Colin Falconer on Colin Falconer and Colin Bowles
Interviewed by Renee Thorpe
Last issue, UWRF featured an overview of Colin Bowles’ published works, most notably the large number under his pen name Colin Falconer. Here are highlights of a recent interview of this fascinating, hardworking writer who will be a must-see at the Festival this October.
What made you decide to write for a living?
Years ago, Jerry Lewis held a workshop on how to do standup comedy. There were thousands of applicants of course for about a dozen spots. Lewis would not look at CV’s, tapes, transcripts of routines. He just got each applicant in and asked them one question: why do you want to do this? The only answer he would accept: I HAVE NO CHOICE. It’s like that. I made the decision when I left school that I wanted to be a writer and despite everything I have never once regretted it.
You were born in England but live in West Australia.
England regards me as a foreign author because I live so far away, even though I’m published there. Australia regards me as a foreign author because I’m mostly published overseas even though I live here. I have decided I need to move overseas in the next twelve months, as it’s the only way to rectify the situation. It’s very disheartening. When I go back to England they won’t believe I was born there - they say I sound like Crocodile Dundee. In Oz they pick up on my accent straight away. I am shunned at every port. I’m the Ancient Mariner of the Writing World.
You first worked in advertising?
Ah, advertising! 90% bullshit and 10% commission. I was a copywriter. A mate of mine started an advertising agency and he needed someone to write the ads but he didn’t have any money. So we joined forces. I made a lot of money in advertising and should have made a lot more. Before I left the agency, my mate offered me 40% of his fledgling company. I said no, I want to go to Sydney and write full time. He recently sold the company for twenty million. What’s 40% of 20 million? Is it a lot? I was never good at math.
Your book The Year We Seized the Day, about hiking Spain’s rugged Camino Santiago, is this year’s must-read. Why were you so ill-prepared for the ordeal?
I was nuts. Seriously.
The events of my life of the previous couple of years had caught up with me and although, on the surface, I appeared sane and rational, I really wasn’t. The book works so beautifully because it describes two people so devastatingly unprepared for the task they’ve set themselves. I think the tagline for the book is something like: ‘SHE’S CRIPPLED. HE’S MAD. THEY’RE MILES FROM ANYWHERE.’ I did the walk with Eli to try and escape a complete emotional breakdown. Instead I ran into it at full speed, on the camino, like the cat in one of those Tom and Jerry cartoons.
You wrote the devastatingly personal Naked Husband under a pseudonym, and yet you went on the chat show circuit in the flesh. What made you decide to bare yourself even further?
The book about the walk is really the sequel to The Naked Husband. I even write about doing an interview for The Naked Husband in a phone box in a square in a deserted Spanish village at six in the morning, talking to a journo in Australia. Bizarre.
The pseudonym was purely at the request of the publisher, so the regular readers of my historical fiction would not confuse it with my usual books. I didn’t want to hide my identity, although I found it excruciating to talk about the book, and still do. Every interview about that damned book is difficult and yet I have never, for a moment, had a moment’s regret about publishing. I came under incredible pressure, from family and friends, not to do it. I am thankful I resisted that pressure.
I still get emails about the book - and I’ve recently made it available again online. I think it talks to a lot of people who have had the same experiences that I did. Love is dangerous, and this book shows you why. On one level it’s about the breakdown of a marriage and the tragic consequences of it. It’s also about love addiction, when we continue to love someone who only hurts us, over and over again. We have all been that person, or know that person. So am I comfortable talking about that book? Never. But I also never shy away from it either. I cannot believe how many people have related to it. It’s why I’m yet very proud of it.
To be fair to your publisher, I’m supposed to get you talking about Colin Falconer, not Colin Bowles.
Colin Falconer writes historical fiction, ancient and modern. I want to say that writing commercial historical fiction is just as important to me as my autobiographical fiction, just better disguised. Every book I have written has a theme, and that is why I have re-edited every one of my backlist painstakingly line by line and reissued them as ebooks. I passionately love and believe in what I do.
Your Young Readers books have garnered a great deal of critical acclaim.
I never wrote my four Young Adult books to have them published. They were intended originally for my own kids, because they couldn’t read my adult novels. I wrote for them and about them and about things that happened in their lives. My books actually followed them as they grew: one for 12 yo, one for 14 yo, one for 15 yo, one for YA and adults. The last one actually won some awards which astonished me. When they were younger I had a column in the Australian Women’s Weekly for a couple of years recording their antics between 3 and 5. I was one of the few parents I knew who actually cut a profit on their kids. But when they grew up, I stopped. I think authors who make a career writing for kids they haven’t fathered are enormously gifted. Dr Seuss for instance. Genius.
Many in our festival audience seek guidance for their own writing. Any advice?
Seriously it depends whether someone wants to write one book or if they want to be a writer. Two different things. That’s the very first thing someone has to work out. Being a writer demands a massive and unbelievable commitment with no promise of reward. And it is now a million times easier to get something published (because of Amazon, Kobo) and a million times more difficult to sell a reasonable number of copies (because of Amazon, Kobo.) But just writing one book - like a family history, an autobiography or to say you’ve done it - that’s not so hard. Writing is easy. It’s making a living doing it that’s incredibly hard.
More about Colin Falconer is on his blog: https://colinfalconer.wordpress.com
Otherwise out of print, his controversial book The Naked Husband is now available as an eBook at http://skyviewpublishing.wordpress.com/the-naked-husband/
and The Year We Seized the Day is available on the same site.