Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards & David Hicks

Should David Hicks have been shortlisted for his novel Guantanamo: My Journey? This question raises a number of issues about free speech and the criteria used to assess literary merit. It also raises the question of political leadership or lack of it, when matters of potentially conflicting values arise in our society.

It’s beyond question that the right to free speech is important in a democracy. Does that mean that it is okay to incite murder or racist behaviour or terrorism? Surely, there are some limits? In March of this year the US Supreme Court ruled eight to one that people picketing military funerals with hateful signs had the right to do this because the right to free speech was so important.

In this case, the book was about past experience, and is not inciting criminal behaviour, so our support of free speech should cover the right of the book to be published, even if Mr. Hicks is a convicted terrorist who operated with the Taliban, the repressive regime that burned books and murdered teachers and girls trying to attend school. The Taliban, of course, does not support free speech.

The second issue is whether Mr. Hicks be allowed to profit by it (for example by winning an award prize)? I understand that prosecutors are addressing this question under the law that prevents convicted criminals profiting from writing books about their criminal activities.

Next we come to the issue of literary merit. I understand the publisher has dismissed suggestions that a ghost writer wrote the book. But what about content? Reviews of the book have referred to the fact that Mr. Hicks has included only sparse details of his experience in Afghanistan, and has not included some of the evidence tying him to the activities he has apparently now said was the result of a coerced confession. Perhaps the book might have more merit as a non-fiction literary work if he had given a full and frank account of these activities, instead of trying to fudge or brush over them.

Should a book like this, and an author with his track record, be entitled to be nominated for a literary prize? Australians are a forgiving bunch. Most of us would tend to allow that a person is entitled to a second chance if they plead mea culpa and express genuine remorse. Has Mr. Hicks done this, or has he tried to pretend it never happened? If the latter is the case, then surely whoever is responsible would be showing poor judgment to consider such a book for a non-fiction award. After all, there is no shortage of worthy entries.

We should not forget those who have been giving their lives and risking their lives trying to make the world safer from those who want to kill and maim innocent people for some warped values system. And the Taliban values are about as warped as one can get.

It is ironic that someone who actively supported a regime that killed teachers and burned books and refused to educate girls would write a self-serving book trying to justify a position few of us would consider justifiable.

It is even more laughable that a politician could see such a book as worthy of literary shortlisting based upon benchmarks of “democracy”.


Hi, and welcome to my website. Here you’ll find an extract from No Remorse, and over time I’ll add more information and short stories about some of the characters in the book, the places, and other stuff I researched for the book. Also, there’ll be information about other writers, and resources that I’ve found helpful as a writer. In a few months, there’ll be an extract from my next book, Bait.

Hope you enjoy No Remorse. Available now.



Hanging out in Hawaii

For a holiday full of action-packed thrills and spills, whisk the teenagers away to Hawaii’s stunning Kauai island — they’ll love you for it

Finding a destination where you can enjoy a family holiday with teenagers can be difficult. But Hawaii has plenty of sightseeing, eating, shopping and adventure to keep teenage kids off their iPhones (most of the time).

To many, Hawaii is Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor and shopping malls. Eight out of 10 visitors don’t even venture beyond Honolulu. But our teenagers agree that their recent visits to Kauai and the Big Island (also named Hawaii) were the highlights of their holiday.

Kauai is the least visited of Hawaii’s main islands, receiving less than 5% of tourists. Yet many of us would recognise Kauai because it’s been a location for so many Hollywood movies. Kauai boasts the Jurassic Park waterfall, the mountains of the King Kong remake, the jungle in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the planet Pandora from Avatar and even the battlefields of Vietnam in Tropic Thunder.

The best introduction to this spectacular area is a helicopter ride from Lihue. We take a one-hour flight withBlue Hawaiian Helicopters, a long-established company that has won numerous awards, and offers larger Eco-Star helicopters which afford excellent views, and pilots who are qualified tour guides.

Our teens pepper our pilot with questions through their radio headsets as we soar over extinct volcanoes, the sheer cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, towering waterfalls and Waimea Canyon (“Waimea means red water”, explains our pilot), where Captain Cook first landed.

We drive to the end of the road where huge waves are thundering onto Kee Beach, near Julia Roberts and Pierce Brosnan’s holiday homes. Free-range chickens strut about and we see trees that even teenagers want to climb as we walk the Na Pali track.

Back in Hanalei Bay for dinner, we search for Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Ben Stiller and Demi Moore who are regulars here. Hanalei Beach was the location for the movie South Pacific and the local speciality is ahi (tuna) with teriyaki sauce.

Kauai’s north shore boasts top hotels and spectacular golf courses, such as the Robert Trent Jr.-designed Prince, along the cliff tops above the ocean. Snorkel, kayak or surf here (if you’re experienced).

After a few days, we move south to an amazing condo at Poipu Shores, right on the water.

Fourteen-year-old Laura wakes us up one morning for breakfast on the balcony, and we watch a lone swimmer among a pod of about 50 spinner dolphins. We do the same ourselves on the Big Island a few days later, and it’s truly special.

We then head out for some zip-lining with Outfitters of Kauai at Kipu Ranch, a Hollywood moviemakers’ location. To get there, we’re taken on a leisurely kayak up Hule’ia River to where they have several heavy wire cables strung across a valley. Strapped into a harness, we’re clamped onto the wire one at a time to jump off a platform, then we soar above the forest canopy over to the other side. After single and tandem rides, then lunch, we tramp through the rainforest to the river, where Laura swings on the “cool as…” rope that Harrison Ford used in Indiana Jones.

We join another Outfitters excursion the next day for a pleasant, breezy 18km downhill bicycle ride down Waimea Canyon. That night, we have dinner while enjoying the ambience of The Grove Café from a wide verandah overlooking the former sugar plantation.

Back at Kipu Ranch the next day, we take off with Kipu Ranch Adventures. Driving ATVs (all-terrain vehicles), we negotiate a bush trail up steep slopes at the base of the mountain range, through flooded creeks and along the river. Sixteen-year-old Jordan says driving the quad bike is “awesome fun!”, while I take one of the creeks too enthusiastically, causing a wall of muddy red water to gush over us. One thing’s for sure — our teenagers will always remember their week’s adventure on Kauai, one of our best family holidays ever.

Trending: The best mountain bike under 200.

Take Me There

The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau has an excellent website (www.gohawaii.com) with useful information, contact details, and videos for activities and transport arrangments. We booked everything online, including our US visas and activities.

Suite 114, 3501 Rice St, Lihue, Kauai, tel: +1 (808) 245 5800

1775 Pe’e Rd, Poipu, Kauai, tel: +1 (808) 742 7700

2827A Poipu Rd, Poipu Beach, Kauai, tel: +1 (808) 742 9667

9400 Kaumualii Hwy, Waimea, Kauai, tel: +1 (808) 338 1625

Kipu Ranch, Kaumualii Hwy, Kauai, tel: +1 (808) 246 9288

What can marketers learn from writing fiction (if they don’t already)?

I’ve been writing for a while now, and every now and then I think about how what I’m doing relates to what I used to do as a marketer. Certainly the process is different, and the solitude of a writer stands in marked contrast to the social interaction inevitable in the marketing profession. But…there are also some interesting and surprising comparisons and contrasts, of which I am sure the creatives in advertising agencies are well aware.

In many respects, marketing is, indeed, closely related to fiction writing. After all, marketers often create a fictional need. We don’t really need cosmetics, expensive cars, bigger houses, and Qantas Club memberships, do we? As in novels, those needs are often driven by motivations that can be sourced back to the seven deadly sins: greed, gluttony, sloth, envy, pride, and certainly lust (perhaps less so wrath, although note the commercials that promote the benefits of satisfaction that comes with getting back at someone or something).

Many marketers use a hero, sometimes real (eg celebrities) and sometimes fictional to personify a product or product’s user. Think of Ronald McDonald, or perhaps the fictional lovers in that famous Nescafe commercial. In some cases, marketers create a fictional antagonist, which the protagonist hero (the product) will defeat in the final showdown (Louie the Fly in the Mortein TVCs; German car makers in the Kia Cerato ad).

Plot, of course, is critical to any novel. But we don’t generally think of marketing as being about plotting, with all the negative connotations of that word. It is not one of the four P’s – product, price, promotion and place. However, marketers often consider how we would like to plot a relationship with our customers. Thinking of it in novel terminologies, is our product plot a short story (travel), scene by scene (occasion purchases), a series of sequels (car purchases) or a long running soap (telecoms).  How do we want our hero/product’s relationship to develop with our readers/customers over time?  And what are we doing to our product to adapt to the changing perspectives of our customers as they age?

Which brings us to the issue of segmentation. One thing the publishing industry understands is the segmentation that exists with readers. While individuals vary hugely in preferences for writing style and storylines, there are well-established genre that describe reader segments; for example, romance, action-adventure, comedy and the omnivorous literary fiction. Within a story, characters represent different segments of society.

Then we have dialogue. Dialogue in a novel seeks to advance plot or character. When marketers have a dialogue with their customers, it is generally about reinforcing the reputation of the product (eg L’Oreal), identifying new aspects to the product (Colgate), or novel applications for it (cleaning products). How do marketers think of plot in terms of dialogue? I guess tag lines that reinforce the character of the product are the obvious answer, but over time some marketers seem to develop a stronger dialogue with the consumer using a variety of methods (eg Dairy Farmers with the family owned commercials, and the Farmer Wants a Wife commercials).

Where does reality end and fiction begin in marketing? Leaving aside issues like making false claims, there is so much scope in playing to the hopes, aspirations and fears of consumers that perhaps we should spend more time considering how marketing might be more effective as entertainment and less about rational representations. Yet I have to confess, I’m not truly comfortable when I see a cross-promotion with a character from a television show appearing in a commercial during the show (eg Packed to the Rafters).

Most fiction has a basis in real life situations and relationships. In marketing, we can learn a great deal from fiction and use it to improve our dialogue with consumers and the depth of character of our products and services. This can make marketing more fun and more entertaining at the same time as being more effective.