Australian indie author Justin Sheedy on memoir, motivation and creative productivity

We never know where our life's journey might take us, and I never expected that I might be thrown back into the orbit of someone I knew in my days of youthful folly.

A couple of years ago I re-connected with Justin Sheedy, purely by chance, and we intstantly reminisced about our days of glamorous excess. Justin went one step further and wrote a whole book about them!

Even more to the point, Justin has established himself as one of the most energetic, productive and successful indie writers in Australia, and is the very model of a modern author. With the launch of his new memoir, I asked Justin to talk about how he went from aspiring author to publishing dynamo:




It’s exactly the same for any aspiring writer as it is for an author of world renown:  Being creatively productive is a condition they crave.  Utterly.  So it’s bloody lucky that being creatively productive is also something they cannot help.  They’re never not:  Even when they’re stuck on a page or stuck for an idea (absolutely freakingly, hopelessly STUCK), they remain creatively productive by getting up from the page, up from the desk and going for a good, long bracing, solitary walk until that point at just about 30 minutes into it every time when that literary light bulb goes ON, the idea comes, the problem is solved, and the marvellous page goes on.  At least, they bloody-well hope it’s marvellous…  Marvellous times 240 if it’s a 240-page book…  Marvellous or not will be revealed when people say “I think your last book was marvellous.”  Or not.  

I recently launched my 4th book.  It’s called Memoirs of a Go-Go Dancer.  It’s 240 pages. 
Before the release of every book I am what is known in the literary world as shit-scared.  Yet being shit-scared apparently works for me.  Apparently…  Each of my first three books received a handful of readers assuring me that they will read the book more than once.  (And, yes, this could have been because the readers in question couldn’t understand my books and so need to read them again.)  In any case, after three well-reader-reviewed books I joked to my Facebook community that now at long last I might have qualified for a “Certificate of being Not Crap as an Author”.  In due course someone designed and sent me one.

Memoirs of a Go-Go Dancer is the sequel to my first book, Goodbye Crackernight from 2009, my portrait of childhood in 1970s Australia when a child’s proudest possession was not a smart phone but a second-hand bike.  Go-Go Dancer is my portrait of 1980s teenage years under the threat of nuclear annihilation, before I ever kissed a girl let alone lose my virginity. We had The Grim Reaper. Other horrors featured include 1980s fashion, 'Perfect Match', 'Miami Vice' and the music of Kenny Loggins.  The book also features the iconic events of the decade such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and Bob Hawke’s ‘any boss who sacks anyone for not coming in to work today is a BUM’ moment.




It took me nine months to write, re-write and polish, and at the end of almost every page I said to myself: “I am buggered if I know where the next page is coming from.”  But each and every time I said this to myself I forced myself to answer, “Now Justin. This is your fourth book.  And at the end of every key bit of your last three you had no idea where the next bit was coming from but it always did, didn’t it? It will again now, so start having some bloody faith in yourself.  Experience at long last shows that you should.  Doesn’t it?”

And it did:  I remained creatively productive every day for nine months despite every second day thinking that I wouldn’t.

So what was my motivation to press on through all the “buggered if I know what to do next” moments?  My motivation?  Well it certainly wasn’t THE MONEY.  As a self-published author, even if this next book of mine is a raging success I’ll basically cover my costs.  My reward is something different.  My reward is when complete strangers say, “Your book made me laugh and cry and on public transport.  You’re a bastard, Sheedy.”  (You heard it here first:  My reward for writing and reason for writing is to make people I don’t know laugh and cry on public transport.)  But seriously, folks, my reward is what keeps me motivated.  And my reward is to be sharing Australian stories with Australian and international reading audiences.  Because that’s what my books have been so far:  Goodbye Crackernight and now its sequel, Memoirs of a Go-Go Dancer, are celebrations of Australian social history.  I’ve also written two World War II historical fictions, Nor the Years Condemn and its sequel, Ghosts of the Empire.  These are remembrances of the stunning true (and untold) Australian story of how the best and brightest of a generation of young Australians flew against the forces of Nazi tyranny and won, albeit at staggering cost.  My books embody my passion: to share with others what I’ve seen, what I know, what I can imagine, and what I think MUST be told.  Nah, I just love making people embarrass themselves on public transport.  Motivation indeed.  To remain creatively productive.




If you’re an aspiring author (and even ‘great’ authors are still ‘aspiring’ authors) you will already know deep within you that writing isn’t just something you want to do; it’s something you have to do; something you cannot help.  You strive for the end-product bliss of getting something special between your ears down onto the page which, because it’s written with effective economy of language, is then read by a complete stranger who is, as a result, transported somewhere they have never before been.  This you will achieve, if you become any kind of decent author, as you’ll have caused your reader to have clean missed their normal bus stop: the noble result of your sustained creative productivity.

In any case, for any author, being creatively productive is the easy part.  Then you have to take your finished first draft, re-read and re-do it ten times, maybe twenty times, until it ends up the piece of writing it deserves to be.  But that’s your next stage in the writing process. 

Happy Writing,

Justin Sheedy

Ryan Holiday on blogging tactics, idea implementation and getting started on a limited budget

For some time now I have found that podcasts are my most important guide to book buying. Where once I relied on the Saturday newspapers for literary advice, I now keep an ear out for interviews, discussions and recommendations on the couple of dozen podcasts I listen to regularly. And I have found this a much more reliable guide.

This change could be bad news for authors who aren’t very good at chatting. I have certainly been put off a book I was previously interested in because of a pedestrian, grumpy or precious performance in a podcast interview. I have also been tricked. I won’t name names, but on a couple of occasions I have bought books by well-known marketing experts only to find that everything I needed to know about those books had been contained in the interviews that had so impressed me.



Fortunately, Ryan Holiday’s new little book Growth Hacker Marketing does not belong in that category. Holiday is a fascinating figure, and has become something of a cult leader in the field of online marketing. His work with American Apparel and Tucker Max and his fascinating book Trust Me I'm Lying have all lent him a certain amount of glamour and hipster cachet. But this book takes the reader a significant step further and is all about the doing, and not about the pointless speaking. It is packed to the gills with useful, actionable information and there is not a page wasted. It’s probably one of the best-value books I have purchased in a long time.



For those, like me, who may not be down with the latest terminology, “growth hackers” are those people – usually tech-savvy youngsters – who seek to grow their products and make a name for themselves using new technologies and very little money. They are finding new ways to get the word out and to get their customers and users to do the advertising and marketing work for them. Some examples he uses in the book are Instagram, Evernote and the venerable Hotmail (which I still proudly use).

Holiday’s background is in mainstream marketing, where big, expensive campaigns are launched to sell new products in time-honoured ways which are as much about tradition, superstition and ritual than any properly-measured results. He points out that that’s all changing now. As industries have less and less money to spend on those old excesses (and I’m in the book industry, which is suffering hardest of all) we are all looking for new ways to be successful, create popular products and services and let people know how to spend their money on them.

Enter the growth hacker. This book aims to turn us all into growth hackers, and as an author it helps that the principal examples he uses are in the launching of new books. I think that this is a book that every author (and, please God, publisher) needs to read right now.

Here are 5 great tips I got from the book – remember, there are many, many more, so get the whole book:

1.    Blog extensively before you publish – if you are putting together a non-fiction book start blogging on your subject now! Take notice of what blog posts get great responses and shares, and make sure those are a bigger part of your book. It’s about being responsive to your readership and giving them more of what they want.

2.    Question every assumption – just because you think it’s a good idea, doesn’t mean it is. For too long now we have just soldiered on blindly, hoping like hell people will like what we’ve decided to offer them. How about dealing with humility beforehand and actually asking people what they want? And then asking for honest feedback on what we produce and actually be willing to change it. Ask yourself: why would anyone want to read this? Who is this for? What value am I offering? REALLY ask yourself those questions, write down the answers and keep them in front of you.

3.    Create fun videos – videos that talk about your book, videos that instruct people, videos that show some of your personality. He quotes a number of online growth hacking successes that hinged on video content. It’s an area that’s going to grow, so get on the bandwagon now, and don’t worry about elaborate production values

4.    Seek out influential advisors and mentors – ask for their advice and guidance and follow it! Stop trying to be a one-man show. Take a risk and ask someone you respect for feedback. If they like what they see they might just become advocates for you and your work.

5.    Think viral referrals instead of costly marketing and promotion – give away your product to people who matter and who might influence the opinion of others. He talks about how Uber built its profile by giving out free ride vouchers at tech conferences. This is dirt-cheap promotion, and yet I see so many companies and providers balk at it. Instead of spending thousands on an ad that might reach no-one important, why not drop a couple of hundred on getting to a more targeted audience and building some buzz about you and your product.


My copy of the book is heavily underscored with multiple pages turned down – I simply want to put everything into action and I have made copious notes as well. It is rare I am so excited about a book, especially one with such a potentially dull subject matter. But please believe me when I say this is essential reading that will inspire all kinds of ideas. 

Caroline Ford's Sydney Beaches




For me, a beach is a beach. I didn't know there were different types, and I had never really troubled myself with their social history. But yesterday I was at the most fascinating talk at the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts, where I heard historian Caroline Ford talking about her gorgeously illustrated history of Sydney's beaches, and I realised the full complexity of the situation.

Ford has written a history of Sydney’s ocean beaches, from the obsession with sharks and nets in the 20s and 30s to the protests against sewage dumping in the 1980s. Researching the Sate records of NSW she has found the most fascinating files from Manly and Waverley councils detailing their attempts to erect shark nets not necessarily, as we would assume, in the name of human safety, but more for the economic benefits. People could be made to pay to swim in netted areas, and beachside councils have always been keen to make people pay more for access (witness the present-day parking fees charged at beachside areas).

In December 1929 Bondi had just finished its beautification project, which included the grand Pavilion, but it had proved to be something of a white elephant.


The Bondi Pavilion



The Great Depression had just begun, and people weren’t spending money on seaside entertainments. Stories like this are what makes Dr. Ford's book so utterly fascinating. She is telling the hidden stories of our beaches. As she says, it is not all "just people lying on sand." It is about people moving to beachside areas (the fascinating phenomenon of country people retiring to Manly) and the population laying claim to freely access the beach - not a given in 19th century Sydney where most of the beaches were privately owned.

Sydney Beaches: A History has lots of wonderful, nostalgic photographs of beach goers in years past. I was fascinated to see Manly's shark tower, a futuristic object which rose straight up in an almost occult-looking needle.

Manly shark tower


Sadly gone. The beaches have always been sites of dispute between state and local governments - just who owns the sand, the water and the foreshores. And who is responsible for their upkeep and the safety of the people who visit them? Such arguments continue into the 21st century, particularly when it comes to beachside developments, a hobby in Sydney as old as white settlement.

It's a remarkable book, and one that will be of enormous interest to anyone who loves Sydney and her beaches. A great gift, too. I look upon beaches with new eyes, more aware of the poltics, the assumptions and the different ways of managing them that have evolved over time.




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