Day 12:33 pm
Award-winning journalist Michael McGuire has worked for more than twenty years at the Australian in Sydney, and the Adelaide Advertiser where he is now senior writer. He has also dabbled in state and federal politics. His first foray into fiction, Never a True Word, has been called ‘a political novel for our times’ (Australian).
What were you like as a child? Did you ever get into trouble?
Mostly okay, I think. There were two parts to my childhood. Up until I was 10 I lived in Glasgow, Scotland. Most of my memories from that time involve playing football or watching my dad playing football. I was fairly obsessed. Most people would say that hasn’t changed a great deal. It’s that old Jesuit saying – give me a boy until he is seven and I will give you the man. Just substitute the Jesuits for football and Celtic.
After we left Scotland we moved to Naracoorte for around four years. That was a great place to grow up. Lots of freedom and days running around the streets with friends. Being the country there was also lots of sport. Footy on Saturday and two games of soccer on Sunday. Bliss. It also gave me my first introduction to cricket. I couldn’t bat or bowl so I became a wicket keeper.
The other memories of childhood revolve around books. Famous Five, Biggles, Hardy Boys when I was younger then lots of Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, Jack Higgins, Frederick Forsyth. I always had my nose in my book. When I was eight I went to the Louvre in Paris with my family and caused some bemusement by reading a Peanuts book the whole way around. ‘Look son, there’s the Mona Lisa …’
What prompted you to write Never a True Word?
Probably several things. There had been a long-held desire to write something, anything. But I either didn’t have an idea I liked or just blamed the fact that life was too busy. Eventually, I decided I should just stop complaining and get on with it. By this time I had turned 40 and thought unless I start something soon, I will never get around to it. I had worked in politics for a while and found it tough, but fascinating. The personalities, the power, the egos. All the stuff that is hidden away generally from public view. I had loved shows like Yes Minister and, in particular, The Thick of It, but I hadn’t really read anything explained politics as I knew it to be. I wanted to write a book about how politics worked for people who were outside that world.
What is the biggest difference between working in journalism and politics?
They are two sides of the same coin. Now that I am on the side of the angels again in journalism, it’s all about holding politicians and politics to account. Politicians are not the enemy as such but you have to be wary. There’s different mindsets at work. Journalism is more about holding an attacking mentality – we are always chasing a story, pursuing a lead. Politics is often about defence. Killing that story, plugging the leak. There is much more paranoia in politics than media. The bunker mentality is the prevailing mindset in most political offices. Everyone in politics thinks the media is out to get them at all times. There may be some truth in this, but it also breeds an unnecessarily narrow world view and is responsible for much of the short-term thinking you see in politics at the moment.
What’s been the best reaction you’ve had so far to the book?
Lots of people have been very supportive which has been lovely. It’s been well reviewed in the Australian and the Age. On the ABC Peter Goers said many positive things about the book. As a journalist, it’s a bit weird when people are nice to you. It’s hard to know how to handle it.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
Can I be seven again? I would come back as one of the great Celtic players. One of the European Cup winners of 1967, maybe Jimmy Johnstone, or my hero growing up, Kenny Dalglish. Although, unlike Dalglish, I wouldn’t have ruined my career by joining Liverpool.
What are your favourite Wakefield Press titles, aside from your own, and why?
I couldn’t possibly go past the excellent Red Silk: The Life of Elliot Johnston QC by my friend and colleague Penny Debelle. Although, for a story from the other side of the legal tracks, Dead by Friday by another colleague and friend, Derek Pedley, is also a cracking read.