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.




Meet the Author: Cate Davis

CATE’S TOP WRITING TIP:Be yourself ‘cause everyone else is taken.’ -Edgar Alan Poe


Cate DavisCate Davis was born and bred on a sheep property in the New England District of New South Wales. When she was six, petrol rationing was introduced in Australia and there were no school buses, so to attend the closest primary school, she would have had to ride her pony six miles there and back each day. Although she was a competent rider, Cate’s parents thought this would be too much for her, so her mother home schooled her with the assistance of Blackfriars Correspondence School. Her mother also taught her to play the piano.

Cate boarded at a girls’ hostel during her high school years. After leaving school she travelled to Sydney and enrolled as a private student at the NSW State Conservatorium of music. She married and finally settled in Albury, where, with two small boys, she commenced tertiary studies externally. She gained three degrees in education and became a successful high school music teacher. She also co-founded the Border Music Camp which has now been functioning successfully for more than 40 years


Why do you write? Writing was a secondary career for me. I was a senior high school music teacher for 35 years, but when I developed tinnitus, having a ‘no note’ sounding in my head all the time robbed me of my confidence when tuning the orchestra. I had received complimentary comments about my writing style at university, so I started attending adult education classes in writing. In collaboration with my late husband Ian as illustrator, we produced the children’s book, Polly Platypus. Then when his aunt, who was the first migrant welfare officer to be appointed after World War II, failed to respond to persuasions to write her autobiography, I said I would write her biography and Great Granny B was accepted for publication. Then the discovery of my father’s war diaries from World War I whetted my appetite again and From Gallipoli to Coopers Creek was the result.

What would you do if you weren’t a writer? I would become more involved with handcraft – creative machine embroidery, tapestry, weaving etc.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Learning to read my own manuscripts objectively.

What is the best aspect of your writing life?  Seeing hard copies of my books.

 – the worst?  When writing biography, you sometimes have to write about something that is very sad. When writing From Gallipoli to Coopers Creek , I had to include a chapter about my father having to shoot his own horse. This was because quarantine laws made it impossible for them to bring their horses home. If he had not shot him, the horse would have been sold to an Arab, and they did not deal with their horses kindly. His horse, Barney, had served him safely throughout the war, even saving his life on one occasion. My father could not bear the thought of him being cruelly treated. I loved riding horses as a child, and could empathise with his feelings – I cried all the way through the writing of this.

What would you do if you started out as a writer now? Because I still consider myself to be a beginner in this field, I don’t think this question applies.

What do you wish you had been told before you set out to become a writer? How tortuous the path can be from being accepted for publication and being published.

What’s the best advice you were given? To write confidently about your own view of things. Don’t feel you have to kowtow to the opinions of others.


From Gallipoli to Coopers CreekFrom Gallipoli to Coopers Creek

by Cate Davis



This is the story of one soldier of the so-called Great War. He sailed from Australia at the end of 1914, a proud, even bombastic youth with the certainty that he would do his bit to save Mother England and by doing so, would set the world on the right path. He was totally ignorant of the real causes of this war and the place the different countries played in it.

When he landed at Gallipoli though and found the air permeated with the stench of hundreds of rotting bodies still lying where they had fallen a month earlier, he was confronted by the reality and horror of war. He records his first shot in his diary – it was far from the first time he had fired a gun, but it was the first time he had deliberately fired a shot with the intent of killing another human being.

The evacuation of Gallipoli, the inept defeat at Gaza and the realisation he had to become a completely different person to obey the orders he was given weighed heavily on his soul. Ghandi once said, ‘Man finds himself by losing himself’, and this is the story of how Lieutenant Bruce Campbell struggled to find himself and the difficulty he had in fitting back into a society where the civilians were still thinking in terms of pre-war society.

Returning home brought no joy either. Even things he expected to be familiar now seemed strange and no one at home had any idea what the war was really like. To make matters worse, his fiancée broke off their engagement.

This is a biographical story of his struggles to overcome all these adversities. He finally falls in love with a woman who has also been adversely affected by the war and has her own obstacles to overcome. Between them, they carve out a happy and meaningful life on the block of land Bruce has been granted under the Soldier Settlement Scheme. It is a heartwarming story about the legacy of war and the healing power of love.

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