Talking about where we have been and what happened is very often the underlying motivation for storytelling. For writer Matt Towner the adventures and transformative nature of travel stories have provided a rich vein of subject matter, whether it be his own memoir as a gem dealer, or his ability to pull together a collection of stories of his and his friends. Aboard, Broke and Busted was his first offering; this time around Matt launches Crazy Sh*T in America at the Byron Book Room this Thursday.
How did you make the decision to move from being a real estate agent to a writer? Did you have a background in writing?
I graduated from Griffith University with a Bachelor of Arts writers degree in 1989 and it was during my uni days that Byron became my home and has been ever since. However I could not even wait for the hats-in-the-air celebrations as I was on a plane to see the world as soon as I finished my degree. I took Australian opals, then Australian wine, then Australian real estate all over the world, always writing and paying my way. Real estate was good to me but writing has always been my calling – since my primary school short stories, which always brought a laugh to the class.
How did you manage to score an international 3-book deal without a track history of even publishing one book?
I have been attending the Byron Writers Festivals almost every year since they began but most recently I had an epiphany at one event and decided to drop everything and follow my childhood dreams to travel the world as a published author. I paid a small fortune to put together a book a short adventure-travel stories with a sense of humour straight from the Byron Writers Festival, written by myself and some of my fellow well-travelled friends with fine words and funny stories. But after paying more than $15,000 US to an international writing coach and landing at the largest book fair in the world in Frankfurt only to find the the Oprahesque self-publishing self-proclaimed guruess had done a runner, I was stuck. I did exactly what I had done a million times before in real estate and other sales jobs and I had to letterbox drop. I quickly printed 10,000 postcards of my pitch for my book series www.travellerstaleswriters.com with an eye-catching image of myself in Manali in my gem-dealing gypsy days and walked the isles of more than 8,000 international publishers. Everyone said this would never work. On the third day of isle by isle I received the call that an international publisher with offices on Sydney, London and New York loved my pitch. The rest is history with a three-book deal and more to come.
Why do you think the travel-writing theme hit so well with the publishers and with the market?
My stories are more than just travel stories; they are adventure travel stories with a sense of humour and often extreme, which the publishers and readers love more and more, luckily for me.
Robert Dessaix says we should go to places where we aren’t liked or we are the outsider because it challenges us to get out of our comfort zones. What is your take on the philosophy of travel?
I always try to get as far away from western civilisation as I can, which is harder and harder in Asia where you can trek for days and still come across a hostel in the forest playing Rambo with a coke machine. But I canooed the Amazon and trekked the Andes, which was another world, as was Burning Man, which is a festival I love. So I agree entirely!
What are the kind of stories that you tell in Crazy Shit in Asia? And why did you choose Asia?
Crazy Sh*T in Asia is the first book in the series with Crazy Sh*T in America, then Australia then Europe then Africa etc all to follow – all 30 different stories by 15 different authors from myself to my amazing mates from all over the world with wonderful women’s stories all the way to mad men. So there is always something for everyone.
What’s your writing process?
I am currently writing my full memoir Gem Dealing Gypsy, which is 100,000 words due by the first of July. This is a very different process from the books of short stories, which started with Abroad, Broke and Busted. Short stories can be fast and furious or soft and subtle, but a full book must have a beginning a middle and an end and take the reader on more of a journey. But I love both styles and mixing them up pulp-fiction style.
When you are reading submissions by other people, what are you looking for in terms of their story?
Any story, short or long, must leave the reader feeling moved in some way. Whether that be happy or sad or excited or scared or motivated or elated, but the reader must feel something. My international publisher Alan and I only look for this and we have now fully published some of my fellow authors, not only with their short stories but full books that move our readers incredibly.
What are the challenges of bringing other people’s stories together?
It is a lot of work for very little return; in fact none as yet but it is a labour of love, and a creative process and a lifestyle choice. As any artist will tell you, none is easy but if your passion will not let you sleep, you must do it… but writing is the loneliest profession.
What should we expect for your local launch?
I love being a Byron boy and so look forward to our book launch at the Book Room with friends and family and my fellow writers and local icons and mentors… people I love and admire in my home town. After 10 years of travelling the world as a gem-dealing gypsy all through my 20s I have always said that everywhere else in Australia is just too Australian for me, for lack of a better word. Byron Bay feels like I am still travelling even when I am at home. Home sweet home.
Mandy Nolan will be there to help Matt Towner launch Crazy Shit in Asia at the Byron Book Room on Thursday 1 March at 6pm. All welcome.