Andrew grew up in Sydney, playing in the bush when it was sunny and watching far too much television when it wasn’t. According to Andrew, that’s probably why his first job was as a stagehand at a television station. After a period in Europe, he returned to Australia and began a new career as a gardener and later as a landscape architect. In 2017 he moved away from Sydney to live on the far south coast of NSW with his wife and cat, where he now spends far too much time staring out to sea.
Our intern, Ren Arcamone, spoke to Andrew about his journey in creating the John Lawrence series – about the crime thriller genre, the process of self-publishing and promoting, and the challenges overcame along the road.
When did you first become interested in writing, and what drew you to the genre of crime thrillers?
I started mucking around with writing about twenty years ago when I was living in Canberra. At first I just wanted to see if I could do the actual writing. Put words and sentences together to make something that might be a story, something that might entertain a reader. The first pieces were kids sci-fi adventures. They’re still on a hard drive somewhere, and I hold onto the idea of going back to them sometime. The crime fiction started after we moved back to Sydney. It is what I read mostly, and Sydney seemed to throw up lots of story ideas. I have long enjoyed authors like Elmore Leonard, Ian Rankin and James Lee Burke. I like writers who have strong sense of place and character. I can never remember the detail of the stories. I suppose reading in the genre gave me some confidence about what was required.
You decided to publish the John Lawrence book independently rather than through a publishing house. When did you first learn about self-publishing as an option, and what’s been your experience of it?
I suppose that the advent of self-publishing gave me a bit of a push to get on with writing the first book. Knowing that I could still put it out into the world even if I didn’t find a traditional publisher made the effort seem worthwhile. I started reading about self-publishing online and came across the KBoards forum which has a huge amount of information shared by other self-published authors, and then successful indie authors like Joanna Penn and Mark Dawson began publicising what they had found that worked. All of that information was enormously useful.
When I finished Left Luggage, I did make a half-hearted run at a few local agents without any success. I was impatient, and everything takes so long in traditional publishing, so I just decided to go ahead and do it myself.
As a self-published author, what have you found useful in terms of marketing and self-promotion? And how did you go about getting reviewed by Leigh Sales on the Chat 10 Looks 3 radio show?
The thing you have to do as an indie author, and it is something I haven’t mastered yet, is to have a retail mindset. You are in the business of writing and selling books, and to do that you have to promote and advertise. You have to develop a loyal readership that will come back for more – which is why most successful indies write in series. Email promo services can be good, Facebook ads and Amazon ads too, although you have to be prepared to experiment and refine your copy and targeting. Nearly everyone advises that it’s best to develop your own mailing list and build a close relationship with them. Easier said than done, but if successful, it means you have a head start launching your next book.
The Chat 10, Looks 3 podcast review was serendipity. My daughter works as a nanny for Leigh’s kids, and gave her a copy of Left Luggage. Leigh was kind enough to read it and review it, which was terrific.
Your first book, Left Luggage, introduces us to John Lawrence, an ex-military officer and the protagonist of the series. What made John Lawrence appealing to you as a main character?
People are usually surprised to hear that John was the last of the main characters in Left Luggage to be developed. Part of the book is set in a retirement village and the original idea came out of my experience of visiting my parents and observing their relationships with other people in the village. My first idea was for a comic story about a homeless man living with his mother in a retirement village. Then I decided to change it to a straight up thriller, rather than attempt another whimsical, tongue-in-cheek Aussie crime story. So, needing a proper hero, I borrowed one from the Army and put him to work, fighting crime and renovating an actual house near where I was living at the time.
You’ve been involved in various courses at the Centre, as well as a regular writers’ group. How have these experiences influenced you?
I was never particularly good at English at school and never received any encouragement to engage in writing. I ended up believing that I couldn’t be a writer because everyone said that the thing about writers is that ‘they can’t stop themselves from writing’. I had been successfully stopping myself for forty years, but I’m a writer now. Talent is one thing, but writing is still a skill that you have to decide to learn, and then work at.
When I first started out, I read a lot of how-to books on writing by great authors like Kate Grenville, Stephen King and Walter Mosely. They were very helpful but eventually I got to the stage where I needed some kind of validation to give me the confidence to continue. My first creative writing course gave me the encouragement to get serious about the first book.
The writers’ group was an extension of that. It gave me a small writing community and provided that most valuable thing: an outsider’s eyes. It was also fun seeing what other people were working on.
Last time we spoke, you were drafting the third book in the John Lawrence series. How has your relationship to writing changed since your first novel? And how is John’s latest adventure coming along?
The third book feels like it is starting to take shape, at last. When I set out to write this one I decided that I needed to be more of a plotter, that I would be more efficient if I planned out the book chapter by chapter. Well, that didn’t work. I kept having new ideas as I wrote, so when I got to the end of the first draft, it was a different story from the one I had planned. A move away from Sydney, down to the south coast, was another big interruption to the book. Now, though, I feel like I am back in the re-writing groove and the plot has become a bit more coherent.
Each book has had its own struggles. I thought I would get more confident as I wrote more, but self-doubt is always there. One thing that my experience has taught me is that if I do the work, listen to editors and beta-readers, there will be a book at the end of it.
Do you have a regular writing routine? If so, what does it involve?
Having a regular routine is the single most significant thing I have found to improve my writing. Just turning up each day and doing the work, whether I feel like it or not. When we were in Sydney I used to get up at 5am and get a couple of hours done before work each day. As well as getting lots of words down, it gave me a smug, self-righteous glow.
Since retiring I haven’t managed to get back into that routine. I keep getting interrupted by the need to walk to the headland, to see what the whales and the seals are up to.
On your blog you describe yourself as having ‘waited a long time to start writing’. Do you have any advice for people who are interested in writing but fear they may be starting too late in life?
I don’t think it matters when you start, and there are some advantages to being a late starter. Your children are less demanding of your time, and probably your finances. You have more life experience to draw on, and you are likely to have a better idea of what it is you want to say.
What are you reading at the moment?
I am currently enjoying Candice Fox’s Crimson Lake, which I won in a Twitter competition.
In your opinion, who/what is the most inspiring…
Writer/Poet? Iain Banks wrote wonderful books full of imagination and humour.
Weather? Not too hot, not too cold.
Time of day? Alone time.
Music? How long have you got?
Location? Anywhere with a view of the sky.
The third book in the John Lawrence series will be published later this year. To keep up with Andrew’s projects as well as his never-ending quest to eat at every café and restaurant on King Street in Sydney, visit his blog, Painting the Bridge. You can also find Andrew’s Facebook author page here. Below is a short excerpt from his first novel, Left Luggage.
“We got your file, John. Hot off the printer. It’s interesting.”
“Previous?” said Moreton.
Walker slid the file across to him. “No. Army, Sergeant John Lawrence. Left the ADF in 2005. Injured in Afghanistan.”
Moreton looked up from the file to John’s scarred arm, then went back into the file.
“Not much else in there,” said Walker. “Just basic records, when he joined, when he left. Nothing about what he did in between. Most of it is sealed.”
“What does that mean?” Moreton asked.
“It means they don’t want us to know. Probably something heavy, special forces, counter-terrorism, some secret shit like that.” She looked John in the eye. “Means he’s the real deal. Am I right, Mr Lawrence?”
John said nothing.
Moreton flipped through the pages in the file then closed it and slid it back to Walker. “So, Mr SAS? A dangerous man. Just happens to be around when his mum gets kidnapped. One dead, two seriously wounded.”
“Yes,” said Walker. “The only kidnapper you got anywhere near didn’t fare too well.”
John shrugged. “That was an accident.”