The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of The Claimant
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I’m originally from Wagga Wagga, NSW (one-time home of the Claimant), and so especially enjoy the fact that he made that frontier town world famous in his day.
My work as a TV news producer pays the bills and in my spare time I like to write. The Claimant is my fourth book.
I’m married with three teenage kids who have politely pretended to be interested as I’ve regaled them with the Claimant’s tale perhaps just a little too often!
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was 12, I was coming to terms with the reality that my childhood dream of becoming an astronaut was not going to come true. When I was 18, I didn’t have a clue about much, including my own future. By 30, I wanted to be a writer…
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
It was 1983 when I was 18. At that time, I thought I looked good with a half-hearted attempt at a mullet, and that the young ladies in my life looked fantastic with shoulder pads like gridiron players. Thankfully, I no longer believe those things.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc. – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
I really don’t know much about art, but I know what moves me and I guess that’s enough. I’m always touched by the sadness of Will Longstaff’s Menin Gate at Midnight (you can see it at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra). Although the message is not terribly subtle, I find it a really haunting painting that to me sums up the pointlessness and horror of the slaughter on the Western Front in World War One. It’s hard to believe 100 years later that unimaginative politicians and incompetent generals caused so much carnage on both sides.
As for work that inspired me personally, it was while covering a (boring) Wagga Council meeting as a young reporter many years ago that I first saw the painting, The Great Tichborne Trial by Nathan Hughes, hanging on the wall of the council chambers. The meeting was so dull that my entire attention was captured by the image of this enormous man in the centre of a crowded court room. I found out more, loved the story but never thought at the time that it would lead to my latest book, The Claimant. That painting is the image used on the cover of the book more than twenty years after I first saw it.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Writing non-fiction was a logical choice. I love finding great stories and looking for new ways to bring amazing characters back to life (truth really is sometimes stranger than fiction). Plus, I’m totally hopeless at any other art form!
6. Please tell us about your latest book.
The Claimant is essentially a tale of history’s greatest (alleged) impostor, two trials that captivated the world, a sex scandal, a medieval curse and a celebrity-powered, working class movement that threatened to upend English society in Victorian times.
Mark Twain, who was fascinated by the story, wrote that a fiction writer could never tackle the Claimant’s story because no reader would believe such events could happen, and that such characters could exist.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope the reader has learned more about a truly remarkable event in Australian/British history. But more importantly, I hope any reader has just enjoyed a great yarn and couldn’t wait to turn the next page to see what happens next.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I admire anyone who tells a tale with passion and flair. We’re very lucky in Australia to have great writers of novels and non-fiction. Just jump on to websites like Booktopia, or visit your local book store to see for yourself.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To write stories that are engaging, rewarding and hopefully intriguing.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Keep writing. Then write some more. Try new things. Don’t be afraid to experiment. And prepare yourself for rejection. It will happen, but if you persevere and it pays off, the thrill of holding your very own book makes it all worthwhile.
Thank you for playing, Paul!
It’s 1866 and out of the dusty frontier town of Wagga Wagga arises a cause célèbre which sets Victorian England alight – the likes of which have never been seen before or since.
A tale so preposterous that its veracity is still debated today.
Tom Castro – known by his enemies as Arthur Orton - an obese, toothless butcher who lives in a slab-hut with his illiterate wife and children, suddenly comes forward and claims he is the rightful Baronet of Tichborne Park, Hampshire, and head one of England’s oldest noble Catholic families.