Sunday, 19 July 2015

From the outback to The Outback

When I returned to the UK after three years of hostel hopping, I found the country languishing in recession. It took me three months to find myself a job and in order to fill these long days as a member of the vast unemployed, I began transcribing some of my hand scribbled travel journals onto the computer. I worked long and hard and dreamed of one day handing a bound and printed copy of the result to my  then girlfriend (now wife), Katie, as a present.

When a job eventually came, the writing seemed to fall onto the back burner. Then one day, after a particularly nasty shift at the office (I worked in a call centre dealing with queries from job seeker's, mostly regarding the non-payment of their benefits) I decided I needed to escape. I had to get away. So when I got home from work I tried to imagine the one place in the world that I would rather be. The one place in the world that would make me happy. The image that I came up with was the outback. There is no feeling in the world like the one that you get on a clear night in the desert, with the entire universe spread out before you in HD clarity.

Although I was not in the financial position to return to this most beloved of places, that did not mean that I could not go there. I still had my imagination. That night I powered up my laptop and typed the first chapter of what would become my debut novel.

Of course, there is more to a story than just its setting. I needed a plot to go with it. Being new to writing fiction, I decided to stick to that tried and tested rule of writing about what you know. This brought me back to my time working on outback farms and one job in particular. For three weeks I had the dubious privilege of "stick picking". This was quite literally a job that involved walking up and down a field picking up sticks. Perhaps not the most conventional basis for a thriller, but I had my reasons. You see, back on this farm, there was one mystery for me that was unresolved.

My fellow stick pickers were all backpackers, but our boss was a local. To give him is due, although he was certainly a rogue, he appeared mostly harmless. I say mostly, because all of us were pretty sure that there was something he was not telling us. One of my friends on the farm had noticed that our boss smoked the most tightly rolled cigarettes that any of us had ever seen. A habit, that my friend insisted must have come from time spent in prison (tobacco is scarce and therefore used sparingly).

Old Smithy never did tell us whether he had ever "done time" or not, but he did get me thinking. He ultimately became the inspiration behind my novel's villain; Rhett Butler (irony fully intended and woven into the plot). What if an old farmer in charge of a group of young backpackers was hiding a dangerous secret? What if that secret were to get out? What lengths would the old man go to to protect it? And so The Outback was born.


Matt is an English backpacker in Australia. When he signs up to do 3 months of harvest work in the small town of Birribandi, he finds that drink, drugs and sex are just as easy to come by in the outback as they were on the coast. What he does not count on, is his new farm boss.

Rhett is a mean and miserable old Aussie who cares little for those in his charge and he treats the backpackers with the same disdain that he treats all things in life. Hoping to avoid trouble, Matt and his new friends vow to try and stay out of the old man’s way.

What these young travellers do not realise, is that Rhett is hiding a terrible secret and unless they can discover what that secret is, they may never escape the outback alive...

The Outback is currently on sale at $0.99/£0.99 for Kindle. It is also available in paperback.