Tag Archives: The Rosie Project

The Writer’s Journey… Graeme Simsion: The Rosie Project

As I mentioned in my previous post, last week I attended an author talk with Graeme Simsion, the author of the best-selling novels: The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect.

While I have my dignity, I must confess that meeting Graeme Simsion sent me into something of a manic frenzy. I was uber-excited, although not quite to the level of Marcia Brady’s rapture when Davy Jones kissed her : “I can’t believe Davy Jones kissed me! I’ll never wash this cheek again.”

As you have probably gathered by now, I’ve really enjoyed the Rosie books and am almost frothing at the mouth telling everyone I meet to read them!

You could ask why meeting Graeme Simsion was such a rush. Yes, I loved the books but I have loved plenty of books. However, not all of the authors have bothered to talk locally in downtown Umina Beach, a place better known for its local caravan park and golden beach. While we live in a place of serene beauty, we are definitely off the beaten track when it comes to the author’s circuit. So, I was pretty impressed that he’d made the trip.

I walk in and spot Simsion at the desk signing books.

Any author encounter starts out pretty much the same. As I humbly approached Simsion with my books in hand, we make eye-contact. This is when you really get to size up what the author’s about. It’s also at this point, when you’re a bit in awe of their success that you’re tempted to start gushing. Tell them your entire life story and in this instance, tell him about every Don you’ve ever known and before you know it, you’re recommending starting a support group. I can assure you, that in my case I know an extensive list of Dons whose antics could’ve kept his pen poised ready to sign for many, many hours. However, I restrained myself and we got through the signing bit although I must admit that I did mention that I’m a writer and that I have a blog. I was just pleased that he didn’t ask me what I’d had published or how the stats on my blog were going. As a newly published author, he seems to understand that you don’t ask another writer such questions or he’d be at my book signing instead. After all, he knows just how long it can take for a writer to get where he is now.

Being a bit of a bold, intrepid admirer, I didn’t just ask him to sign the books. Rather, I went for the jugular, asking for a photo together. I’d heard it said on the X-Factor recently that the selfie is the new autograph. Anyway, when it comes to having my precious photo taken, I didn’t pull out your standard, garden-variety camera phone and go for the selfie. Oh no! Of course not! Nothing less than my Nikon SLR, which he noted was a serious camera…the photographic equivalent of Mick Dundee pulling out his knife in Crocodile Dundee. It might not have shown that I know how to write but at least my camera was impressive.

Anyway, as much as I love swanning around at literary events and having my photo taken with best-selling authors, I was there to learn. For me, writing is a serious business.

At this point, we all take to our seats for dinner and to hear what we’re all there for…the talk.

One of the things that struck me about Simsion’s journey as a writer is that he has been quite strategic, focused and methodical about how he was going to succeed. After all, he has run businesses and isn’t one of those writer’s you’d put in the dreamer category. While there were a few projects and attempts along the way, once he set his mind to it he enrolled in a screenwriting course at RMIT where The Rosie Project came to life. He decided submit it to the unpublished manuscript division of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and The Rosie Project won the 2012 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. Now, that’s a great way to get noticed! The manuscript was picked up by Text Publishing and he hasn’t looked back.

That is except to tell the story of his first author’s talk.

The Nullarbor Plain, South Australia viewed from the Indian Pacific Railway.

The Nullarbor Plain, South Australia viewed from the Indian Pacific Railway.

Simsion’s first author talk was held in a South Australian country town. He didn’t name the town but if you haven’t been through outback South Australia, you wouldn’t understand the meaning of isolation. South Australia is, after all, home to the sprawling and extremely isolated Nullarbor Plain colloquially known as the “Nullar-boring”. It includes the Nullarbor “town” of Cook which has a total population of 4 and it has a shop which only opens when the Indian-Pacific train is in town. Of course, Cook is hardly representative of South Australian towns. Beyond the capital Adelaide, there’s the Barossa Valley with its world class vineyards but why let a bit of truth get in the way of a good story? Let’s just say that Simsion’s launching pad was hardly New York.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/80/Cook-SouthAustralia.jpg/270px-Cook-SouthAustralia.jpg

Cook, South Australia. Image Wiki Commons.

Filled with all the excitement and anticipation of giving his first talk, Simsion arrived at the local library. Much to his disappointment, the local bookseller turned up with only 10 copies of his book. When he queried this, he said: “You’re new at this, are you?” As Simsion anxiously waited for the hoards to arrive, only 8 senior ladies turned up mostly to catch up on local gossip and take advantage of the free morning tea. As if things weren’t already looking dismal enough, the local librarian then told the crowd that they didn’t have to buy the book. They could borrow it from the library. Great! However, Simsion who says that the support of “the local bookshop” has been pivotal to his success, turned things around encouraging his recalcitrant audience to buy books as gifts and the copies quickly sold out.

From these humble beginnings, The Rosie Project has since topped the Independent Bookseller lists and plans are in motion for the movie. Simsion is now very much in demand and is currently touring the country with over 80 author talks ahead and the books are selling like hot cakes!

Just goes to show that taking a chance, persistence, honing your craft and strategic thinking can really make that difference. Yet, you’ve now heard the man, Don’t forget to start getting pally with the owner of your local bookshop. Take them coffee. Indeed, I’d even recommend dropping off some quality chocolates. That way once you’ve finally managed to get that manuscript out here and published, you’ll already be best friends for life.

However, in the meantime, I need to get “the book” finished, which after a pause in proceedings probably means hitting “restart”.

But…

Watch out South Australia. I know where you are!

Have you been to any good author talks recently? Or perhaps, you’ve spoken at your own? Do tell!

xx Rowena

Who is Don Tillman? The Rosie Project Uncovered.

Who is Don Tillman?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself since reading Graeme Simsion’s  best-selling novel, The Rosie Project and its sequel: The Rosie Effect.

Both books were written in the first person through the voice of Don Tillman, a quirky scientist who developed a questionnaire to find a wife.  This voice is perfectly maintained throughout, giving the book a strong autobiographical feel as though there is no author. Indeed, Simsion has climbed so deeply inside Don Tillman’s skin, that I had to ask…Is he Don Tillman? They’re seemingly one and the same.

For those of you who haven’t read the books, Don Tillman, reminds me of Sheldon from the hit TV series Big Bang Theory. Yet, although they’re birds of a feather, Don is very much his own man. Well, he would be his own man if I wasn’t questioning how much of the author went into the supposed character. I also have a tough time separating Sheldon the character  from actor Jim Parsons. They also seem so seamlessly the same.

However, while I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Jim Parsons in real life, last Thursday night I had dinner with Graeme Simsion and my antennae were out. Was he Don Tillman? Or, as his creator, was he an exceptionally good impersonator?

So who is Don Tillman?

Don Tillman is an Associate-Professor of Genetics. He has an obsession with detail, is highly scheduled and when it comes to reading social situations,  he’s absolutely clueless. The crux of the book is that he’s looking for a wife. Having failed dismally at conventional dating, he’s now taking a purely logical approach and has devised a questionnaire to screen for potential wife candidates. He hypothesizes that the questionnaire will speed the process up by quickly eliminating unsuitable prospects and ultimately yielding the perfect wife.

The longer answer about Don’s identity is much more complex.

No doubt, Simsion has been asked many times if he’s Don Tillman, and came prepared. The answer is no. Apparently, the character of Don was inspired by a jogging buddy and the book, including the infamous yellow jacket incident, is based on true incidents. Yet, while Simsion denied that he is Don, he does admit to having some geek-like traits and concludes:

“There’s a bit of Don in all of us.”

Indeed, that’s the books’ appeal. That we’re not laughing at Don, but with him. We’ve been in his shoes at least once in our lifetimes, and know that dreadful, crushing all-consuming embarrassment when we make a mistake and all the dreadful, ensuing complications.

However, there are also those of us who have a bit more Don than most. Perhaps, that’s us. Or, perhaps it’s someone we love. Don is our Dad, a work colleague, our husband, a friend or even all of the above. Not that they necessarily recognize themselves in print. More than likely, they’ve also laughed through the book and missed seeing themselves in the mirror.

Apparently, that even includes Bill Gates. At the dinner, Simsion mentioned that Melinda Gates had given Bill the book:

“Melinda picked up this novel earlier this year, and she loved it so much that she kept stopping to read passages out loud to me. I started it myself at 11 p.m. one Saturday and stayed up with it until 3 the next morning. Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes looking for a wife. (Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.) It’s an extraordinarily clever, funny, and moving book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at. I’m sending copies to several friends and hope to re-read it later this year. This is one of the most profound novels I’ve read in a long time.[1]

This, of course, brings The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect back to me.

It is certainly no secret that I absolutely love these books and have almost been flagging strangers down in the street recommending they read it. With all the millions and millions of books in this world and given that my house is bursting at the seams with books, what is it about these books? Why are they so special?

Personally, I related to the chaotic, seemingly disorganized character of Rosie in The Rosie Project. Rosie is spontaneous and chaotic like myself and I pictured her as a bit of a wild character with black lipstick, locks of wild red curly hair which she swirled into a bun and wearing vintage clothing. I have also know quite a few Don’s in my time, and taken them clothes shopping and given them dating advice.

However, as I was swept along by the story, I didn’t twig that I’d only ever seen Rosie through Don’s eyes. However, in The Rosie Effect, there are just a couple of lines of dialogue between the members of her study group, which revealed that Rosie is more like Don than I’d thought. That it’s more than likely that Rosie is on the Autism Spectrum as well.

Before I head off, I just wanted to emphasize that neither of these books judge or ridicule people on the Autism Spectrum. If anything, they lift the lid on the Autistic mind and help us better understand some its quirks and some of the ways it beats to a different drum. There’s perhaps an implicit hope that through this greater understanding, that we could become more inclusive as a community. Less judgemental. Indeed, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a more diverse, eclectic and inclusive community where there is no prescription to belong? You simply come as you are and you’re in.

I will write more about what I learned about Graeme Simsion the man and the writer in my next post. As you can see it was a very productive evening and I even left buying another set of books to give away to some treasured friends.

Have you read the books? If so, I’d love to hear your reflections!

Xx Rowena

PS I was researching dyslexia tonight and came across this spelling of Asberger’s which made me laugh: “My son has mild arseburgers”. Someone commented: “arseburgers” – a minced rump steak?

[1] Bill Gates, http://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/The-Rosie-Project, July 12, 2014.