Since I was knee high to a grasshopper, I have wanted to write fiction. Since I first noticed the classic DDB ads of the Sixties and Seventies, for Volkswagen, Lufthansa, Jamaica and Avis, I have wanted to write advertisements. Bill Bernbach is God the Father, David Abbot is God the Son, and Salman Rushdie is God the Holy Ghost. For me at any rate.
I am succeeding in my first ambition (publishing many short stories and winning the
Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript). And have, in a modest way, succeeded with my second ambition (winning awards at Cannes, D&AD, One Show and so on).
I love words. I love the great stylists of fiction, from Amis to Proulx, from Banville to White (just sticking to the moderns). And I love great ideas: campaigns for Nike, Volkswagen, Heineken and Playstation to name just four.
In the 1970s I was a copywriter in Sydney when I was offered a job at the most creative advertising agency in town – the hot shop of that decade. I accepted, and resigned from where I was then working.
Two or three weeks later, my wife and I had a disastrous weekend – which has absolutely nothing to do with this story apart from the fact it prompted us to ask ourselves what we were doing in Australia – we’d been here six years.
At about 3am we decided we’d be much better off back in the UK (we were very young and naïve in those days)
The next morning I had to phone the creative director of the hottest agency in town to say that I would not be joining him after all – despite having signed a contract and set a starting date.
My excuse was that I was no longer going to dirty my hands with commercial writing. I was going to give up copywriting and be a real writer, a serious writer. From now on I was not going to earn my living writing about soap powder, I was going to write novels.
The creative director was far from impressed. In fact he was pretty annoyed. He didn’t quite slam the phone down on me, but it was close.
At the time, my excuse did seem like a good one, but with hindsight it failed on two counts.
Firstly, on my return to the UK, like many people who want to write, I allowed myself to be waylaid by raising a family and pursuing a career.
Secondly, within a few months of leaving these shores, the creative director of the hottest agency in town brought out a slim volume of short stories.
He followed this up over the next 30 years with around eight novels, winning himself three Miles Franklin awards, three Age Book of the Year awards, and two Mann Booker prizes for fiction.
And still, even today, I cringe with embarrassment when I think of what I said … to Peter Carey.