Meeting a favourite author is always a thrill. This week I had the pleasure of talking to Australian writer Matthew Condon, a prolific author of fiction and non-fiction books when he is not at his day job as a journalist for New Ltd’s Courier Mail in Brisbane.
I’ve met Matt several times before, but was a fan of his writing long before that happened. I had read his last novel The Trout Opera and even though it was published in 2007, it still rates among my favourite Australian novels. It’s a saga that begins in 1906, following the life of farmhand Wilfred Lampe and ending with Wilfred’s unlikely involvement in the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
So for some time, I knew Matthew Condon only as a novelist (he has written 10). On moving back to Brisbane from Melbourne a few years ago, I learned he was a much respected journalist.
In 2013 his multi-award winning true crime book Three Crooked Kings was published. It was the first instalment in a trilogy on the life and times of former Queensland police commissioner Terry Lewis (who was jailed for 15 years for corruption and stripped of his knighthood), and of crime and corruption in Queensland and New South Wales over half a century. Queenslanders were riveted and the book a best-seller.
As Condon told my journalism students at the University of Queensland this week when he came to deliver a guest lecture on feature writing, the research involved in telling this seminal story of Queensland’s history meant there had to be more than one book. The second volume, Jacks and
Jokers, was published last April, and the final instalment in the trilogy – All Fall Down – is currently in the editing process and will be published later this year.
Long-form journalism is Condon’s forte, and the students at the lecture were enthralled as he took them through his work processes, generously sharing his passion for journalism and writing, with tips for beginners, some inside stories about what he’s working on now, and the message that nothing will stop dedicated journalists telling stories that others want hidden. He spoke for an hour, and although the students weren’t aware of it, he was standing in soaking wet clothes after being caught in a Queensland rainstorm on his way to the lecture theatre.
After the lecture, several students lined up to get private advice on story ideas, ethical dilemmas and more. They were the smart ones, the lucky ones. As I juggle my work as a freelance journalist with running the journalism school’s feature writing course for second year students, I’m so grateful for the support of colleagues like Matt who give so generously of their time and knowledge to those following us.
As Australia prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the World War I battle of Gallipoli on ANZAC Day (April 25), I look forward to reading Matthew Condon’s feature for QWeekend. They’ve given the whole magazine up to it.