I once read that Hal David and Burt Bacharach wrote a song … by Peter Newlinds

Collaboration doesn't mean you have to be in the same room

I once read that Hal David and Burt Bacharach wrote a song (‘God Give Me Strength’, performed by Elvis Costello ) via phone message. That is, ideas were traded from one side of the country to the other without the pair actually meeting. The outcome, it has to be said, was pretty good.

The process of writing Around the Grounds has some similarities with that intriguing tale of collaboration.  When my initial attempts at chronicling my own life story veered from one idea to the next my fabulous agent Jacinta di Mase suggested that a collaboration with David Brewster might be a good way to steer a better course. She was absolutely right and in February 2016 the phone calls began.

In marathon phone interviews I’d talk and David would listen. Then, on reading the transcripts of the interviews and working on an agreed organisational theme (of sports fan turned sports broadcaster and what goes into becoming that, all the while colouring the text with nostalgic themes and historical detail), David would produce a chapter outline for me to consider. From there I’d add my touches and often, though not always, make changes until the work reflected my voice, personality and observational style.

We worked on this method through to the end of 2016 and then had to endure the long wait for a publisher to actually want it. For some time it looked like the sample chapters might be handy for the family archive and not much else. I think I counted 14 rejections until the good people at Finch publishing agreed to give Around the Grounds a go.

In September last year work on the project commenced in earnest. The lever on the captain’s deck was thrust forward to full steam ahead. We started from a base of around 20,000 words, working toward a deadline of February 9 with a minimum word count of 50,000.  That’s tight. By the time the book was finished the count was around 76,000. That’s a lot of writing and phone calls in a short space of time.

For me the fun was in the detail. I needed a description of our backyard cricket arena at Duffys Forest (the Sydney suburb in which I grew up), so I contacted my neighbour and key childhood collaborator Robert Bryant and what he gave me was quite brilliant. Confidence and inspiration grew from these exchanges. If I thought a chapter had a flat spot or felt in need of a great line or two I’d send out random texts and Facebook messages to people I thought could deliver. It’s quite remarkable how often the replies were just what was needed. Not surprisingly the acknowledgments page of Around the Grounds is a long one.

All the while David Brewster (just like George Martin) kept an eye on the theme and the structure and the project just grew and grew. We kept on writing and I learned very quickly that setting out to write 400 words can scaffold into a chapter of say 4000 words surprisingly quickly, if not easily.

In the book there are nods and odes to artists, writers, things and places that I love and admire greatly. Bob Dylan, a touch of John Steinbeck, even the Sydney live music scene of the early 1980s. And, of course, great writers on sport (and other matters) like Ray Robinson, Nick Hornby and Simon Kuper. I could go on.

I was once counselled by a wise executive producer to be wary of taking on board too much praise from friends and relatives. It’s pretty sound advice but I sense from the feedback I’ve had so far (that includes an incredibly generous endorsement from Malcolm Knox) that the final copy of Around the Grounds is pretty good. Let’s hope the book buying public of Australia feels the same.

As for David Brewster, when we finally meet for the first time at the Sydney launch at Berkelouw’s Bookshop in Mona Vale on Thursday August 9, we’ll be able to raise a glass to each other and toast a job well done…

For the Sydney launch of Around The Grounds, grab a FREE ticket here

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