As when anything begins, you feel a certain air of unease, doubt and an overwhelming sense of judgment. Twelve months ago, despite having nearly twenty-nine years of life experience and many crazy adventures in my story bag, I took the plunge into the deepest, scariest realm I had ever dived into in my life. I didn’t just jump though, I nosed-dived, unaided. I was to officially become an author.
This is not that uncommon these days, authors arise daily and from all walks of life, many walks far more worrisome than my own, but the fact I was doing this, was truly a dream come true. Whether it be a dream or nightmare was yet to be seen.
My writing days went back to schooling times where I passed the time making diary entries about anything and everything; I wrote poems and loved producing a melody for ‘future’ rock bands and, above all, and despite the questioning from my teen mates, I loved creative stories. 'I would one day write a movie based on my life, it has all the ingredients needed; near deaths, heartbreaks, a girl, a big move, a trip around the world and triumph, even tear-jerking scenes of depressive despondency. This was sure to be light up the silver screen', I thought, envious of those novels that are turned into movies. My story had something special and perhaps, when I don’t fill every other second of the day with work, football or business worry, I will share my true biographical tale. I can assure you, it’s one for the shop fronts!
I wrote for nights on end when at university, over six months, often putting the laptop away at sunrise to sleep. I wanted to be an author, not so much to be rich and famous and to get onto the news, but moreover to share my love. I’m not sure the average person’s amount of love, but mine seemed to be oozing over the brim of normality from a young age. There are songs written about it, where you’re either a lover or a fighter, I was definitely not the latter. Teaching is a gift that many have the qualification to attempt to share but few really have this power to instil love in every day for others. The lifestyle teaching brings is a raw and unique one, and, although many yearn for the holidays and easy going (on the clock) hours, a small minority are truly cut out to claim the teaching throne. This I am. I love it, not for the holidays or the pride of shaping the next heroes of our society but for the relationships and the reward of knowing I have changed an outlook. An outlook on friends, on learning, on respect and trust, an outlook on life. I am a talker; some say a waffler! But when I’m with students, I listen and tend to their needs, if needed, I share stories and offer advice but mostly just listen. One thing is for certain, with teaching, I have become more driven to share something else; my writing. And, with this, kids have helped model my creativity.
After a botched attempt to publish my short novel in The States, I thought this writing caper may be just too difficult. Years passed by and eventually, I moved to Perth, Western Australia. Writing for fun is always the way to delve into the realms of your very own imagination. It’s a wonderful gift to have, that of writing and everyone has it! I started writing about the amazing things that go through a kid’s head! They make such great insight into the world around us and what perfect characters for my stories. Some, you empathise with and take great pride in leading them toward independence and others you encourage sensible direction but can’t help but giggle when you watch them take the silliest of approaches to school. In a way, all kids I encompass in my teaching resemble me. In fact, all kids should resemble all of us, for us, as adults need to reminisce on the best part of our serious, anxious and often down-right depressing livelihood, our childhood! With this reflection and inspiration, ideas started to flow.
Then it struck me, what is that makes us read, write and sing? The times we laugh, cry and ponder the meaning of life; when we need a thought to be shared or a feeling to be empathised with. It’s human nature to ask for an explanation and often we seek the pages within a book to aid us. I love to share; my thoughts, opinions and my experiences. Through my writing I found a way to prompt conversation, to enlighten the sense of ambition and create a love for giving. The latter was one I have found infectious and those that have come along for the journey with me, precariously or not, they've opened their hearts. It is a magic in which I never thought I would be capable of performing. Like a rabbit out of a hat, my inner magician had come from nowhere. My writing was engulfed in one magical experience after another and the realisation I could possibly make a difference, in the smallest of ways, was enough to pursue this dream properly. Then came the publishers.
Whilst away on a road trip along the north-western coastline, there was time (a lot of time) to reflect. The goals were established; I shall get a book published. This time, a children’s picture book. After all, I loved the tactile element of sitting and running the fingers across the fresh glossy pages and flicking through the illustrations within a picture book. Submissions were open across several publishing houses in Australia and the hunt for acceptance was on. I don’t think I anticipated much difficulty, I mean, I can write. Budding authors all believe this. And I can most certainly visualise children reading through my stories with smiles from ear to ear! Within weeks though, two publishers came back with that droning, “We are not taking on new unsolicited authors” and, although a sin in the publishing world, I was highly offended and took on a glum disappointment for the following days. Resilience though, was one of the key themes of my first story, Billy The Brilliant, and the hunt returned to full swing shortly after. A local Western Australian firm had thought very highly of the potential of my writing and decided, after just twenty-four hours from submission, to take me on and, quickly, an official jubilant author was created. A meeting was to be set up and then came the question, ‘what about the illustrations?’ You see, something I am yet to mention, my partner and most amazing aspect of my curiosity, is quite the artist and willingly offered, in fact, stressed she wanted to bring my characters to life through her works. When this was brought up with the publisher, understandably, there was a silence, followed by the polite, ‘we already have around six illustrators ready to compliment what you have brought forth. These illustrators are contracted with us and this entitlement exclusively gives them the right to illustrate for all new authors’. From sheer jubilation to uneasy dejection within seconds. There was nothing I could do and when that phone call was faded and disconnected, it was never rekindled. Was my dream a premature celebration gone horribly wrong, a miscarriage of fulfillment? Either way, I wasn’t going to give up. Enter Zeus, a monster of hope.
Zeus has now played a huge role in our lives of Natalie and I for many reasons, the main being his complete devotion to us whilst he was alive. Albeit a pooch, he was the precious family member only dog-lovers can relate to. He filled us, like many family pets, with joy, loyalty and aspiration. He made us complete in many ways; his demeanour was admirable and his sheer size, a large Weimaraner, showed us that even the biggest and bravest of souls fulfilled only with love and nurturance. By chance, the dog park in which I walked him was local and full of dogs and owners of all walks of life. This place brought about a connection, a network and a slither of independent hope.
I got talking to some of the other regulars at this particular park and one lady noticed I played for the East Fremantle Sharks. She grew up on them and, as we talked she saw an enigma in the making. A footballer who writes children’s picture books. You must admit, it sounds extremely unique, but very marketable all the same. And just like that, the dream was, once more, alive. This lady became our short-term manager/ marketing agent and with this partnership, JustZeusBooks was born. Our dog was the link; our dog’s name was a pivotal part of our brand and his face was scattered throughout our illustrations. It was home grown and relatable. All we needed now was some dedication in marketing and a network for sustained success.
The publishing journey was snowballing and soon, a great interest sparked excitement. As the first books rolled out on online sales, the word spread rapidly. The country Victorian towns in which Natalie and I had grown up in caught wind and our places of employment celebrated with pride. The local markets and schools wanted a visit from the freshest talent too. Not to mention the Tasmanian community that knew Timmy Bristow as a footballing pioneer, not the author. Radio shows, newspapers and local bookstores rode the wave. I was finding my feet, despite the awkwardness of self-promotion taking its toll on my modest approach my daily life was accustomed to. After all, we had a marketing manager to do all of this for this exact reason. It may be easy for some, but I do not like talking myself up. We were doing extremely well and the yearly forecast for sales was pulverised within weeks, but I, the cynic and goal driven egotist, wanted to branch out, for I believe in sustained success and a winning formula based on a rich blend of good vibes, strategic networking and planting the seeds of selflessness, ready to be reaped in future times. I am a big believer in hard work that is beneficial for all those who are good, not just those who are able. We quickly sought after a message of hope, dreaming big and aspiration and what better way to promote these messages of hope than through those who need it most, kids. We feel so privileged to support Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation and we'd like to acknowledge those who put in so much effort from the kindness of their hearts, without expecting anything in return. In many ways, building this relationship was a life and game changer for me individually; as an author and as a person. It epitomised the reality of change, it justified the willingness to go and chase dreams, for we never know what may hit us around the next corner. Most importantly, it put a lot into perspective. We are all people in this community and most of us are trying to figure out how to get ahead in life but these children and their families were different. They needed hope for, at times, that was all they had. They needed support for this was the cure to their financial strain. They needed smiles as this alone was the medicine that made life’s arrows dissolve. I was inspired and our book venture had taken a swift turn for the better.
A new direction was our focus and despite all of my willingness to network and some very happy schools and libraries, Billy was yet to find his way into bookstores and distribution offices.
So, six months down and we were coming to the dreaded plateau. A new direction was needed and with this came a revamped and highly entertaining showcase presentation. The new year beckoned and goals were more than reached with Billy The Brilliant but a greater networking source was needed. I devoted hours to researching best marketing practice and developed relationships with those in the know, all in readiness to launch book number two. The constant school and library visits were exciting and our fresh show entertained and inspired readers; young and old. So, within the space of three months, Billy had been shelved in more than eight local bookstores and distribution offices (seven more stores than the first six months had offered us). The books were getting exposure and some of the most amazing experiences have allowed not only Billy to become the magician we always wanted but had given a certain serendipity to our once unknown venture. We were made for this quest and our self-published, locally grown product and name was showing the big guns how it is done! Not just through sales and exposure, through generosity, care and a desire to share goodness; which is what great books should offer. We wish to create a little bit of magic for all whom we encounter but, honestly, it seems the opposite has happened. We have been constantly spellbound by those around us.
With thanks to those whom I have met, by chance or other, it has been an absolute pleasure interacting and learning from the mightiest of heroes. These people rarely ask for anything in life and continue to offer support to us and our adventure, which would warm even the iciest of hearts. The team at Princess Margaret Hospital and those inspiring families. These people have urged me to give more and offer all that I can, for the benefit of others. The local community, whether it be schools and their families, the radio and the newspapers for documenting our journey and even the local business, especially the hosts of launches or visits. The fond readers who gain a little piece of magic in each and every page they swipe over; this was our true desire all along. But perhaps most, hidden to many, but never to JustZeusBooks, our incredible magicians. They have certainly become the face and centre piece to each of the Billy visits and offer something that no other book company can, a child’s perspective. Indulge your mind a little; that distant memory, yes, the one right at the back of the memory bank, behind the other schooling experiences. School visits with an adult. A guest speaker or touring act. An adult stands and offers all the advice they can, that same adult tries their best to entertain and inspire with zest, but they are missing just one thing, relatability. To stand and witness what my magicians have experienced as minors, not only makes me jealous that I didn’t receive an ounce of opportunity like this but moreover, makes me so proud that they are moving beyond the world of technology, away from the cloud of social insecurity and enjoying the smaller things in life. Probably without even knowing, broadening their minds almost beyond comprehension. The lessons they have learned far outweigh any of which they could acquire behind a desk at school, for they have inspired their peers to get out and relish childhood, typifying my message as author and mentor. Do something that truly stimulates and offers a small dose of global perspective. I often say it, but my mighty magicians make our visit worthwhile, they encompass all that is great in our journey and furthermore, they appreciate the experience and yearn for giving; something we at JustZeusBooks, had never even hoped for in the wildest of dreams. The climb has been so challenging but the view, is simply spectacular and we're not even at the pinnacle yet. We can’t wait for the challenges that lie ahead.
Natalie and I have had some success; and even recently were invited to the two biggest events thus far in our journey: as author, the Reader’s and Writer’s Festival in Margaret River, and as illustrator, The Parallax Art Exhibition in London, England, but this is just a bonus beyond everything else. We are so grateful for all that we have achieved but more so, for the people we have encountered. We consider ourselves lucky to be given the opportunity to chase our dreams. One year down, A writer has now been born, here’s to the exciting journey ahead.