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Tim Bowden - Author Q & A

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5 minutes with Tim Bowden

Bowden 2 - Apr 2013

Tim Bowden was born in Hobart, Tasmania, on August 2, 1937. He is married, with two children and three grandchildren. An author and broadcaster formerly of Sydney but now living on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, Tim was host of the ABC-TV listener and viewer reaction program Backchat, from 1986-93. His previous works include One Crowded Hour.

Who is your favourite author?

Evelyn Waugh, who wrote, in my view, the definitive book about journalism in 1958 with the publication of Scoop. Waugh had been a foreign correspondent in Ethiopia, so was well positioned to write his novel about the nature correspondent, William Boot, who was sent by accident to Ishmaelia (Ethiopia) to cover a war there, by a press rich, egomaniacal press baron, Lord Copper. Boot does as he is told, and writes dispatches more like letters to his mother than journalistic copy. The sub editors are not dismayed, though, suspecting censorship, and take Boot’s naïve ramblings and turn them into front-page action stories. My favourite journalist character is one Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock, so impossibly famous, that he once landed unannounced, in transit in a small South American republic, and the mere fact of his arrival there caused a revolution to break out. Scoop today is as relevant in the 21st century as it was in the last, and is essential reading for all journalists. 

Where was you most memorable holiday?

On Maria Island, Tasmania, in 1956. A fellow cadet reporter on the Hobart Mercury Mike Philp and I planned a three week summer holiday in Reidle Bay, on the seaward side of the island. We air-dropped some heavier supplies like tinned food nearby from a light plane, and a friendly fisherman towed our little 8ft wooden dinghy over to Chinamans Bay where Maria Island is divided by a narrow isthmus. We dragged the boat over the sandbanks to the ocean side, and Mike rowed it into Reidle Bay with our haversacks and tent while I walked along the coast. It was idyllic. A small fresh water stream ran into the bay, which had been used as a whaling station in the 19th century and pieces of whalebone still stuck out of the sand, or were wedged between the rocks. The water was crystal clear, and I spearfished for trumpeter (an excellent eating fish) and crayfish. There were so many crayfish that Mike once lent over a rock with some bait, coaxed a good-sized cray from its lair, and actually caught it by grabbing its feelers with his bare hands. There is no way anyone could camp there now, as Maria Island is a national park and camping in Reidle Bay and even lighting a camp fire is forbidden. I still think about that holiday.

Do you have any hot writing tips for beginners?

I have no experience as a novelist, as all my books have been non-fiction. Short sentences in the active voice are recommended, and avoid semi-colons and extra clauses. Read what you have written out loud to see if it works as a narrative, and get rid of polysyllabic words that sound too literary. Above all have a gripping story to tell, and develop your own narrative style.

If you could replay a moment of your life over and over again, what would it be?

Swimming in the unique peat-stained shallow waters of Lake Pedder, with its dazzling quartzite white sand beach, surrounded by mountains in Tasmana’s South West. Alas, it was destroyed by a marginal Hydro Electric project that is undoubtedly one of the worst acts of environmental vandalism ever perpetuated by a State government in a pristine wilderness. This is something I can never do again, since it disappeared for ever in 1972.

What was the best thing about writing The Changi Camera?

Interviewing so many remarkable Australians in the early 1980s, some of whom had never spoken in detail about their extraordinary experiences as prisoners-of-war of the Japanese in Asia. I have drawn on these interviews in an essay that begins The Changi Camera before George Aspinall again tells his own story about his photographic exploits not only in Changi, but up while working as a slave-labourer with his fellow Australians on the Thai-Burma Railway. Sadly the ranks are thinning now, as survivors are in their early nineties. But the original recordings by me and historian Hank Nelson have preserved their voices for future generations, and are drawn on in The Changi Camera.

Want to know more about The Changi Camera?

Change 2 - Apr 2013

In The Changi Camera, acclaimed author Tim Bowden presents a unique record of one Australian soldier's experience of the fall of Singapore, captivity in Changi and enduring the hell of the Thai-Burma Railway. George Aspinall was a keen photographer and, even in the very worst of conditions, he managed to take photos, process them and so preserve for later generations the reality of incarceration.

Along with George's own memories of those years, Tim Bowden has written a gripping and authoritative overview of what happened in Changi and on the Railway.

This powerful narrative and unique collection of almost one hundred photographs combine to give us a raw and graphic account of just what George and thousands of his fellow Australians endured.

Information provided by Hachette Australia

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