It's never too late to write that bestselling first book, just ask our very own Adam Dudding

Adam Dudding won the non-fiction first book award this week at the ripe old age of 46.

Adam Dudding won the non-fiction first book award this week at the ripe old age of 46.

If everyone has a novel inside them, as the completely untrue cliche has it, then every journalist absolutely believes they have a bestseller residing within them, which would leap unfettered on to the page if only they could find the time amidst the unceasing deadlines. 

Here's why they don't.

My colleague and friend Adam Dudding picked up the The EH McCormick Best First Book Award for non-fiction at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards at the ridiculously advanced age of 46 this week for My Father's Island, his memoir of life with a tyrannous but brilliant father.

Adam Dudding. He's not normally this neatly turned out.

Adam Dudding. He's not normally this neatly turned out.

It's a fast, engaging read, bouncing along lightly with that duck-on-a-lake illusion of something which came to him in a rather straightforward fashion.

Review: My Father's Island
Extract: My Father's Island
Ian Rankin headlines 2017 Auckland Writers Festival

The book is something it feels like we've spent the last millennium discussing on our lunchtime runs, and as reward for this I did manage to extract from him a complimentary copy and the grudgingest of grudging acknowledgements in the finished volume. 

Adam's father, Robin Dudding.

Adam's father, Robin Dudding.

Adam tells me it was actually about 2010 when he first developed the idle ambition to write a book. By 2013, he realised said book should be about his dad, the late literary editor Robin Dudding, and by the end of that year he'd begun reading similar journey-around-my-unusual-parentage memoirs and planning his campaign.

Adam being Adam, this generated a graph mapping the path of the book, with time charted on the x axis, the narrative of the book on the y, and floating dotted lines connecting plot themes, allowing him to weave back and forth between the present day and his father's lifespan.

In contrast, I was a few days from deadline with my first book when I realised we had managed to get an entire decade the wrong way around.

By January 2014, he'd begun work on a sample chapter - but it took him until June that year to deliver it (and secure a publishing deal with Victoria University Press). ​

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By 2015, he'd negotiated three months off work and a Creative New Zealand grant to cover his mortgage. By the end of this sabbatical, he had 18,000 words written, with just another 50,000 to go.

These 50,000 words were wedged into gaps on weekends, early mornings, and annual leave spent on writing, not holidaying. It wouldn't be finished until April 2016, and launched until November that year.

He reckons he looked at about two million words-worth of source material - everything from some love letters sent between his grandparents in the 1920s, which eventually merited but a single sentence, to 20-odd boxes of his father's assorted papers, several days of letters to and from literary luminaries photocopied in a hurried fortnight at the National library in Wellington and 350 pages of correspondence sent to him by Otago University from their archives.
There were 25 interviews, including some as part of the rather distasteful task of wading around to see if his dad had affairs (causing much agonised deliberation on how much of that to publish, given the other potential protagonists were now well into their retirement years).
In our day jobs, the knack is to become an instant expert on, say, doughnuts or suspension bridges, deliver 1500 words or so, then instantly forget it all and move to the next thing. This was a different, exacting a sort of discipline. 
None of this is to plead for pity for his efforts, but rather to remind myself amid the jealousy at both the finished product and the two and a half grand prize money that Ockham gave him last week, that it didn't come quite as easy as it might look. 
Christopher Hitchens, incidentally, had his own take on the old line. "Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that's where it should stay." Not the case here. He's not much of a runner though.

 - Sunday Star Times


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