An Empty Coast

An Empty Coast
My latest novel

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Grumpy old blogger

One of the few good things about getting old, apart from being able to get a Bruce Willis haircut to camouflage your spreading baldness, is being able to whinge about everything.

As someone wise once said to me (it may have been Mother Blog), 'getting old means not having to pretend that you like people' or, in this case, places.

Here I am on the Getaway Magazine Blog, whingeing away. Have a look and leave a comment (please).

Off to Botswana tomorrow, then Zambia - two countries with little or no internet connectivity for yours truly. Back in a week or so.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Meerkats with pink collars?

Strange, but true. Read all about it on the South African Tourism blog where I'm an occasional guest, here.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Disaster!

What's the worst thing you reckon could happen to a number 2 bestelling writer (Australian fiction, for one week, 2009, T. Winton No.1) who spends six months of the year travelling and wrting in Africa?

Killed by a lion? Shot by poachers? Carjacked? Car fridge breakdown? Bitten by a black mamba? Hmm?

Actually it's none of those things (well... car fridge breakdown is actually a show-stopper and if I got close enough to a mamba to be bitten I'd probably have a heart attack and die...)

No... it's a laptop imploding.

Yes, just as I was finishing off non fiction book number 3 and starting novel number 9, the laptop went and died on me. In between pulling out the battery and sticking it back in again I managed to save the aforementioned books and a few other gems, but we're now on the back-up plan. I am using Mrs Blog's laptop.

With two of us sharing the computer at the moment there is little time for blogging or other social networking. And I can't even enter things like "sexy ladies in gorilla masks" in google any more, as she would find me out!

(Actually, I don't really go looking for sexy ladies in gorilla masks, but I know at least on of you does. I've got a site meter on this blog that tells me how people have stumbled upon our little world here - ie: random googling or if you come here direct. I've used the 'sexy ladies in gorilla masks' line once before and, not long after, I discovered some interloper had actually found the blog by typing that very thing into his/her search engine).

So, it's nothing but work, work, work for me, on our shared computer.

I can report that I am finally making some headway with novel number 9 and before my computer crashed I had managed to write a couple more semi serious blogs for the Getaway website and South African Tourism. These will be appearing soon and, if Mrs Blog lets me, I will point to them from here.

Also, we're heading back into the wilds of deepest, darkest no-internet land next week for a couple of weeks.

Be good, and don't forget, you can buy all your friends and relatives in the UK a cheap copy of SILENT PREDATOR for Christmas by going online.

Cheers.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

In which Mr Blog saves the German crown jewels

Yes, yes, yes, I know... I've been neglecting all my many blogs, but honest, guv, it's because I'm once again drowning in edits. Just about got the edits all done on novel number 8, and in came some more on non fiction book number 3.

Racked (wracked, crookedpaw?) with guilt, I decided I would send you all some pictures, in the hope of keeping you from switching channels.

And so today, we have some images (I can only load five per post) of our recent sojourn to Etosha National Park.

Tough, ferocious, and usually elusive it's not often you see a honey badger (above) in broad daylight - especially not three metres away. The German tourist camped next to us in Halali Camp in the middle of Etosha (all tourists in Namibia are German, except us) had to ask me what this little fellow was.

"Honey badger," I said.

"Excuse me?"

"Ratel," I tried, exhibiting my comprehensive knowledge of Afrikaans (koeksister, ratel, snot klap, lekker, renoster, voetsek).

"Excuse me?"

Clearly I wasn't getting through. Mein neighbour proceeded to walk up to the honey badger with his tiny digital camera. When he was two metres away I called out "Stop-en-zee."

"Excuse me."

Clearly I had to talk louder to this man and resort to sign language. "Dangerous! Grrrrrr," I used my hands as claws for effect. "Scrotum!" I placed a hand on mine and mimicked extreme pain and severe blood loss.

"Ah!" said the man. Few (male) travellers to Africa have not heard of the honey badger's legendary modus operandi for bringing down prey as large as a wildebeest... they rip their victim's scrotum out. Something clicked in the neighbour's mind and he backed off.

Etosha Pan (in the background) and Etosha lion in the foreground. Enough words from me.

Each of the three camps in Etosha: Namutoni, Halali, and the other one (it's Okukuejo or something like that - I can't be bothered checking the spelling, Crookedpaw) has a permanent floodlit waterhole. Stacks (hobos/maninge/plenty) of animals come to drink. We saw black rhino, elephant, giraffe (they're giraffe, above) and many other grass eaters at each of the camps. At Halali we saw one of the aforementioned honey badgers bite a female rhino on the bum (no joke). Just as well it wasn't a male rhino.
The waterholes are great, and they sound like someone getting their tyre stabbed in a Francistown car park. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. There are signs ordering "Silence!" everywhere, which is funny because just beyond the ring of hushing tourists is, like, a thousand other tourists and staff chatting and drinking german beer and braaing bratwurst and inflating their air beds etc. Whatever. It's still pretty cool.


Black rhino. These poor things are getting clobbered at an alarming rate again, all because some f*ing idiot of a Vietnamese government minister (no other PC way to say that, I'm afraid) claimed rhino horn is a cure for cancer. I'd like to set the honey badger on whoever came up with that pearler. Anyway, Etosha is a great place to see black rhino (they have no white rhino). Go see them... before it's too late.

The leo-pard - my favourite of the killing animals. We bagged this lovely young specimen near Rietfontein Waterhole. I love the light in this pic and in a high res version (not sure if you can see it in this opne), you can see the sun's reflection in her eye.

Etosha's a great place. It's very pricey these days and the camps are absolutely chockers (crowded). However, there are only the three camps and they're not all that big compared to, say, Kruger's camps. The park, on the other hand, which runs along one side of the gigantic Etosha salt pan, is very big, so you never really feel crowded out when you're out game viewing.
It's stark, arid, dusty and beautiful. I know at least one of you is going there soon. Have fun, and watch out for the honey badgers.
(I'll be blogging more on Namibia and Botswana again soon in my relatively serious Getaway blog).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I heart my Kindle

I love my Amazon Kindle ebook reader, almost as much as I love my Land Rover and my small but perfectly formed wife. Serioulsy, it's that good.

I've been meaning to post about my geekish affair with ebooks for a long time, but never got around to it. Fortunately my techno-savvy friend Joel, who is one of the editors at Pan Macmillan, has interviewed me about using my Kindle in Africa on his blog, here, so I can cross 'blog about Kindle' off my comprehensive list of things to do.

Just as well, as it's Mrs Blog's birthday today so I have a comprehensive to-do list today.

1. Check emails (done)
2. Blog about Kindle (done)
3. Do more edits on Book 8. (ummm, pending, due to birthday party)
4. Get drunk
5. Cook dinner for wife.

Maybe that should be:
4. Cook dinner for wife
5. Get drunk.

No, here's a better idea.

4. Get drunk while cooking dinner for wife.

Anyhow, all this list making is making me look very productive, as she sits opposite me, checking her birthday emails on her computer.

Joel's posting the Kindle interview in two parts, to add to the suspense. I bet you can't wait to see how it ends.

How about you, Legion of Fans (LOF), any ebook fans out there? I know at least a couple of you have dabbled in the world of digital books. Confess...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Caption competition...

Here's me in the Khwai River, Botswana, again. Go on, do your worst... I can take it.

(Too busy to blog anything else just now... have to get the edits on Book 8 finished, so I can, at last, start writing Book 9).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In which Mr Blog is embraced by another man...

Yes, read all about my somewhat intimate welcome to Zimbabwe, where I was hugged by the gate attendant at Hwange National Park. We're close... real close.

It's here on my Getaway Magazine blog : you know, the sort of serious one.

Leave a comment or two, so they keep the blog going.

Any UK readers yet? Make yourself known, and welcome, if you've bought a copy of SILENT PREDATOR, the first of my books to be published in the UK by the wonderful, lovely, wise people at Quercus Books.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

At last, some pictures!

Yes, I know you really only come here for the pictures, not the articles... and I don't blame you.

Mrs Blog has been going through the pictures, picking out the best ones, and we just took delivery of a stack/span/hobo of good pics from our friend Annelien, who accompanied us on our recent trip to Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Here's a selection, in no particular order...

(There's even a naked one, which should keep the anonymous commentators happy).


We came across this mean and nasty old lady not far from the Pandamatenga border crossing, from Botswana to Zimbabwe, on our way out of Hwange National Park after taking part in the 24-hour game census in the park - a highlight of our safari calendar. This lioness was in the Matetsi Safari area, which features in my book, SAFARI.

Bagged these elephants at Chingahobe Dam, which was where we and our South African friends spent the aforementioned 24 hours counting animals. This year's count was a big improvement on last year's. It couldn't have been any worse, because it poured with rain for the whole census period last year and we saw nothing.

Incidentally, in the acknowledgements section of SAFARI, I mention that a rhino was shot by poachers during the game census,while I was busy writing SAFARI. This is where it happened, at Chingahobe. Apparently the people counting that year were close enough to hear the poachers chopping the horn off. Scary stuff.

Annelien took this most excellent picture of a lioness walking past Broomas, our trusty 300Tdi Land Rover Defender, at the Khwai Community Development conservancy in the Okavango Delta.

She also caught me in the shower at Khwai, four-handed. You can never have too many hands in a bush shower, I always say. (Oh dear, that didn't come out right, did it?).



And as the sun sets slowly over Robins Camp, Hwange National Park, we say night night to Broomas the ultimate off-road adventure vehicle. (Actually, that may be a sunrise picture. Whatever).

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

High drama in Botswana...


...well, sort of. Look, to be perfectly honest, apart from its wildlife, Botswana is not the most exciting or adrenaline-charged country in the world.
Or so I thought...
Click on over to my blog on the Getaway Magazine website to learn how I (pictured right, above), contemplated murdering two men and a woman while changing a tire on my Land Rover.
Leave comment (please), and use phoney multiple names if you like, so it appears there are many of you.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Blogging frenzy

I'm guest blogging on the South African Tourism website again here, if you'd (please) like to go and have a look. For a change, I'm shamelessly promoting South Africa rather than myself.

Still resting up in Joburg while Broomas the indefatigable 1997 300Tdi Land Rover Defender is kitted out with some more gadgets (for those who are interested, it's a Frontrunner four-box drawer slide, and a rear fender mountd 40 litre fuel tank).

More travel tales and frippery here soon.

Welcome, UK and South African readers


Dark Heart, due for release in November, 2012, in the UK and South Africa!





Welcome!

If you've stumbled across me and my books and you live in the UK or South Africa (or perhaps other parts of Africa and the Middle East where my books have been showing up lately, then you may be wondering (well, at least I hope you're wondering) where you can track down the rest of my books.

So far I've written NINE novels set in Africa. All were originally published in my native Australia, and they've been re-published by my UK publisher, Quercus Books. Quercus has committed to publishing my next couple of books and they'll be progressively rolling out all the old ones.

As all of my books were previously available in South Africa through a different publisher, Quercus has committed to releasing all of them there, first. So far, FAR HORIZON, ZAMBEZI, SAFARI, IVORY, SILENT PREDATOR, THE DELTA and AFRICAN DAWN have all been released in South Africa. Another of my earlier books, AFRICAN SKY is due for re-release soon.

In the UK, at the time I'm updating this post (November, 2012) you can so far buy SILENT PREDATOR, THE DELTA and AFRICAN DAWN. The other titles will follow in the near future.

The good news is that my ninth novel, DARK HEART will be released in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK in November 2012.

If you are new to the blog, please feel free to browse around and, if you wish, even sign on as a follower. We're a happy band of friends here, generally united by a love of all things African, and a desire to take the p*ss out of yours truly (that goes for me as well).

I use the blog as a kind of informal travel diary when I'm in Africa, and as a tool of shameless self promotion (which I try to keep to a minimum) when I'm back in Australia.

So, sit back, have a cuppa or a drink (depending on whether you're at work or at home, and what your employer's drug and alcohol policy allows), put your feet up, and enjoy. Or get back to work.

Cheers, and thanks for coming.

Tony.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Of course!


Adventurers Don and Barry enjoy a sustaining beverage midway through their quest to conquer the Okavango Delta on deck chairs, with yours truly, centre, displaying his recently obtained four-pack, courtesy of Vision Personal Training, Crows Nest.

So, where to start? At the very beginning? No... too boring. Miles and miles of Botswanan nothingness en route to Hwange (Zimbabwe), via such uninspiring locales as Martins Drift, Francistown (might come back to that one, as we did have a tire slashed by would-be thieves), and Nata.

No, I've got a better idea. Let's start halfway through, at a good bit, where I'm drinking beer in a river in the Okavango Delta, the setting of my latest book, THE DELTA. (How's that for a seamless segue... seamless, I hear you cry/groan!).

It's amazing the people you meet in Africa. I came across these two fellow Aussies drifting down the Khwai River, which is, in actual fact, a tributary of the Okavango, in Botswana, and not the setting of an Alec Guinness movie, as I'd always thought.

These brave chaps were single-handedly navigating the Okavango Delta on floating lounge chairs with nothing but Castle Lager and Cheetah kill to sustain them (Cheetahs will run away if you threaten them, lions will kill you, as our heroine, Sonja, points out in the aforementioned novel).

I stopped these two latter-day Stanley and Livingstones and asked them if it was safe to be consuming alcohol in a river in THE DELTA.

I'd read an article in the authoritative SA 4x4 Magazine, bible of the modern-day beer-drinking African adventurer, a couple of years ago about this very place, the Khwai River Community Conservancy, which sits on the north eastern border of the Moremi Game Reserve in THE DELTA. The article promised abundant wildlife and camping at a fraction (about half, in fact) of the cost of staying in Moremi, just across the river. The local community would be uplifted by our money, and we would get to see lots of animals do all sorts of silly things that are banned in national parks - like swimming in the river.

That particular article featured a picture of some rather burly Afrikaner gentlemen sitting on lounge chairs, up to their necks in 'delta wine' (as the local waters are sometimes known), while supping on beers. The intrepid crew from SA 4x4 had been promised by locals that there were no crocodiles in the waterways in which they were reclining.

So I asked these two gentlemen, Barry Humphries (right), and Donald Bradman (left), what the situation was with crocs.

"We asked an African safari guide from one of the camps around here if there were crocodiles in the river," Barry informed me, over long drafts of rehydrating fluid.

"And what did he say?" I asked.

"He said; 'of course!'"

Armed with that information, what else could I do, but slip into my tatty Australian Army running shorts and reach for the Esky (cooler box/chilly bin, to foreign readers).

Just out of shot in this picture are two burly Land Rover Defenders which our party parked across the river to act as a crocodile barrier (like, I'm sure that would stop them). Just off to the left of this picture, about 300 metres back were a couple of lions that we'd earlier been watching sleeping off a big meal.

And people ask me if Africa is dangerous?

"Of course!"

Monday, October 18, 2010

I'm back... sort of

... just stumbled in from the windswept, dusty plains of Etosha Pan, Namibia, and currently slaking my thirst with an ice cold Windhoek Draught or two, in the eponymous city (Windhoek that is, not Draught).

I've just been wading through a span/stack/heap of emails and noticed a couple about a Mr Damien Mander, former Aussie commando who was shot in Zimbabwe while working on anti-poaching patrols.

Thanks Anonymous and Naturesmark for mentioning this little incident in the blog comments. Geepers, it sounds a lot like my fourth book, SAFARI! Anyone remember that one (ex Aussie special forces soldier training anti poaching patrols in Zimbabwe)? Hmmm?.

All is well. Or, at least it will be after a few more beers.

I miss you all and will be back in more regular contact in a few days' time with tall tales and true from my travels when I get back into South Africa.

Much to report...

Later.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

On Safari

Greetings from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Mrs Blog and I leave tomorrow (Saturday), for a month-ish long trip to Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia, all in the name of research, of course. Sort of.

In fact, I'm so busy editing the eighth novel and the third biography that I haven't even begun to think about what the ninth novel will be about. Hopefully inspiration will strike somewhere between game spotting and drinking. Yikes.

Internet connectivity will be somewhere between sparse and non existent on this leg of the trip, so take a break or, better still, get to work.

In the meantime, I can report that the weather in Joburg has been sunny and warm, the food and booze cheap, and the people as friendly as always. Crime is down, the vibe is up since the world cup, and Broomas our trusty new(ish) Land Rover is packed and ready for the road.

I've been invited by the good peolple at South African Tourism to contribute to their aussie blog, so when I get back in range I'll be posting the odd bit of news there, as well. I've written my first and it will appear in the very near future here. Keep an eye out for it and, please, when it appears, leave a comment so it looks like I have lots of fans.

There'll be big news next month when I get back from safari. I promise. In fact, there may even be some video, as I got drunk on the flight over and bought a teeny weeny HD video camera from the in-flight duty free catalogue.

Cheers.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Catching up...

Well, more like falling behind actually. I'm madly trying to finish off the first draft of my third co-written biography (I could tell you what it's about then I'd have to, well... you know).

Mrs Blog and I leave for Africa very soon so things are mounting up (yikes!). Too much organising, too little time, and too little natural ability (on my part) to organise anything.

Anyway, as I said in the last post there will be more stuff for me to blog about once I'm back in Africa. I'll be resurectng my long-dormant blog for South Africa's Getaway magazine and, in news just to hand, I've also been invited by my new good friends at South African Tourism to contribute to their blog. So it will be blog, blog and blog some more for me, in between trying to finish off this biography and write a ninth novel. Phew!

My round (most of) Australia promotional tour for THE DELTA has now officially ended, so I'd like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to everyone who came to one of my events. It was great to see some familiar faces and to meet some wonderful new people. I love youse all.

Ummm... what else?

Oh, yes, SILENT PREDATOR comes out in the UK in November. I'll be launching a special promo through my newsletter soon to drum up support for the launch of my books onto the UK market, so if you haven't signed up for the newsletter then do so (click on the button thingy somewhere off to the left). Pronto.

Sales of THE DELTA are going very well, thank you very much, and are nicely up on last year's figures for IVORY. DELTA was number 8 in the mystery thriller rankings last week.

And, in late, late breaking news, raise a shot of vodka in a big nostrovia: yours truly has just cracked the Russian book market! Yes, true. IVORY and THE DELTA are to be translated and released sometime in the near future in Mother Russia.

Dasvidaniye, for now.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sorry, can't help myself

Here's another review of THE DELTA, this time from the Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin. Just got my free copies today from the second print run, and quite a few people have been emailed me to say they've seen the TV commercial.




I'm off to Orange Library next Monday, August 30, at 12.30pm for the last talk of the trip and I'll be at Viv's Travel Bug tonight (Thursday August 26) from 6pm.

Africa is calling... only a couple more weeks until Mrs Blog and I take off again. Expect fewer book reviews and more tales when we get back to the veldt.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Shameless, shameless, shameless!

Like I said, what's the point in having a blog if you don't use it for shameless self promotion?

Here's another review of THE DELTA, this time from the very astute Mr Jeff Popple of the Canberra Times (oh, and Jeff, if you think this one was a bit long, wait until you see Novel Number 8 - it's about 60,000 words longer than THE DELTA. Yikes!)


(Click on the pic for a bigger version)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Favourable review, and favourite books

As well as talking at libraries and drinking with readers, I've also been doing lots of media interviews during the tour, and my stylish and indefatigable publicist Lou has been organising book reviews. Shameless self promoter that I am, I just had to share these two clippings with you (oh, and brace yourself for more, for what is a blog if not a self-indulgent tool for shameless self promotion and free internet advertising?).

This first one is a short review in Brisbane's leading daily newspaper, The Courier Mail (in fact, it's Brisbane's only daily newspaper, but I can't say anything bad about it because the Courier Mail carries excellent, incisive, book reviews written my very smart people. And my cousin works there).

This second piece was in The Weekly, and it's me telling y'all about some of my favourite books set in Africa. I'm often asked what books I read, so, if you want to know, read this... (and if you don't, get back to work you slacker). Click on the pic if, like me, you find that writing is getting smaller and smaller these days.



Monday, August 16, 2010

Next stop, Narellan Library... and we have a winner

The promotional tour for the Australian release of my new novel, THE DELTA, rolls on, although at the moment it's actually puttering at quite a sedate pace in and around my home town of Sydney.

Next stop is Narellan Library, 6.30pm, Wednesday August 18. I'm looking foward to seeing a library at Narellan because when I was growing up in nearby Campbelltown the only two things at Narellan were the Gayline drive-in movie (what... theatre? cinema? parking lot?) and cows. I recall many a fond night sneaking people into the drive-in, and being snuck-in myeself, though we pretty much left the cows alone.

I also recall a rather dangerous night when a couple of mates and I went to see the original Mad Max movie at the Gayline in my XR Falcon. The end of the movie was like the waving of a chequered flag as a fleet of Fords and Holdens set about re-enacting key scenes of that seminal flick, as teenage drivers challenged each other with calls of "I'll see you on the highway, Skag," and "that Skag and his floozy are gunna dieeeeee." Or something like that.

But I digress.

Oh, and yes, we have a winner to the "tell-a-lie-about-how-I-ended-up-with-stitches-in-my-nose" competition. Lest you think that I am a tight a*rse (or tight a*s as the winner might say), who wouldn't cough up the postage to send a book to the US and A, or that winning a competition once precludes you from winning twice, the winner is your very own Karen Bessey-Pease, of somewhere USA. Karen, you have won the TP book of your choice, other than THE DELTA (because I don't have any copies left and they cost too much for me to buy from the publishers).

In other news, I spoke to a customarily large crowd of customarily lovely people at St Ives Library in Sydney last Friday. I do like St Ives Library, as they a good get a turn-out and the lovely librarian Penny knows the way to my heart (mini scones for morning tea and a bottle of booze as a present). Thanks to you all at the library.

Coming right up later this week, post Narellan, is Concord Library, at 1pm on Friday August 20.

The tour is drawing to a close and my departure to Africa is looming...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tasmania and typos - and I need your help again

To round off the tale of my interstate tour, I had a lovely time in Launceston and Hobart. I met a number of readers in Launceston on a cold, drizzly day, and thought that the weather could only get worse as I drove southwards to Hobart. At least I think it was southwards - I didn't have a map.

Hobart, however, turned out to be quite a surprise on the weather front. Surprising on all fronts, in fact. And fun.

For a start, Monday was a postcard perfect day - cool, crisp and sunny with clear blue skies. I went for a run around the waterfront to Sandy Bay. I was staying at was perhaps one of the nicest hotels I've ever been to - the Henry Jones Art Hotel. It's in the old IXL jam factory or warehouse or whatever (remember the old commercials about IXL and Henry Jones? As well as making nice jam, Mr Jones pioneered the use of Text Speak - or txt spk as young people would say - by shortening his catchphrase "I Will Excel", to IXL. I think).

Anyway, Monday was free, so I spent the day exploring and had a smashing time. Monday night I spoke to a very good number of people at a book talk organised by one of my nicest readers, who lives in Hobart. She teamed up with local travel agency, Andrew Jones Travel, and we sold a lot of books, generally talked-up holidays in Africa, and made a tidy little sum off the book sales to send off to the School of St Judes in Tanzania.

Unfortunately, I soured my good relations with the Apple Isle by mis-spelling Launceston as Lunceston in the last post on the blog (which I have just corrected). Which leads me to the point of this blog post. Typos.

And now some bona fide news!

I am pleased to report, big head that I am, that sales of my new book, THE DELTA are doing very well. It is my publisher, Macmillan's best selling book this week. It is doing so well, in fact, that they have decided to do a second print run after just two weeks.

So, if any of you have read the book and spotted any mistakes or typos or whatever, then please let me know asap, by comments or email so I can make corrections in the second edition. (Crookedpaw, this is the chance for you to ante up on your remark about proofreaders).

Monday, August 09, 2010

Perth, Melbourne, Launceston, Hobart... I love youse all


One of the great things about Melbourne is its trendy little boutique bars, tucked away in dark alleys. They're hip, happening, warm (important in a cold State), and welcoming oases amid the funky, slightly wonky, architecture of that stylista-rich city.

Unless, of course, you can't get in.

I have met more than one member of the Legion of Fans (LOF) on this tour, but nowhere has the concentration of y'all been so great than in Melbourne. Which was great.

My only event in Victoria this year was a paid function put on by Dymocks Camberwell's enterprising owner, Henk, at the Ebony Quill Cafe. Amazingly, a reasonable number of people paid to see me speak, and to buy my books. Henk and the venue put on a slick, nice, and value-for-money dinner and we moved enough books to make it worth is while (phew).

After the event, yours truly and a hardy band of legionnaires (you know who you are), decided that it was time to drink more. Henk gave us the heads-up on a trendy little bar not far up the road, tucked away in an back lane. The directions led us to a nondescript door - no sign, no, advertising, no name. This, I thought, was one of those places that one might read about in a tragically trendy (though generally useless) inflight magazine.

I knocked.

The door opened.

Immediately, incredibly, we were transported from the cold, drab city streetscape to a warm, welcoming space not much bigger than a large lounge room that was packed with beautiful young people dressed in black skivvies. They were laughing, chatting, sipping on cocktails, and quietly jiving in their comfy lounges to funky vibes.

At least they were until the door opened.

Now, I will not push the boundaries of journalistic/literary licence and say that all noise stopped and one could have heard a pin drop when we looked in. No one in the crowd of horrified hipsters said "we don't take quietly to strangers 'round here", but that's kind of what happened.

There was a noticeable lull in the tone and volume of conversation as the bouncerette checked me out. She looked at me with a look that clearly said "hmmmm, Sydney..." and then informed me, politely, that unless we had a booking, we could not be admitted. There was, literally, no room at the inn, and for the first time in my life I found myself on the doorstep of a pub for which one had to book.

Odd.

You'll love every part of Melbourne, so the advertising slogan goes... except for the bit they won't let you in to.

Undeterred (though quietly freaking out that we might not find a drink in this city), the phalanx of legionnaires and I pushed on until we found an establishment much more befitting Australia's number 2 (Australian fiction, for one week only, 2009, after T. Winton) author. Yes... a scummy suburban pub.

But we still couldn't get in.

On reaching the pub, we found that a band was in full swing and a $10 cover charge was being demanded. That was not an appealing option, but in the end our debate over whether or not to pay was turned academic by the fact that it seemed we did not all measure up to the dress code. Only in Melbourne, Legion of Fans.

Just as it looked as though we would retire sober and unhurt, an alternative presented itself. "You could try the gaming lounge," the bouncer suggested.

And so it came to pass, that the inaugural meeting of the Melbourne chapter spent the night among the melodic bada-bing and zipple of the pokie machines in a suburban melbourne pub.

I would have liked to have an overpriced drink a trendy back alley bar, but I much preferred the time I spent drinking cheap schooners with the above pictured people. Thanks to you all, and great to meet you.

I'm in Tasmania right now, on the tail end of the round (most of) Australia tour. The mini bar is emptying... a sure sign that it is time to turn in and set the alarm for the next flight.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Hey, I'm on TV!

Here's the TV ad for THE DELTA, now showing on various free-to-air and pay TV channels around the country.

Fame, if not fortune, at last...

(PS: I don't know why none of my Youtube videos seem to fit in the blog properly anymore. I can assure you the original is not cropped like this, but you'll get the general idea)

Another day, another library, another time change.

Here I am at Sydney Airport, nonchalantly posing beside a rather striking light box poster of my new book THE DELTA, desperately hoping someone would walk up to me and say, "why are you standing next to that poster - are you Frank Coates, having your picture taken so you can take the p*ss out of Tony Park - or are you really Tony Park, number two bestselling Australian fiction author (Bookscan figures, 2009, for one week only, T.Winton, of WA, 1st)?"

Yes, it's really me, sans stitches and now sporting a fairly rakish little scar on my nose. On the road again. To paraphrase the Hoodoo Gurus, "I spend half my life in airports... and when the bar is open you'll often find me warming a seat." Pretty much sums up a book publicity tour.

But apart from drinking in airports I also talk at libraries - lots of them. And, it seems, I often get the start times wrong in my newsletter.

ATTENTION GOOD PEOPLE OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA....

My talk at the AH Bracks Library at Melville, on Wednesday August 4 is a 6.30pm for 7.00pm start, not, as previously advertised by me, a 6pm start.

After that it's Mandurah Library at 2pm on Thursday the 5th, and then on Friday the 6th the gala Painted Dog Conservation Inc charity cocktail party at 7pm for 7.30pm atthe Hyatt Regency, 99 Adelaide Terrace, Perth (booze included in ticket price - contact Ange at lemonj@ozemail.com.au to book).

I haven't forgotten the prize for the liars' competition below - just amusing myself watching the intercontinental ballistic banter between you members of the Legion of Fans (LOF). I love it when you talk dirty to each other.

And now, for your listening enjoyment, here are the aforementioned Hoodoos with a song which reminds me of Afghanistan, but that's another story.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Important stuff re the current book tour!

Don't forget, the competition to see who is the biggest liar is still running on the post below. I'm asking you to come up with the biggest and best porkie about how I injured my nose.

And now, some important announcements re the current book tour.

Friday July 30th (Goldcoast) - NOTE Correct time.

Angus & Robertson Southport event, Broadbeach Library Sunshine Blvd, corner Hooker Blvd, Broadbeach
Author talk, from 7.00pm (note this was previously advertised here on the blog and in the newsletter as a 6pm start).


Friday August 6th (Perth)

NOTE: there are still tickets available to the following event, so book now (please).

Painted Dog Conservation fundraiser. Hyatt Regency, Freshwater Bay Room, Cnr Adelaide Terrace and Plain Street, East Perth. Tickets $60 including drinks and canapes.

Author talk and charity auctions from 7.00pm for 7.30pm
Tickets: Angela Lemon, email: lemonj@ozemail.com.au

Click on the picture of me in uniform, on the left, for details of other events on my current book tour.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Win a free book to celebrate the start of my 2010 tour, you liars...


I know I promised, recently, not to post anything about my current get-fit regime as I believed that would sound the death knell of this blog, but I offer this picture as a warning to you of the perils of exercise. This is me, with three stitches in my nose (and abraded hands and knees) after becoming intimately acquainted with the concrete footpath, near where I live, when I tripped over during a run on Sunday.
Ouch.
Double ouch. In fact, the fall didn't hurt all that much (although I bled like a dying baddy in one of my novels). What DID hurt however, like nothing I had experienced in my life, was the needles the doctor stuck into my nose to deliver the local anaesthetic. Triple ouch.
This, I am sure you will agree, was a fine look for me to be sporting as I kicked off my three week book tour. All is going well so far, with a drunken launch for family and friends last night, and a mighty fine event at the Grandview Hotel at Cleveland, in Queensland, at lunchtime today.
Predictably, the state of my scabby nose was the subject of much discussion and not a little mirth. I am afraid that telling people you tripped over while running does not engender much respect or sympathy. It doesn't really befit an author of airport action novels, does it? So I need your help.
I need a lie.
I need an impressive story of daring do that I can spin when I do my many book talks over the coming weeks - at least until the stitches come out and the scabs fall off.
How did this happen to me, do you think? Fisticuffs? Knife fight? Battle with poachers? Tangling with a wild African animal? You tell me and the best entry will win a TP book of the winner's choice (except for The Delta - you have to buy that one).

Friday, July 23, 2010

First review of The Delta

And phew, it's a good one (Mind you, I'm hardly likely to be posting the bad ones here, am I?)...

Click on the pic to enlarge.




Also, don't forget that the unofficial sneak preview launch of The Delta happens tomorrow (Saturday, July 24). I know a couple of you LOF-ers are coming (thankfully). Come join us... beer, rugby, books, me... what more could you want?

Details follow:

Saturday July 24th (Sydney)

Jacaranda Party (to raise funds for the Fred Hollows foundation) Greengate Hotel, Heritage Terrace Room, 655A Pacific Highway, Killara. Australia-South Africa Rugby Test screened live from Brisbane at 8pm on the big screen. Tickets: $40, including a drink and nibblies and donation.
Tickets available from turravet@tech2u.com.au or phone the Turramurra Vet Clinic on 9988 0198

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I'm gonna be on top tonight!

We interrupt talk of Africa, books and shameless self promotion for some news that really matters.

Big night in Chez Park tonight, Legion of Fans, because if there is one thing guaranteed to get my pulse racing faster than a charging lion it is attractive ladies behaving badly... No, I'm not talking about Mrs Blog with a spatula, I am talking Australia's Next Top Model.

Yes, believe it or not this is my favourite TV show in the world, and no, I am not gay (not that there is anything wrong with that).

Yes, LOF, tonight is the premiere of ANTM, Cycle 6, with 16 thoroughbred fillies about to get down and dirty in the model mansion.

Spill the beans, Legion of Fans. What is your guilty pleasure, your dirty little secret (keep it clean, folks) that floats your boat out there in TV land? Confess! All of you, confess!

And for your penance I demand that you sit through this, the official trailer for Australia's Next Top Model, 2010. Watch it... it's expensive.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

TP undressed.

My friends at Booktopia did a little mini interview with me the other day asking some very embarassing questions. Read all about some of my less glorious moments here.

Warning: contains nudity and shameless self promotion disguised as self-deprecating humour.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

TP - the interview

One of the followers of this blog, Steve, runs an excellent website called The Australian Literature Review. It's chock full of stuff about books and writing and publishing.

Steve interviewed me for the website and you can read the full interview here.

So, if you have nothing better to do with your time, check it out but, more importantly, have a look around his site.

(See, I can be modest and self effacing when I want to be).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Why we do stuff...

Being in between book projects gives me time to think (I don't, when I write, I just zone out, daydream, and write - there's a difference), and time to drink. Actually, I drink all the time, although I've been quite good lately as I am on a bit of a fitness kick. However, I will only blog about my fitness program if I totally run out of other things to write.

So, I was thinking the other day... why do people do stuff? Crazy stuff. I have two friends who have recently scaled or are about to scale Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak. To some people mountain climbing may not seem crazy, but to someone like me who has never (and will never) pay money to be cold, I think there is an element of madness in such pursuits.

I also have two bad knees, thanks to my service in the military. One is courtesty of a parachuting accident and the other is from falling while carrying a rather large Maori soldier on my back during a drunken piggy back race. Therefore the thought of trudging up and down a steep incline for days on end concerns me more than a little.

Curious about what makes people (blokes especially) do seemingly silly things, I asked occasional blog poster and regular TP reader Robert L-W why he decided to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. Robert did the climb with his sons, Sean and James, and nephew Justin.

He replied:

It really was just a different African experience, to go somewhere we’d never been before. (Robert, like me, is a hopeless Africa addict - TP).

It was important I do it with Sean & James – the father and sons thing. Not sure I would have done it without them, but I probably would have. Nephew Justin was a bonus – I mentioned it to him and he was very keen to go. It was a totally different experience for him (only been to the US and Bali before).

Plus, having turned 50 in November, I guess there’s a question as to whether you are physically capable of doing something like this. I’m getting old and falling apart. I injure myself more at the gym these days. So it was a challenge that I wanted to give myself, but with an African flavour.


I get all of that, particulary the bit about being old (I am not far behind Robert). I also plan on having a different African experience on my next trip to the dark continent - only mine involves drinks with umbrellas in them on a beach on an island in Mozambique's Bazaruto Archipelago rather than freezing my bollocks off on a mountain.

In Robert's email to me explaining why he wanted to climb Kilimajaro he also mentioned wanting to see the different eco zones the trek passed through, heading up from the savannah, through misty jungles, and then up to the really cold bit. Clearly, from the photos he took, he was also angling for some free books from me, which he got.


Robert pauses during his ascent of Mt Kilimanjaro to top up his adrenaline levels by reading the train scene in 'Ivory'



I have done lots of crazy/stupid things in my life that seemed quite normal to me. I have bungy jumped, parachuted (though that was mostly with the army, which has an incredible knack of taking the fun out of things), abseiled face-first off tall buildings and various other adrenaline-producing endeavours.

When I joined the army we had to do a psychological test and one of the questions was, 'when you are standing on top of a tall building do you sometimes wonder what it would be like to jump off?'. Naturally, I ticked 'yes' because I had often had those thoughts. After the test, I remember chatting to one of the other recruits and we were going on about how lame some of the questions were.

"Yeah," he laughed, "like anyone would be stupid enough to say they wanted to kill themself by jumping off a tall building."

Gulp. I sweated on that answer for the week it took for the army to get back to me and tell me, yes, I was crazy enough for them to take me. I thought, at one point, of writing a letter to the psychological testing deparment telling them I had reconsidered my answer, and that if jumping off a tall building meant dying then that clearly wasn't for me. Of course, I soon realised later (or perhaps my mother pointed out to me), that only a crazy 17-year-old would even consider writing to the army to tell them they were not crazy. It was all very Joseph Heller.

Anyway, I passed and, not surprisingly, a few years later I found myself at the Army Parachute Training School at Nowra where I proved to be a keen, though not very good, parachutist. I passed and was recommended for employment as a paratrooper (as opposed to being recommended for future promotion to 'stick commander' or 'parachute jump master'). It was the Army equivalent of 'very good, dear'.

But I loved parachuting, until I hurt my knees one too many times and generally got a bit older. The fun of flying around for an hour or two at low level, experiencng air-sickness inducing lurches, followed by the chaos of being pushed out the door of a hercules by 30 other adrenaline-charged traps behind you eventually lost its gloss. Like I said, the Army can take the fun out of anything.

So do we do these things for the moment? For the rush, rather than the reality? I don't imagine Robert particularly wants to get a job as a sherpa (or whatever the African equivalent is of climbing up and down a mountain every few days). I asked him if making it to the top fulfilled his expectations.

His reply:

Sh*t yeah. In hindsight, and without remembering the pain and discomfort, I’d do it again! It’s like childbirth! I probably won’t do it again, though, as I have other priorities. It was a huge physical and mental challenge, which I survived. Again, James & Sean were vital in this. We were the first three in our group up Mt Meru behind the guide, and we three overtook the guide to be the first three to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro. I had to show the boys that I was still up to it.


Right on.

Robert makes it to the top, in order to win a free book and prove he can do it

There are some things we all want to do before we die, just so we can satisfy our curiosity and craziness. I'm quite keen to try base jumping, although I have two reasonably valid excuses not to, namely: 1. It is illegal, and 2. From what I've seen of base jumpers I would have to get a mohawk and several piercings. I don't have enough hair for a mohawk and I wouldn't know what to pierce.

When I think about (legal) parachuting the things that turn me off doing it are the pain and the discomfort, and the fact that, well... I've done it, and don't need to ever do it again as long as I live (not for my army work, as I am quite deskbound in that respect, and not for sporting reasons because it wasn't that much fun).

But then just the other day Mrs Blog mentioned that her very young and fit personal trainer said he had never been parachuting and was keen to try it. "I'll take him," was my instinctive reply.

"Not you will not!" the small but vocal Mrs B said.

Which just made me want to do it all the more.

What about you, Legion of Fans? Do you have a mountain, literal or metaphorical, you have or would like to climb, or some other adrenaline-inducing (ie stupid) pursuit you have or would like to do?

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Kimmy.... listen to MOII! Come hear me speak (please!)

It's terribly embarrassing if you're a number two bestselling author and no one shows up for your book talks. (I was the second highest author of Australian fiction, after Tim Winton, 2009, Bookscan verified. Ok, it was only for a week, and there were probably no other new releases that week and, oh, about 200,000 copies difference between me and Tim).

I haven't actually had a no-show, although my record at the lower end of the scale for attendances was five people at a libarary outside Darwin. This actually turned out to be quite a good night, as the librarians had taken the (optimistic) liberty of opening half a dozen bottles of wine before the multitudes arrived. I did my little talk, in record time, and the six of us proceded to get hammered. Great night.

And here I am, once again, just a few short weeks away from commencing my next (sort of) round Australia book tour, to coincide with the launch of my seventh novel, THE DELTA.

Some writers don't like book tours, but I'm not one of them. I mean, what's not to like? I get to talk about my two favourites subjects - myself and Africa - meet interesting people (some of whom have read my books), occasionally get sloshed on ratepayer-funded booze, and stay in hotels and raid the minibar. I mean, really... it's not like working, is it?

And so, without further adieu, I unveil the 2010 DELTA TOUR. There is something here for all tastes and budgets, as long as you live in Victoria, WA, NSW, QLD, Camberwell, or Tasmania. (note, if you are easily confused by dates and times, as I am, the event in this list appears just below the date).


Friday July 30th (Goldcoast)

Angus & Robertson Southport event, Broadbeach Library Sunshine Blvd, corner Hooker Blvd, Broadbeach
Author talk, from 7.00pm

Tuesday August 3rd (Central Coast - Sydney)

Erina Library, The Hive, Erina Fair, Erina
Author Talk from 3.30pm
Contact: Benjamin Hartley, phone: 02 43047499

Wednesday August 4th (Perth)

Dymocks Booragoon event, AH Bracks Library Canning Hwy (cnr Stock Road), Melville. Author talk from 6.00pm.
Contact: Ann Poublon. Email: apoublon@bigpond.net.au

Thursday August 5th (Perth)

Angus & Robertson event, Mandurah Library 331 Pinjarra Road, Mandurah. Author talk 2.00pm.
Contact: Debra Dearman 08 9550 3651

Friday August 6th (Perth)

Painted Dog Conservation fundraiser. Hyatt Regency, Freshwater Bay Room, Cnr Adelaide Terrace and Plain Street, East Perth. Tickets $60 including drinks and canapes.
Author talk and charity auctions from 7.00pm for 7.30pm
Tickets: Angela Lemon, email: lemonj@ozemail.com.au

Saturday August 7th (Melbourne)

Dymocks Camberwell event, at Ebony Quill, Shop 115/4 Burke Ave, Hawthorn East
Author Talk in the evening (please contact Henk at Dymocks on 03 9882 0032 for timings and bookings, or email: camberwell@dymocks.com.au

Sunday August 8th (Launceston)

Petrachs Bookshop, 89 Brisbane Street, Launceston. Author talk from 2.00pm.

Monday, August 9th (Hobart)

Meet Tony for an informal chat at a pub in Hobart, location to be advised, from 5.30pm. (contact me via eamail at tonyparknews(at)gmail(dot)com, if you are interested, and I’ll provide location and other details on request).

Friday August 13th (Sydney)

St Ives Library, 166 Mona Vale Road, St Ives.
Author Talk from 10.30am followed by morning tea & signing.
Contact: Penny Xavier on 02 9424 0453

Wednesday August 18th (Sydney)

Narellan Library event, Corner Queen and Elyard Street, Narellan
Author Talk from 6.30pm.
Contact: Elysa Dennis 02 4645 5039

Friday August 20th (Sydney)

Concord Library event, 60 Flavelle Street, Concord
Author Talk from 1.00pm, followed by afternoon tea & signing.
Contact: Claude Broomhead on 02 9911 6351

Friday, July 02, 2010

Sneak preview of THE DELTA, and beers. How good is that?

Well, there it is! Book 7 - aka, 'THE DELTA', and it's just a few short weeks away from release. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty stoked and I'm ready to celebrate with a beer or 20.

The official release date for my new novel is August 1, but if you would like beat the millions of people who will be camping out all night on July 31 outside the nation's bookshops, and have a beer with me, I have a better plan (it really is a bit cold for camping out, which is probably why people don't do it for my books).

Instead, I offer you this, Legion of Fans (LOF) - the promise of beer, rugby, doing good for your fellow man, and a chance to be the first person in Australia to buy THE DELTA (there's that name in caps again, just for those search engine robots).

Sneak Preview Function - Jacaranda Party at the Greengate Hotel. Saturday, July 24...

The Jacaranda Party is the brainchild of a mate of mine, Jim, who is The Turramurra Vet in the northern Sydney suburb of Turramurra. The Jacaranda tree is common to Australia, South Africa and Zimbabwe so Jim's idea is to get a whole bunch of Aussies, Saffies and Zimbos together to get drunk.

No... sorry, not get drunk... to raise money for the Fred Hollows Foundation and watch Australia V South Africa in the rugby. Entry to the party is $40 which covers a drink and nibblies, and a donation to the foundation.

I will be selling a limited number of copies of THE DELTA on the night, and all profits will go to the Fred Hollows Foundation (see, I am kind and generous as well as handsome and successful and modest).

The function will be in the Heritage Terrace Room of the Greengate Hotel, 655A Pacific Highway, Kilara. To book and pay for tickets, contact The Turramurra Vet at turravet@tech2u.com.au or phone (02) 99880198. The ruby kick off is 8pm.

I'll post details here soon of other events I'll be attending as part of my (sort of) around Australia book tour, which kicks off the following week.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Yes, yes, yes...

Yes, I hear you, clamouring masses (well, Ali G and Heidihi)... I know I have neglected you all and I will be back, very soon.

Just handed in Book 8 (catchy title, eh?) yesterday. 180,000 words and still you want more from me!

The pain, the pain, the pain...

I'm having lunch with Frank Coates tomorrow, so maybe he will inspire me to blog. (Or at the very least I can post a picture of us drinking).

Also, big news to come soon. The release of my next novel, THE DELTA is just weeks away and I have to get around to listing the events on my next (sort of) around Australia tour. This year I will be visiting Queensland, Victoria, WA and, wait for it... Tasmania.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Thrillers infused with flavour of africa

Here's a very nice article from a recent edition of the Canberra Times which mentions three of my favourite authors, South Africa's Deon Meyer, and Australia's Malla Nunn and Tony Park.

I met Malla for the first time recently at an author talk at North Sydney's Stanton Library, where she spoke about her new book, Let the Dead Lie, a sequel to A Beautiful Place to Die. She is an exceptionally nice person, so I urge you all to go out and buy her book (and a copy of my latest, WAR DOGS, while you're in the shop.

I'm very excited to see that Deon Meyer's new book, 13 Hours, has finally been translated from Afrikaans to English and can't wait to read it. You should read it, too, though if your budget's a bit tight, buy WAR DOGS instead.

Deon and I share the same literary agent and we have communicated via email. I hope to be braaing some wors and consuming some Castle with him some time in the future as he seems like a lekker oke.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

A journey of giraffes


We take a break today, Legion of Fans (LOF), from my shameless self promotion to bring you some promotion of me by other people. Namely, Queensland reader Robert Livingstone-Ward who is currently in Kenya en route to Tanzania.

Robert is the sort of friend I like - the kind who buys lots of my books. He and his sons, Sean and James, and nephew Justin are on a hardy safari which will take them to the Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater (or, as we purists say, Caldera), and the snows of Kilimanjaro. Yes, madmen that they are, they plan on climbing the mountain.

But before setting off for the tough stuff they're doing it tough at an amazing place called Giraffe Manor, in Nairobi.

Now, I rate Nairobi as my second least favourite city in the world. Port Moresby, in Papua New Guinea, where I've been a couple of times on all-expenses-paid vacations with the army is officially the worst place I've ever been, but Nai-robbery rates a close second.

However, I was gobsmacked to see Robert's pictures and to check out the manor online. I think that if I ever have the misfortune to spend a night in Nairobi again that I will be doing so with the giraffes. This place looks fantastic.



Pictured here, somewhere (because I never quite know where the pictures will end up in these posts), are Robert, Sean and James pretending to read some TP books which look like they may have copped a bit of giraffe slobber at the manor. (Oh, and in case you're wondering about the title of this post, the collective noun for a group of giraffe is a 'journey').

Well done, Robert and Co. For your blatant promotion of my books and pandering to my ego you've earned yourself a free copy of 'WAR DOGS', my second biography. (Out now in all good Aussie bookstores, RRP $34.99, and online from http://www.booktopia.com/).

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Another book, another blog...


Here it is, hot off the presses and coming to an Australian bookshop near you on Tuesday, June 1 (if it's not already in store yet) - my latest book, WAR DOGS.
WAR DOGS is the autobiography of Shane Bryant, an Aussie explosive detection dog handler working in Afghanistan. Shane and I wrote his story over a period of months last year in between his stints working as a civilian contractor in the 'ghan (as we used to call that terrible place when I was there with the army in 2002).
Shane is an ex Australian Army and NSW Police dog handler who took a job working as a civilian dog handler in Afghanistan in 2006 as a means of getting on top of his debts.
But it wasn't all about the money. Shane, like a lot of ex military people I know, wanted to go to Afghanistan to put the skills he'd learned in the army and the police to the ultimate test, on the field of battle.
He's a top bloke and I really enjoyed working with him on this book. There are loads of stories about the various dogs he's worked with over the years, including Ziggy, who was as laid back as Scooby Do; Ricky who loved nothing better than chasing Afghan civilians and motorcycles; and Benny the Bouncer, a dog so fierce in the kennels that the attendants used to slide his food in to him rather than open the door.
As well as telling how it is to work with dogs in one of the world's most dangerous places, WAR DOGS also provides an insight into the way the war is being fought in Afghanistan. Shane has been attached to US Special Forces and Canadian military units over the past four years. He's been in numerous firefights and, at those times, he's been expected to man his gun and function as a fighting member of the team he's with, not just as their dog handler. Good, gripping stuff, if I do say so myself.
Shane's providied a fantastic set of pictures for the centre spread of the book and I'll posting the odd on on a new WAR DOGS blog we've set up to shamelessly promote the book. On the blog you'll find videos, pics and interviews with Shane and some recent press clippings.
So, go to the blog, and then buy the book, because Shane has five kids from two previous relationships to support, and I have a wife who doesn't want to work anymore.
Hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Traditional dancing minus the drugs

Traditional dancing...

Let me tell you Legion of Fans (LOF) if there are two words guaranteed to get me running a four minute mile in the opposite direction from the utterer, then those are them.

I can not stand it.

If you're a traditional dancer, then good for you... I respect you and your culture, but it's not mine. (If white Australian people had a traditional dance it would be chicks dancing around hand bags and blokes drinking beer.). So keep it to yourself and don't expect me, as a tourist, to sit through this thing that means nothing to me and then pay you afterwards. It doesn't happen when I'm in Africa and I wasn't about to let it happen in Asia.

However...

After my in depth investigation of the girlie bars of Phnom Penh, it was time to me to do some different research in Thailand. I flew to Chiang Mai via Bangkok and got the hell out of that slightly dodge-like city (not really my cup of tea - a big city in the middle of nowhere, regardless of the country).

Together with a travelling companion and a local operative (this is a very top secretish non fiction book that I've been researching) we commandeered a car and set off for the Thai-Burma border. (That's me (above) overlooking the border, which is just beyond that first ridge of hills). Drug country. AK-47-toting bandit and warlike hill tribe country.

Well, at least it used to be.

The Thai government has had a major crack down on opium growing in this part of the world and the ethic hill tribes who live there have been encouraged to grow other crops (inclduing, as I was to find out that night, some very nice lychees. Not as mysterious and dangerous as drugs, but very nice, and more befitting a 45-year-old man).

Part of my book will be there, and a key part of story is the plight of the hill tribes who live in the area, particularly the La-Hu people. The La-Hu, I learned, I think, are descended from Tibetans who somehow found their way to Thailand (this all got a little lost in our host's translation, but I'll get it sorted in time for the book).

The La-Hu and other tribes span the border of Thailand and Vietnam and until recently they were put in the too-hard basket by the Thai Government and not afforded citizenship or access to basic government services, such as schooling and healthcare. That's changing since the crack down on opium growing, with the reward for co-operation being promise of citizenship and all that entails.

The grey area that La-Hu and other hill tribes occupied in Thailand's population also meant that their children were prey to people smugglers and sex traffickers. (There is another hint about what the book will be about).

So, I spent some time outside the town of Fang, in a La-Hu village, but first my fellow travellers and I had to be welcomed to the village. And this involved Traditional Dancing.

But I must say, that when you're ushered into a temple and a group of people starts dancing in a circle for you as a genuine gesture of welcome it's very different to a bunch of waiters and waitresses doing it, under sufference, in the hope of a bigger tip. The young girls and boys and the elderly lady who welcomed us were doing this not for money (none was asked for or expected) but because it truly was part of their culture.

And, despite my usual dislike of these sorts of things I was dragged into participating as well (there are pictures of this, but thankfully I don't have them, so won't be posting them).

It was a good welcome to the village, because it broke the ice and I then sat down with some senior representatives of the La-Hu and drank a good deal of beer (they didn't all drink, but I certainly did) and did a bit of research.



That night we stayed in a bamboo house that's been built to accomodate trekkers in a fledgling tourist venture. I'm not sure trekking in these bush covered Thai hills is my thing, but the trekking lodge was a little piece of paradise, with a fantastic view, comfy mattresses and bedding, and mosquito nets. There was even a hot water shower.

Traditions means a lot to the La Hu and in recent decades they've seen some of them eroded by drugs, civil war, military crackdowns in Thailand and Burma, and the loss of some of their children to some very bad people.
They're looking forward to a better future, and I am looking forward to writing this book (if I ever recover from the research trip).

Shocking Asia

Shocking would be the only word for it if I tallied how much beer I've consumed in the last five days and how little exercise I've done. Yes, Legion of Fans (LOF) it is a hard life researching top secret non fiction books... but a good life if you don't weaken.

I'm currently working on a synopsis for a third biography (my second co-written biography, WAR DOGS, by Shane Bryant and me comes out next week, so stand by for lots of shameless self promotion in the near future).

All I can tell you is that it's set in south-east Asia and, as a result, I was able to con (I mean beg for permission from) Mrs Blog into letting me jet off without her. My trip took me to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and then to Chiang Mai in Thailand - two places I'd never been before.

I think I received more wishes of good luck and heartfelt messages to be safe preparing for this trip than I did when I went to Afghanistan. Probably a good thing, too, because there was little risk that my liver would give out in Afghanistan, as opposed to here (I'm writing this from Chiang Mai). All I did in Afghanistan was sit behind a desk and drink coffee, where as here I was treading the mean streets of the seedier parts of the two countries I've been visiting.

Yes, LOF, you won't believe this, but in order to immerse myself in the research for this book I had to visit several girlie bars in the red light districts of PP and CM. I know... can you believe it? The things I go through for you, gentle reader.

Being in deep cover I had to do my best to blend in with the local expats. This necessitated me pushing out my beer belly to maximum bloat, and keeping my fluids up with a constant stream of Angkor Beer in Cambodia, and a tasty new drop I discovered in and around Chiang Mai called Leo.

Cambodia was very interesting and it got me thinking about Zimbabwe. Yes, Zimbabwe.

Cambodia, the country once known as Kampuchea, was devestated under the evil rule of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge. Millions of people killed and the country's infrastructure was wound back to year zero. The place was, in a word, rooted.

So it was with some surprise that the first thing I noticed getting off the Thai Airways flight from Bangkok - apart from the 45-degree heat - was just how modern and booming Phnom Penh looked. OK, the Khmer Rouge have been gone a long time now, but I was still amazed by how good the roads were and how much new construction and development was going on around the place.

Several people told me it was a different story out in the rural areas, however. Cambodia remains a very poor country overall, but there is an undeniable buzz in the city. Rapid development, of course, brings with it corruption, greed, theft etc etc and there's a bit of all that around if you scratch the surface, but the place is very much alive.

Getting back to Zimbabwe, the loss of human life hasn't been anywhere near as bad as it was in Cambodia (although the comrade president will one day have to be brought to account for the thousands of people murdered in Matabeleland in the early 80s at his order) and the infrastructure, while crumbly, is still kind of, sort of, in place. Seeing the foreign investment (whether it's good or bad) returning to Phnom Penh made me hope that I'll see that kind of surge in the Zimbabwean economy one of these days.

'Enough of the serious stuff and back to the girly bars,' I hear you say.

"No," I say, "Mrs Blog sometimes reads this blog!" Instead, I'll talk about the best place for a drink in Phnom Penh, the Foreign Correspondents' Club, or FCC as we FC's say. Here's me enjoying a chilled Angkor Draft in the bar overlooking the Mekong River.



The FCC is very old-world colonial pukkah and just the sort of ceiling-fan and leather-armchair place you'd expect to see war-weary, dissipated, corrupted old journos (like me) hanging out. My only regret was that I didn't have my safari suit with me.

Cambodia is the new Thailand when it comes to sex tourism and people trafficking (and there's a bit of a clue what the next book will be about, if I can get a publishing deal for it). Many of the working girls are from Vietnam, who've either travelled or been trafficked to Cambodia for money. Not very nice.

Phnom Penh moves at a different speed than other parts of Asia I've visited. Maybe it's the heat (incredible at this time of the year, just before the monsoon season starts), but there was a definite second-gear feel about the place. I got in a Tuk Tuk and I thought the engine must have been buggered because the driver didn't get above about 10km/h despite the lack of serious traffic. The second and third ones that I travelled in were just as slow - it wasn't the engines, just the laid back drivers.

As I watched the sun set over the Mekong River I adjusted my pace to suit the moment, and cracked a frosty bottle of Angkor and thought how sad it was that so many people had died for nothing, and how even a resurgent boom could bring its own suite of new problems. But Cambodia is on the up, however slowly, while Zimbabwe is still on the way down.

But the Walkabout Bar was beckoning, so it was back to work I went.

Shocking. Asia.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Library patrons of Australia, I salute you

And the winner is... African Sky


Sometimes people are a little embarrassed to tell me they've borrowed one of my books from their local library, because they think they're depriving me of income. Other people make a point of telling me they only borrow my books and never buy them, and these are the people I always ensure get the expensive shout when we're a the pub.

But the truth is that those people who think they're cheating me should not worry, and those readers who think they are pulling a swifty on me should eat pooh, because libraries are actually a win-win for writers and readers.

You may not know this, but I, as a writer of books, get an annual payment based on the estimated number of borrowings of my books. And, cheapskates take note, this payment is coming out of YOUR TAXES. HAHAHAHAHAHA.

For all of its sins, the Federal Government operates an excellent little thing called the Public Lending Rights (PLR) scheme. PLR works under the assumption that if a public library offers my books to readers for free then they are depriving me of the stupendous royalites I would have received if those books had been purchased. And, not wanting to infringe copyright, the Government pays authors an allowance to keep us happy.

We're not talking big money here, far from it, but with six novels in print I'm finding that my annual PLR payment is quite a tidy little sum, thank you very much. Today I received my annual statement, for the year 2009-2010, from the PLR people (and the promise of some cash, to be paid into my bank account shortly).

I won't go into the numbers here, but librarians I've spoken to tell me that my books are quite frequently borrowed. A would-be reader from Tasmania told me the other day that all of my books were on-loan from her local library, which was no good for her, as she had gone in search of them, but good for me.

What I can tell you from the PLR statement is which of my books was the most popular with library goers. It is (minor drum roll, please), AFRICAN SKY.

Yes, AFRICAN SKY. I was a bit surprised, too. AFRICAN SKY is my only historical novel (set during WWII) and it tends to polarise readers. It's the one people always want to tell me about, and not always for good reasons. This is the book that people either love most of all, or hate. Nothing in between. It also happens to be the book that is most published overseas. Go figure.

In case you are remotely interested, the order of most borrowed TP books to least is:

1. African Sky


2. Safari


3. Silent Predator


4. Zambezi


5. Far Horizon.





If you haven't read African Sky, don't worry about trying to borrow it from your local library, as it's probably out. (I did notice a few copies in Target, however, selling for a very reasonable $12.50 a copy).

I almost hate to ask this (given that I really don't care what the answer is, as I like all of my books and don't have a favourite), but do you have a favourite among my books?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Forget the book, let's party

Frank Coates (right) and me at Garfish


Yes, I am a terrible blogger and yes, I have been neglecting the blog. But my excuse remains the same, that I am slaving away on the catchily-titled 'BOOK 8'. I'm nearly finished the first draft but by Friday afternoon of last week I must confess I was a bit over it.

So the words of another Australian who writes books about Africa, Mr Frank Coates, seemed even more appropriate than ever. "I'm sick of all this writing stuff - let's party" was the subject line of a recent email Frank sent to me, and last Friday night was time to do just that.

Frank, and I got in touch with each other when we were both invited to go on separate cruises for P&O to talk at their on board Chapters Bookclub. We swapped stories of our experiences via email but hadn't met until last week.

Whereas my books are mostly set in southern Africa, Frank writes books set in East Africa. He lived and worked in Kenya for a while as a telecommunications engineer for the UN.

Frank and his charming partner and the diminutive Mrs Blog and I met up in Manly, at the Manly Wharf hotel and then adjourned across the road for an excellent seafood meal at Garfish. Several drinks were consumed and there was much talk about Africa.

It's hard, sometimes, for me to explain what it is that attracts me to Africa and what I like about writing, so it was good to meet Frank in the flesh at last. We sat there all night nodding at each other's stories and each knowing exactly what the other one was going on about. He's a top bloke and we got on well and are already talking about lunching, which could be dangerous.

You can read more about Frank and his books at his website, Footloose.

In other news, the PR machine at Macmillan is racing along in high gear as we get ready for the release of my new non fiction book, WAR DOGS, which is due out very soon, on June 1. It's the story of an aussie explosive sniffer dog handler, Shane Bryant, who works in Afghanistan.

And I'm just reading through the proof pages of THE DELTA, my new novel, which is due out in Australia in August, and in England in February 2011 (I just had to say that last bit as I am still very chuffed about my UK publishing deal).

What else... um, yes, that's right.. I'm off to Thailand and Cambodia for a week at the end of the month to do some research for my next (Top Secret) non fiction book. Can't say too much at the moment, or I'd have to kill you all, but at least a trip to South East Asia will give me something interesting to blog about.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tears before freedom

No shameless self promotion today, Legion of Fans (LOF)... no, instead it's a bit of shameless cross promotion, for Pan Macmillan Australia's new author, Steven Horne.

Steve's first novel, The Devil's Tears, set in East Timor, is in stores now and it is a cracking read. Steve's an ex Australian Army officer who has worked for a number of years as a military logistics contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan. We worked out, over a beer last year, that we were probably in Afghanistan at the same time, in 2002.

The Devil's Tears is the first novel that I'm aware of to be written by an Australian serviceman since our significant peace keeping operations in East Timor began in 1999.

You'd think a book by an Aussie about Timor would be full of lantern-jawed Aussie soldiers, pretty NGO ladies, loyal natives and perhaps the odd hot or hunky helicopter pilot. Not so, this story.

Instead, Steve's story focuses on the plight of a Timorese family torn asunder during the Indonesian military invasion of East Timor in 1975, following Portugal's relinquishing of its colonial possessions. The Devil's Tears looks at the long, bleak and terrifying years between 1975 and 1999 when thousands of locals died in a protraced guerilla war against the Indonesian occupiers.

Steve's depictions of the long struggle for East Timor's independence are graphic and confronting and it seems as if the family will never be reunited. Interwoven is the story of an aussie journo and photographer who travel to East Timor in search of evidence of an horrendous massacre of civilians. The journo and photograher dodge evil security forces and treacherous traitors to bring the truth to the outside world (and there's a bit of unrequited funny business going on between the two of them, which makes a nice sub-plot).

Steve is a fantastic writer and does an excellent job of combining boy-book action and chick-lit mushy stuff in this impressive debut novel. Even though it felt at times no one would survive this tragic story and the odds of a happy ending were perilously short, I was hooked from the first page and nearly missed my bus stop a couple of times while racing towards the conclusion.

As well as turning out a top yarn Steve is also an all round good bloke, so I urge you all to go out and buy this book and check out his website here.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The ANZAC diet... lose 20kg in six months.

Me, 2002. Minus 20kg, plus hair.

It's ANZAC Day here in Australia tomorrow, April 25, the day we honour servicemen and women past and present who have served, and in particular those who died in the service of our country.



If you've read the blurb on the inside cover of one my books then you might notice a reference to me having been in Afghanistan way back in 2002 on an all-expenses-paid six-month tour courtesy of the Australian Army. I spent most of my war behind a desk, which was just fine by me, and while the SAS guys from the task force were out on operations the whole time, we were very fortunate in that no Australian soldiers were killed during my time there.



The biggest risk I faced in Afghanistan was the Amercian Army D-FAC, (that's dining facilitity in English). According to Napoleon an army marches on its stomach and all I can say is that the American Army is very fortunate in these days of high technology and rapid transport that it doesn't have to do much marching.


The American Army's food (and, I must add things have changed in Afghanistan considerably since 2002) was disgustingly inedible. It was early days in The War Against Terror (as we used to call it) and the kitchens at Bagram Air Base, where I was stationed, were pretty rudimentary.



No, rudimentary is too kind. The kitchens were non-existent. In fact, all our food was cooked (and I use the term loosely) in Germany, then frozen, placed in insulated boxes, and flown by C-17 transport aircraft to Afghanistan. The 'chefs' (and I use that term insultingly) in-country then had the tricky job of heating up the food and slopping it out.


The food hadn't so much been cooked in Germany - more like mass-produced. The Americans were big fans of something called chunking-and-forming. We had chunked and formed pork chops, chunked and formed steak, and chunked and formed ribs. Chunking and forming involves mashing up meat (no doubt all the best cuts, and no brains, spinal cords or offal), mixing it with some kind of bonding agent and then squeezing out the resultant goo into a mold in the shape of a chop, a steak or a rack of ribs.


As well as being disgusting, this food was also cruel. I remember the first time I was served up ribs and it looked like they were, well, ribs. I could see what I thought were bones and I imagined gnawing away on them. Imagine my despair, then, when I went to cut off a piece of rib and sliced straight through the non existent bone.


Breakfast was powdered scrambled eggs and greasy bacon. The bacon, of course, had been cooked on another continent, frozen, transported, and re-heated. I think the Bagram cooks probably tipped some cold oily water on it after taking it out of the microwave just to give it that finishing touch.


We only had two hot meals a day back then, thank God, and lunch was a Meal-Ready to Eat per man. The MRE, also known as Meal-Rarely Edible and Meal-Rejected by Ethiopians, is the US Army's field ration pack.


In true American style it is bigger than our ration pack and contains lots of things that in conflicts past you could probably have swapped for sex with underfed members of the local population. There are brownies, crackers, tobasco sauce, M&Ms, jalapeno cheese sachets,Lucky Strike cigarettes and nylon stockings, as well as a piece of chunked and formed something. (I may have dreamed that bit about the Lucky Strikes and the stockings).


About the only thing I found edible from the MRE was the peanut butter and crackers.


As I couldn't face powdered eggs and slimy wet brown stuff for breakfast, and my body rejected anything that had been chunked and formed I was facing a bit of a dilemma. But Australia Post and the Australian Army and the small but perfectly formed (no chunking there) Mrs Blog all came to the rescue.


One very fine thing that the military in this country gets right is the free postal service for troops. Friends and relatives can send deployed personnel (which is what the military calls people) free post packages of up to 2kg. So Mrs Blog got busy putting together food parcels for me.


Pretty soon I was eating Weetbix for breakfast, peanut butter and crackers for lunch (I actually liked the gooey American peanut butter), and various cook-in-the-bowl instant Asian noodles for dinner. I was in seventh heaven and, with my supply of Caramello Koalas and mini Mars Bars, suddenly a popular man in the task force.


The American Army at the time had a rule against the consumption of fresh fruit (as well as alcohol and pornography, so all in all it was a very unhealthy environment for young men and women to be in) so I had Mrs Blog send me dried fruit.


By the time my first consignment of dried pears arrived I probably hadn't eaten anything in the ruffage family for about a month. I don't even like pears (though I didn't tell her this as I was so grateful to be eating something dried rather than formed) but I found myself salivating as I opened the packet. That night, as I did my duty as a watchkeeper in the headquarters tent, I consumed the entire packet.


I knocked off about 2am and went to sleep. At about 2.45 am I awoke feeling like my stomach was about to explode out of my skin, Alien-style. I thought I was dying as I rushed from my stretcher and out into the night in search of the nearest Porta-loo.


It wasn't all quite as bad as I make out. Our own little task force did have its own cooks and they were able to source fresh rations (actual meat, vegetables, fruit etc) on a limited basis from the British Army's supply chain. Our cooks delivered a slap up meal when the SAS squadron was sending patrols out, or if guys had just come in from the field. On those occasions we desk dwellers across the road in the headquarters would be invited for dinner or lunch.


I will never, ever say a bad word about Australian Army cooks. Call them fitters and turners or tucker f-ckers if you will, but I don't think we could have survived without them in Afghanistan.

But I did survive, and thanks to my diet of Weetbix, peanut butter and crackers, and instant noodles, and a complete lack of alcohol, I lost 20 kilograms in six months.


I put all that weight back on when I got home, as I had a lot of drinking and proper eating to do to make up for six months.


When consuming a drop of one of my favourite brews the other day I noticed on the carton that VB (Victoria Bitter - good Aussie beer) is running a 'raise-a-glass' appeal to raise money for Legacy, an organisation which cares for the widows and children of fallen servicemen.


I immediately thought, of course, that this was a cynnical marketing stunt but when I looked at the website I found it was full of poignant stories of fallen soldiers and tributes to them by family and friends. I'm not a crier (never have been), but I must confess a bit of a lump did come to my throat, and I needed raise a glass to wash it away.


Reading the stories and seeing the videos of widows and family members also reminded me just how proud I was of the way Mrs Blog soldiered on while I was away. I was in an interesting (if dusty and not very nice) place surrounded by some of the best blokes I've ever worked with in my life, but she came home to an empty flat every night after work.


I'll be raising a glass tomorrow, especially to those serving overseas now; to their families who wait at home for them; and to their mates who didn't make it back.


Me, c.2009. Plus 20kg and minus hair. Raise a glass with me.