Sandy Thorne, author of Old-Timers : Magnificent stories from mighty Australians, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |November 15, 2011

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Sandy Thorne

author of Old-Timers : Magnificent stories from mighty Australians

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Despite my mother jumping off every wardrobe in the house when she knew I was “on the way”, I clung in like a little scrub tick and was born at Nundah Private Hospital, Brisbane, capital of the Sunshine State. I was extremely fortunate to enjoy the best of all worlds during my childhood, living on the northern outskirts of Brissie in a rural area (which then was “out in the bush” but close to the ocean as well); so I galloped my horses around paddocks after cattle, and also along the beach to terrorise sunbaking silly buggers. Because I hated school, I kept getting expelled and attended several (between frequently playing the wag) in Brissie and surrounding areas.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

12: A show-jumping star like my hero Pat Smythe (U.K.);

18: Gulf cattle station owner and horse breeder;

30: as successful a poet as Pam Ayres.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That I would never marry and have children.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

My mother taking me to the library to select books, from a very early age; marrying a western cattleman who introduced me to bush poetry; having a premature child and filling in “waiting time” in hospital by beginning to write my first book.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? aren’t they obsolete?

Books will never be obsolete. No technology or entertainment can replace the enjoyment gained from sitting quietly, reading from an actual book held in your hands; nor can they generate the sense of pride felt when looking at your own book collection.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

“Old-Timers” is a collection of condensed life stories from twenty fascinating Australians who have led unusual lives, or achieved a great deal. They are from vastly different backgrounds but they are all people who have lived for a long time, and experienced huge challenges, triumphs, and tragedies; known fear, great danger, desolation and joy. They are all magnificent characters in their own style. As my personal writing style is conveying dry Aussie humour on paper (as well as on-stage), there are many laughs amongst the admiration, tears and trauma.

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

To engender more respect for older and elderly people, for what they have achieved and endured.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

One of the subjects in my “Old-Timers” book, in the chapter titled The Battler. Tony Dowton was also the inspiration for three earlier novels written for Horwitz-Graheme in the early 1980’s – the Battler series. He was/is the hardest working man I have ever known, and the greatest battler I have ever known. He overcame – against all odds – monumental challenges, to survive and succeed in an outback region that is extremely harsh and difficult. The other reason for my admiration of him is that all his efforts were for his wife and family. Coming from a family that was dysfunctional long before the word was coined, I passionately admired his love and devotion to his wife and children. Since they became adults, he was faced with, and overcame, an appalling holocaust of treachery, pain and loss, that would have put most ordinary human beings into the nuthouse or the grave.

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To write an international best-seller. To enjoy a peaceful, enjoyable old age, with plenty of time to write beautifully and consistently, without constant interruption.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

To always carry a pad and biro, everywhere, plus keep a diary. To always put anything they write away in a drawer for at least a month, then read and edit it. To assess the time-wasting factors in your life, e.g. watching crap on t.v., verbal diarrhoea on the ‘phone, cut them out, and use that time to write. To only write about what you know about.

Sandy, thank you for playing.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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