Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in Sydney and still live here — in a house on a hill overlooking the Pacific.
Where did you go to school
I went to three different boarding schools from when I was six to when I was sixteen.
Did you have a nickname?
I was called ‘Gay’!! at the last boarding school, and to my family
I’m 'Baig’ because when he was little, my brother Stephen couldn’t say
‘Gabrielle’; instead he’d say ‘Baigrielle’ which was shortened to Baig.
All our family have weird nicknames.
What were you like in school?
I was always in trouble at school. I was bored and all I wanted to do was read books, which I did, under the desk, or by torchlight at night.
What is the naughtiest thing you did?
The naughtiest thing I did was really very tame but it was impossible
to be ‘good’ because there were so many rules. I sneaked out of what was
called ‘Closed Study’ one evening because someone was playing the
chapel organ like it had never been played before! It was a Bach prelude
and fugue and the school foundations were shaking. I crept up to the
choir loft to find out who was making this fantastic music and found a
young organist, playing his heart out. He was doing a PhD on French
organs in Australia. Of course, I was discovered and I was in big
What was your favourite book growing up?
I had a number of favourite books. The Swiss Family Robinson
, the Famous Five books, the Greek myths, Peter Pan
and a biography of Dr Albert Schweitzer who was my hero for year ... so many books I loved.
Who is your favourite children’s author?
My favourite children’s author was probably Enid Blyton and later Noel Streatfield.
What is your favourite food/colour/movie?
Favourite food: mashed potatoes! My favourite colour is blue and my favourite movie… that’s a bit like my favourite book; there are so many great movies. I loved Witness
as the model of an almost perfect three-act thriller story.
Who inspired you to write?
When I was about 22, I had an epiphany; I read a line in the biography of an American writer which said: ‘I decided when I was thirty that I’d write’ and I said to myself, yes, that’s what I’ll do, too. And so I did. I’d written various things before, short stories, poems etc, but I decided that on my 30th birthday, I would start the life of a professional writer.
How did you get started?
I got started on my 30th birthday with a novel called Losing and Finding
which, I’m happy to say, I lost completely!! It went to compost the tomatoes, but I learned a lot by completing a large work from beginning to end. Then I wrote another one called A Death in the Family
— and then I wrote Fortress
and that went all over the world, was widely translated and made into a feature film starring Rachel Ward.
Why did you want to be a writer?
I think I wanted to be a writer in order to have a voice. I came from a background where a young person’s wishes and wants were disregarded as unimportant. The profession of writing gives a person a voice and one that can be heard by many people — if the books are good enough!
How do you think up ideas?
Ideas! They’re everywhere — they fill the air waves with strings of information a bit like the electronic broadcastings that the Signal Intelligence people pick up and piece together to make sense of something being planned by hostiles. I do something similar. I get a ‘ping’ from a story I’ve read in the newspaper, something I overhear on a bus, something I see — such as a crime scene photograph; even something I hear. Once, a character came to me in a piece of music! Once the 'ping' hits, I know ‘I can make a story out of this’. And that’s what I do. I thread a whole lot of different ideas from different places, some of them originating in the deep-down operating system within my mind/imagination and others from external events.
Do you have a special place where you write?
I need a special place to write. In the past it’s been the kitchen table, or a small desk under a window. It needs to be relatively uncluttered. Now, I have a long, enclosed north-facing verandah that looks out over the sea and the suburbs and I have three different work stations here. I work either standing up at my long table, sitting on a yoga ball, or at my proper desk. I have a voice program via which I dictate my work because I had RSI at one stage and couldn’t use the keyboard without discomfort.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
The best thing about being a writer is the freedom it gives me. The hours I work are under my control. I can take a break and roll on the floor with the cat, or go for a walk if I feel ‘stuck’. But I also understand that self-discipline is called for. I like to do my thousand words a day and then I can run away down to the beach or the garden.
Have you had any funny or embarrassing moment as a writer?
I’ve had a few mortifying moments as a writer. One was being called ‘Gabrielle Carey’ throughout an interview and my book Fortress
being called ‘Hostage’ by the interviewer. Sometimes reviewers can be somewhat mean too.
What do you do when you are not writing?
When I’m not writing I’m either in the garden working or reading or listening to music.
What would you have chosen to be if you were not a writer?
I originally wanted to be a doctor like my father and I completed a degree in another field to give me a credit with Newcastle University, which was taking in people who didn’t have top marks in their HSCs but had completed other degrees. However by the time I’d done an Honours year after my undergraduate degree finished, I’d become interested in other things, I’d read that sentence about ‘by the time I was thirty, I’d write etc’ and so I never went for that interview at Newcastle.
Which famous person from the past would you like to talk to?
There are a number of famous people I’d like to be able to speak to — Socrates, Jesus, King Alfred the Great, Hildegard of Bingen, Lord Byron, Sir Winston Churchill — there’s quite a long list.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?
As a last point, I’d like to add that I love my profession — I love writing stories and making them intriguing and suspenseful. I like to set up problems in my books for myself and then find ways to solve them. Sometimes my challenges to myself are so hard that I’m not sure I’m going to be able to make it, but if I just relax and let the unconscious and mysterious process unfold, things turn out quite well.
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