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Masterclass: Writing tips from a man who's authored 27 books.

Peter FitzSimons writes eight hours a day.

Every day.

This man has written 27 books. And they sell. He is easily one of the best-selling non-fiction authors Australia has ever produced. As well as his historical books, He’s written biographies of two former Wallaby Captains. Editor Nene King. Sir Douglas Mawson. The list goes on.

So when he came in to speak to Mia Freedman on the latest episode of No Filter, Mia couldn’t help but ask him where he finds the time.

The answer? Wherever I can.

“When I’m picked up in an hour from now, with one minute of being in the car, I will be back at it,” he says.

Listen to the full episode here:

He says since the laptop was invented, he hasn’t travelled without it. It’s always within reach.

“I love to write. I start each day eight hours of solid writing shy of feeling like I’ve had a good day. When I get to my eight I feel satisfied. If I get to 10, I’ve had a great day. If I get to 12 I’ve had a fabulous day and I feel strong.”

“It’s a thing that I love to do it and it doesn’t feel like work.”

So what are his tips?

1. Focus on the Fine Detail.

“Notes to my researchers say FD, FD, FD. Fine detail.”

“Nancy Wake, the White Mouse, told me that the sound of a bullet passing your ear is the sound of a kitten meowing.”

“It brings [a story] alive.”

Portrait of the author. via Getty

2. Find the breath and life in everything.

When I say to you, that when Mawson was in Antarctica and it got to 40 degrees below zero – well what the hell does that mean? But if I say to you: “It was so cold that the sailors loved it. Because all they had to do was go out on deck, rub their hands over their frozen whiskers and all of their frozen beard would fall out – and their (faces) would be as clear as a baby’s bottom. That’s what brings the story alive. To make the reader feel like they are in the moment.”

3. Never miss the sights, sounds and smells. 

“It’s not enough to say that Mia was sitting in the studio – what are the sounds and the sights and the smells? There has to be something to put the reader in the moment.”

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4. Find the Dick-hook. The WHAT? 

“That is [the] Dickens [hook]. If you look at the way Dickens writes – what he does…. is gives each of his characters a characteristic. So he’ll say such and such had a nose like a question mark… so when he refers back to him, he’ll make a reference to the nose like a question mark, so you’re ‘Oh – it’s that one.'”

5. Write in the present tense.

“If I say Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pale of water, past tense, while you are listening to that you have to go to the narrator. But if I say ‘As Jack and Jill are going up the hill, holding hands, a mist comes across from the misty moonlight, and a shot rings out.’ You lean in and you don’t have to go via the narrator.”

Watch Pete speak about his relationship with Lisa Wilkinson here:

5. Plant a seed and make it bloom.

“At one point when I was doing Kym Beazley’s biography I gave [Lisa] the chapters and I had Kym meeting Mary, Kym falling in love with Mary, Kym marrying Mary, and that was done by chapter 4. And chapter 6 they had their kids and chapter 8 they were getting divorced. And Lisa said, ‘What? Where is [the fact] that they are having trouble in their marriage?’ So that developed a system for me of seed and bloom – so that if you are telling a story, where is the seed to set this up and where is the bloom?’

Do you have a creative tip to share?