As a kid, I knew I wanted to make a life as a writer as I was very into books. I had a creative teacher who encouraged all sorts of different writing, and also my mother was a teacher. One thing I knew I didn’t want to be was a farmer. Growing up on a farm near Central Otago in New Zealand, I knew farming life was not for me.
I didn’t like country life, but I loved coming to the city and I knew I wanted to do something creative. When I went to university, I thought about journalism and then as I was about to do an Honours degree, I decided to move to Sydney.
My secret agenda was I knew I was gay and I really couldn’t imagine coming out in New Zealand. I didn’t know that much about Sydney. I just knew it was a big city and it had a gay life. A year later, I moved to London for 18 months, but fell in love with an Australian and then returned to Sydney.
Back in Sydney, I returned to university for a postgraduate diploma in information management, which was also about bookshop management. I started at The Bookshop at Newtown in 1989 and then a vacancy came up in the Darlinghurst store. I liked the idea of working in a gay environment, but what I discovered was so great about it was working with books.
During this time, I was also writing a few plays and short stories. Then I had one short story published, which was set in New Zealand. It was like an early chapter of 50 Ways Of Saying Fabulous, and I thought maybe I could get a full novel out of it. I then came up with an early draft, which was short-listed for the Reed Fiction Award. Then came three knockbacks from publishers before Random House made an offer on it in June 1995.
50 Ways Of Saying Fabulous is autobiographical in so many ways, but the final version went through five drafts. I started off with certain ideas, but the main character is very much like me as a boy. I was fat, liked dressing up, acting in plays, hated farm work, hated rugby and had feelings for other guys, so all of that was quite true.
The other characters are largely fictional. They are not my family, but there are little bits of my life in there and certain lines of dialogue from things that happened. My parents were okay about it, but one of my sisters wasn’t. In the small community where we grew up, she was concerned about what the reaction might be like.
Overall, I was happy with the book and it sold well, and I sold the film rights in New Zealand, which began a new process. A new script was written, and then pulled, and the deal was on and then not on. I did a few edits of the script, and it then came back into favour with the New Zealand Film Commission. Filming finally began in February 2004.
I went on the set and was so impressed as the young actors were largely unknown, but all so well cast. Andrew Patterson as Billy was spot on for how I imagined him and Michael Dorman as Jamie, the sexy farmhand, was perfect. When I saw the finished film, I was not nervous as I had seen the screenplay and knew how good the actors were.
The premiere at the gay and lesbian film festival in Christchurch was really special as all my family were there and were so enthusiastic about it. I wondered how my 80-year-old aunt would cope with coming to her first gay and lesbian film festival, but there was no problem.
It will be great to see the film with friends at the Mardi Gras Film Festival this weekend. It has been a decade-long journey to this point, and it is nice to know the story still has a life in it. The film also has a distribution deal in the US and will be released in June.
After I finished with 50 Ways, I began writing Vanity Fierce, which was published in January 1998. I decided to write something about living in Sydney as I felt there was no classic Oxford Street book and, as I had been living here for eight years at the time, I felt I had something to say.
I am currently working on the sequel to Vanity Fierce, which picks up 10 years later and introduces a few new characters. I am still working out where it is going. There has been some interest in Vanity Fierce making it to the screen, but nothing has happened as yet. There is another book I have spent five years on and it is historical, but I have put it aside for a while.
I still love writing, but it is very slow at times. It is a matter of persevering. I would become very frustrated if I couldn’t write. I always have ideas happening, but once I start work on a novel, it feeds on itself. It is always there, somewhere in the back of my mind.
50 Ways Of Saying Fabulous is opening for a short season on 9 March at Cinema Paris, in the Entertainment Quarter.
Interview by John Burfitt