Favourite 10 books

A FRIEND of mine tagged me to list my favourite 10 books. The problem is that I don’t have a favourite 10. I think of each I have read as children. I love them differently, but I cannot give a list of preference. I’m as uncomfortable doing this as I am ordering my top 8 friends on Myspace.

But, for the sake of a blog post, I’ll give you the books I like that first come to mind;

1) Treasure Island

It’s about these pirates. Pirates with patches over their eyes. And shiny gold teeth. And green birds on their shoulders.

Did I mention this book was written by a guy named Robert Louis Stevenson? And published by the good people at McGraw-Hill?

Simpsons Treasure Island

So, in conclusion, on the Simpson  Chris scale of one to ten – ten being the highest, one being the lowest, and five being average – I give this book a NINE!

Any questions?

Seriously though. Damn good book. Spawned heaps of covers and remakes and alternate versions for a reason.

2) The Edge Chronicles (Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell) 

10 books in the series set over a long period of time on a world set on the edge of a cliff. It’s a land combining brutish animal instinct, steam punk technology, sky pirates, trolls, superstition, politics. The plot follows four young men who are descended from one another. The choices of each impacts the world they live in, and their descendants too.

There are sky pirates! There are wookies! Banderbears! Goblins! Trolls! Shape shifting tricksters! Cannibalistic TREES!


3) Hamlet

The only play I can sit down and read. Except Pygmalion.

4) Tomorrow When the War Began series (John Marsden)

I mentioned this book to a hyper intelligent man in a bar in Mount Isa, and he turned up his nose. “As a migrant, the very idea of this novel offends me,” he said.

Is it a book that preys on white culture xenophobia? A rip-off of Red Dawn?


But it’s also a book about teenagers no longer bound to the dependence placed on them by their own will and ignorance. They question what it means to be free, and the rights to life, death and property when these can be given and taken so easily.

5) A Series of Unfortunate Events (Lemony Snicket; AKA Daniel Handler) 

Dark, twisted, not anything like that unfortunate movie involving a certain Jim Carey. We’re overdue for a TV series that respects the original source.

6) The Drawing of the Three (part 2 of the Dark Tower epic by Stephen King)

I found the first novel for sale in a library in an outback town while driving across Australia. It was a strange collection of disjointed short stories set in a post apocalyptic world about the last of the Gunslingers, Roland Deschain, and what he must do to get to the Dark Tower (what it is or does we do not know at that stage).

But the sequel, The Drawing of the Three, expanded the world and propelled this dying gunslinger into 1980s New York, where he must learn to collaborate with a drug mule from Brooklyn, a psychotic and paraplegic black woman, and a serial killer. My favourite in the series.

Gunslinger comicvine.com

7) A song of ice and fire (George RR Martin)

As you might have noticed, I like fantasy. But fantasy can be poorly written, which is why you won’t find Wheel of Time on this list.

But Games of Thrones is my literature meth.

8) The Trout Opera (Matthew Condon)

I was introduced to Condon in university. The Trout Opera is set over a 100 year period which culminates in the Sydney Olympic Games of 2000. A man named Wilfred, a stockman with no children who has lived all his life in the Snowy Mountains from 1900 to 2000, is coerced by the government into being a symbol of Australia in the opening ceremony. Meanwhile, a family member he knows nothing about is trying to escape her destructive past, and her dying drug dealer – seeking some kind of redemption – chooses to help her.

9) The Goblet of Fire

Some people say it’s overrated. I say it’s not. Someone once mentioned that out of all the Harry Potter books, the fourth is the only one that could be taken out, that it has nothing to add to the series. I argue that the first, third, and fifth are the ones that could be taken out if need be. But why would you want to?

10) Breath (Tim Winton) 

Winton’s novels are a hit or a miss for me. His characters are flawed, gritty, genuine but sometimes unrelatable.  But Breath represents all of what makes him great. Besides, you don’t realise how many words there are for “wave” until you read this.



Self-sabotage and comedy and work and dreams and stuff


Interning for the Salvation Army was confronting and the issues I witnessed outside my comfort zone. All I wanted for my precious leisure time was to retreat into other worlds. Worlds like Hogwarts and Runescape and wherever the hell Twilight is set.

 The 11 interns had one television to share. Our internet was limited and there was no access to the online video games I was addicted to. The TV was reserved for Doctor Who, a show I was reluctant to watch. I’d walk through the hallway to my room, roll my eyes and think, “damn, that theme music is more annoying than Smallville’s.”

Instead I chose to sleep, read, or write.

Themes of loneliness, depression and alcoholism began to emerge in poor forms of poetry and fictional remakes of what I was witnessing on the streets. The anger was directed at God or through religious propaganda.


This isn’t its own chapter. I just didn’t want to tell you the first section of this content is in another blog post called Bears, Bad-Ass Juveniles and Pregnant Moons, in the first line.


I returned to university. My creative writing marks are as high as you can get. My politics marks are as poor as you can get while still passing. My journalism subjects are somewhere in the spectrum of decent and respectable.

This is where I first tap into my childhood to turn it into fiction. I write a collection of short stories about a teenager who grew up in a foster home. I submitted the 92,000 word novel into The Australian’s Vogel Literary Award.

It didn’t shortlist. The book is almost useless but sometimes writers need to get their first one out of their way before they are ready to publish.

The other books I never completed were of the fantasy genre. These were space opera, high fantasy, and teenage paranormal genres which I kept separate from my university assessments. Genre fiction was not encouraged in university courses and those who spoke of these themes in workshops were looked on in disdain by the serious writers.

I begin writing short stories in my free time that aren’t submitted as assessments and enter them in competitions.


In 2011 I discover Stephen King novels. I attempt horror in my short stories.


My first short story is published. Lonely Leather is shortlisted in a competition and is published in Wet Ink . I earn $75. The protagonist’s uncle is a rich author who commits suicide at the end.

I brag about it in my creative writing class. Being published in Wet Ink (no longer existing) is a big deal. My lecturer is impressed. Two days later I receive an invitation to join the lecturers, PhD and master students to a nearby island for a writers retreat. I will be mentored by Australian author Frank Moorhouse.

I meet author and lecturer Sally Breen. She holds a cocktail while she raves about my writing. Nobody has encouraged my writing as much as she had before while knowing what they are talking about.

She organises a select group of students to volunteer at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud, Bali. The university pays for the trip, because it’s technically part of a subject. All I have to do is write an essay of what I learned.


At the festival I hire a moped, taste frogs legs, enter the poetry slam, and have one date with an Indonesian girl.

When we fly back to Brisbane I wear a bamboo hat and golden baggy pants I bought at the Ubud markets.


I miss the last train and I’m stranded in the city alone. I go to the 24 hour Hungry Jacks and buy a juice so I can sit inside. To pass the early hours I start writing a love story to the girl I dated the one time.

It’s part poetry I suppose, but it was more a rant which includes:

I love you. I miss you. I want you. Oh, I’m full of shit. I miss you now at 10 past 2, but are your eyes a blue or brown? I want you, but what’s your name again? Yeah, I know, it’s Carley and your eyes are hazel, your hair is blonde, but a year ago your name was Tahlia. Your eyes were blue. Every time I wish you’d die, you’d come again a different form. Renewed again, you black cat-phoenix.

I submit the poem as my assignment and I get a HD – top of the class.


At some stage I resent writing. It was to be an expression of self-sabotage but  somehow it became the only way I could communicate. People misunderstood my body language all my life.

I wanted to walk into a room of strangers and be their centre of attention. I didn’t want to be the life of the party. I wanted the life of the party. It was captivation I wished for. Writing gave me nothing, I felt.

Who is this Russell Brand. Hey! He’s a comedian. Why don’t you try comedy? Does Brisbane have comedy?


I took lessons and began the circuit. Some nights I’m crap and other nights I have applause. There’s a power I feel when I’m on stage and can’t do anything wrong. The laughs escalate. One poor choice of words will still increase the laughs. I am liked. Loved. I drive home most nights of the week at 1am. Adrenaline pumps. I turn the lights off and have a new idea for a joke. I write it down.

I develop insomnia. Only black and white Doctor Who can put me to sleep.

One night I attend a writer’s function with uni friends. I read one of my poems.

“I decree that I forsee that at 33 I’ll die of cancer of the pancreatic sort.”

Somehow my delivery has changed. The room laughs at what should be intense themes. Sally is disappointed at me.

I do some self-reflecting. I’m a Pizza Hut delivery driver who can’t even afford a GPS. It means I flick through my maps with a spotlight before I start driving with the pizza in the back seat. I make $2 an hour on weekends. Week nights are reserved for stand-up comedy gigs. I get three or four a week but make no money. Driving to the gigs costs the taxpayer.

I apply for  reporter jobs across the country. I receive a job at a weekly paper in a coal mining town in WA. I accept the job. Goodbye comedy friends. Goodbye writers. I drive from Brisbane, to Adelaide, to Perth in six days.


In his glory days my boss used to control all the Fairfax papers in WA. Because of internal struggles and disagreements which likely involve the new policies of internet, he is demoted to control of the minor weekly papers from the small town we both live in.

There is resent. He hates the job and lives for the weekend. On his mahogany desk there is a small sign that says “born to golf. Forced to work.”

By Gary Smith
By Gary Smith

The boss hated my writing. He thought it fancy. It was long winded and had little precision. When you have found your creative writing voice it is difficult to chance style. Removing the unnecessary ‘that’ and ‘the’ and ‘really’ was a difficult concept.

 I worked weekends for free to make my Mondays and Tuesdays easier. I learnt to write faster and not procrastinate as much. I toured coal mines, attended court where I watched a prosecutor yell at a defendant accused of assault, and interview the parents of a boy who died in tragic circumstances.

 My creative writing slowed. My murder mystery novel was taking too long to write.  My short stories including Aliens Play Aussie Rules rejected. My achievements like winning the town’s literature awards and shortlisting for the Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards  not seeming enough.

I quit without another job lined up. This is a big mistake in journalism. I did not care. I hated journalism. I wanted work somewhere else. I wanted to return to comedy.


I lasted eight months without needing the dole. I burned through the savings and start sharing a house with grandma. I develop a blog called Hail to the Monkey King.  I apply for a spot at the WA Academy of Performing Arts. I milked my stand-up comedy experience for what it was worth. Big mistake. The teachers judging my audition disliked it. They act like a creative writing tutor learning their student wants to write about vampires.

Everything I try for doesn’t happen. I have no retail experience and there’s fewer comedy gigs I can get in Perth.

I miss Qld.


I take a job at a daily paper in North West Qld.

Each day more than 2000 people read my news articles. They recognise my name.

But the articles I write do not belong to me. They are not my stories. I write them because I am paid to do so.

On weekends my head is focused on the next scene of my fantasy novel about killer robots locking children in a booby trapped fun park.


Sure it’s genre fiction but it’s an old idea from my late teen years I’m developing. I don’t want to be a serious writer for a while. There’s enough of that during the week.

Bears, bad-ass juveniles, and pregnant moons (my writing journey)


My psychologist in primary school had these cards with pictures of bears on them. There were bears of all types. There were angry bears, happy bears, small bears, muscular bears, mother bears. You put the cards into rings to prop them up.

It was like playing with toys. I would use the bears to narrate how I was feeling. It’s called sandbox therapy but I used it to vent stories. The psychologist would write it down and ended up typing it up for me. My story became sequels. I cannot remember the shape of the stories and whether they were tragic, or if any of the bears died. I think there was a scary forest where they all got lost at one stage.


After my brother and I watched Phantom Menace at the cinemas I began writing space opera. It was hardly original work. There were laser swords, an evil magician who would die at the end of each story but who would somehow come back to life at the beginning of the next story. By the end of the epic series he was nothing but an amputated skeleton in armor who needed to use telekinesis to fight with his laser sword.


Mum read sections of it and told me off for ripping off Star Wars.


I was 10 when I moved into my foster home. We lived in the bush and had no car. There was nothing to do on the property unless you liked horses. But there were books on a shelf in my bedroom. I discovered Treasure Island, The Hobbit, and other books I cannot remember.

I didn’t write so much, except for the mandatory stories in English class. They set the themes.  One theme we were given was “the day the sun didn’t come up.”

Other kids were cute. They used fireworks to bring the sun back.  But I personified my sun. My character flew into another galaxy, where the moon was in labour pains with baby sun.

Dad sun pissed off somewhere and baby sun came back to our galaxy. The end.


The teachers didn’t publish  that one in the school magazine.

But there was another lengthy story. It was a tragic drama. You know how in the first 20 pages of The Philosopher’s Stone where Harry’s life is depressing and miserable? That was my story. It was a more intense version of Series of Unfortunate Events. The boy’s parents died or had accidents making them disabled. His friends died and the cubby house was burnt down. Even his foster mother was murdered.

My real foster mother hated the story. She thought it depressing.

I started writing a porno instead but my foster dad found it and read it aloud to everyone. What a jerk. It wasn’t ready to be shared. It was only the first draft.


The  Tomorrow When the War Began series changed my life. I was 15 when I started reading, and even though it bored me the first 30 pages I became addicted. John Marsden influenced my voice more than anyone else. His tormented character Ellie Linton taught me the power of first person emotion. It was a disadvantage in later years as a journalist. His commas were excessive and his sentence structure windy.

But because of Mr Marsden I found my voice before I knew how to write structurally.


I started writing a book about teenagers in criminal gangs at high school. They fought for secret bases, hang-outs, and black market businesses. Their weapons were bow staffs and water pistols filled with Tabasco sauce. I kid you not.


In Writing Effectively I earned a High Distinction.  This was in my first semester of my Bachelor of Arts. It’s nothing to brag about. The lecturer gave everyone HDs at the Logan campus because he didn’t want to bother marking our assignments. We wrote weekly essays about 200 words in length and brought them to class.

Once he wanted to read somebody’s essay to the class. He rifled through the papers and picked mine out. “This could get interesting,” I thought. It was a three paragraph piece called Why We Eat Chocolate Easter Eggs. The exercise was linking three paragraphs together. I didn’t think anyone but the Irish Catholic lecturer would be reading it.

“Can I read yours, Chris?”

“Um. Sure.”

I cannot remember what the first paragraph was, but it was safe and non-religious. “This is brilliant,” he said, finishing the paragraph. “Perfect.”

“Thank you,” I said nervously. And he read the second paragraph. When he finished he gasped.

“This is even better! Listen everyone, this is exactly what I’m telling you to do. This is absolutely brilliant. Chris has just shown us perfectly how to link the paragraph and make the next line engaging. Do you see?”

And then he read the third paragraph. “But when you eat these chocolate Easter eggs, remember it is to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus.” His voice darkened. “He died for our sins.”

He glared at me. “This is shit. What you’ve just done – only a wanker would do what you just did.” The lecturer shoved it down. It was no longer an example of a perfect essay.

This was in 2008. In the second semester I receive a Pass in Creative Writing 1. My lecturer also embarrasses me in my oral assignment because I didn’t know the difference between paraphrasing and referencing.

I read a futuristic story I was working on about a barbarian who is tamed and pushed into the World Emperor’s inner social circle for political motives.  Think Battlefield Earth but without the aliens.

My teacher couldn’t hide the smirk.

 To be continued.