Be Stafford

Bec Stafford has a Masters of Philosophy from the University of Queensland. She blogs and interviews for the Escape Club and The Spotlight Report.


Bec Stafford interviews Sydney-based author, Stephen Hart

Stephen hartWhen did you first conceptualise the roguish Pascal Bonenfant and how did he evolve, from your original vision to the character we know from The Unfortunate Deaths of Jonathon Wild (The Memoirs of Pascal Bonenfant Book 1)?

Pascal evolved a lot from his initial conception. I was trying not to write the sort of ‘middle class’ hero that appears all too often in fantasy novels. By working on his background –  a happy early childhood followed by the horror of the Parish orphanage and his falling into crime in the poverty-stricken streets of London – I hoped to avoid this.

A great deal of this evolution happened through writing. There are at least 30,000 words on the cutting-room floor – most of them about Pascal. I wrote scenes in the orphanage; the scene where he re-unites with his friend Todd after they had left the orphanage separately; a scene with him encountering the ghost of a murder victim; and a lot of scenes with Jack Sheppard including a whole sequence where he helped Sheppard escape from Newgate.

In the end, I decided this was all too much information for the reader and I chopped it all out and started the book with Sheppard’s execution. It made everything tighter and saved the reader a lot of effort.

The result of all this apparently wasted effort was that, in my head at least, Pascal was a fully developed character. In any given scene I had a pretty good idea of what his motivations would be and what about his past would be driving him.

The other thing that helped with the conception was writing parts of the book from Rose’s point of view. Originally, it was all Pascal’s narrative, but seeing him sometimes from the outside told us a lot more about his character. For example, there is a scene early on where a young thief tries to steal from Rose while they are out walking. Pascal is outraged that anyone would try and hurt her and he nearly kills the young man.

When it was told from Pascal’s point of view it was ‘maybe I shouldn’t have hit him so hard’. When I switched to POV to the gently brought-up Rose, the violence suddenly becomes shocking. So seeing Pascal through Rose’s eyes showed me more about him than just his own thoughts had done.

Hart_wildThe previous year, you released Cant “A Gentleman’s Guide”: The Language of Rogues in Georgian London. Were you writing your fiction and non-fiction concurrently as you researched for your Pascal Bonenfant work? Which was more satisfying to write and why?

I was working on the (I think) 5th draft of the novel when it occurred to me that I had the makings of a book sitting in the Cant section of the site (which I had built to keep a record of the thieves’ cant used in the novel)

I went with the conceit of a language handbook but for the Georgian underworld rather than a foreign country. I thought it would make a nice break from the heavy work of re-drafting. Naively, I thought I could knock it over pretty quickly. I was disabused of this notion in fairly short order.

The main problem I encountered was that lists of words are actually pretty boring. It wasn’t until I found the concept of Digressions – little snippets of historical information to put the Cant words into context – that it all came together. It did require a lot more work though. So although the Cant book came out first, it was written well after most of the work was done on Jonathan Wild.

There is a very different satisfaction to be had between a novel and a non-fiction work, so it is difficult to decide which was more satisfying. If I had to make a decision, I would probably vote for the Cant book because it is very different from most books available on the topic and many people have written to tell me how useful it has been. The novel is (I believe) a good story but there are an awful lot of good stories out there.

Stephen, you originally intended your website to be a storage space for your novel-related research. At what point did you realise it was something far bigger and of potential use to other people?

I installed Google Analytics on the site out of curiosity (I have a day job as a computer nerd) and was interested to see the growing number of visits to the site – particularly the Cant section. Moreover, people were spending a lot of time on the site so it became clear that was of some use to them.

I was not providing much in the way of new information – I was using sources most of which are available on the web to anyone – but I realised that what I had done is organised the data so that it was easy to access. This inspired me to add new sources as I came across them. I utilised my various nerd skills to put a lot of it into databases, making it even easier to use. It all got a bit out of hand.

The number of users has been growing steadily and last month around 2.000 people accessed the site with approximately 8,000 page views. It’s great to see it being used.

hart-cantYou’ve included a contact link so that researchers can get in touch with you for further information about 18th-century Britain. How much time do you dedicate to responding to your readership, and what are some of the most typical questions you receive?

People who contact me tend to fall into one of two categories – those who disconcertingly assume I am an expert on the 18th century and those who helpfully point out mistakes or provide additional information for the site.

The most popular part of the site is the section on Thieves’ Cant and people sometimes write to me for help identifying the meaning of cant terms they have come across. This section of the site was greatly enhanced by communications from Jonathan Green, probably the leading world expert on English slang. I was awed and grateful.

I had someone write for help in finding out where their scurrilous ancestor was hanged (we think it might have been somewhere near Kingston). Just the other day someone wrote to tell me that I had accidentally conflated two members of the crew of the Dread Pirate Roberts. The correspondent’s name is also Roberts – I am desperately trying to find out if she is a descendent!

I love hearing from people and make an effort always to respond. Usually we both manage to learn something in the process.

What are you working on now, and when can your readers expect the release of Book 2 of Pascal Bonenfant’s memoirs?

I have two projects going on simultaneously (much as I did for the Cant book and the later drafts Jonathan Wild). The first, with a working title of Calendar of Rogues is stories from the Newgate Calendar. The Calendar contains stories of Newgate rogues that were originally printed as pamphlets and hawked to passers-by. Often they were written by the Newgate Ordinary (the prison chaplain) and perported to be True Stories and criminals’ Last Words.

The veracity of these stories is dubious and the writing style usually both prolix and turgid but there are hidden nuggets within. I have been re-writing some of the stories to extract the interesting bits and trying to put them into some sort of context, much as I did with the Canting terms. In the book I will reveal the answers to such questions as why a Sheriff’s Officer would climb into a stage-coach with a duck in each pocket, and why a highwayman would lie down next to a dead chicken while a woman had a dry cow-pat crumbled over her head.

I hope to have my Rogues available by the end of this year.

hart-popishI am also working on the second volume of the Bonenfant Memoirs, entitled The Orphans of Lady Mattingham. The story concerns the eponymous lady who is mysteriously collecting orphans off the streets and shutting herself and them into her house, seeing no-one.

There will be supernatural themes as per the first book although a different set of monstrous beings including a kraken-like god of the deep and a sinister small birdlike creature with sharp teeth.

I am trying to develop the character of Rose. She is, after all, cleverer than Pascal and almost as stubborn although without the internal scars that sometimes lead him to violence. She will drive the resolution to the matter of the orphans.

This book won’t be ready until 2017, probably in the latter part of the year, so I’m afraid it will be a bit of a wait.

If you could go back in time to a particular time and place in 18th-century Britain, what would you choose and why?

An extremely tricky question. There are so many fascinating people I would like to meet including, but not limited to, engineers James Watt and Richard Trevithick, scientist Isaac Newton, writer Mary Wollstonecraft, illustrator and satirist William Hogarth, lexicographer Samuel Johnson – the list goes on and on. I think it is people rather than events that I would like to see.

To me, the greatest under-sung hero of the 18th century is Thomas Coram, the driving force behind the Foundling Hospital, who did so much for the destitute and abandoned children of London. In 1750, Handel arranged a benefit performance of his Messiah at the Hospital. Luminaries such as Hogarth (a great supporter of the institution) and others of the great and good would have been present.

So this performance must be my choice. I get to meet my hero, hopefully get to chat with Hogarth, and to listen to one of Handel’s greatest compositions performed by the man himself.


 Bio:

Stephen was born on the small island of Singapore in the mid-1950’s but soon convinced his parents to return to England. They lived there until Stephen was seven at which point, tired of the English weather, he convinced them that Australia would be more fun than West Bromwich. He was right and here the family remained.

After a spell at the Ku-ring-gai High School for the Sons and Daughters of Distressed Gentlefolk, he went to Sydney University and spent a lot of time playing Dungeons and Dragons and scraping through a degree in Archaeology in his spare time.

 The archaeology degree led him to the Middle East and he spent the first half of the 80’s in Jordan working at the British Institute of Archaeology. On his return he finished off a PhD but the siren call of actually getting paid for working made him leave academia and take a job with a company making computer games. Here he learned programming.

From computer games he undertook various IT jobs including such diverse subjects such as machine embroidery and racecourse totalizators. A brief attempt at running his own company brought the clear realisation that he couldn’t sell water in the Sahara so he joined a major Australian Telco where he has worked for the last 15 years.

He has always been interested in writing and is, at a distance of years, grateful to his mother for accidentally throwing out his early manuscripts. His writing became more focussed after he married, and was inspired by, author Pamela Freeman who helped him greatly with writing technique and nursed him through the O-God-Im-never-going-to-be-any-good moments.

He lives in Sydney with Pamela and their son. He has had no pets since the stick insect escaped into a tree and was never seen again. He is currently learning to play the saxophone. And writing.

 

Bec Stafford

Bec Stafford has a Masters of Philosophy from the University of Queensland. She also blogs and interviews for the Escape Club and edits content for The Spotlight Report.

SONY DSCStuart, I grew up reading your Dolly reviews as a teen and was always amused by your witticisms and exhortations that we should listen to cooler music (it was probably you who first got me into the Hoodoo Gurus). Since the 70s, you’ve written for a wide range of publications, including your Roadrunner mag at Adelaide Uni, Rave Magazine, Rolling Stone, and the Sydney Morning Herald. Your gigs as a publicist included work with such luminaries as The Cramps and The Clash and you’ve also worn the hat of band manager. Do you recall the early days fondly, and have your own personal musical tastes changed much since then?

Roadrunner was after I’d left Flinders Uni and not connected with it. I had edited Empire Times which was the Flinders Uni mag.
 
Of course I recall them fondly! What wasn’t to like? Looking back on four decades of writing about music I have cause to reflect on just how lucky I’ve been. OK, I can string a sentence together but I’ve also found myself in the right place and the right time. I also grew up in the last great age for music journalism – lots of wonderful publications to write for, good editors who cared about words and ideas, and the freedom to stretch out and – heaven forbid – be critical and not beholden to the pressures of record companies and their advertising spends. I don’t think my musical tastes have really changed all that much – I used to say that there was nothing wrong with loving Hank Williams and ABBA – at the same time. That’s still how I feel. I just look for music that moves me and I don’t really care where it comes from.  I listen to a crazy amount of new music – but also still listen to most of the music I grew up with. My love of English, Scottish and Irish folk music endures. I like Supertramp and ELO now more than I did then, and I’m not sure I still feel as passionately about Grand Funk Railroad  and Uriah Heep. I still worship the likes of Dylan, Springsteen, Presley and Sinatra.
 
coupe-Godinski_FrontPgYour biography of the legendary Michael Gudinski, ‘Gudinski: The Godfather of Australian Rock ‘n’ Roll’, is set for release at the end of this month. When did you first start thinking about writing this book and what’s the research and writing process been like?

After my book The Promoters was published in 2003 Michael told me how much he liked it. To date he’s bought 170 copies of it. He signs it and gives it to people. It was then that I started thinking about a book just on him. So I tried to convince Michael about a book for over a decade – and he says he’s turned down dozens of offers and proposals to have one written by or about him. I realized about 18 months ago that he was probably never going to agree to having one written so my publisher, Matthew Kelly, and I decided we’d just start writing one and see what happened. Michael then spent at least a year hoping that I, and the book project, would just disappear, but, eventually, he realized that wasn’t going to happen so – somewhat reluctantly I must say – he agreed to a few interview sessions and gave his blessing to people in his world talking to me. I was very clear that I didn’t want to write a history of Mushroom Records or Frontier Touring Company – it is a book about Michael and his world. I read pretty much everything I could find about him – and was surprised (and then not given his attention span) that he’s sat for very few long form interviews in his career. Some parts of his life, Skyhooks and Split Enz, for example, are already very well documented. Then I started talking to people and filling in the gaps. Everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – has a Michael story. I had to work out which ones were true, and then if and how they related to my story. The actual order then seemed to find itself – but at last count I had gone through no less than 15 versions of the manuscript. I can almost recite the whole book now!
 
 
What have been Michael Gudinski’s most profound contributions to the Australian musical landscape, from your perspective, and how has he influenced you personally?

There’s many of them. Forming Mushroom Records in the early 1970s is clearly one of the main ones. His obsessive devotion to and support for Australian musicians is key. His intensity, passion and almost religious zeal for local music is what makes him stand out. He really is the most significant figure in the Australian music industry over the past 50 years.  His influence on me – well, he’s caused me to spend a lot of money on records he’s released and concerts he’s promoted. When I was managing Paul Kelly in the 1980s he taught me an enormous amount about how the Australian and international music business works. He constantly reminds me that one of the great luxuries we have in our lines of work is that we can be totally ourselves. I don’t and never have owned a suit and tie. I suspect Michael might be the same!
 
I know you’ve known Michael for many years. How did he respond when he first heard that you were going to write this biography? Did he have any reservations and does he make for an easy interview subject?

As I mentioned earlier he was initially extremely reluctant, and I sense that he’s still far from comfortable. This isn’t an authorised book but he did have the opportunity to correct factual errors – of which I’m pleased to say he found very few. When his ’fact’ correcting quickly reached the level of telling me that the green Jaguar he bought in the early 1970s was second-hand and not new, I realised I was pretty much on the mark with the bigger stuff. He’s a tough interview subject as he doesn’t really have the attention span to focus on any one subject for more than a couple of minutes. An hour with Gudinski can seriously traverse 100 different subjects – so then you have to decipher the wordage! Can’t say it wasn’t – for the most part – a lot of fun though!
 
Laughing outlawYou put your first indie label, Green Records, together back in the early 80s. Your current label, Laughing Outlaw Records has been in existence since 1999 and features a solid stable of young Aussie artists. How has the local music scene evolved over the years and what keeps things fresh and exciting for you?

The music caper seems to change daily – particularly with the emergence of new technology. The major change I see is that artists are now their own retailers at shows as record shops are largely a thing of the past. And I believe that music for the most part – like it or not – will continue to be predominantly free, which presents an entirely different landscape for everyone. I say to artists that we’re no longer in the music business because there isn’t one – we’re in the merchandise business. So music is something you create and give away to hopefully persuade people to pay to come to live shows and buy T shirts and other merchandise. As for me – if I don’t wake up and during the course of the day, hear something chill-inducingly-brilliant, I’ve had a bad day – that can be new or old music. And how bad is my day – I spend them talking to artists, listening to music, talking about it on the radio and writing about it. Tough!
 
bruce-springsteenI know it would be difficult to distil your decades of live gigs down to a handful of favourites; but, off the top of your head, what have been three standout live music shows that you’ve seen and why?
 
There are of course thousands but as you asked, off the top of my head . . .

  • Bruce Springsteen& The E Street Band – any place any time. I’ve been seeing Bruce since 1981 and I don’t believe the world will ever see a greater live performer. He’s probably better now than at any stage in his career.
  • Bob Dylan – State Theatre and Opera House 2014. I’m the only Australian to interview Dylan twice and I’ve seen him a lot over the years. This last tour he was singing better than ever, looked positively happy and both shows I saw were completely moving.
  • First Aid Kit – Sydney Opera House 2013 (I think). Two sisters from Sweden. I expecting them to be great but had no idea just HOW good. That’s what makes for a transcendent live music experience. I was just shaking my head at how sublime their performance was and I realised why Patti Smith and Paul Simon had been reduced to tears watching First Aid Kit perform their songs.

I could go on with this one!

Buy GUDINSKI now!

 

BIO

Stuart Coupe (born 1956) has worked as a journalist, author, editor, manager, record label director, radio presenter, publicist and tour promoter.

After growing up in Launceston, Tasmania he attended Flinders University in Adelaide (1976 – 78) where he became editor of the university magazine, Empire Times, and founded the music magazine Roadrunner. In late 1978 he was poached by Rock Australia Magazine (RAM) and moved to Sydney. After 18 months at RAM he became the music writer for the Sun Herald for the next decade as well as freelancing for countless publications ranging from the National Times to Dolly. Stuart is the only Australian to interview Bob Dylan twice and has conducted thousands of conversations with musicians from around the globe. He estimates that he has had in excess of six million words published over the years.

Stuart also managed the Hoodoo Gurus, and then Paul Kelly through the period when Kelly recorded the quartet of albums Post, Gossip, Under The Sun and So Much Water, So Close To Home. Over the years he has continued to manage artists such as X, Perry Keyes, LJ Hill, Starky and The Devoted Few.

As a tour promoter Stuart was responsible for Australian tours by musicians Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams, Chris Whitley, Ted Hawkins, Link Wray, Dick Dale, Harry Dean Stanton, Dave Alvin, Kinky Friedman, Chris Smither, Rosanne Cash, Mary-Chapin Carpenter and others. He also promoted events and tours with authors James Ellroy, Ed McBain, Lawrence Block, Elmore Leonard and PJ O’Rourke. He used those experiences as the basis for the successful book The Promoters (2003) which was recently reissued. That is one of ten books that Stuart has written, co-written or edited.

After a stint co-presenting the album show on 2MMM in the 1980s, Stuart has spent the past thirteen years presenting a weekly show on FBi radio in Sydney. He also presents a show entitled Dirt Music on radio 2SER and during 2013 filled in for Lucky Oceans on Radio National. He is also a frequent commentator on radio, TV and in print media on matters relating to music and popular culture.

Stuart has frequently worked as a publicist, starting with The Clash, The Cramps and other international artists. He is a founder and director of Laughing Outlaw Records which began in 1999 and has done the bulk of the publicity for the more than 180 releases from the label. Laughing Outlaw releases music from predominantly new and emerging Australian artists working in a wide range of styles from jazz to folk, Americana, punk rock, bluegrass, vaudeville, singer/songwriter and psychedelia. Stuart is also responsible for all contract negotiations and marketing for artists on the label.

For 17 years Stuart was the crime fiction book reviewer of the Sydney Morning Herald. He also founded and edited Mean Streets magazine and co-edited three crime fiction anthologies. In 2005 at the annual Ned Kelly Awards he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the crime fiction genre.

Stuart has attended the SXSW music industry conference in Austin, Texas most years since 2001. In 2012 and 2013 he presented panels on the Australian music industry. He has been a speaker at the WAMI Conference in Perth, Music Business Adelaide, and Big Sound in Brisbane. He has also been a panellist at various Sydney Writers’ Festivals.

Stuart is married and has four adult children. He likes talking about Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and the Sydney Swans, not necessarily in that order.

 

Here’s a recent interview I did with Marisa on behalf of Australian Women Writers. Apologies for the sound quality!

 

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

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