Hi there, I’m Nick Place – mostly known as Nicko – and am a Melbourne-based author, who has published novels, written a short film and been a journalist for more years than I am comfortable admitting to. But what the Hell. If you really care, here is a timeline of how I got to here:
Born in the Pre-Cretaceous Period. Actually five years after my current car, a 1960 Karmann Ghia. You can do the maths. I prefer not to.
Up until the end of 1982: Burwood Primary School, then Kingswood College, Box Hill, Melbourne. Edited highlights: Bad hairstyles; slouching in class; copping a cane in Year 8 before that shit was banned, always hating himself for not taking that matter up with the teacher on the day; winning Prime Minister of Kingswood in a school-wide election as part of Year 9 politics; lots of creative writing wherever possible within schoolwork, while also battling the demons of maths, French and science. Actually, I didn’t even attempt to master French; learning to juggle instead of practising essay writing; discovering girls; enduring unrequited crushes; losing virginity; deliriously happy watching Richmond win the flag by 81 points in 1980 at Nick’s first live Grand Final, and thinking footy was awesome and Richmond would be dominant for years; discovering he could run and becoming a middle-distance and 1500 metre
runner, up to and including being absolutely smoked by kids who really could run at the Victorian championships; lots of surfing and riding my old Repco bike around Lorne, and playing imaginary games against enemies who wilted if you threw enough accurate stones in a deserted Lorne car park; and hanging out with Shaun, once dodging an angry tiger snake, and other adventures.
Early 1983: Somehow offered a job as a copyboy at The Herald, a major Melbourne metropolitan afternoon newspaper (now the Herald Sun). Massive overnight gear change from surfer-dude ex-schoolboy to copyboy and then Jimmy Olsen cadet journo. On my very first day at the paper, wearing a stylish olive open neck shirt to match my totally bitching Roger David three-piece two-tone brown interview suit, feeling awesome at this change of fortune, I was strutting through the old-school newsroom (typewriters still on desks) when the deputy chief of staff called me into his cubicle. “We wear ties here at The Herald, Nicholas,” he said. Crushed, in trouble on day one, I reeled out of there to see two guys only slightly older than me rolling around at their desks, having witnessed my humiliation. They were crying with laughter. The blond one turned out to be my second ever sighting of Michael Roberts, future Media Giants business partner. My first sighting of him had been unknown to me at the time, as he kicked three cheeky goals to help Richmond to the Under 19s premiership early on that famous 1980 Grand Final day (Shaun and I watching the whole thing because we had turned up crazy-early to secure a decent Standing Room position. Michael was and is a fanatical Collingwood fan, so I am happy that he played a role in a Tiger victory on that black day for the Magpies. Especially after the “tie incident.”)
1983-late 1990: Cadet, general news reporter, police rounds reporter, local government reporter, and finally, thank the heavens, sports reporter for The Herald and then the Sunday Herald newspapers. Richmond Football Club begins a slow fade as a football super power, failing to build on the success of 1980. I kep myself busy, covering Wimbledon and the French Open, lots of boxing world title fights (golden Lester Ellis and Jeff Fenech era), many VFL/AFL matches, and other highlights. I loved newspaper life, even if I was there during the start of the decline.Once, having delivered a feature article in sport, a chief sub-editor, and later literary editor of The Age, wandered over and informed me that he considered me to be “a true writer”, as against a reporter. This unexpected and high praise spoke to a deep part of my core, unlocking my unspoken desire to be a novelist; to write fiction. Maybe, if he felt that way about my writing, it was actually possible?
My time on the police rounds shift was fairly brief but extremely memorable, especially because I was covering the “graveyard” 2 am-10 am shift. One night, I walked down to an all-night Greek cafe in Lonsdale Street repeatedly from Russell Street police headquarters, to stave off boredom and stay awake with caffeine hits. At 10 am, after the quietest night ever, I knocked off, went home to bed and woke to discover that the police HQ had been blown up in the hours since. My first official date with Anna Heywood is delayed until I fall through the front door at about 2 am, having missed a planned party, because I’d been sent on assignment to the Victorian highlands town of Omeo unexpectedly that day, driving for something like four hours each way. Anna foolishly ignores the warning signs and marries me in 1989.
1991: Start work as a magazine editor at Text Media, in the embryonic, creative first phase of that company’s existence. Have started keeping my first creative notebook where I jot down ideas, inspirations, thoughts and random brain swirl. Also start tinkering with the first attempt at ‘Roll With It‘. Originally it’s a short story about a dweeb who falls in love with a mysterious girl at a swimming pool. Pitch an early draft to a publisher who gently informs me it’s half-baked and nowhere near ready to pitch. I take that as a no.
1992-1997: My first son, William Place, is born to Anna and I, putting all novel-writing exploits on hold for a while. In fact, I mostly shelved any attempts at novels for several years, as Macklin Place was born in 1995. During 1993, now working at ABC TV on a youth current affairs show, Attitude, I have the idea for a person who is born out of focus. Thinks it’s a disability but maybe it’s a super power? I write down the name ‘Hazy Retina’. Spend a season as Editor of the AFL Record, and begin work at Seven Network as a comedy writer, producer, head writer and other gigs. Even briefly, on-air reporter for “Talking Footy”. A lot of fun. I am commissioned to write a stage pantomime, ‘Footy Castaways‘, mixing celebrities and footballers in a mutated version of ‘Gilligan’s Island’. It stars Eric Bana (no really), Lisa McCune,Tim Watson, Ang Christou, Robert Dipierdomenico in an ape suit, and other notable figures in
Melbourne entertainment and sport. One of the greatest moments of my professional life is hearing a sold-out crowd laugh loudly and spontaneously at my first scripted joke on opening night. Footy Castaways sells out for weeks at the Last Laugh theatre-restaurant. By now, it’s occurring to me that I seem to have drifted from my journalistic roots but I do also create and self-publish a sports-based newspaper into the island Republic of Nauru. Go to Nauru to cover a sports carnival and commentate weightlifting, featuring Nauran lifters I’ve never heard of, in an open-sided hall as a mini-cyclone hits, making sparks launch off the electrical mixing boards attached to my microphones (two gaffa-taped together: one for Nauru radio, one for Nauru TV. No record of what the poor Nauruans made of the commentary that day). In my creative notebooks, I kick around crazy, fun names in my notebook, come up with ‘Zucchini Spacestation’. I also come up with a scenario for two comedian friends, who have characters called Boob & The Pigman. In my scenario, Boob & the Pigman find themselves required to give 1000 pieces of chocolate to a chocolion, a massive lion that will eat you unless you hand over the chocolate. Boob eats the chocolate. Pigman says: ‘He’s made of chocolate”, totally giving up his friend. Comedians stare at me. Somewhere a dog barks.
During this period, I write for magazines, including some excellent adventures writing features for Panorama, Ansett Airlines’ mag. I travel to the Combo Waterhole north of Winton, outback Queensland, to write about the hundred-year anniversary of Andrew ‘Banjo’ Paterson writing Waltzing Matilda, from a story he heard at a picnic at that particular billabong. Some bemused kangaroos and I sit by a puddle in searing heat, pondering the Banjo trapped by a flood at the same site a century earlier. I also go to Oodnadatta, seriously in the middle of nowhere, to cover the races. Yarn with cowboys and owners of properties bigger than some countries. I miss that Panorama gig badly, still. I also freelance as a football writer as well as winning the gig as an I-don’t-know-much-but-I-know-what-I-like film reviewer for the Sunday Age, something of a rare double. Showing the trademark cruel journo humour, Sunday Age sports editors always assign me to cover Richmond v Geelong games, where Gary Ablett Snr leads the slaughter every time with maybe a dozen goals or more. I sigh and watch the show, dazzled by Ablett; even if he is monstering my Tigers.
1997: After an original casino-based sitcom pilot that I co-wrote, ‘Trumps’, is knocked back by Channel Seven, which opted instead for ‘Bullpit‘, an ill-fated remake of ‘Kingswood Country’, I sulk and head back to The Age newspaper for real, to check out a newfangled idea called Her Majesty’s Amazing Electrical Interweb, or the internet for short. I become Content Development Manager for the very early version of theage.com.au. Basically this means I get to surf the net all day and come up with ways to make The Age Online live and breathe, rather than just be the newspaper stickytaped online. The Age isn’t serious enough about it for my liking, so I hook back up with Michael Roberts and we finally achieve a dream in creating our own company, ironically named Media Giants, as an e-commerce provider. In 1998. Sort of ahead of the curve. AOL Australia, then the biggest internet server provider in the world, is our first client. Among all of this, I occasionally pull drafts of ‘Roll With It’ out of the bottom drawer and tinker but feel the writing is forced, stilted, not up to it. I attempt screenplays, other novels, short stories, poetry. Mostly these attempts remain rightfully buried in computer files or paper files, never to be seen by anybody. The Mount Everest of actually ever finishing a major work of fiction feels dauntingly insurmountable.
2002: Clearly the worst year ever for Media Giants. Michael’s beloved brother dies unexpectedly and poor MR is lost in a world of grief. We’re meanwhile facing the dot com crash, trying to launch TV shows on the Fox Footy channel, rustle up client magazines or other work. Extremely stressful and requiring crazy work hours, as I lurch from 2 am edit suite sessions to business meetings to rehearsals and show-records to Giant desk-work to who knows what? Freaking that I barely see my family, I try to stay connected to my boys by writing them a story, to show I’m physically absent but thinking of them. I start tinkering with a kids story about two children, Harlan and Ainsley Banana, who wish their dad would meet somebody because he’s lonely – a big wish; a wish to the power of kazillion. Inspired by the story of a friend, who was about to travel to Queensland to marry a uni classmate, and worried about whether his kids – yes, Harlan and Ainsley – would accept her, and featuring lots of random ideas from my notebooks. Zucchini Spacestation, the lion and chocolate, two aliens, Larry & Kelroy (who had been the stars of amateur audio recordings, me riffing comedy stories for the kids). They all go in, as I write chapters at night, too wired and over-exhausted and stressed to consider meaningful sleep. I give the story the working title, ‘The Kazillion Wish’ and I go hard for jokes, needing lightness in my life. Somehow, as Michael returns and Giant life settles a little, the tantalising goal of actually finishing a novel-length piece of fiction starts to become feasible. For the first time ever, chapter by chapter, reading them to the boys on the odd occasion we actually cross paths, hearing them laugh, I get closer to writing: “The End”.
Late 2002: Penguin Books rejects the manuscript of “The Kazillion Wish“. I slump on the couch and drink whisky and have a cry. My son, Will, having seen the rejection letter, which explains the characters don’t grow enough in the course of the book, comes running in, eyes shining, an says: ‘Dad, I’ve got it! Have Harlan say to Ainsley: “Hey, you look taller! Have you grown?” I laugh and cry at the same time. We go on a family holiday to Vietnam, get back and then I head straight to a scuba diving course, get home late on a Sunday night and Anna phones from a supermarket, asking me to move some money around online. I log on and see I have an email from Allen & Unwin, the other major publisher I’d been hoping against hope would like it. My heart sinks. Such a perfect Vietnam holiday and scuba course and now it’s all to be brought down by another rejection letter … my wannabe fiction career is dead. No point putting it off, I click on the email. They love the book. Want to publish it. When can I meet? I stare at the screen. I read it five times. I start crying. Will and Mac charge in, deeply worried that I’m in tears (again). I try to explain that its okay, I’m crying of happiness. We collect a labradoodle puppy called Fly Dog the Magnificent (Fly, for short), that I bought in a spur-of-the-moment decision, joining Choo Choo, our Burmese cat, within the family. Choo Choo is not thrilled by this development.
2003: The Kazillion Wish is released by Allen & Unwin. And then has a bunch of international rights bought by The Chicken House publishing company (owned by Barry Cunningham, the guy who famously signed JK Rowling and a little series about a wizard named Harry). The Kazillion Wish sells pretty well and gets some nice reviews. I work hard on Kazillion Wish 2, titled ‘Thanks A Kazillion‘. I also accept an invitation to write a short film, ‘The Cook‘ (directed by Tony Rogers and produced by Ros Willett and Matt Molony) about shearers fighting with their cook. It debuts at the St Kilda International Short Film Festival and then plays on opening night at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, which is a fun adventure.
2004: ‘Thanks a Kazillion‘ is released. Fly Dog The Magnificent plays a leading role in saving the universe. Both books get sold to a Polish
publisher but I don’t think they ever got released there. The Chicken House releases the UK and USA version, with illustrations by a Scottish artist, Ross Collins. Wildly different take on how the characters look. I kind of like how Martians with five legs and four arms and antenna can be interpreted so differently. Sadly sales suggest this series is not the new Harry Potter. I talk at a lot of schools and the occasional literary
festival. I love engaging with kids whose imaginations are fired by the books.
2005-2007: The publishers at Allen & Unwin feel sales aren’t strong enough to commission a third kazillion book. I spend more than a year trying to finally land the story of Hazy Retina, my long-nurtured idea of the person who was born out of focus. He becomes a teenager and a school kid, and the OK team finally takes shape. Away from fiction, Media Giants is trucking along pretty well, Fly Dog the Magnificent now a fixture in the office, thrilling clients, and pissing on the floor much less now she’s no longer a puppy. Richmond Football Club gets sick of constant failure and embarks on a five-year plan to glory, under Terry Wallace. I move from Fairfield to Fitzroy, finally living on the streets
where my crime book is set. In 2006, I dabble again with ‘Roll With It‘, working out a story flow, and character lists and flesh-outs. Most strange of all, in early 2005, I meet a real life version of Tony Laver, the lead character in Roll With It. I meet an ex-Special Operations Group cop who shot a guy and got sent to the police academy to cool his heels while politicians debated his fate. ‘You’re been in my head for ten years,’ I tell him, blinking. He smiles and says, ‘If I tell you the real stories, could you use them instead of the ones you’ve made up?’ I say yes; we meet him and his ex-SOG partner for beers and stories, on the understanding that I won’t reveal my sources, true to the journo code, even in fiction. They tell me stories that are astonishing and often hilarious and carry reality touches I could not have made up or known. I can’t thank them enough for trusting me, telling me the stories behind police rounds event I actually covered years ago. My notebooks bulge. But then my marriage ends.
2008: ‘The OK Team‘ is released by Allen & Unwin, in January, and ‘OK Team 2: Better Than OK‘ follows later in the year, hoping to build momentum for the series with the books landing close together. OK Team 2 is the first time I’ve killed a character in print, which is exciting – apart from all the deaths in the still unfinished, sitting-in-a-million-parts draft of ‘Roll With It‘. Bedridden with a flu, I channel-surf the TV and stumble onto the Stanley Cup finals in the National Hockey League, where I watch the Detroit Red Wings beat the Penguins. Just like that, I fall in love with both ice hockey and the Red Wings.
2009: Allen & Unwin declines to commission a third OK team book, Richmond declares the five-year plan to be a failure and I turn all of my attention, at last, to ‘Roll With It‘. Yet again I dust off the ancient scrolls of early drafts and look at my endless notes. I still like the idea; the basic premise. By now, I’m thinking it’s a comedy as much as a dangerous crime book. All the Underbelly and Melbourne gangland war publicity has made rock stars of criminals, and seen so much earnest writing about crime. I angle towards a more light-hearted take, but trying to weave in issues of manhood and how you define yourself and deeper rivers. I have no idea if I can do it. The way I figure it, I’ve had four novels published, as well as coffee table non-fiction books with Media Giants. I should now have the writing experience and the life experience to either write this novel or admit that my career as a fiction author is done. I venture into the writing cave, with the verdict very much in the balance. In August, 2009, I finish the manuscript. The Detroit Red Wings lose the Stanley Cup, failing to defend the title in the finals.
2010: ‘The Kazillion Wish‘ is released by Salani, an Italian publisher, throughout Italy, under the brilliant title, ‘Missione Banana‘. Wish I’d thought of that. ‘Roll With It‘ is rejected by the usual number of publishers. I try to tell myself that it was a cool achievement just to finish it, and to actually like the manuscript after all these years of trying and thinking about it. My son, Will, is now more obsessed by ice hockey than I am and when I discover Melbourne has a team, The Melbourne Ice, we go along to watch. Will discovers there are classes, taught by Melbourne Ice players, at the Icehouse and declares his intention to learn. I’m coming off a nasty relationship break-up and, although 45 years old, find I am in exactly the right mood to throw myself hard at large blocks of ice. I have never previously skated. This proves to be a lot of fun and leads to my blog, nickdoeshockey. Richmond Football Club begins a new five-year plan, under coach Damian Hardwick, who I rate.
2011: I run into one of my bosses from Text Media, years before, who now runs a publishing company. She asks if I’m still writing fiction and I mention ‘Roll With It‘. She asks to see the manuscript and I say sure … My boys and I prepare to leave for an epic six-week trip to the USA and just as I’m literally setting the auto-response out-of-office on my email, I receive a note from the publisher saying they love the manuscript and while they can’t promise anything, they want to talk seriously to me when I get back from the trip. I head to America, floating onto the plane. Among endless highlights, Macka leads the charge to Harry Potter World and onto the Hulkcoaster in Orlando, Florida, we camp in bear country in North Carolina, I achieve a life dream by watching my beloved Detroit Red Wings play live, even if the team loses all four games that we watch. (After we leave Detroit, they embark on an NHL-record winning run at home, the bastards.) I return to Melbourne and barely draw breathe before organising that meeting. They sign the book. People start asking me if I’m excited by the fresh talent and genuine signs of revival at Richmond FC? I reply that I’m all about 2014 … the kids need time.
2012: The editing process goes through its incarnations and an awesome cover design emerges for ‘Roll With It’. Hockey life is hectic. Richmond FC looks better and better. I tell everybody I’m all about 2014. I watch an electrical storm with a beautiful woman called Chloé, and fall in love.
2013: On March 1, ‘Roll With It‘ is released by Hardie Grant. I have already started work on a sequel, in the hopes that the book sells enough to prompt a request for a second instalment of Tony Laver. Media Giants trucks along. Chloé and I think about moving in together. Over in Detroit, the Red Wings struggle to adjust to life after Niklas Lidstrom. Richmond FC is talked up as a finals chance. It’s all about 2014.
2014: Richmond and Detroit fail to win respective titles. Nicko is writing, a sequel to Roll With It.
2015: The sequel is written but the publishing house has decided to leave the fiction arena completely, meaning Nicko and his agent have to find a new publisher. This search could take a while. Nicko and Chloé marry, which is the highlight of the year. Nicko starts work on a new non-Laver novel, for a change of headspace.