Meet the Author: Matt Towner

Matt’s top tip for aspiring authors: Never give up and if I can help you to get started I am happy to at


Matt Towner graduated from university in Brisbane, Australia in
1989 with a BA in Journalism. Afterwards, he set out to explore
the world where he was inspired to write about travelling tales
through the people he met along the way. Since then he’s
published a number of stories including The Pocket Book Guide to
Byron Bay, The Gemstone Book of Runes, Crystal Carvings,
Opal Magic, Rasto Roo, Bris Vegas and Positive Investments.


Why do you write? I was born to write and I have wanted to do so since I first started school and continued to write throughout boarding school then university and ever since.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Travel has always been my other passion and I have incorporated writing and travel with taking Australian Opals then Australian Wine then Australian Real Estate all over the world and I will always be travelling.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Myself … but once I got out of my own way I was published within weeks and now the sky is not even the limit.

How involved have you been in the development of your books? Do you have input into the cover/illustrations? New Holland Publishers have been great to me and Alan and I have worked together on everything from my writing and editing to my contributors and covers.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The creative process and being able to live my life-long dream which is just beginning.

The worst? Fear … which is what held me back in the beginning and I think holds nearly everyone back in some way, shape or form at some stage in some way but must be overcome.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Be much more selective as to who I work with so again I am so lucky to have found or been found by New Holland Publishers.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? A lot of people who make out that they have a lot of experience and can help you to be published in fact know no more than you do so back yourself every day in every way.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Writing is the loneliest profession … it is up to you and you alone to write that book.


Abroad, Broke & Busted
Travellers’ Tales from Around The World
Edited and compiled by Matt Towner

Byron Bay—and Australia as a whole—is home to many people from so many different countries, cultures, colours and creeds—with locals, surfers, and wanderers both young and old at every turn.
Abroad, Broke & Busted is a compilation of 14 amazing travellers’ tales assembled and edited by author Matt Towner. They all provide unique and personal insights into life’s gains and losses whilst abroad—some are happy or sad, others soft or hard. While some adventurers end up in jail in a third world country, others find themselves nearly dead in a deep dark jungle—yet all somehow defy the odds. All with a sense of adventure and a sense of humour—as readers learn—things will not always go their way in each
exciting journey told. Anyone who loves to travel, loves an adventure, loves a laugh or dreams of all three will love this book.

The book is available here.

Meet the Author: Michael Fitzgerald

Michael’s top tip for aspiring authors: Embrace difficulty and keep curious and alive to the process. Don’t think too much about what’s hovering over the horizon, but stay focused on what’s there on the page. Keep moving those words around and trust they will show you the way.

Michael Fitzgerald lives on a lush gully in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. He first journeyed to Samoa in 2005 as arts editor for the South Pacific edition of Time, and has since worked as a magazine editor for Art & Australia, Photofile and now Art Monthly Australasia. His writing has appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Financial Review and Harper’s Bazaar. The Pacific Room is his first novel.



Why do you write? There’s nothing I love more than moving words around on a page, watching them take shape, building up images and scenes transmitted with a certain emotion, transforming them into stories. It’s a creative urge in me that has recently flowered into The Pacific Room, my debut novel. And the urge only grows as I get older.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? When I’m not moving words around on a page as a writer, I’m doing the same as an editor. My early life as a journalist in Melbourne and Sydney (most recently as the arts editor for the South Pacific edition of Time magazine) led to art magazine editing – currently for Art Monthly Australasia, which involves different ways of thinking and looking at the world but which feeds back to creativity. And, of course, words.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? The perception of being a former journalist brought an expectation from agents and publishers that non-fiction or memoir was a more natural evolution for me as a writer – I’ve heard that said many times – and that my fiction didn’t travel in the usual narrative arc. But I’ve stubbornly resisted and persisted with fiction writing. It’s the biggest challenge and satisfaction for me (when I get it right), and I’m still learning.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Research and writing requires marathon-like lengths of solitude and (in my case) travel – a solipsistic discipline not unlike swimming, which I also love and can’t do without. With the cacophony of demands from our working and private lives, that lulling ocean of time that writing requires – flowing over months and years – seems a precious luxury which is utterly intoxicating and desirable.

—the worst? Not having that time to luxuriate in. The Pacific Room took nine years from a glint in the eye to final realisation. This was in between editing Art & Australia, Photofile and now Art Monthly Australasia, and as one’s other life speeds up, it’s increasingly hard to slow down into that deep meditative space that writing a novel requires.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? It’s hard to say. Because all the stumbles I’ve experienced along the way to publication have – I hope – made me a better writer. Life experience helps, finding patience and dealing with disappointment. Absorbing the world and learning from it takes time – for me anyway – and I’m only just making my literary debut aged 52.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That’s a tricky one, because the allowance or freedom to make mistakes is essential for any writer’s passage. For me the desire to become an author was unshakeable, but my own pathway needed to unfold in precisely the way that it did, and – now that I think of it – not unlike that of Teuila in The Pacific Room: ‘She has always been led by the forest, through a path never clear, found by touch, fumbling, rather than sight.’

What’s the best advice you were ever given? In the literary world, opinions and advice can fly thick and fast – sometimes confusingly so. And, for a young writer, rejection can be brutal. When I was researching The Pacific Room in Samoa in the late 2000s, I must have seemed quite anxious as someone told me to relax my mind and let the stories in. Looking back, that was the best advice I could have received.



The Pacific Room

Michael Fitzgerald

This remarkable debut novel tells of the last days of Tusitala, ‘the teller of tales’, as Robert Louis Stevenson became known in Samoa where he chose to die. In 1892 Girolamo Nerli travels from Sydney by steamer to Apia, with the intention of capturing something of Jekyll and Hyde in his portrait of the famous author. Nerli’s presence sets in train a disturbing sequence of events. More than a century later, art historian Lewis Wakefield comes to Samoa to research the painting of Tusitala’s portrait by the long-forgotten Italian artist. On hiatus from his bipolar medication, Lewis is freed to confront the powerful reality of all the desires and demons that R. L. Stevenson couldn’t control. Lewis’s personal journey is shadowed by the story of the lovable Teuila, a so-called fa‘afafine (‘in the manner of a woman’), and the spirit of Stevenson’s servant boy, Sosimo. Set in an evocative tropical landscape haunted by the lives and spirits which drift across it, The Pacific Room is both a love letter to Samoa and a lush and tender exploration of artistic creation, of secret passions and merging dualities.

The Pacific Room is available from Transit Lounge and other retailers.


Meet the Illustrator: Ella Mae

Your art, the things you love, make up your life. Your life is your art, because life is how you make it, life is your blank canvas, or your empty stage, or whatever you want it to be. Self-expression is a very important part of a fulfilling existence.- Ella Mae

This week I’m celebrating the release of my newest children’s book, The Seven Day Dragon, a quirky, warm-hearted story for eight to 11-year-olds about family, relationships and accepting what is, while still seeing that life is full of possibilities when minds are open.

The book features illustrations by debut illustrator Ella Mae and today it’s my pleasure to introduce her with a behind the scenes look at the way she works and an insight into her thoughts on art and life…


You were only 14 when you were offered the opportunity to illustrate The Seven Day Dragon for Serenity Press. How did that come about?

The opportunity to illustrate this book came about when our family friend, author Tess Woods, was meeting with Karen from Serenity Press, to discuss Lara and Tom Woods’ book Lily Reaches The Rainbow. Tess knew that Karen had mentioned she was due to fly to Melbourne soon to look for an artist to illustrate a local author’s new book, The Seven Day Dragon. Tess phoned me the night before the meeting and asked if I would like to send through some examples of my artwork so she could show them to Karen, which I did. The next day, on my birthday, I heard back from Tess that Karen had liked my images, and was keen to offer me the opportunity to work with her, and author Teena Raffa-Mulligan, to illustrate The Seven Day Dragon.

How did you feel?

I felt incredibly excited and lucky to have such an amazing opportunity at such a young age. I felt very grateful to have Tess’s encouragement and her confidence in my ability to take on such a big project. It’s safe to say that it was the best birthday present I have ever received!

It was quite a responsibility to be asked to produce 12 professional standard illustrations for publication.

Illustrating The Seven Day Dragon was certainly a lot of work and it was definitely challenging at times to juggle school work, my social and family life, sports and illustrating in order to stay on schedule and meet the deadline, but I was always really motivated by my love of illustrating to make time for it.

How did you go about the illustration process?

I would always start with a rough thumbnail sketch of the composition of the illustration in the sketchbook that I used for planning and notes, to figure out what positions the characters would be in and what main colours I would use. Then I would move on to an A4 piece of watercolour paper, and sketch out the composition first in pencil, then in pen – adding detail and refining it, and then erasing the pencil sketch underneath. The last thing I would do on each illustration was to add watercolour paint to bring it to life and inks for texture when I was painting the dragon.

How long did it take to produce each illustration?

My first illustration took me about two weeks until I was happy with it and felt that I was finished, but I found the more I illustrated, the more confident I became, and the faster I could complete an illustration. It took me about five months of illustrating almost every day but I found that towards the end of the deadline I knew what I was doing so well, that by the time I did my last illustration, it only took me about a day and a half.

What support and artistic guidance did you receive?

I have had a lovely web of support from friends and family as I have been illustrating The Seven Day Dragon, and I have been so lucky to be able to work with such an understanding author and publisher. As I didn’t have any experience in illustrating officially for a book, Serenity Press and Teena were very helpful in giving me some guidance in what they had envisioned for a particular illustration. I am lucky enough to have an artist for a mother who was always ready to offer advice, and family always ready to offer tea, when I was stuck on an illustration.

What is your favourite art media?

I definitely have different favorite mediums when trying to achieve different results on different subjects, for instance I love using oil paint when doing landscapes and ballpoint pen or lead pencil when drawing people, but at the moment my favourite media would definitely be pen and watercolour paint.

Can you imagine your life without art?

I can’t imagine a life without art, no! For me art is a release, a way to vent, a way to express what I believe and what I am passionate about. I think life without art wouldn’t really be life at all, in some sense; it would just be survival, because life is art. In Shakespeare’s words, ‘all the world’s a stage’. Whether, like me, your art is painting and drawing, or if it’s performing, or if it’s your green thumb, the way you can always make people laugh, or knowing exactly what that dish needs to make it taste perfect, or maybe your art is your excellent interpersonal skills. Your art, the things you love, make up your life. Your life is your art, because life is how you make it, life is your blank canvas, or your empty stage, or whatever you want it to be. In my few years on this earth I’ve come to believe that self-expression is a very important part of a fulfilling existence.

When you’re working on your personal art projects, what inspires you?

Self-expression is definitely what I strive for in my personal art. I find that the beauty I see in this world, beauty that cannot always be seen with the eyes, is what inspires me most. I always endeavor to express this beauty, these truths that I see, and I often try to address issues that I feel are important in my art. At the moment what inspires me is human bodies, how amazingly complex they are, how diverse and amazing. More importantly, I’m exploring how society sees our bodies, and how wrong this view often is.

Do you have ambitions of becoming a professional illustrator or are your career aspirations in another direction?

I actually have always wanted to be an early childhood teacher. I’ve always loved little kids and I think it would be a great outlet for all the creative things I love to do. I think it’s definitely a possibility that I will illustrate again in the future though!


The Seven Day Dragon

by Teena Raffa-Mulligan with illustrations by Ella Mae

Seeing isn’t always believing. A different dragon story…


Joshua Jones has no one in the world except a fruit loop of a gran and they live in a tiny city flat so he can’t even have a pet.

When a spectacular creature on a seven-day visit from Jupiter offers to be his houseguest during its Earth stay, Josh thinks his luck has changed. His nothing life is about to become awesome.

His celestial visitor eats frozen peas and crossword puzzles, answers questions with questions and is invisible to everyone except him. That should have warned Josh to expect the unexpected.

He finds himself in trouble at school and minus a best friend.

As the days pass, time is running out for Josh to get a trip to Jupiter, which would have made up for all the complications Traveller has caused.

Soon his house guest will be gone. Old Bob, the only person who seems to understand Josh, will be gone too.  Josh’s life will be back the way it was… or will it?

The Seven Day Dragon is available from Serenity Press here.

Meet the Author: David Cohen

David’s top tip for aspiring authors: Pay attention to the mechanics: syntax, grammar, punctuation, etc. No matter how brilliant your ideas, you have to be able to express them clearly. Edit and proof-read your manuscript carefully – or pay someone else to do it – before submitting it anywhere.

David Cohen grew up in Perth, Western Australia and now lives in Brisbane. His first novel Fear of Tennis won a Varuna/HarperCollins Manuscript Development Award, and was published by Black Pepper in 2007. His short fiction has appeared in The Big Issue, Meanjin, Seizure, Tracks and elsewhere. In 2016 his short-story collection The Hunter was shortlisted in the inaugural Dorothy Hewett Award for an unpublished manuscript.


Why do you write? I’ve always enjoyed the process of stringing words together, creating imaginary situations – and I like being on my own.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d be a professional surfer, were it not for the fact that I can’t surf.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? As far as novels go, the hardest thing, apart from producing a manuscript of publishable standard, has been finding a publisher who can see that book’s potential. I think a lot of publishers shy away from novels like Disappearing off the Face of the Earth – novels that don’t fit comfortably into a marketable category or fictional genre – so it took a long time before I found someone (in this case Barry Scott at Transit Lounge) who believed in it enough to want to publish it anyway.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Writing is for the most part a solitary endeavour and that suits me well; I like sitting alone in a room, making up stories.

—the worst? Not having sufficient time to do the above. It can be difficult to achieve a good balance between writing fiction and earning a living, which in my case are two very different pursuits.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I might go the academic route, get a PhD in Literature or Creative Writing, and become a lecturer, so that writing would be a legitimate part of my job.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Do something else altogether – why be miserable? But I probably would have ignored that advice anyway because writing is the only thing that genuinely interests me – even though I’ve always had to make a living by other means.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? I can’t recall, but I’ve always found the aphorism ‘less is more’ very helpful. I think it was the architect Mies van der Rohe who coined that one, but it applies equally to writing.


Disappearing off the Face of the Earth

David Cohen

Transit Lounge


‘David Cohen takes suburban life and turns it into a warped comedy with a body count, letting weirdness in, compellingly, irresistibly, until our sense of what’s real is flickering on and off like a dodgy fluoro tube.’ Nick Earls

Hideaway Self Storage, located just off Brisbane’s M1, is in decline. But manager Ken Guy and his assistant Bruce carry on with their daily rituals even as the facility falls apart around them. Lately, however, certain tenants have been disappearing off the face of the earth, leaving behind units full of valuable items. Ken has no idea where these rent defaulters have gone but he thinks he might be able to turn their abandoned ‘things’ into a nice little earner that could help save his business. But the disappearances are accompanied by strange occurrences such as Bruce’s inexplicable late-night excursions, Ken’s intensifying aversion to fluorescent lights, and Ken’s girlfriend’s intensifying aversion to Ken. While further along the motorway, construction of a rival facility – Pharaoh’s Tomb Self Storage, part of a nationwide franchise – hints at a  mysterious past and a precarious future.

A surprisingly funny study of physical and mental deterioration, David Cohen’s second novel is never quite what it seems. Sharply attuned to the absurdities of contemporary urban life, it is that rare literary beast, a comic drama that is at once intelligent and suspenseful, humorous and deep.

Disappearing off the Face of the Earth is available here.

Meet the Author: James Lee

James’ top tip for aspiring authors: Writing isn’t a race, it’s a marathon.  Expect rejection. Have faith in yourself. Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times. Keep having faith.  Enjoy what I call “the thrill of the chase”.

James Lee is a publishing phenomenon and one of Australia’s bestselling but least known authors. After a successful career as an advertising creative director in Singapore where he won more than 500 awards, James turned to full-time writing for children in 1996. The 200+ books in his Mr Midnight and Mr Mystery series (first published by Angsana in Singapore) have been translated into ten languages and have sold in excess of three million copies.

The Singapore Straits Times once called him ‘Asia’s most popular children’s author’ and his success was recognised when he was awarded the inaugural 2013 Australian Arts in Asia Award for Literature. James returned permanently to Australia in 2010 and lives in Langwarrin, outside Melbourne.


Why do you write? I have no option.  I’ve been writing all my life.  At school.  TV scripts for Mavis Bramston, Don Lane, et al.  Radio serials.  Advertising.  Now books and poetry.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Producing TV and radio documentaries.  I love history.  I’m curious.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?  Time, firstly.  I couldn’t write while working full-time. So I took the biggest gamble of my life, “retired” at 55, when I could afford to buy a window of time.

And ignorance. I didn’t know how the publishing market worked. I thought it was simply a matter of writing and submitting. Wrong!  So I invested. I went to the Maui Writers Conference in Hawaii, bought sessions with agents and editors, and soon learned the “business” side of writing. That made me more focused, more pragmatic, and HUNGRIER!

How involved have you been in the development of your books? Do you have input into the cover/illustrations? When I first published books about advertising, I convinced my publisher that our target readers would not respond to traditional covers.  I hired (and paid for) the best art directors to design cutting edge covers, even the book formats.

With my kids’ fiction in Asia, I recommended an illustrator.  For years I’ve sent him rough cover sketches or detailed descriptions of what’s needed.  At xoum in Australia, their brilliant Roy Chen designs stand-out covers and illustrations.

I’m very fortunate.  All those years in advertising taught me the art of branding and positioning.  Each different series of books is a brand unto itself, appealing to specific consumers.  And, like Colgate and Unilever, I have several pseudonyms, so that each one can produce a different kind of product. (One name, producing different books over a variety of genres, would be confusing to target audiences.)

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Freedom, and the thrill of making readers happy.

—the worst? Having NO freedom.  I work seven days a week.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Learn the rules of the market.  Understand the business.  Format manuscripts properly.  Treat it very, very seriously.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Writing is not driven by inspiration.  Inspiration is fickle.  You need to develop a work routine and state-of-mind that are sacrosanct.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? The winning formula: VOICE … STRUCTURE … INTRIGUING SYNOPSES.

What are the most significant changes you have seen in the publishing industry since your first book was published? The arrival of the e-book, and its recent “demise”.

The wonderful news that publishers and agents now accept m.s. and queries by email.

Do you consider it more difficult now for writers to become published? It’s always been difficult.  Once, Australian writers had to post their work to the UK or US.  Now we have our own vibrant publishing industry.  However, given all the various writing courses and seminars, more people are writing now than ever before.


James Lee
The seventh book in a spine-tingling new series for children aged eight to 12. Each Ghostworks book contains two chilling tales which will entrance young readers. Book 7 features:
Story 1: Ship of the Dead
When an old ship sails out of a storm at a Melbourne beach, Madison and her friends find themselves trapped on board in a world of terror.
Story 2: Ghost Islands
Pirate treasure, deadly swamps, vicious alligators, and a mysterious girl – Zachary’s American holiday turns into a nightmare on Jekyll Island.
Available from Amazon Kindle at
James Lee

Story 1: Dead Men’s Gold

Blade is determined to find gold in a ghost town. Instead, he and his friends find their lives in grave danger – thanks to a murderous old miner.
Story 2: Our School Ghoul
How spooky is your school? When Suzie spots a ghoul on the roof, she knows her school is haunted. But hunting a ghoul was never meant to be easy …
Available from Amazon Kindle at

Romancing short fiction

Small traditional West Australian publisher Serenity Press is romancing short fiction with a series of anthologies, novellas and novelettes featuring love swept stories for romantics at heart. This week I chat with editorial director Monique Mulligan about the selection process for their newest anthology, A Bouquet of Love, and the challenges of producing a selection of 10 themed stories.

Photo: Neil Mulligan

ITOW: Authors were invited to submit short romances that featured Serendipity Bridal Boutique, its manager and staff. Why did you decide to link the stories in this way rather than following a more general romantic theme?

MM: Aside from liking the idea of linked stories, we wanted to challenge both authors and ourselves with something a little different. So, we brainstormed and came up with the idea of the bridal boutique, then its name (we both love the word serendipity) and from there I wrote a submission brief.

ITOW: What did you look for when making your selection of which stories to include?

MM: It was a combination of things – a great story with solid writing, plenty of romantic “feels”, a happy ending, and we wanted the links to the salon to be more than passing mentions.

ITOW: What was the most challenging aspect of producing this anthology?

MM: The editing – firstly, making sure each story shone in its own right (no, that wasn’t an intentional pun), but also making sure all the stories connected consistently. Was Kyle a fashion designer or stylist? Was the boutique manager Kate’s characterisation consistent?

ITOW: What did you enjoy most about working on this title?

MM: The enthusiasm and support of the authors has been fantastic. But also, seeing the stories come together as a whole in the final product – that was a special moment.

ITOW: Will there be another Bouquet of Love anthology featuring Serendipity Bridal Boutique?

MM: What a great idea! I definitely think we should keep it in mind.

ITOW: Individual stories from Serenity Press’s debut anthology, Rocky Romance, have been released as novelettes. Can we expect to see some of the stories from A Bouquet of Love also becoming available in this format?

MM: Yes, our plan is to release some of the stories as standalone novelettes in the year following its release.

ITOW: Is your focus on romantic fiction or do you publish other genres?

MM: We also publish children’s fiction for younger readers and middle grades. Next year we are venturing into new territory with a fairy tale collection aimed at young adults, and our intention is to build upon that niche.

ITOW: Serenity Press is a small independent boutique publisher. What is the advantage for authors of working with such a small press?

MM: Lots! We work closely with our authors and give each book special attention. We value authors’ input on covers and illustrations. And we have high standards for our finished products. Also, we offer higher royalties than bigger publishers.

ITOW: What’s your top tip for aspiring romance authors?

MM: That’s hard! Read a variety of romances – immerse yourself in the world of romance so you know what readers expect. If you hate reading romances, how can you write a romance that sends readers into a swoon, or wiping tears from their eyes, or just sighing with contentment?

A Bouquet of Love

Contributors: Claire Boston, Barbara Gurney, PL Harris, Ilona Krueger, Monique Mulligan, Glennys Marsdon, Teena Raffa, Bree Verity, Louisa West, Carolyn Wren.


Ten couples not looking for love find something unexpected when they visit Serendipity Bridal Boutique, Kate Peron’s vintage-styled salon. Love is in the air and it’s about to blow into their lives, bringing fortunate accidents of the heartfelt variety to those lucky enough to walk through Serendipity’s doors.

A man comes to Eagle Point to stop a wedding. A magazine editor finds herself in a cheesy situation. A different kind of bride takes to the catwalk. Readers will be swept away by this bouquet of stories from ten Australian authors – stories of healing and second chances, of opening hearts and minds, of souls connecting and remembering, of temptation and desire. Life and love in Eagle Point has never been more challenging … or fun!

From cupcake wielding assassins to hilarious blind date set-ups, there’s something for everyone in this delightfully romantic collection that proves there can never be too much ado about love.

Buy the paper back here.

Buy the e-book here.




Meet the Author: John Zubrzycki

John’s top tip for aspiring authors: It’s all about the pitch. So many publishers and agents have told me how poorly prepared most pitches are. Don’t skimp on this part of the process and be sure you can follow through and deliver.

Picture by Graham Crouch

John Zubrzycki’s latest book The Mysterious Mr Jacob: Diamond Merchant, Magician and Spy (Transit Lounge) tells the extraordinary story of one of the most enigmatic figures of the Raj. His first book The Last Nizam: An Indian Prince in the Australian Outback, on the misfortunes of the heir to India’s richest state, was a bestseller in Australia and India. For the past two years John has been researching the history of Indian stage magic as part of a doctoral thesis at the University of New South Wales, work that has involved trawling through archives, grimoires and ancient Sanskrit texts. In 2016 he took a troupe of Australian magicians to India and gave talks on a century and a half of conjuring links between the two countries. A former deputy foreign editor at The Australian newspaper, he has a degree in South Asian history and Hindi from the Australian National University and has worked in India as a foreign correspondent, diplomat, consultant and tour guide.

Find out more about John here.


Why do you write? I love a good story and communicating that to people, particularly if it’s a story that hasn’t been told before. To write biography and narrative non-fiction properly you need to get under the skin of your subject, that involves forensic research. There is nothing more satisfying than uncovering a chapter of a person’s life or an event in history that hasn’t been documented before.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d be traveling the back blocks of India, along the ancient Silk Road of Central Asia and exploring the great cities of Russia. But I don’t think anyone will pay me to do that. I would find it hard not to be writing about what I saw and the people I’d met.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I guess I was pretty lucky because I had been a journalist for a couple of decades before I approached a publisher with the idea for my first book, so they could see that I had a track record. I also had one of those one in a lifetime opportunities to document something very unique—a story that spanned continents and epochs, yet was quite contemporary. That was the book The Last Nizam: An Indian Prince in the Australian Outback.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The research, the interviews, the travel prior to sitting down and writing. And then the response from people if they like what I’ve written. Also touching people’s lives through the stories I’ve uncovered. And of course being invited to writers’ festivals

—the worst? The final lap of editing, cross checking references, re-reading the same material over and over again and being so sick of the process you think what you’ve written is terrible.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I wish I had started earlier in life. There are so many incredible stories out there waiting to be told, and I’ve got ideas for probably another half a dozen books, but it’s hard to make a living as a writer and it takes a lot out of you.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Don’t be afraid to sell yourself hard in the marketplace.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? These days you don’t just need to be a good writer, you also need to present your work well in public. Maybe that’s not something that has been given to me as advice directly, but it’s something I’ve learnt from successful writers.


It was a scandal that rocked the highest echelons of the British Raj.

In 1891, a notorious jeweller and curio dealer from Simla offered to sell the world’s largest brilliant-cut diamond to the fabulously wealthy Nizam of Hyderabad. If the audacious deal succeeded it would set the merchant up for life. But the transaction went horribly wrong. The Nizam accused him of fraud, triggering a sensational trial in the Calcutta High Court that made headlines around the world.

The dealer was Alexander Malcolm Jacob, a man of mysterious origins. After arriving penniless in Bombay in 1865, he became the most famous purveyor of precious stones in princely India, and a confidante of Viceroys and Maharajas. Jacob also excelled in the magical arts. He inspired all those who met him, including Rudyard Kipling who immortalised him as Lurgan Sahib, the ‘healer of sick pearls’, in his novel Kim.

Now for the first time, John Zubrzycki, author of The Last Nizam, conveys the page-turning colour, romance and adventure of Jacob’s astonishing life. Starting on the banks of the Tigris in modern-day Turkey where Jacob was born, Zubrzycki strips away the myths and legends. He follows Jacob’s journey from the slums of Bombay, to the fabulous court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, from the hedonistic heights of Simla, the summer capital of the Raj, to the Calcutta High Court. This is a story of India, of strange twists and unexpected outcomes.

Most importantly Zubrzycki enters into and truly captures the spirit of the mysterious Mr Jacob, one of the most enigmatic and charismatic figures of his time.

The book is available here.