Shamus Sillar, author of Sicily, It’s Not Quite Tuscany: Having a Blast in Catania, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |February 17, 2012

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Shamus Sillar

author of Sicily, It’s Not Quite Tuscany:
Having a Blast in Catania

Ten Terrifying Questions


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

Born in Sydney. Moved to the Northern Rivers of NSW when I was four. Raised mostly on a nut farm near Dunoon (“The Macadamia Capital of Australia”). Schooled in Lismore and two years in Brisbane. But spent every second I could at Byron Bay, which to this day is the place that feels like home.

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

A couple of months after my twelfth birthday, Kim Hughes scored three ducks in four innings and tearfully resigned from the Australian cricket captaincy. I wanted his job.

At eighteen I wanted to be drinking beer and dropping out of a law degree. (Two ticks there.)

At thirty, I was working in frigid northeast China, not far from Vladivostok, as a “Foreign Expert” in Roman History, and it was pretty much what I wanted to be doing, at least until something else came along, which admittedly didn’t take long.

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

That my ageing yet sprightly dog – a dachshund-Labrador cross named Bruce – was immortal, and possibly even a Jedi in canine form.

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?

From ten to thirteen, I was so obsessed with The Lord of the Rings that I spoke predominantly in Elvish, or at least tried to.

Tolkien aside, maths was always my thing. I was convinced I’d do it at university, until a succession of captivating books swung me towards the humanities in my final two years at school; the deal was sealed by Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha.

The book I’ve opened more times than any other is The Meaning of Liff  by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd.

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?

An age ago, on a family holiday in Malaysia, my mother – a voracious reader – was nearing the end of a particularly engrossing novel. A pesky monkey suddenly snatched it from her grip, ran to the top of a tree, ripped out the final two chapters and kept them for itself, before dropping the useless remainder to the ground and disappearing into the jungle. I’ll never forget the look on Mum’s face. My father, meanwhile, didn’t care a jot – he was too engrossed in his own holiday reading: Spike Milligan’s Puckoon. You’ve never seen a grown man reduced to such a tittering mess as Dad on that holiday – tears of laughter streaming down his face, all thanks to a slim paperback about a fictional Irish village.

I’m not sure why I’m telling this story; I’m just hoping that in some vague way I’ve answered the question.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

It’s a travel memoir covering a year that my wife and I spent in Sicily. It was our honeymoon, but thanks to a violent volcano, a Vespa mishap, the spectre of the Mafia, and a greengrocer with a loudhailer, it turned out to be as romantic as a wet sock. In a funny way, though.

(BBGuru: publisher’s blurb –

This is the story of a newly married couple and the year they spent in Sicily. Packed with history, culture – and plenty of misadventure – it will definitely make you laugh. It also has as much romance as an ordinary Aussie bloke can muster, and, of course, a little bit of Mafia action.

‘Gill and I had dreamt of living in Italy for as long as we’d been together.’
This is the story of an Aussie couple who sought a Mediterranean sea change only to find themselves in the sprawling Sicilian city of Catania – the ‘anti-Tuscany’ of Italy. There, any romantic visions they’d had of restoring a villa or stamping their entwined feet in vats of Chianti grapes disappeared faster than the chief witness in a Cosa Nostra trial.

Shamus and Gill’s tiny apartment in Catania was located in a grim neighbourhood opposite a triple-X cinema and a shop selling coffins, nearby Mount Etna erupted soon after their arrival, a mystery ailment left Shamus in a neck brace, they crashed a Vespa and had regular dealings with at least one Mafioso.

This, then, is an Italian sea change with grit. But it’s also a story of optimism, endurance and acceptance, an exploration of the minutiae of Sicilian culture, history, food and religion, and an example of how to find beauty – and humour – in the most unexpected of places.)

Click here to order Sicily, It’s Not Quite Tuscany: Having a Blast in Catania from Booktopia, Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

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

If someone is having an average day and upon reading my book they feel like their day is suddenly a little less average, I’m happy enough.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Ooh, these are getting hard. My family. Jim Henson. The cast of Withnail & I. Lots more.

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

To love, inform and entertain my children.

10.What advice do you give aspiring writers?

If you’re sitting at your desk and the words aren’t coming, don’t give up. Stare at the screen or the page; move some sentences around; change a few adjectives; keep tinkering with your text. (Don’t go online.) Invariably, things will start to gel; it might take an hour, or even half a day. With a bit of luck, you might even find yourself in “the zone” – a glorious, almost frenzied state where every idea is gold and words pour out like water from a burst dam. If that happens, do not move from your chair. Ignore the sun going down and the house plunging into darkness. Don’t go to the fridge for a snack. Don’t answer the phone. Just type like the clappers.

Shamus, thank you for playing…

Click here to order Sicily, It’s Not Quite Tuscany: Having a Blast in Catania from Booktopia, Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

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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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  • January 14, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    A great Summer read. I really enjoyed this account of a year on a fabulous island. I love Sicily and this book brought back great memories!

  • Denise Blair

    January 20, 2013 at 8:41 am

    Shamus travel- writes well and has a great sense of humour! Im giggling my way through his book, daily with my morning cups of tea-(He also gets 5 stars from me, because I rate Withnail and I , as probably one of my favourite films ever.)

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