Q&A

Here are a selection of questions Frank Coates has received from his readers.

Q  Why go to Africa? What was so appealing about it?

A

That’s a fairly regular question, and one that I always find difficult to answer. It’s like trying to describe the mesmerizing qualities of a waterfall, or the elusive appeal of a sunset.

The African landscape is endless. In that regard it reminds me of Australia, with its big sky and its dramatic, although not classically beautiful vistas. But you can look out over the breathtaking Great Rift Valley and know, in some deep part of your soul, that our species evolved there.

Curiously, the original occupiers of that landscape reclaim it each year as the animals of the plains follow the indomitable urge to migrate, to feed, and to procreate. We humans, long ago cast out of that Garden of Eden, are reduced to mere spectators in this drama of raw nature. It is this connection with what must be one of the last and certainly most spectacular visions of our planet as it was before civilisation transformed its primeval beauty, which is the magnet that draws me back to East Africa year after year.

And finally, the people of Kenya – my part of Africa – are as fascinating and diverse as all the peoples of Europe. They’re as tough as old leather, and as kind as a guardian angel.

In Africa there is grandeur, there is colour, and yes, there is danger.

I am in awe of it each time I return.

Q  How do I get copies of your books?

A

My books are available in most Australian and New Zealand bookstores. On-line purchases can be arranged through a number of sources. Click here to see a few of them.

Q  I was wondering if you could tell me how to go about getting published?

A

This is the most common question I receive from unpublished authors. Maybe I’m not the best person to ask because I had relatively little trouble finding a publisher for my first novel, Tears of the Maasai. Or maybe that makes me a good person to ask? Who knows?

Anyway, I did what most people try first, which is to send a selection of my work to a couple of publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts (and there’s not many these days). At the time I was still finishing the novel, so I thought What the hell?

After some considerable time I got the usual ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ replies, but by then I had the finished manuscript and was getting more serious about finding someone.

By chance I attended a writers festival around this time and got the advice that I guess saved me a lot more anguish in trying to find a publisher the old-fashioned way. The advice came from an agent – one of the best in Australia – who, like many of the good ones, had a full list, and was not taking any more new authors herself (much to the distress of most of her audience).

Nevertheless, her advice was that aspiring authors need an agent, but many agents will not accept unpublished authors. A classic Catch 22! However, she told us to get our work professionally assessed by an editor or other literary assessor and obtain a written appraisal. If this is positive, it will help the writer to find an agent, and hopefully, a publisher. (But be careful – there are lot of unprofessional people out there who are more interested in your money than your writing. Consult a writers’ organisation. They usually have a list of recommended assessors. And don’t be afraid to quiz them about what you will get for your money.)

I did as instructed, received a very glowing report, and amazingly, secured the agent who gave the talk at the writer’s festival. Two months later I had a two-book contract with Harper Collins.

Easy? Not at all, but certainly possible. The most important advice I can give is: keep writing, keep trying. And good luck!

Got a question? Send it to Frank using the form on the Contact page.