A Conversation with Terry Spring
I have always loved to travel. When I worked in England my jobs always entailed travel. I have visited USA, most countries in Europe and of course, I lived in Asia for a year when working for American Express.
I seem to have a particular penchant for islands (not sure why) – I lived in Jersey, Channel Isles and visited Malta, Gibraltar, Seychelles and Hawaii.
I have a passion for history so I visit the past by reading historical novels. I enjoy checking out old stately homes and palaces, so these are always on my list when I travel. This way I can enjoy the research of the novelist into the style of life of the day, then by walking through these places I can immerse myself in their history. It’s so amazing to see how the other half lived, as my own forebears were certainly not part of that social class.
Because I am curious about my background, I have become an expert in my family genealogy and have a family tree with nearly 3000 people on it. (Well, there was no TV back then!) Recently I helped a friend find her adopted family in England. My children and grandchildren are not much interested in their genealogy at the moment but that will come with time.
2. How do you manage to combine your interests and writing?
I use the past times and knowledge of how my characters were raised to find their motivation and thinking; for example, someone raised in country Australia has a different perspective to a person brought up in an American city. Basic human emotions are the same, but how we react is so much tied to our upbringing. My book Transported was based on a real person and needed much research into the early convicts and settlers. This gave me a healthy respect for their tenacity and their ability to accept hardship and get things done. I see myself not so much an author as a teller of stories..
3. Where were you born, and what do you remember about your early years before coming to Australia?
I was 35 when I migrated here. I was the youngest of five and born as an after-thought! My parents lived in London which was under siege in the ‘Blitz’ when I came into the world in London Hospital – which makes me a cockney by birth.
We moved north, out of the firing line, but the London boroughs soon became targets also. I can remember our house being bombed and even some of the conversations about broken glass and my puppy. I recall sleeping on bunks in the London Tube stations to avoid the nightly bombing raids.
On the evening of VE Day, I sat on my father’s shoulders as we waited in the huge celebrating crowds to see the King and Queen emerge on the Buckingham Palace balcony and the search lights making ‘V’s in the sky. The war was over but it didn’t mean anything to me except that, some years later, my mother was able to buy me my first doll – I was six.
During the war years, food and clothing were the only things to buy in the shops, provided we had the money and stamps. Everything was rationed and that didn’t stop until I left school. I grew up in a leafy London suburb but there were bombed buildings even there. My family used to go to the pictures in the West End at weekends and I saw most of the musicals of the time. My brother was a pianist and I grew up around music.
I enjoyed primary school and loved music, art and writing even then. I passed my 11 Plus for a local Grammar School which is now a Muslim girls’ school run by Cat Stevens.
I have fond memories of my childhood which were mostly carefree and I still see my school friends when I’m in England. When I left school it was ‘Rock and The Clock’ time but I had a stint at Pitman’s School of Shorthand and Typing. I spent all my spare hours in the West End jazz clubs and coffee bars, since working in a city solicitor’s office felt very mundane.
Eventually I found my way into something more exciting as I was soon working for Unilever as a market researcher. (This was before their phone calls interrupted your dinnertime and of course there was no internet). We travelled in groups, all over England, knocking on doors and doing face-to-face interviews. During this time I met and married a musician and started writing pieces on pop-stars and music in the Melody Maker, The New Musical Express and even the London Evening Standard. They’re now all extinct but I don’t think it was my fault!!
4. What do you think constitutes ‘a good read’?
For me, I need to be carried away into a story. I love to read about people’s lives, real people in particular. I want strong characters, with interesting settings and I want to enjoy where the story takes me. I adore history books of course; Phillippa Gregory is a favourite of mine as so much of her work is set in Tudor times and I have an A Level in Tudor History. I’ve never come across something in her books that I feel couldn’t have happened back then.
Of course Colleen McCullough’s books are a good read and I loved her Men of Rome series, although I read them in hardback and they were such large and heavy volumes, they gave me back-ache! I was thoroughly schooled in the classics during my education but they just don’t ‘grab me’ these days although I acknowledge their great story lines. When I took part in a six week creative writing course in summer school at Oxford University, we were expected to read 42 books beforehand on a set subject, including many classics. It was interesting to see the change of writing styles over the years.
5. Your book Transported has been well received. How did you come by the idea?
I was actually introduced to a man who wanted a book for his family, about his forebear, George Smith…a convict made good in Dubbo, NSW. I was given some documents and we put together the outline of the book….a dateline of what happened and when. I thought it such an up-lifting tale about rags to riches that we agreed I should try to turn it into a novel.
I spent months researching the historical background in Australia and finally decided to self-publish the book. I have sold 608 to date – not an enormous amount by some standards but I haven’t spent a penny on advertising. The book sells in the Longreach Hall of Fame, Dubbo and it is also in many libraries. I sell a few books on my website every week and I often wonder how they came to find me. My book has been used as an exercise in marketing at Griffith University and I’ve had enquiries about a TV series and overseas copyright.
6. Have you any advice for others wishing to self-publish?
Well, a lot depends on what you want to do with a manuscript. Presumably you will have had it edited and it will be ready to go. If it’s solely for your friends and family then go ahead. For others who have tried and failed to get a publisher to accept it (it’s a cut-throat business out there unless you’re a celebrity of course!) I advise following common sense rules.
The cost is in the set-up. Don’t expect to make a fortune and be prepared to not even get a return on your money. Go for a company that’s nearby – I first went for one in WA and it would have cost me a fortune in cartage to receive the books here. Go for a company with a good reputation by asking around. Don’t get greedy and print a thousand because it’s cheaper than buying fifty. Think of the enormous amount of time it takes to sell that many and how depressing it could be, looking at the pile for the next two or more years!
Have a website so that you can sell from there, and also set up Red Hen or Pay Pal to take payments. Think about turning it into an ebook as this is the way of the future for many. If you do this you will need to become a little internet savvy – it’s a whole new exciting world out there. Be prepared to call up radio stations and newspapers. Stand up and speak at lunches and libraries to sell your book by putting it in the public eye.
Believe in your book/story and others will too.