Name: John Hickman
Carole, my wife of forty-eight years says that should make me a mature writer.
Where are you from:
I was born March 1945 in the ‘little room’ upstairs at 8 Barlby Road, Kensington, London, England.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
I was educated at private schools in London. I joined the Westminster Bank, and then became an hotelier. It was while I was working in the hotel business with my Dad that I met my wife Carole in 1965.
I joined the Pest Control industry based in the UK before migrating with my family in 1971 as ‘ten pound Poms.’ We became naturalised Australians in 1973.
I specialised in pest control, fumigation, and timber preservation throughout S.E. Queensland and the South Pacific Islands my entire working life. My family and I also farmed deer in the South Burnett region of Queensland.
Family was instilled into me by my mother and father. In my life nothing takes precedence over the welfare of my family. My wife Carole of 48 years and our two children are devoted to each other. Family was the reason I worked all of my life, and the opinion of my family of me, and my actions, is important. More important to me than what others may think of me.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My latest news is the release of my third book; Sex, Lies & Crazy People and the subsequent book launch to be held in Eagleby on the 24 October.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
After retirement in 2003 I started to ‘smell the flowers’ and realised how most of them smelled the same. Unable to play golf, I discovered a passion for writing.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
After I’d published Reluctant Hero and started getting favourable comments back from readers. That gave me a great lift and I thought, Wow! It’s not too bad, then. I started showing the comments around to family and friends and they became excited for me. I suppose you could say that in some small way I began to float on the wings of my success.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
After our retirement in 2003 we intended to travel. I wanted to play golf and go fishing. The travel and the fishing went well but the golf was a disaster. No matter how many lessons I took, nor how hard I tried I couldn’t get that little white ball to consistently go where I wanted it to. I found the frustration outweighed the pleasure. At one stage I enjoyed the walk without using a golf club at all. Frustration led to me being under Carole’s feet when she wanted her alone time. One day she said to me, “Look if you’re bored, and can’t think of something better to do. Go write a damn book!”
Besides being unable to play golf my relationship with my father had always been a very close one. Initially, he was reluctant to speak of his wartime experiences, but over time he talked with me at length. At dinner parties when other people told jokes, being a poor joke teller myself, I often told one of his more suitable wartime experiences. Usually something with a tad of humour. You could say I fed off the stories he’d told me. Reaction was always good. So good that I was often told, “John you should write a book.”
What with being under Carole’s feet, I thought Dad’s story would be worth telling, and WW2 was still topical. The war may be over but it’s not done with, is it? Then I realised that if his story was to be told I was the only one alive to tell it. Carole said, “So you’d better get on with it. I’m going shopping!”
Women are so often right, don’t you think?
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I don’t know? Do I? I’d like to think my style is easy to read, and being true stories I can’t forget what the story line or what I’m writing about. Some have said I’m a bit like Bill Bryson. I’ll take that as a compliment.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I didn’t. It was my editor Tricia Eban’s choice. I wanted to call it Bill’s War. I canvassed about and because Foyle’s War was popular on TV at the time, the majority vote was in favour of Reluctant Hero.
With the sequel Tripping Over my working title was Falling Down but when it came to completion time that didn’t quite fit. It was while we were deciding which photos would be included that my distributor Dennis Jones & Associates helped choose the cover photograph. Skipping Through Life didn’t appeal but Tripping Over was a unanimous vote. It said it all.
Sex, Lies & Crazy People started out with a working title of the Harewood Hotel because that’s where the majority of the story takes place. Unfortunately, the Harewood Hotel hit troubled times. Conflict arose over the continuation of the full licence. Its reputation declined to little more than a doss house of ill repute until it closed permanently. Decades later it was remodelled to become the very grand Grantley Court. Initially I chose Sex, Knives & Crazy People. I liked knives because of the waiters fighting with knives. But again, Dennis Jones & Associates, came to my rescue and suggested I leave Knives out of the title as it could conjure up a false image in the minds of female readers as to what the book was about. My daughter Sara thought that Sex, Lies & Crazy People fitted my story perfectly! Women are so often right, don’t you think?
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I would be truly flattered to believe that Reluctant Hero is that rare creature, a book not afraid to be honest about war, but immensely readable and entertaining as well. Many readers have praised it as one of the best anti-war books they’ve read. I’m very happy with that. What a tribute that is to the air crews who never came home.
Tripping Over and Sex, Lies & Crazy People are intended to be entirely different to Reluctant Hero in that I attempted comedy. Messages are cryptic or masked except by Gramps, the straight shooter of the family. Both Tripping Over and Sex, Lies & Crazy People are so entirely politically incorrect throughout. So much so that readers are encouraged to read the PREFACE before the book. That’s to avoid accusations of me being in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act, which in my opinion by now should have been revamped to better suit Australians!
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
I’d like to think that all three books are realistic. They are after all – all true stories. I stand by what I write. Nothing is based on a true story. Classified as non-fiction can I be any more realistic? Or truthful?
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Yes, very much so. All three books are mixtures of the people I have known and myself. Outside of family names have been changed out of consideration for those I have been unable to contact, and for legal reasons. To avoid being sued!
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
I don’t think any one book, or books have truly influenced my life, but I’ve always enjoyed reading.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I’ve liked the work of James Herriot, real name Alf Wight. He wrote All Creatures Great and Small, and of course the venerable Bill Bryson.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
This Is Not A Drill by Paul Carter.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Many, but I’d be reluctant to single any one individual out.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I’m busy promoting Sex, Lies & Crazy People, and preparing material for my next book G’day Down Under the sequel to Sex, Lies & Crazy People.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
There are many. I’m a member of the Queensland Writers Centre, FAWQ, and our local Writers Circle. They keep me on track. More recently my association with In House Publishing takes centre stage. My journey with publishing had been a steep learning curve with pitfalls and hidden surprises until I met Ocean Reeve. He’s the In House Manager and head consultant who took me under his wing when Sex, Lies & Crazy People was in final draft form. He made the management of my publishing processes enjoyable from our first meeting until the published book, and beyond. He has a natural flair, which comes from his love of what he does. He’s not a bad bloke for a Kiwi.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Most definitely but not necessarily a profitable one. The good thing is that being a self-funded retiree I can now afford to spend my time on pursuits I enjoy rather than labouring to pay the mortgage and support my family.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not a thing. But let’s hope the readers feel the same way.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I was always interested in writing. As a teenager I was editor of the school magazine. I just couldn’t see an income from writing back then. Actually, I still can’t.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Certainly. Sex, Lies & Crazy People is the bittersweet true story about my family’s involvement in the Harewood Hotel, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent in England during the 1960s.
Best described as a true life Fawlty Towers – but without Basil it is interspersed with self-deprecating reminisces. Dad assigned me to the kitchens because he was frightened shitless but,
will I be able to cook any better than my dysfunctional family? You’ll have to read the book to find out but I’m in good company with chefs who can’t cook and waiters who don’t speak English.
We had a multitude of international guests at the Harewood. They included a millionaire addicted to pornography; a con man and his beautiful ex-prostitute wife; a cash strapped film company; a strange little man who reads tea leaves and scientologists seeking spiritual fulfilment. To name a few!
After falling in love for all the wrong reasons in Tripping Over I meet Carole – but will our love last? Unfortunately, I’ve already given away the ending to that, haven’t I?
Sex, Lies & Crazy People follows on from Tripping Over. But that said they are all stand alone stories.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Yes. Finding the time. I know that sounds ridiculous for someone who’s retired but I often tell people I could never go back to work as, “I don’t have the time.”
Fiona: Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I can’t honestly say that I have a favourite author, but I’ve enjoyed the Jack Reacher books by
Lee Childs. To relax I often read fiction. Gran used to say, “Fiction’s a waste of time unless you get a laugh out of it.”
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Not really although we enjoy travel. I went back to the Old Dart as part of my research for Reluctant Hero and while I was there I did a trip down memory lane, which also included some reminiscing over the Harewood Hotel in Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent. I even visited the Sussex Pad Hotel in Hove.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Reluctant Hero was designed by the talented Andy McDermott at Publicious, Tripping Over was the inspiration of Luke Harris at Chameleon Print Design, and Sex, lies & Crazy People was the graphic design team at In House Publishing.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
With Reluctant Hero it was attention the to detail, with Tripping Over and Sex, Lies & Crazy People it’s been the focus on humour. I find it’s not easy to write comedy. And of course what appeals to one person as funny might not strike another as amusing at all. When I was a child I was in awe of comedians like Norman Wisdom and Jerry Lewis. A few years ago I watched an interview with Jerry Lewis when he was asked how funny was he at home? He said, “I’m not a funny man. Comedy is a very serious business.” That made sense to me and I decided to attempt it for myself.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Reluctant Hero stands alone as a controversial book in that it ridicules war and highlights corruption and incompetence by those in privileged positions of power.
With Tripping Over and Sex, Lies & Crazy People I ask readers to apply a giggle stick scale:
By that I mean that “0” is unfunny up to “10” is hilarious. If you call me after you’ve read a book to ask where the funny bit was – then give it a “0” but if you call to say you couldn’t put it down because it was hilarious as some have, then I think it deserves a “10.” And please remember to be kind to the author!
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Yes. Above all never give up. Perseverance. And to quote a line from Reluctant Hero – Nil bastardi carberandum! (Don’t let the bastards grind you down!)
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for liking my books, thank you for buying my books, thank you for enjoying the product of what I do. I’m obsessed with my writing but without you, you wonderful dear readers, I wouldn’t be an author.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Goodness. That’s over 60 years ago. I was rapt in all of Enid Blyton’s work, I read comics when I was allowed and I do remember a book called Pete of the Wild Grass Country but I can’t remember who wrote it.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
I’m an emotional man but I prefer laughter to tears. I enjoy movies and I’ll go with anything provided it’s well done. Tom Selleck is a good mixture in his Jesse Stone series, Dexter, Deadwood, Billy Connolly makes me laugh as does Pam Ayres. And the hilarious and talented Robin Williams before his tragic death.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would want to meet and why?
Not one person, no. But if I could go back in time, knowing then what I know now, I’d love to sit down one last time with Dad. Oh, and to have met Robin Williams – what a talent.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
Does consuming alcohol most days from 4pm onwards with good friends or family count?
If not, no, but I keep meaning to play Croquet but haven’t got around to it. We’ve covered golf!
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
On TV I watch; The Good Wife, Silk, Foyle’s War, Dr Who, The Blacklist, Mrs Brown’s Boys, to name a few. I also enjoy the History Channel on Foxtel; who wouldn’t be inspired by Tony Robinson’s enthusiasm for finding an old rock? And the Crime Channel; it amazes me how bad bastards in the USA can get 999 years and here, for the same crime, they get 5 years and probation.
Film wise I prefer modern stuff. Frankly, I think its so much better produced and acted than the oldies. Admittedly, there are a few classical exceptions; we always watch Dinner for one 1963 at Christmas.
I like blockbusters with special effects but I also like Aussie movies; The Castle, The Dish, Gettin’ Square, Kenny, Two Hands, Mr Reliable.
Fiona: Favourite foods / Colours/ Music:
Fresh seafood any which way, steak, and roasts. I don’t have a favourite colour but I like white.
I like ballads and anything that has a beat that I can hear the words to. Beach Boys, Elvis, The Beatles, ABBA, The Bachelors, Ken Dodd – you’re dating me now!
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
If computers had been around I would have liked to be a computer nerd. A life in movies might have been fun.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?