Tim Ferguson, author of Carry a Big Stick, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |November 8, 2013

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Tim Ferguson

author of Carry a Big Stick

Ten Terrifying Questions


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

I was born a week before JFK’s assassination (I had nothing to do with it) at the Women’s Hospital in Sydney, which is quite strange because I was born male. They seemed to be far more lax on who they let be born where in those days. I was raised just about everywhere. My dad kept moving so I was raised in the jungles of Singapore, the wilds of NSW in Blayney, the oldest place on earth. Even Canadians shudder when they hear the word Blayney. I went to school everywhere, I went to nine schools and, of course, I didn’t like any of them.

2. What did you want to be when you were 12, 18 and 30? And why?

When I was 12 I wanted to be Pope. I went to see the Pope once, my mum took me along, and as far as I could tell this was just an old dude talking mumbo jumbo. I figured if this guy had thousands of people standing around, saying words together, chanting whenever he points at them (plus he got to wear that big hat), I could do that job. And low and behold I did get a job standing in front of thousands of people muttering gibberish in a very silly costume.

tim-ferguson-photo-by-heath-missen-jpegAt 18 I made the gigantic mistake of wanting to be an actor. You’ve heard of those, they’re the people who bring you your coffee. It was momentary and I auditioned for NIDA at 17 and they said I was too young so I thought, I’ll finish school and go back. Then they still said I was too young. It was then I thought acting was something I can’t do. And I dodged a bullet there. I don’t even like coffee.

At 30 I wanted to be a Doug Anthony All Star. Luckily, I already was a Doug Anthony All Star. It ticked all the boxes a thirty year old man could want. You get to be a comedian which means you don’t have to really think of anything too clever. You get to be a rock star because you get to sing songs. You get to hang around with Paul McDermott and, what was that other girl’s name, Richard someone? And you get to tour the world. I was living the life.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at 18 that you do not have now?

I probably didn’t think laughter could save the world, but now I know it can.

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?

Probably the first thing, in terms of a career path, was meeting Richard Fidler and starting busking. Then getting Paul McDermott to join us, and that was the beginning of the all-stars madness. We kept busking all the way through our career because it’s a great way to rehearse and get paid pennies.

As far as personal development, it was probably shifting schools, friends, cities and even countries. It meant I had to learn to walk into a new situation and not be socially slaughtered. I learnt what school bullies looked like and how to beguile them with humour. So I learnt how to leave things, which is bad, but learnt how to ingratiate myself with people who could kill me, which is good.

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?

Yeah, books are completely obsolete. I think people who are selling books are only selling between three and four hundred million books a year. Obviously the gas is going out of that balloon.

I suppose writing a book is a way of making something permanent. It’s always good to write something long form because it’s harder. Mind you, it’s also harder to read. People these days make goldfish look like forward thinking planners.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

My latest book is a memoir about the things I rememoired about my life. It’s called Carry a Big Stick because I have to get around the world carrying a big stick which is a walking stick. It’s great because, as we all know, the chicks go crazy for a guy with a walking stick. Don’t worry about a puppy guys, get a walking stick and already women go straight into nurse mode.

The book is about my life, weird childhood, joining the Doug Anthony All-Stars, starting a theatre company, touring the world as a comedian, becoming a TV star with toothbrushes, big brothers and all that stuff.

Then one morning I went to the doctors and someone took a photo of my brain. The photograph showed my brain had spots all over it. They were tiny clusters of scars, and I was told I had Multiple Sclerosis.

The book is meant to be funny, and hopefully people see that you can live life and enjoy it and also have MS and get by just fine. I just married the prettiest Canadian woman alive and she’s brilliant, and I can only think it had something to do with carrying a big stick.

Walk loudly, carry a big stick, and be positive. The sun always rises and one day I won’t, but that happens to everybody.

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

I would like to change the way scripts are written. The universal symbol for drama is to have a crying mask and a laughing mask, and those two things apparently make drama. Aristotle said (I’m paraphrasing because he said it in Greek) “a tragedy that you can’t laugh at is suspicious, and a comedy that’s not about anything is crap’. Nobody teaches comedy in Australia at all, I’m it. I’m the only person who goes around to universities and schools telling them about the process of writing comedy. I want to change that, I want to have hundreds of comedy teachers. If you’re going to do anything you might as well make it laugh.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

I’m incredibly lucky to say my great friend Peter Abbott, who is a producer of, wait for it, reality television. He’s a very smart guy with a big heart, a great brain, and we’ve always had fun. If there was a person who I had to be stuck on a desert island with I’d say take that guy because he’s got a camera crew and he’ll make sure we get fed. But also in terms of active, everyday life, Peter would be right at the top of the list.

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

I’d love to make a huge Australian comedy film, I’ve written one so we just have to get it made. Oh, and I’d also like to change Western Society. I’d like more girls to be born, and I want comedy to be recognised as the equal to tragedy and not some idiot cousin.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

I often get asked by writers what my process is. The truth is there is no process. Some people write every day, some people have that personality, but I can’t do that. I just try and write as much as possible. Hemingway said that the first draft of anything is shit, and it’s true. No matter what you’ve written, no matter how good you think it is, don’t worry because its crap, and it can always get better. And the only way to get better is to write it again. And write funny. And also horny. Write horny.

Tim, thank you for playing.

You can pick up a copy of Tim’s book Carry a Big Stick here

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About the Contributor

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

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  • Christine Denniss

    September 17, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    Great interview/game. I just love Tim. Always have and always will. Also, Big sticks make great side-kicks in this silly old world.

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