DETERMINED: Noosa author Stephen Zemek refused to give up on his dream of writing a novel.
DETERMINED: Noosa author Stephen Zemek refused to give up on his dream of writing a novel. Contributed

My writing dream came true after 54 years

NOOSA author Stephen Zemek has had his first novel published at the age of 70.

A Pelican from Heaven tells the story of Bluey Leyton, a wharfie with a larrikin streak, who after one too many beers at lunch-time, falls out of his straddle crane and staggers into heaven.

Bluey doesn't quite fit in up there, so God calls him into his reading room and offers him the chance to return to earth as a pelican to compile a report on climate change.

Stephen always wanted to be a writer but it's taken him 54 years and a number of failed attempts to realise his dream.

This is his story:

TERROR has its own sound.

I heard it in my screams early one morning in 1955 when I was seven and I awoke to find myself paralysed from the waist down.

I remained that way for three months but then the virus vanished just as mysteriously as it appeared.

During the time I was ill, I made a special friend - a kookaburra. It would come every morning and sit on my windowsill to take meat from my mother's hand.

Sometimes after it had finished eating, it would sit for a long time just staring at me with its head cocked to the side. I believed it was sharing my hopes for a recovery.

Then, one morning I realised I could move my legs. From that day, the bird never returned. It knew.

In my child's mind I believed it was going to help another sick child but the kookaburra left me a legacy: a need, a compulsion to write that commenced the day the kookaburra left.

I have to write. It's not a choice.

I come from a long line of boat builders and my dad was always building boats. I was born in Maryborough so we had access to the more remote areas around the northern end of Fraser Island.

 

PELICAN MAN: Stephen Zemek has long had an affinity with pelicans, so it's no surprise his first book features one of the magnificent birds.
PELICAN MAN: Stephen Zemek has long had an affinity with pelicans, so it's no surprise his first book features one of the magnificent birds. Contributed

 

In the late 1950s, before the commercialisation of whale watching, we often put out the dinghy and rowed around among the whales. With no other humans in sight, the whales were not afraid and often came over very close.

At dusk we would throw scraps of fish to White-Breasted Sea Eagles and pelicans. It was a magical time. The relationships formed with those whales, eagles and pelicans form a large part of who I am and how I think.

When I was about 16, my parents took me to see a Vocational Guidance Officer.

He started with "So boy, what do you want to do when you leave school?"

"I'd like to be a writer."

Storm clouds appeared in the man's eyes.

"Don't be stupid lad. That's not a job. You have to do something sensible like: teaching, or carpentry, or you might like to be a mechanic. Let's try again; so what do you want to be when you leave school?".

"Well, if I can't be a writer, I think I'll be a pelican."

The interview ended abruptly. My parents weren't happy but they understood.

As the years passed I found out that to have a career as a full-time writer wasn't so easy.

Rejection slips started to mount up as I earnt a living in sales and marketing, but always beneath the surface burnt the flame to be a writer.

 

 

 

The cover of Stephen Zemek's new book.
The cover of Stephen Zemek's new book. Contributed

In the early 1980s I began to see a lot of my friends in the business world stagger and fall under the heavy burden of stress so I decided to become a naturopath and have run my own clinics since 1987.

Life follows a random path. This was brought home to me in 2011 when my wife suffered a horrific injury.

After a team of saintly surgeons saved her life, I was able to use my naturopathic knowledge to enhance her recovery. Her courage instilled within me an even greater determination to be a published author.

I wrote three novels. Two of which I have subsequently destroyed.

I am very concerned about the state of the planet. Of course there has always been climate change but never on the scale we are witnessing.

Many people switch off when the topic of climate change is broached because it is often couched in heavy science.

I decided to write a satire on climate change and make my principal character the reincarnation of a larrikin wharfie who would speak to my readers in plain language.

Because of my life-long fascination with pelicans, Bluey Leyton became a pelican - a bird whose very nature shows determined mastery over being so awkward.

A Pelican from Heaven will leave you laughing but it has many underlying serious messages. All the animals and birds that Bluey meets on his special mission back to earth for God allow them to "stand in our place" and offer both a reflective and refractive view of the best and worst of we humans.

Bluey Leyton is a flawed character but he shows it is never too late to learn.

Perhaps, at 70, I'm a little like Bluey. It is only now I've learned that as a writer, I have been too close to my work all these years to recognise the flaws, and why I'm so grateful to Michael Carolan at Niche Press who is my editor.

Together we have crafted A Pelican from Heaven so it is ready to take flight into the hearts and minds of readers.

I wonder what my vocational guidance officer would say?

Ask for A Pelican From Heaven at your local bookstore or buy it from Niche Press at www.nichepress.com.au.



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