Terraces Times Author Interview
Author is interviewed for the Terraces Times, publication at the The Terraces, A Queensland retirement village.
Interviewer is the Editor, Chris Caught.
Chris: How did it come about that you wrote David’s story? I can’t imagine that one morning over cornflakes you said to Marjorie “I think I’ll go upstairs and ask David if I can write a biography on his life on the Burma Railway!”
Brian: No, no cornflakes. It was late afternoon and red wine, David’s favourite…—only partly joking! We met in the leisure centre at some event more than four years ago. It didn’t take us long to find out that we were both interested in writing his story. Ever after that we met most Sunday afternoons at his place around 3.00 PM. He opened a bottle of good red wine and I organised the recorder. I was never much of a red wine drinker and he never asked what I would like to drink but I got used to it. This happened on a very regular basis for almost four years. I would then transcribe the recording when I was reasonably sober on Monday morning.
Chris: Was his story confronting and how did you deal with the information? By that I mean, some authors take themselves on the journey, others detach themselves and write as an onlooker.
Brian: I never really thought of it in this way. I never thought of David’s story as confronting. It was simply his story. Now that I am thinking about your question I was really on the journey otherwise I could not be involved enough to write dialogue for David and his mates and to describe the detail of events even if David did give me the gist of it. A biographer cannot write a biography simply by writing what the subject tells him. Much of the narrative is developed and comes from the writers mind as a result of interaction with the subject. If you like to say it is invented, then it is invented. David and I discussed all that I wrote after I wrote it of course and even he would be moved by what I had written and he would always remember more. So we re-wrote it and this happened many times. The book gradually took shape in this manner.
Chris: Did the writing of the story have any emotional or lasting effect on you?
Brian: Yes. You may find this hard to believe but I became emotional as I thought about and wrote the very sad bits, when David found out that his Mum had died and when his great friend Bobby Small died, for example. I also laugh—out loud sometimes, as I write humorously—well, at least where I think I am writing humorously. One example was when I described when Major Buto plunged his leg into the very hot water right up to his testicles—one red leg and one white one and so on! If I don’t find it funny other people will certainly not think it funny at all.
Chris: What response, if any have you had from the greater public? And have you had any historical response from relevant bodies?
Brian: I have had a great response from many people, people around our village and people that I know casually such as people that work in shops and cafes locally. These are people who know who I am and have sought me out to say what they liked about the book. Many people have also taken the trouble to email me and tell me why they enjoyed the book. One person was the son of Vern Hansen who with David, stole the truck and furniture from a Japanese camp and sold it to set them up with money to stay in a Bangkok hotel after the Japanese surrender. He explained how grateful he was to learn so much about his Dad because his father had died a few years ago and had told the family nothing of his wartime experience. Quite a few have also taken the trouble to write what they feel about the book, and what they have written is on the website at https://warstory.com.au. You have no idea what a thrill all this gives me and it is what makes writing so worthwhile. I have had no response from any historical society or anything. Might still be time!
Chris: Having known David prior to writing his story did your perception of him change throughout the process.
Brian: No I don’t think so. I believe I got to know him pretty well and over a short time. Perhaps the first 6 months that we were in contact. We didn’t agree about everything, for example he was very right wing and I lean to the left but we both very much wanted the book to succeed and this made for a great working relationship. I also liked him very much and there were many important things we did agree on, that students should have a better understanding of WW2 for example. Many people thought he was too direct and opinionated and was much too quick to state his point of view—especially if he wasn’t asked for it. You could not be with him up at the shops but he would get on to some young person for smoking for example. Well that was the way he was and I told him often enough and he agreed wholeheartedly! He had great confidence in himself and believed in his own knowledge, skills and abilities and, of course, this is the main reason he and his friends survived their imprisonment.
Chris: What do you have in the pipeline or are you going into a second retirement.
Brian: God no! I am writing a book about retirement village life with Ron Smallwood who many people here know. It will have some serious stories but most will be funny I hope. Be afraid, very afraid!