Prior to having your first novel, Lords of the Pacific, published you were a rugby player for NRL team The Roosters. How are you finding the switch from professional rugby player to novelist?
Surprisingly, I do find similarities between the two. Of course there is no strenuous training schedule, nor is there the gnawing fear of being injured but both require discipline, planning and courage. There are the ups and downs of success and failure and the constant terror of being rejected by your publisher and the public. One major difference is the sleeping, I never woke up in the middle of the night after a game or training with a brilliant tactical move. With the writing I’m constantly jarred awake with a new idea or direction but I suppose that is better than a 120kg Tongan running at my bad shoulder.
You have written that your inspiration to write novels came from time you spent in Tonga and Lords of the Pacific is set there. Could you describe your experience of writing about Tonga in 1793 while having personal familiarity with contemporary Tonga?
Funnily, not a lot has changed in Tonga in two hundred years. It is not a tourist Mecca like Fiji or Vanuatu, the lands are still relatively unchanged with hardly any hotels or resorts, therefore I can transport myself back in time quite easily. Where I was living, in Houma, on the remote south of the island life is very laid back. Traditional farming and fishing still remains and life is centred around the church. Back when Captain Cook arrived it was Tu the god of war they prayed to, now they sing to the Almighty and Jesus Christ. The people don’t change much even when they come to Sydney to live and that is what I love about the place and the Tongans themselves.
Islands of Gold opens with:
25 July 1796
‘I do not know what beast patrols these waters, but from its tracks it must be the length of four men,’ said Weibbe Jansz.
The Dutch soldier squatted onto his haunches and studied the marks in the gritty mud. He shook his head as he considered the death the old man must have experienced.
What sea creature can slither onto land and drag a man from his tent?’ asked youg Daniel Caine, ‘Surely it must be a monster.’
What were some of the most important considerations in writing characters who seem genuinely of their time while also being engaging for a contemporary audience?
I had to consider their profession, education and their class and the superstitions of such people. Those without access to books, who had lived their whole lives in the northern climes of Europe could never consider what a crocodile looked like, its tracks and where it resided on this planet. This was the Age of Discovery for educated men but for an ordinary soldier or sailor ancient myths and outlandish tales still held sway over them. Could you imagine the terror one would experience at seeing a crocodile for the first time or the awe a Polynesian fisherman may feel looking upon a horse with a rider on it back racing a long a beach at full speed? I erase everything I have learnt and seen in my life then write from such a perspective.
There is already a synopsis for a third novel, Traders Bay, on your website and Traders Bay is set in 1808 Sydney, New Zealand and the sea between. What sorts of research have you done, or do you intend to do, to capture that historical setting in Traders Bay?
The research is done and the skeleton of the book is complete. I have yet to add the meat, in other words, the direction of the characters, the sweeping romance, the relationships between each character and who lives, loves and dies. The research has to take place where the book is set, in this instance, the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. I get on a plane and go there, spend a week asking the locals for any odd information, perusing tiny book shops and visiting obscure museums and galleries. It’s great fun and very rewarding, everyone has something to offer you, you just have to be nice and ask.
What can you tell us about the adventures ahead for your characters in Traders Bay?
These are new characters from Lords of the Pacific and Islands of Gold. My characters are currency lads and lasses, Australian born sons and daughters of English convicts and settlers. I have a saga in store for this novel, I am attempting a Gone with the Wind of the Pacific, an Australian Count of Monte Cristo. I wish to develop myself into something more than a historical adventure novelist, this will be a truly epic tale (I hope).
What kinds of fiction do you most enjoy reading and do you have some favourites?
I like to escape with Wilbur Smith, Con Iggluden, Tim Winton and Don Winslow. I also enjoy Kate Grenville, Colleen McCullough and Ken Follett. My reading is diverse, I usually read two or three books at once. One can be a history of Captain Cook’s Polynesian navigator the other a novel about the Mexican Cartels. I get bored easily.
Have you ever written any short stories? (If so, how did they turn out? If not, do you think you’ll try it in the future?)
I have never thought of that option until this very moment. I have written two short novels on my life as a professional footballer back in the early ‘90’s which are mostly short stories, I best watch out when they are published. I think short stories are something I could do but to date no one has asked for any from me.
What were some of the fun or challenging aspects of writing fiction set partly aboard ships in Lords of the Pacific and Islands of Gold?
Man has been sailing the high seas for millennia now and over that time many weird and wonderful traditions have evolved involving punishment, superstitions and protocol, that are very interesting. I found the whole process of sailing a ship and all the names for all the equipment and its jargon quite infuriating but also interesting at times, but, it was all a good lesson.
What advice would you like to give for new fiction writers aspiring to commercial publication?
Just start. Don’t be scared to get into it. Failure wouldn’t kill you, it would make you a better writer.
What is next for your fiction, besides Traders Bay?
I will have to see how Traders Bay turns out and ultimately sells. Then I will have a sit down with my agent, Selwa Anthony, and my publishers, Pan McMillan, and look at the next step in my writing career.
More on Grant Hyde and his fiction can be found at www.granthyde.com.
The Australian Literature Review