A writer’s journey: Am I there yet?


I was 14 years old when I read my first work of grown-up fiction (Leslie Thomas’ The Virgin Soldiers) and decided that was what I wanted to do with my life. It only took 50 years to achieve that ambition of writing (hopefully) entertaining novels.

At time of writing (August 2018) I have written 17 books and had 16 of them published, with Tunnel Vision, the second of my Danny Clay trilogy  – hey, I can dream! –  just out.

Writing Tunnel Vision was interesting because the previous novel, Perfect Criminals, had taken about three years to write, on and off (mostly off). It had begun as an idea which I then used for the 20,000 word submission that got me my MA (Writing).

Having written 25 per cent of the number of words required for an average commercial novel, I decided to keep going but when it was finished, the search for a publisher was so frustrating that I briefly had it up on Amazon as a “Publish on Demand” and ebook publication.

However, just when I was ready to give up, Affirm Press came along and I had a two-book deal for not very much money. But I had a deal.

More importantly, I had a strong idea for where I wanted to take these characters and I knew how to pace the book so I wouldn’t have to cut 13,000 words out, as I did with the first one.

Having decided to set it in Saigon, I realised that, although I know the city pretty well, I needed to spend some time there being neither a tourist nor a tour guide – both of which I have done a lot.

So I spent two weeks just scuffing around Saigon, doing the occasional tourist trips – like street food tours on the back of motorbikes – while visiting parts of the city that Westerners are advised to avoid.

All the time, I was writing and as a result, Tunnel Vision took only three or four months to finish and it benefited greatly from that sense of immediacy and urgency (I think). Anyway, it’s a better book and I hope you get the chance to read and enjoy it.  Click here if you want to buy it online from Abbey’s Books.

Published earlier this year, Perfect Criminals, is a crazy romp through television and crime by my hero Danny Clay, a former army engineer turned scriptwriter.  I tell people both books are written in the style of Carl Hiaasen. I know, I should be half as talented.

Anyway, it was something I didn’t even realise I was doing until I rewarded myself for finishing the book by reading his latest novel. Aha!  So that’s what I was trying to do.

A reviewer in the Sydney Morning Herald said it was “punchily written, packed with hard-boiled humour [and] a ride into the underbelly of the entertainment industry.” Another review in the Melbourne Herald-Sun said “an action-packed and hilarious crime caper, navigating its way through the dark side of the entertainment industry here and abroad.”

You can judge for yourself by buying a print copy or ebook here in Australia  or on Amazon elsewhere.

My previously published books include two sporting biographies, two books about sappers (Army engineers) in Vietnam, one about sappers in Afghanistan, one memoir about my co-writer Sandy MacGregor (who introduced me to the sapper stories),  and one true crime book which turned out to be too true for someone’s comfort.

There are also two illustrated children’s books, a book about apartment living and another about buying and selling real estate, and two self-help/inspirational books that I wrote for my former agent (and from which I have been edging away for years, on the grounds that I am the least qualified person I know to give anyone life advice).

The 17th book – the unpublishable rather than unpublished one – was my first attempt at a novel about 25 years ago.  I gave up after my first rejection slip. I am a bit more tenacious these days.  In fact I am about to achieve my life’s ambition and,  for the first time, see a novel in print, thanks to those lovely people at publishers Affirm.

Meanwhile I spent last November (2107) in Vietnam hosting a tour related to my Tunnel Rats books and  soaking up the atmosphere for the second Danny Clay novel, set mostly in Saigon and called Tunnel Vision (which I am editing right now).

You can find out more about all previously published books by going to this page and clicking on the links or, if you are more interested in the military stuff, by going directly to www.tunnelrat.com.au and www.tunnelratsvtaliban.com.au.


Considering I hadn’t set foot on an aeroplane before I was 30, it’s remarkable that in the intervening decades I have begun to enjoy travel for its own sake.DSC_3530

My partner Sue is even more of a travel addict so we tend to clock up the air miles whenever we can.  Our philosophies, however, take us in different directions.  When we have been somewhere we like, I want to go back, she wants to find somewhere new.

Being writers, of course, we write about these places and have been published in the travel pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, the Sun-Herald, the Australian Financial Review, the Australian and too many magazines to mention.

For the past few years I have been a guest lecturer in travel writing at Boston University’s Sydney campus, introducing young American students to the joys of writing about something you love … and, if you’re lucky, getting paid for it.

Meanwhile, I have become a bit of a Vietnam addict and have even started leading tours there.  All of which has led to the creation of my website www.mildrover.com where you can find stories and pictures from some of the places I have been.  There are also details of my next tour of Vietnam, for readers and writers, in October 2016.

You will find most of my travel stuff by clicking on MildRover.com but there
are still a few pieces HERE. You can read more about Sue on her website.


rainshadowNearly 20 years ago, when I was a struggling sitcom writer, someone at Channel 7 told me that a new production company called Screentime was looking for an afternoon teen soap.

My then co-writer Steve recalls that by the time I had driven from Epping (Sydney) to the city centre for coffee, I had nutted out a proposal for series that would eventually be called Breakers and run to about 400 episodes.

Screentime meanwhile went on to become one of the major players in Australian TV .

After that I created Crash Palace for Fox and Sky (UK) and co-created (with Tony Morphett) Rain Shadow for the ABC .

In between times, following my philosophy of never turning down a paying gig, I wrote for some weird and not-so-wonderful TV shows.

You can find out more about my TV career HERE.


About 15 years ago Sue and I bought a new apartment off the plan and had a truly hellish time with corrupt committee members, self-serving building managers, incompetent strata managers, rapacious developers, mendacious attack-dog lawyers and neighbours who refused to help but then were quick to point the finger when things went wrong.

Our saving grace was that we are both authors and journalists and we decided to write a book about it to warn other people about the pitfalls.

That was Apartment LivinFlat chat screen shotg which was published by ABC books. From it came my weekly Flat Chat column in the Sydney Morning Herald, which has no been going for 12 years, and from that came the Flat Chat website which offers advice and empathy to the tens of thousands of others who are struggling with the new realities of strata living.

I also turn up once a month on the James Valentine show on ABC radio 702 to talk about apartments and answer questions Title screen shotfrom listeners and I frequently get asked to speak at conferences and seminars.

If you were wondering, that’s why this website is called The Accidental Guru.  I never set  out to be an expert on strata living but, hey, if no one else was going to do it, it might as well be me.

In 2014 Sue and I launched a magazine called Title, promoting the positive aspects of apartment living. The website www.titlemagazine.com.au is still going strong although the realities of the print market, the vagaries of advertising and the cost of distribution have overwhelmed its physical incarnation.


Click on these links to get to the Flat Chat website, the Flat Chat Forum advice pages,
Title online and my collected articles and columns about apartment living
on the Sydney Morning Herald  and Australian Financial Review websites.