy writers.  Comedy is so hard to do well and is often underrated. Tom Sharpe, Leslie Thomas and Bill Bryson are all heroes of mine. There is also an editor from the 1920s and 30s called Maxwell Perkins. No one has heard of him, but he discovered and edited Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, William Fawkner and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings who wrote The Yearling. 


  1. which book are you reading now?

Several at once. Richard Fidler's’ Ghost  Empire, a fascinating book about Constantinople and the Byzantium empire.

The latest Brotherbond by John Flanagan.

Lamentation by CJ Sansom,  a crime novel set in the time of King Henry VIII.

I just noticed writing this that they are all historically based.


  1. Which “must-read” book have you not yet read?

I’m not that hard on myself. I read enough of the books I've chosen not to need the latest dinner party flavour-of-the-week. Slap me if you want.

  1. Describe yourself as a writer in three words.

Storyteller, aged twelve.  (Tthe photo is me about 17.) 


Award Winning Children's Book Smuggler's Curse

Some Background and Research into The Curse

The award-winning children's book, The Smuggler’s Curse, is a story set in Broome, a wild and lawless town in the north-west of Australia in 1896 and is about a boy who is sold by his mother as a cabin boy to a sea captain. Captain Black Bowen turns out to be the most notorious smuggler to ever sail the wild Western Australian coast. Before too long, they are at sea and involved in out-running customs patrols, being chased by murderous pirates, nearly killed in a cyclone and entangled in smuggling guns to guerrillas fighting the colonial Dutch in Sumatra.

Red, the narrator, is the son of Mary Read, owner of The Smuggler’s Curse Hotel which sits high on the cliff overlooking Roebuck Bay in Broome. I borrowed her name from a famous 18th century female pirate of the Caribbean, as well as Red’s name from the pirate, Red Rackham. The other main character, as far as I’m concerned, is a beautiful Baltimore Clipper sailing ship called The Black Dragon owned by Captain Bowen.

On holiday a few years ago, I stayed in a lighthouse on the southern tip of the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland, where I discovered I was in the exact room where Robert Louis Stevenson had written Treasure Island, my favourite book as a kid. Later that night, imaging to the ghost of RLS looking over my shoulder, I tried to write my own pirate story set in 1810, but it quickly evolved into a smugglers’ tale. Later on, I moved the story up to 1895 and reset the plot in Broome and South-East Asia.

The plot is grounded in real history, as are all the places mentioned such as Broome, Singapore, Sumatra, Aceh, Cossack, Fremantle and Albany. There was a fierce and bloody war raging between the colonial Dutch and the Sumatran resistance fighters at the time, Chinese and  Malay pirates roamed wild and Broome was a hotbed for smuggling pearls and opium. Into this late part of the 19th century,  I added my characters and gave them perilous adventures. There are possibly a few more explosions and guns firing than in the real Broome at that time.

Reading a lot about Broome and the pearling days, I had no idea smuggling was so rife in the colony. Among all the other contraband goods, opium was hidden in banana boxes from Singapore and pearls smuggled out in payment.

To absorb the atmosphere and imagine scenes, I visited Broome, Singapore, and the places in South-East Asia where I set the action in the book, including treking to a longhouse in Sumatra where the recent descendants of head-hunters still have skulls hanging from fishing nets in their ceilings. That was a shock. Luckily, they ceased collecting them about 1948.

I also discovered the little-known Aceh Independence War and learned about Ibu Purbu, the female leader of the Sumatran resistance, who continued the war against the Dutch invaders for almost forty years. When her father and husband were captured and executed, she immediately took over as leader and led a savage revolt where over five thousand Dutch soldiers were killed. She is now a national hero in Indonesia, with her picture on the 10,000 rupiah note. Having discovered her story, and being impressed with her courage, I couldn’t resist including her as a character in the book.

Although the story begins in Broome, it quickly moves to South East Asia, where the tropical feel of the heat, the humidity, the vivid colours, the huge tides and unfamiliar culture all impact on Red and the crew of The Black Dragon.The ongoing fate of Red, the young hero, remains, however, the main focus as we see him fighting bravely, sometimes against impossible odds, and being forced to grow up very quickly indeed.

I hope it is an exciting yarn. I had a lot of fun researching the history and locations, but my most enjoyable experience was imagining the perils Red, Captain Black Bowen and the rest of the crew encounter. I wanted the settings, the seamanship, atmosphere and life on board the Dragon to be as realistic and as authentic as I could make them. I learned how to haul in a jib, handle a ship’s wheel, read a compass, shoot a blowpipe, fire a musket and load a cannon, all essential skills for a smuggler.

Recently, I made a visit to Cocos Islands District High School as Writer-in-Residence, where the school kids provided me loads of fabulous ideas for an exciting story about The Black Dragon being shipwrecked off their island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. They want a sequel to The Smuggler’s Curse, so I had better start thinking about it.