SPS-411: The Importance of Researching Settings – with Tony Park
Tony Park is an author best known for his vivid use of specific settings in his writing. But how do you convey Authentic settings? Who should you talk to to paint these vivid details? Tony talks about his process and more in this episode!
- Tony Park’s history of writing with location in mind.
- The Poaching business.
- Using location as a theme.
- Authenticity in writing.
- Tony’s ideas on publishing.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
SPS LIVE: Get your digital tickets here
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
The Importance of Researching Settings – with Tony Park
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of Self-Publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It is the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch
Mark Dawson: And me Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: We are fresh back from Vegas, crazy Vegas where the Grand Prix starts tomorrow for us yesterday. If you're listening to this on Friday, the Grand Prix meeting, it's going to be interesting. Anyway, we had a brilliant 20 books, the final, the last hurrah, the Last Dance of 20 books, Vegas, because the conference in that current form is ending and they revealed the new name for the conference, which is
Mark Dawson: Orhan Nation, which is Nation I preferred conference. Conference he face. But yeah, that didn't win the ballot. But yeah, automation I think is a pretty good name. I think simple that does what it says in the tin. And Joe Solari, who is a friend of ours who is taking over the running of the conference from Craig Martel and Craig Craig's done a fantastic job for the last six, seven years and has definitely earned the right to step away and hand it over to Joe who has some interesting ideas and announced Kevin Smith will be the keynote speaker next year, which is an interesting choice. Someone
James Blatch: Silent Bob.
Mark Dawson: Silent Bob. Exactly. Yeah. I did actually say to Lucy when I came back, Kevin Smith speaking next year, and she was like, who? That's interesting because I think
James Blatch: A lot of people in the room know who he is. We are the right demographic for it, but I don't think my kids would know who he is and my dad wouldn't know who he is. But
Mark Dawson: Your dad's in his nineties, so he's not like to be sign up. Bob is, but I love, I think he's a great filmmaker. I love Clarks. I remember watching that black and white film 25 years ago. But yes, it's an interesting choice. Don't think, I think he's got lots of interesting things to say. Is he a perfect an author conference? It's a hard one to say. I'd certainly go and listen to him
James Blatch: In terms of creativity as a creative, he has lots of things to say. Yeah, you probably won't remember when we were newbies at the BBFC, we had a room at the end of the building, the six of us inhabited about the long-winded training programme, which went on for about four months, but on the door was opposed to saying with no power comes no responsibility. And as a Kevin Smith quote, one of his films. Anyway, yes, so that was Vegas. We'll perhaps give a little bit of a nod to one or two of the sessions of things we learned from that as we go through the next few weeks. But before we do anything else, I think we have some new Paton listeners to welcome to the show, Marcus?
Mark Dawson: Yeah, we do. We have aj, Wyatt Con and Danny, no address for any of the three, but we are very grateful for them. Supporting the show on Patreon does help us keep the lights on and keeps James in expensive kit.
James Blatch: Yes, well look at my expensive kit, although I have noticed mine's quite dirty. Oh
Mark Dawson: Yes, it's a little bit, yeah.
James Blatch: Yes, I'll hold that there. But this is the live hoodie and the reason I'm modelling it today is because in a carefully crafted giveaway, in other words, we found a box of 10 of these and we need to give them away. We've decided that the next 10 people who sign up for the conference are going to get a free hoodie sent to them wherever you are in the world, and it'll be one of these lovely warm hoodies just as we go into winter. If you're in the Northern Hemisphere, of course you might be in the south, just put it in the cupboard for a year, for six months. So you don't need to do anything else apart from just sign up to the conference. And if you want to do that, this is our conference we're talking about, which is in June in London, 2024, June 25th, 26th, the second largest indie conference in the world and the largest in Europe.
And that is going to be available to you at self-publishing formula.com/sps live. So the next 10 people who sign up will get a hoodie sent to them that you can wear to the conference if you like. Although it is June and hopefully it'd be nice and warm in June. Yes. And one more thing to say is that we own the last few days of self-Publishing launchpad. So this is the foundation course, very detailed, big foundation course of how to set yourself up for success as an indie writer. That's what we do best. These are online courses and that is going to be available until Wednesday. If you go a self-publishing formula.com/launchpad, you can read all about it, find out what's in the course and sign up for that. And of course, with all our courses, there's a 30 day no questions asked money back guarantee. And we had a good webinar during the week, which we haven't had yet, but it's going to be a good webinar on ai. And of course, AI was one of the many topics that was floating around in abundance at 20 books Vegas. I do feel Mark, that in six months it's gone from this highly controversial hot topic to much, much less controversial. I mean, I didn't really feel much, Anthony. There was one speaker who put a slide up saying, AI is the enemy and you must never touch it. Was it
Mark Dawson: John Truby, wasn't it?
James Blatch: Yeah, it was John Truby and people left the room and everyone else just rolled their eyes. I mean, I felt the prevailing wind now is how do we use it ethically and effectively, not should we use it, although there's some diehards, but that feels to me like the way that's gone.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, I think you're probably right, and I had spoke to actually met Steph POAs for the first time, who is kind of set up, at least as far as I know, the biggest author AI Facebook group, which I think it's called AI for Authors or something along those lines, seven or 8,000 people in that group now. And obviously that's very pro group as you'd expect. But I mean she did say to me she's had death threats and things, which is just unbelievably stupid, isn't it? And Elizabeth Ann West also has been banging the AI drum for a couple of years now and she's reported similar kind of experiences before. So I hope that that kind of nonsense is calming down now. I mean there are still lots of questions that need to be answered. I think you shouldn't ignore the fact that there are some fairly big court cases that are still to be decided and that could change everything. But I think you're probably right that the temperature has come down a little bit, but it is still a hot topic, no question about that.
James Blatch: And it is one that people want to learn about. So obviously if you are in our Answer for authors programme, you get AI marketing for authors and we are going to make it available in the next few weeks for people who just want to do that module on its own. Okay, I think it is time for us to move on to our webinar. Sorry, to our webinar, to our interview. We actually have an Australian, but we're going to be talking a lot about Africa. So Joe, this is the second author we've had who is not African but is slightly obsessed with the const of Africa. And Tony Park very much falls into that category, I suppose in the tradition of Wilbur Smith, somebody who writes his book sets there. And Tony, although his Australian lives in Australia, actually lives in Africa for part of the year as well.
So he's going to talk to us about the importance of researching your settings and making the setting an important part of your book. And then we know whether you're writing regional crime or Cold War thrillers, in my case, that the setting is a key part of it and getting that right. It's very important. It's one of the reasons people choose to read those particular books. Tony also talks about researching criminal activities and areas of the continent that he can't reach and the importance of representing places and people accurately and not pulling readers out of the story. So that is Tony Park, Australian with an African bent. Here he is, and Mark, and I'll be back for a quick chat at the end of the interview.
Speaker 1: This is the self publishing show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Tony Park, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show, joining us from Africa, I think probably South Africa, Tony, is that right?
Tony Park: Correct. Yes. South Africa on the edge of the Kruger National Park in South Africa.
James Blatch: Wow, what a fabulous place. I have been there a long time ago in 1990 I think I went. But yeah, we go to Safari Parks in the UK and I didn't realise until I got there, Krueger is the size of Wales. It's a huge area.
Tony Park: Yeah, it's absolutely huge. And that's what blows a lot of people away when they first visit. Just the sheer scale of the place.
James Blatch: Yeah, I think we spent three days in the whales, by the way, as a country in the United Kingdom. People may be wondering in America if I meant an actual blue whale or something. Yeah, it is incredible. And I treasure the time I spent in that part of the world. It is amazing.
So Tony, I think you're probably Australian by birth, is that what I read in your notes?
Tony Park: Yes. I'm from Australia originally. Yeah, I'm not from South Africa. My wife and I came here for a holiday many years ago and just got hooked on the place and kept coming back.
James Blatch: Great. We are having the odd snag with the audio and video, but we're going to press on and see how we get on with it and for now we might be able to tidy it up in the edit. So Tony, let me ask you straight away about your books then.
So landscape and the region have formed a big part of it. Just tell us about the books you've written and the series you write.
Tony Park: Yeah, yeah. So I've written 21 novels said in Africa. They're all thrillers, generally Southern Africa. And that reflects my passion for this part of the world initially as a tourist. And now after my books were first commercially published by Pam McMillan, I still had a day job for a number of years, probably after I've written about 10 novels, I was in a position to write full-time, but also by then my wife and I had got into a routine where we were living half a year in Australia, our home country and the other half in Africa. So the place for me, the continent of Africa, and in particular the southern part of Africa, is integral to my books. They're all thrillers said in Southern Africa. And I think my readership base, if I could categorise it around the world, is often people like yourself who have maybe visited Africa or Southern Africa and safari and liked it, but certainly expatriate Southern Africans living in the us, uk, Australia, who have moved for very good reasons but still miss the continent. And there are a lot of my readers, interestingly enough that I have corresponded with who may have never visited this continent.
James Blatch: I think South Africa, in your case, the region, the setting is an integral part of your writing, right?
Tony Park: Yeah, absolutely. So I've written 21 novels, thrillers all set in Southern Africa, and that reflects my journey from being a tourist. And then I was lucky enough to get commercially published through Pam McMillan Australia and then got a kind of a gig to write the Africa books because a large part of my audience is maybe people like yourself who visited Africa on a safari holiday and liked it. But also a big part of my audience is the Southern African diaspora, people who have lived in Africa who've now maybe moved to Australia or the UK or US for various reasons, but miss their homeland and there's a hunger to be reminded of that. And then there's also a large part of my readership base I've come across through correspondence who will just read anything said in Africa, any novel Wilber Smith novel or old writer haggard novels or John Gordon Davis, they're just fascinated by the continent. It's almost like a sub genre in itself. And I'm writing thrillers set in Southern Africa.
James Blatch: Yeah, okay. Well we'll talk about the books a bit more specifically in a moment, but
I'm interested in how you got into writing, Tony, was that your professional background or you said you had another job?
Tony Park: Yeah, I was one of these little kids that all they wanted to do in life was write a book and particularly a novel and whenever, what do you want to say? I want to write a book. They pat you on the head and say, very nice. Why don't you get a real job like being a plumber or a diesel mechanic? I have three land rovers, I should have been a diesel mechanic sometimes I think. But this isn't the only thing I ever wanted to do. And quite frankly, I was rubbish at things like maths and science when I was growing up. So I kind of pinned my hopes on writing in some form. And I did start work. I worked for a number of years as a journalist on local newspapers in Australia and the uk. I moved into public relations, which again was writing with the written word, but there was always this desire within me to write.
And it took a number of years until I was into my thirties when I convinced my wife that it would be a good idea for me to quit work and try and write a book. And to my surprise, she said yes. And to cut a long story short, I failed with the first novel, although interestingly enough, it was a novel set in Australia and it was set in the outback. I made the rookie era of thinking, I'll write a book that other people overseas will want to read about Australia. And I said it in the Outback, which is quite interesting. I'd never been to the Outback. So I've learned some very big lessons about place very early on. That's not a good idea to just write something because you think other people want to read it, but to write something that you are interested in and passionate in. And it was after my third trip as a tourist to Africa on an extended visit that I wrote a novel set on a tour through Africa and that got published and a lot of that was due to place,
James Blatch: So your writing got a faltering start I suppose you'd say.
And then the thriller series, which I can see on Amazon here, African Sky I think is one of them. Is that book one?
Tony Park: Yeah, I've got a couple of series. So there's a series set in Zimbabwe, African Sky and African Dawn, and then I have a couple of fairly strong female characters, one called Sonya Kurtz, she's in four books starting with the Delta fact five books, sorry. And another she, she's a mercenary, a private military contractor who applies her trade around Africa. And then there's another series with a female detective, Sonny Van Rensburg, a South African detective, and she's a subject of a number of books. Again, all in the common thing is the two common things in them is they're all set in Southern Africa and they're all tend to have an environmental angle, often looking at things like the illegal trade in wildlife, poaching in its various forms on the African continent, which is a huge problem over here. So that's a common thread to them.
James Blatch: That's interesting. You've got a female leads, this is something I'm doing with my fourth book, which is a thriller spy book and when it people do raise an eyebrow and sometimes just because audience expectation,
My audience is probably 55 plus males generally, but I felt really strongly that I wanted a female lead and I think it's absolutely the right thing to do for the time and place that I'm writing and in the seventies, but how have you found it?
Tony Park: Yeah, look, I think they've raised some very good points there. I didn't know who my audience was when I started writing. I didn't, I'm told the majority of my audience is probably is women. Certainly that's the majority of the feedback that I get, but certainly it wouldn't bet be a higher majority. I think it's one of those things that write about what you know, but write the sort of books you want to write and the sort of books you like to read. I was always a big fan of Ken Follett who has often had a strong female lead character in the book and I don't have to look too far to get real life inspiration for this. I do a bit of nonfiction as well too. I wrote a book with a retired South African general major general Johan Ster last year called Rhino War, which is I was ghostwriting his memoir.
He had anti-poaching in the Kruger Park and the fight against rhino poaching in the Kruger Park is carried out by South African National Parks Rangers, a large proportion of whom are women who are in combat. So while militaries in the US and the UK and Australia were agonising over this idea of should women be in frontline combat roles or not, it's been happening here in Africa for years. And so I see real life inspiration, but I think my female readers tend to like those series, the males like it. I served in the Australian army for a number of years. I was in Afghanistan and I served with an SAS guy over there and he gave me some good feedback. He said, I wasn't sure when you started writing this book with a female lead character, a private military contractor. But then I started to enjoy it and I do know some female military contractors and he said if she's based on a real person, you have her phone number. So that was some good
James Blatch: Feedback. A typical SAS bloke. Yeah,
Tony Park: Exactly. Exactly.
James Blatch: I mean the poaching thing, I think we should probably just explain and talk about that a little bit of how big an issue it is and how violent an issue it is. And I think the moment it dawned on me was not actually in that 1990 trip, although I spent quite a lot of time in South Africa that year, but more recently in 2013 I think something like that. I worked in Africa doing some filming and I was in Nairobi and I passed two war memorials, what I thought were war memorials. They looked like war memorials with lists of names on them with the dates that the people died and they were the force fighting, poaching, and sometimes there'd be the same day and four names. And you just try to imagine the catastrophic level of violence and ruthlessness that the poachers have and that the army or the armed forces, whatever sort of branch it is of the forces in the countries are up against. And that's something obviously you are bringing into your stories.
Tony Park: Yeah, it goes very much to place as well too because there's two things hit you I think these days when you go on safari number one, if it's the first time safari, you're kind of blown away by the majesty and the beauty of wildlife in its natural settings. And then almost in the same breath of the same day, you'll see guys and girls in camouflage uniforms carrying assault rifles and you say, well, what are they here for? And you start to learn about it. The illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products is amongst the top five organised crimes in the world by value. So it is up there with drugs, people smuggling, and the illegal arms trade a wildlife crime is enormous. And to put some quick values on it, rhino horn is worth more per kilo than gold diamonds or cocaine. It's one of the most valuable commodities in the world and it's used in traditional Chinese medicine, certain Asian countries, particularly Vietnam.
And it's also just used as, it's like a status symbol thing as well. The ivory trade has been very big in the past. My latest book vendetta is actually starts off on the coast of South African deals with the practise of shark finning. So a hundred million sharks killed each year, not for their flesh but just for their fin. And it gives rise to some very abhorrent practises including finning where an unscrupulous fishermen more catch a shark, chop off the fin and just throw the sharks still alive in the water to drown. I'm sorry if that's offensive, but that is a real life practise because it's all based on money. Andre, I've written a book about plant smuggling, James. I mean there are certain species of African SCAs, these wonderful Jurassic era plants that look like a cross between a pine tree and a big fern that are actually the most endangered living organisms on this continent of Africa.
And they also command a huge amount of money on the illegal market. This is a market fueled by nice people in sensible shoes with nice gardens around the world. So whether it's plants, whether it's sharks, whether it's rhinos, whether it's elephants for their ivory, the list goes. I've done books about vultures being killed for the use. They're used in traditional medicine here and I'm working on a book about penguin. So yeah, it's huge. It gives you a setting here in Africa that has this contrast, as I said, between amazing natural beauty, yet you're also in the midst of a war, if you want to call it that. I mean I hear the South African national parks helicopter often, particularly on full moon nights because that's the favourite time of poachers and I've worked that into novels in the past because that's the reality of where we live here.
James Blatch: Wow is quite some the market for the shark fin stuff and the RiNo horn, is this still China, places like that?
Tony Park: Yeah. What's happened is it's really interesting. Markets change and demand changes over time. A lot of RiNo horn, funnily enough used to go to the Horn of Africa to Yemen back in the sixties and seventies where it was actually used. Rhino horn was used to make ornamental dagger handle, and that market dried up certainly because of all of the unrest and civil war going on in Yemen in the Asian sphere. What's happened is these things, they come in phases. Elephants used to be killed by white colonial settlers in Africa to make things like billion balls and pianos. Now clearly no child would want to learn the piano today if they knew an elephant had to be killed to make it. So demand changes and standards change and norms change. China is not necessarily a big market for some of these products, but you can look at a case in point in Vietnam, which obviously struggled for many years during decades of warfare against the French and the Americans and was a very poor country for a number of years, but now has emerged as a bit of a tiger economy.
And Vietnam has a high ethnic Chinese population who now at last have enough money to afford like rhino horn or perhaps carved ivory figurines and things. And so while people in mainland China might've moved on from that, there are emerging economies for these products that all of a sudden have a bit of wealth. And there's been this kind of traditional pricing of products like this in traditional medicine. It's not just Asia within Africa. As I said, things like vultures, a cure for use in traditional medicine. And it's something I've explored too in my second last novel blood trail, which is all about beliefs and traditional medicine and traditional here because they do have an impact on wildlife, certain plants and certain animals are used in traditional vessel. And then you start examining belief systems and it can be very easy to sort of point the finger in people and say, oh, that's nonsense.
If you look into all of our belief systems, we all have strong beliefs and quite often people in what they call high risk, high reward situations will fall back on religion and superstition and belief. So just as some Christian people might carry a St Christopher medal or have a lucky talisman if they're an airman or a soldier or a sailor, poachers here will go to a traditional healer and they will pay money for medicines or potions that they believe will increase their chance of having a successful hunt for a rhino and will also make them invisible or impervious to bullets. And it's really interesting, you can say, well, that's nonsense. But then as I say, there are no atheists in foxholes and people turn to things like superstition religion when the stakes are high. And that can go into sort of a setting and mindset as well too when you're trying to describe characters and their motivations.
James Blatch: Yeah. So you are deep into this geography, this part of the world, this culture. And in your books obviously feature it heavily.
Do you use it as part of the marketing as well, or would you find that limiting? Do you want your books to be read by a wider thriller audience?
Tony Park: Yeah, that's a really, really good question. Yes and no to both. I would like to have a wide audience, but I have to accept that. And I think this is an important thing is when you look at place, if you choose to stake your novel firmly, wholly, and solely or squarely in a particular place or time, that could be the hook. That could be what makes people buy it. And I have to accept that, that probably the majority of the people that buy my books do so because they're said in Africa. Sure, I'd like to broaden that if I can, and I try and broaden it by mixing up some of the locations and some of the subject matter. So I guess it's like writing in any particular genre. If you're writing in romance or you're writing in horror or sci-fi, there's almost a bit of a contract I find to it.
And that's what I quite often say, people don't be scared of. That place could be the reason someone buys this book. And it's almost like you are signing up to a little contract with the reader and part of that contract is they expect to be taken to that place, whether it's you're into sort of Nordic crime and you want to be taken to that part of the world or you like a hard bitten New York City detective or it's a UK crime novel, it's part of the contract I think. So it's something to, I think it can be embraced. Yeah.
James Blatch: Have you come across any, because you weren't brought up as a little boy in that part of the world and your family don't go back a couple of generations there.
Do you have to work a bit harder at making sure it's authentic?
Tony Park: Yeah, you absolutely do a hundred percent. And as I said, particularly as a foreigner, write about somewhere different. But that again is not something to be scared of. It is important to get it right and it's important to get your descriptions of place in context, which is something I'm really keen on getting across to writers. I mentor some people through the writers, through the Australian Society of Authors, and it comes back I think to how I research anything in a book. Research is important, all of this, sure, it's nice if you can visit a place that you want to write about maybe on holiday or it's an excuse for your next holiday, I want to set part of my book in this area. That's great. And that's obviously gold standard to a certain extent, but even if you go visit somewhere, it's not enough just to look around and try and hope that you soak it up because place goes to things like not just the physical landscape or the built environment, it goes to the history of the place, it goes to the politics of the place, it goes to the racial and cultural mixture of a place, the people of the place and also things like the wildlife and the natural environment.
And often you've got what, which you always have to do in my view, is talk to people about the place you're riding, talk to people from the place that you're writing about because just to Google it or will never give you enough to make it real and will quite possibly set yourself up for a fall. So I talk to people and particularly if I'm in the odd sort of occasion where I have to write about a place that I haven't been, the best source of research is to actually find someone who's living there or lived there recently and just ask them a few pertinent sort of questions about the area. I can give you an example if you like, of a place I wrote about, I've never been to the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire before that the Belgian Congo. It is this huge country in the middle of Africa that has about every ecosystem.
I would just love to go there as a tourist, but I can't because it's sort of been in a continual state of war for about the last 40 or 50 years. And when you talk about rangers in action, yeah, I mean National Parks Rangers are regularly in gunfights and unfortunately killed in action in that part of the country because one of its key attractions is the mountain gorillas, the endangered mountain gorillas and the mountain gorillas happen to live in the most volatile part of that volatile country. So I want to set a book there. Now, I have seen the out in gorillas across the border in neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda, so I could describe gorillas and I could describe the habitat, but I wanted to set part of this book in the town of Goma in the drc, and I'd never been there. So what I did, and this is the way I research a lot of stuff.
If I need to know something, I stalk people. There's no nice way to say it. I get online and I look for someone who's an expert in a field or live somewhere, and I sent him a little, hi, my name's Tony Park. I'm an author write novel set in Africa. Could I ask you a few questions about your trade or your profession or where you live? And I found a very intrepid lady based in Australia who worked as she was a child of missionaries who growing up in what was the Belgian Congo then and then Zaire. And she goes back every year to support the people of the village where she grew up. She's an incredibly intrepid lady, brave lady, and spent a lot of time in Goma. So I just started asking her a question, what's the first thing you notice when you go into Goma?
She says, you notice the big PRI billboard because we might pronounce it primus, it's P-R-I-M-U-S. But anyway, it's pronounced primo. It's very, very important. You have to pronounce it locally. And I worked that I could work that in automatically. I'm thinking places is about how people speak. It's their pronunciations, it's their vernacular and their tone. And you notice the Prius billboards first thing you say when you're driving to town. Great. Okay, what do people eat and drink? Oh, Guinness and Coca-Cola. And I said, so both Guinness and Coca-Cola are popular drink set. She says no together, they mix them, they drink. The most popular drink is to mix. I can only imagine
James Blatch: How long it takes for Guinness to settle after you've tipped some coke into it.
Tony Park: And she says the roads are terrible mainly because they're made of lava. So every time the volcano erupts, these black lava blows and solidifies and it's like really bumpy tarmac. And that's what the roads are made out. Lots of people have these really elaborate homemade wooden scooters. So I'm frantically making notes. I put all this in a book. I write a book called Safari. It has about hunters and poachers and has a few scenes setting government. So Stephen King has this wonderful saying on writing, which is to me the best book I've ever written about writing. And that is a few well chosen details will stand for the rest, whether you're describing a place or a person or dress. And I live by that, a few well chosen details. So I run a little scene with someone in a bar ordering a Prius, no, it's pronounced pre Moose says the bartender.
And he's turned right at the big billboard to get to this bar and outside there's a elaborate wooden scooter going down the black bumpy tar road, which is actually a lava flow. And he's, the orders is Guinness and Coca-Cola. Well, I have had so many people, James, who've emailed me over the years saying, when were you in Goma? I was there. And I have to confess that unfortunately with all the travels I've done in Africa, I've never been there. Now I wouldn't have got any of that from, I wouldn't have gone any of that from watching a doc or documentary or something. In the DRCI rely on people. And then when I write my novels, I always have a few friends who will read them, I guess you would almost call it these days, like a sensitivity check to make sure I'm getting stuff right.
Particularly when it comes to writing characters from different cultural backgrounds. The way they speak, the way they address each other is incredibly important, but they're also checking my locations and things as well in accuracy. And that's why place comes to people and language and culture and forms of address. I made a mistake that was picked up before. It was published in a book called African Dawn said in Zimbabwe where I got out my Shauna is one of the two languages, Shauna. At end I got out my Shauna phrase book and it said, good morning is, or hello, the word velo is kja. So I've got a younger female character addressing an older male character by Kja and Joseph, whatever. Anyway, so I was lucky enough to have a Zimbabwean friend of mine, duck woodsy, she lives in, she's an actress who lives in Australian. I've met her, I said, oh, do you want to read this before it gets published? And she did. And she's going, you cannot do that. You cannot have someone younger than an older person saying KG Joseph. You have to say, man, Barbara, which is a formal way of saying, good morning, good morning, father. Now I would never have known that as a white Australian guy unless I had help. So yeah, research people are the best form of research, I guess is the most important thing that I've learned or what works for me.
James Blatch: Yeah, I completely agree with actually even before you came up with that Stephen King quote I was thinking about because my books are set in the sixties, and so that's my geography, that's my landscape that I need to research. And you can do. So you could read, there's loads of books written that era and you can watch stuff, but you are absolutely right in that king quote is brilliant because I had two conversations with ex-colleagues of my dad who flew alongside him and it wasn't the big stuff. This is what the squadrons were in, and this is how we organised it was the small little bits when one of them told me that they used to turn the oxygen off on the way back in their Vulcan and have a smoke. They'd take the aircraft down to 10 below 10,000 feet. I mean you can't imagine it today in a military aircraft.
And he also mentioned that in the bar in the evening. I said, Ian, did you speak to the said no. Senior officers tend to be in one part of the bar, the NCOs, not NCOs, who wouldn't be in the same bar, but the admin and the air traffickers were in one part and then the pilots were another part. And those small details about how they had a drink together in the evening, which was not, that's the stuff that suddenly is the reason why I get emails like you do saying, did you serve in the sixties? Because that was, you absolutely nailed how the mess was. And yeah, I think it's a good lesson for anybody writing either geography or history. It's almost the same type of thing, isn't it? Getting that environment right.
It's those conversations you have and the little bits of stuff in between, the very specific detail of their lives and the big picture are these little ordinary moments they wouldn't think to tell you unless you have a conversation with them.
Tony Park: Absolutely, a hundred percent. And the other thing I do is I research retrospectively. So I write a first I'm a pants, the stick of the pants thing. And so I just write the story and if I don't know something about a location or a place or a profession or a piece of kit or whatever, I just write a little note check to myself. And so I go through, I do my first draught, do my first check. And so when I go hunting for people or stalking people to help me with my research or getting them to check sections, I asking them, tell me everything about your job or everything there is to know about flying a helicopter or everything there is to know about the DRC. I'm just asking for some, I've got a good idea of the sorts of detail I need and it's up to them to help me fill in that detail so I'm not wasting their time either.
James Blatch: Well, I mean the scenery in the background is an incredible one. And your covers are fantastic by the way, Tanya looking at it. And we've had Peter Rim's daughter, Heather, the stretch on the show before You must know Peter Rim's books. I dunno whether I think you definitely have a crossover looking at Amazon's also bought. She definitely have a crossover in audience. Absolutely.
Tony Park: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
James Blatch: Yeah, definitely cross. You mentioned Wilber Smith as well. You touched on this and I do want to ask you about it again, that you and I are both white European, obviously original descent or Australian now. And there is a bit of a danger of writing in because we've had so long, in my lifetime, so long of looking at Africa through colonial eyes, the happy valleys type image of the continent. And that does get picked up a lot now where you need to be a bit more authentic and understanding what we call the real Africa, whatever you want to describe it. But you alluded to this, but this is something clearly I'm sure keen in your mind when you're writing.
Tony Park: Yeah, it is very much so. It's aware that people can be criticised for trying to write as a particular character or appropriate character, but you kind of damned if you doing, damned if you don't because at the same time, I don't want to, and nor should I write a book said in Africa that's just populated by white middle-aged male characters because it's not real. It's not reflective of society. The other thing too is South Africa in particular, Southern Africa in general, but South Africa in particular is changing. It's a good market for books publishers, there is a very strong publishing industry here in South Africa and are hunger for books as people's living standards improve and people have more leisure time and more disposable income. And so publishers here are looking at focusing on African writers, black African writers moving into what would've been traditionally genres filmed by European, by white people.
So romance and thrillers and historical fiction and temporary contemporary crime and things like that. So I think you've got to do it and I think it's like anything really, I don't get too head up about it because for me, well I do, I take it very seriously because I would put the same effort into having someone like my friend Taku. I've got another friend here, Tamara in South Africa, she reads my novels, she works at the local airport and I quite often get her to check my stuff just as I would get my former sniper friend to check my gun scenes and just as I would get my afri friend from Joburg Andile to read the books to check all my AFRI words that I've used in Afrikaans, cultural references and things like that. So I think the same goes for I treat writing culture the same as I would write an action scene or a flying scene if you are in that business as well, just to get another fresh set of eyes, but a set of eyes that will read it sensitively as well.
And when I did write this book a couple of books ago called Blood Trail, which does deal very heavily on people's mindset and traditional beliefs, I was a hundred percent aware that this was a really tricky topic to tackle to do it sensitively and believably. It was really interesting because my publisher had a staff member who was also a traditional healer that was like her other job and she was able to read it from a perspective to do a sensitivity check on it to make sure that not only was my language correct and my settings and things like that, but the whole idea of the story was hopefully correct as well too. So yeah, I think it's something to be as writers, we have to be aware about that. And when you write about another culture or characters from a different background, again, it's the importance of talking to people.
But also something I talk about is getting your research right in context so it's believable. If, I'll give you another example. I read a crime novel novel a while ago by a very well-known big name crime. I'm certainly not going to say who it was, but there was a scene set in Sydney, which is my hometown, and it was only quite a short scene, but was the lead character was going to visit Sydney and had an interaction with the police detective in Sydney. And this police detective was going to meet the hero of the story at a yacht club after work where he was taking his son sailing. Now this police detective lived in a suburb called Brighton, which I think is Brighton LA Sands as we were referred to in the south of Sydney, which is on Botany Bay. And there's plenty of sailing goes on there, but for some reason he was taking his 16 year old son sailing at Rose Bay at the Royal Sydney Yacht Club, which is probably the most expensive club in Sydney in the most expensive area. So how this detective's sergeant was able to afford a yacht, I mean, I dunno, any coppers of sailing, I'm sure there are some, I'm sure he was an Australian detective, he'd be more likely to take his son to footy training afterward, but for some reason he left his beachside suburb to go to the most expensive Marine or in Sydney to go sailing with his son. I thought
James Blatch: They just Googled and they Googled yacht clubs in Sydney, that one to come up. And they'd used to
Tony Park: Or probably been there, thought, this is really nice, I'm going to put this in my book, but if you take that out of content, everything was kind of, and it jarred. And one of the things I say, but look, it's a little bit daunting, but I think it's good to keep this in the back of your mind and we've all done it and we probably all know it, is you only need to read one thing that's wrong in the story and it can completely undermine the whole rest of the story. Then you think if the author's got that wrong, what else have they got wrong? And so I think getting a fresh set of eyes, not just a fresh set of eyes, but somebody that lives or knows that area or time just as you mentioned you've done as well too, is the best way, the best to do it and to realise is that place is not just what it looks like, it's the history, the politics, the culture, the people, and all of those things go to make the place.
And I think the other thing too is place is a handy thing for me because a lot of what I write, or if I'm setting a novel in a country like Zimbabwe, for example, most of your listeners, many of your listeners would know and has had chaotic politics for decades and a lot of economic strife and political strife and went through decades of war in the sixties and seventies. You can't write a novel set in Zimbabwe without touching on things like the country's recent history and its politics because they actually affect every single thing that happens every single day, often in an adverse way. And to describe that can be difficult. And indeed you probably don't want to put in great chunks of history in your Manus, you describe the state of people's dress or the buildings. You can show Rita that a country is doing it tough, that it's perhaps suffering through poverty or neglect rather than just saying it was a very poor country or it is a very poor country and people are doing it tough. And so I think what I tell people is when you're describing places, don't just describe but engage those other two key elements of writing, dialogue and narrative as well too. So the way people talk and what they're talking about can set the scene for you in your particular place. Yeah.
James Blatch: Let's, Tony, before we go, I want to ask you a bit about your marketing. But first of all,
What is your publishing position? You say you have been traditionally published, but you also self-publish.
Tony Park: Yeah, so my situation now is I've got commercial publishing contracts with Pam Mill in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and everywhere else around the world I self-publish. So I'm addicted to shows like Self-Publishing show and other various podcasts because now we find ourselves as market in the business of marketing, not just of writing. I had been traditionally published in the UK and US didn't do great, but I was able to get those rights back. And I'm telling people that I mentor today, there has never been a more exciting time to be an author than right now. But it does put the onus on us to become our own masters when it comes to how we use our rights, how we publish, where we publish, and how we market our books. And I think the other thing I love about this space is people like yourselves is the way that we can talk with each other and we can help each other on this journey. So yeah, I'm in the business and now trying to market myself internationally.
James Blatch: And is that problematic sometimes with it being traditionally published in other territories IE covers and stuff like that? Do they have one cover that you don't have rights to and so on?
Tony Park: Yeah, exactly. So I have to get my own covers done. That's part of the deal. So I have a cover designer here in South Africa and she does my uk, US and EU covers. So I look after that market and they have to be different from the Pam McMillan covers in South Africa or Australia. So we all know whose version's GI around. Well, there's an annoying thing that's happening on Amazon at the moment where Amazon's robots will pick up the fact that my books have been published by a different publisher elsewhere in the world and I'm forever having to send off copies of letters from my commercial publishers to Amazon via my ebook distributor to say, no, I'm allowed to do this. So it it's kind of a good thing. It works. There's some robot there trying to pick up fraud and stuff like that and piracy.
But yeah, so I do my own type setting. I use Vellum to do my own type setting of my own additions. I have my own designer to do my covers. And yes, I'm in the business of marketing through social media organically learning about advertising newsletter as much as I can. I'm driving my wife crazy at the moment because a social media consultant I've been paying has been telling me to do more reels. I'm lucky I live in a very content rich part of the world here in Africa and people do scrolling through endless reels of lines and elephants from the prowl and things like that. And my wife is currently going crazy listening to me play the same piece of music 15 times over and over while I edit my reels. I
James Blatch: Have that.
Tony Park: It's worked though because I'm old, right? I'm 50, well say old, I'm 59, I'm not that old. But I was a Facebook user predominantly, and I was quite set in my ways. I think as a journalist, I think I know that social media, you need to be the news, not the ad. Most of the time I know about writing content and stuff like that, but the consultant who I paid said do more reels and I'm like, what's the real? And I had to learn. And once I went down that path, I've seen particularly my Instagram following has jumped maybe 17, 20% in the last month or so since I've just been getting it on the real bandwagon.
James Blatch: I sympathise all those pain points I have as well. But yeah, trying to do everything. TikTok is my one as well. And yeah, my wife barked at me yesterday. Why are you playing that same bit of music over and over again? So I'm editing and it is tedious, but you're going backwards and forwards getting the cuts right. Great. Well, Tony, it's been really, really fun talking to you and brings back some memories of my brief time in Africa, but it's an extraordinary continent and I love your enthusiasm for it and I think probably being an outsider has made that put you in a better position to retain that lifelong enthusiasm for the place where the truth is, we kind of ignore the stuff on our own doorstep. We get used to it. It's only when my friends come over from the states and I give 'em a trip around Cambridge or London, I suddenly realise, gosh, this is a really nice city because you just ignore it, but you are there as somebody appears to me, endless enthusiasm and respect for the place.
Tony Park: I think it's someone I once said, I come to Ital with the zealousness of a convert. Yes,
James Blatch: Exactly.
Tony Park: Same thing. It's an inspirational part of the world. The funny thing is there's lots of problems here with crime and corruption and poaching, but it's the individual stories of the individual people, the foot soldiers, the rangers, the researchers, the conservationists who sometimes literally put in their life on the line to protect endangered species. And that doesn't happen everywhere around the world. So there's no shortage in material for the thrillers. I do love it. And I would say to anyone listening, drop me a line through my website through tony park.net if you've got a question for your research about Africa for your book, I'd be happy to chat to you.
James Blatch: That's a great offer, Tony, thank you very much indeed.
Tony Park: It's been absolutely pleasure. Thank you, James.
Speaker 1: This is the Self-Publishing show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Now I've pointed out this mark on my hoodie. I'm very aware of it. I think it's oil. Think it's oil. Looks like it might be oil.
Mark Dawson: It could be oil, yeah. It's like when I was going to say when you change the carre on your car, but obviously you wouldn't the way you don't have cardboards anymore and you wouldn't change it. So
James Blatch: I definitely wouldn't, I do do a little bit of bicycle maintenance. That's true. Like Kafka or was that motorcycle maintenance?
Mark Dawson: It's not Kafka, but yeah, I know the art of know what you mean. It wasn't Kafka. It's definitely not Kafka. No, no. Anyway, anyway, I'm not saying that to chat, but I mean if anyone is still listening, of course no one is listening. It's just us now. But interestingly enough, I was on the television on Monday. Oh,
James Blatch: You were?
Mark Dawson: Yes. Well, I wasn't on the television. My book was, so I had Chris McCausland or is a scout comic in the comic comedian for our American friends in the uk who is a very funny man. And he tweeted at me or exed me, whatever you want to call it a while ago, saying he loved my books, which is very kind completely. No one paid him to say that he found them in the shops and I think he's blind. So he listens to them on audiobook and he came across them, really likes them. Anyway, I got an email maybe a month ago from Welbeck saying that they'd been approached by the producers of a TV show called Between the Covers, which runs on BBC two in the uk and Chris was going to be a guest. And as a part of that show, they get the chance to talk about a book that they particularly like.
And Chris had said he was going to talk about The Cleaner and the Milton series, which was very nice of him. Again, not paid for, no one asked him to do it, he just likes the books. So on Monday he went on this LE at seven o'clock and I was picking Freyer up from school about 7 25 and looked watched on iCloud on my phone and he did for about 30 seconds. I haven't spoke about the Cleaner, which was great. Now the interesting thing is I just discovered this morning, I just kind of check in the reports to see how books are sold this week. And I know it's a big spike on the Cleaner and it went from, it was, which is quite low for me, I'm not been doing much with it. Was it 7,000 in the store in the UK store and then it jumped to 50 and so I checked it out and it can only be, this is the ebook, so print will also have gone up. I haven't checked that yet, but the only reason for that I haven't done nothing else is the fact that it's been on this show. And it's just interesting. As I mentioned before on the podcast and at conferences, I was on breakfast news five, six years ago and I didn't see any bump at all, literally nothing. So I've always been kind of sceptical about weather. I
James Blatch: Suppose there's a subtle difference between the author being interviewed. Yes, I agree. And basically that's a piece of self-promotion. And then somebody completely independent say, God, I love this book. This is a great book. You should read it. Yeah, I
Mark Dawson: Absolutely agree. But yeah, I kind of looked on Monday I actually had a BookBub and also this went on TV and it was looking at the royalties estimator on Amazon is that there is a massive bump into
James Blatch: A good day.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, several thousand pounds more than I normally would. And it can only be because Chris was kind enough to go on and tell everyone how much he likes the cleaner. So yeah, there you go a bit. Did you
James Blatch: Like your fattest cigar in the evening and lie? Lie back in your leather chair?
Mark Dawson: Yeah, not exactly, but yeah, it was just interesting. Generally my position has always been don't bother with that kind of thing. It doesn't really make any difference. But has it made enough difference in terms of the cost of hiring a pr? No, probably not, because we've tried that before and it's expensive and I think the results are questionable should we say. But for this kind of organic, wasn't asked, did it anyway, and then saw a bump. Yeah, quite impressed. I think I should probably send Chris a bottle of whiskey or something and say thank you certainly how
James Blatch: That well send him a bunch of codes for your other books.
Mark Dawson: Well, yes, I could do that. I, yeah, absolutely. But yeah, I
James Blatch: Never know what do with all those codes you get from.
Mark Dawson: No, it's true. Same. Same. Just thought it was worth mention. I might look into a bit more impressed a little post in the Facebook group at some point, but I thought that was an interesting little aside.
James Blatch: No, it was great. And there's some great publicity shots of him holding up the book. Yeah, well done. Picked out your book obviously likes it. You can obviously write a book.
Mark Dawson: I think I'm all right. Yeah, I've done it a little bit now. A few times.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: Just to, again, a funny anecdote, I was in there, got back from America, had a cuddle with the kids and something came up. What was it? Oh, I remember. Again, we're going massive off tangent here, but given it's just us here, it doesn't
James Blatch: Matter. We're the only two people on this now.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. So my daughter, Freya, has been invited to an English project and the project, because she's good at English and the project they're supposed to do is they have to plan a book launch. Completely random. That's funny because that's kind of what I do. And just saying to Freya last night, look, if your teacher, after looking at your project says, doesn't agree that she says you need to do a press release, and you say you don't just tell her that you asked your dad and your dad has sold 6 million books. And she misheard me and said, you've written 6 million books. And I'm like, no, I've written about 50 books. 6 million books would be, yeah, probably not possible. Although watch this face A and all that. Give me a couple of years. I'll get that.
James Blatch: Don't say that. Don't even joke. Because they'll get death threats
Mark Dawson: Now. I know, I know. Yeah.
James Blatch: Anyway. Alright, well look, I think we're probably down just to the one. I mean, lots of people come up to me and they did in the conference saying, I love the banter. I love the banter. That's what I listened to. So the odd person says, I don't like it when you bent, but most people do.
Mark Dawson: Do they sound like that?
James Blatch: They sound exactly like that even though they've typed it into Twitter or something. Okay. That's it. Thank you very much indeed. Everybody helps put this podcast together. Thank you to our Patreon supporters, particularly those who joined us this week, and Tony Park, especially our interviewee. That is it for us for this week. Don't forget, launchpad closes on Wednesday, self-publishing formula com slash launchpad. And don't forget, you could get a hoodie if you sign up for the live show. The next 10 people who sign up are going to get one of these beautiful scarlet hoodies sent to them. Self-publishing formula com slash sps live. All that remains for me to say is it's a goodbye from him
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
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