Podcast Episode Transcription: Season 2, Episode 9

Leah Lambart: Welcome to the CGA Career Podcast. Today, I am interviewing Gabriel Bergmoser, who is a Melbourne-based author, playwright, and screenwriter. In 2015, Gabriel won the prestigious Sir Peter Ustinov Television Scriptwriting Award for his pilot screenplay “Windmills,” and he was flown to the International Emmys in New York to accept the award.

Gabriel Bergmoser: Very cool.

Leah Lambart: The same pilot was later nominated for the Mont Miller Award, and in 2016, his first young adult novel, “Boone Shepherd,” was shortlisted for the Readings Young Adult Prize. In 2019, Gabriel signed a two-book deal with HarperCollins with the first, the best-selling “The Hunted,” published in July 2020, and the second, “The Inheritance,” following in July 2021, with a film adaptation currently in development. He’s since signed a second two-book deal with Harper for his young adult coming-of-age novel, “The True Colour of a Little White Lie.” In 2022, his Audible original novel, “The Hitch Hiker,” was released and spent four weeks at number one.

Leah Lambart: And he has also another book coming out very soon, “The Caretaker,” and I believe the book launch is actually tomorrow, Gabriel.

Gabriel Bergmoser: It is tomorrow, which is really, really scary.

Leah Lambart: Actually exhausted just talking about your achievements, but welcome to the podcast, and thanks for taking time out of a very busy day, most likely, to chat with us about your career.

Gabriel Bergmoser: No. Thanks so much for having me. Stoked to be here.

Leah Lambart: Gabriel, you’ve already had a very successful career as a young writer. Where did your love of writing come from initially?

Gabriel Bergmoser: Honestly, I’ve thought about this a lot because it’s a weird sort of path to go down in a lot of ways. And it’s obviously not necessarily a particularly common path, but it’s one that I was sort of set on from a very early age. And I think if I had to kind of figure out where the point of origin was, I think it was being a kid and being so deeply and pathologically obsessed with the stories I loved.

Like, whether they were books, whether they were movies, whatever they were, you know, whether it was something like “Lord of the Rings,” whether it was “Harry Potter,” whether it was “A Series of Unfortunate Events” or “Tomorrow, When the War Began” or whatever it was, I would go through these absolute fixations on certain things when I was a kid. And that hasn’t really changed as an adult. Like, I mean, anybody who watched “Succession” recently knows or anybody who spoke to me recently knows, I was completely fixated on that for a while there, you know. So that’s been a consistent sort of thing from childhood till now. But as a kid, you know, I think these fixations I would have or these obsessions I would have with the stories I loved were so extreme, but there was always, I guess, a point where it didn’t become enough.

Because as much as I would love these stories, as much as I would want to think about them, talk about them and pick them apart, they would never be mine. They can never truly be mine because the characters always belong to the authors. You know, the characters always belong to somebody else. And I think I wanted to have stories that I could live inside of, obsess over, make my entire world, but that were mine, that came from me, that were my own thing, that I could like have on a shelf next to those stories that I love so very much. And that that’s kind of a weird path into it, but I think that was it.

And then it was sort of like around, I guess when I was around like in year 3 or year 4, I started trying to write stories and never got very far and then sort of like fumbled through until about like when I was about 15 or 16, I finally managed to finish a novel. Not a good novel, not a novel that will ever see the light of day, but something that once it was finished, it became a lot easier to write the next one and the next one because it is a true thing that once you’ve done something once, doing it again becomes a lot easier. And with every subsequent repetition, you get a little bit better and a little bit better and a little bit better until eventually you have something that, you know, you can comfortably show the world without sort of hiding your face in shame.

Leah Lambart: So would you say if I went back to your English teachers at Caulfield, would they have thought that you would make a career as a writer? Were you one of the top students in English and in creative writing?

Gabriel Bergmoser: Look, it’s hard to say because I don’t think I was a very good writer when I was younger. I think I was a very passionate writer, and in some ways, I think that’s more important. You know, I mean, I know a lot of students. I can think of actually several people who come to mind who I went to Caulfield with who were by far better writers than I was. Like and I’m not saying that to be self-deprecating.

I’m saying that because I remember reading their stories when I was at school, and I was such a passionate, obsessive writer. And I read what they wrote and I just thought, oh my god. You guys are miles ahead of me. Like, I’m not I can’t remotely do what you can do. But I think what I had in my corner when I was younger was it was never really talent.

Leah Lambart: Wow. That’s really interesting because on paper you you look so successful, but obviously there have been some heartbreaking moments and rejections along the way. Can you can you tell us a bit about that?

Gabriel Bergmoser: Oh my god. My failures outweigh my successes like a 100 to 1. It’s and I think that’s true of most creatives, you know. It’s like because, of course, on your bios, on your websites, and everything, and in the podcast and stuff, you’re only ever gonna talk about, you know, the stuff that you did well and the stuff that succeeded and the stuff that makes people think you’re worth listening to or worth buying your books. But my god. I mean, over the years, the amount of, like, rejections I’ve had from publishers, from theater companies, from production companies, from studios, from whatever it might be. I could I could paper a house with those if I printed them all off.

You know, there have been so many and many of them are kinds. Some of them aren’t. You know, sometimes you’ll get people who just reply in the most brutally candid ways just telling you how bad you are. And then there’s reviews. You know, I mean, I used to be in independent theater. And back then, you know, like like nowadays I’m a little bit more equivocal about reviews because when you sort of have published novels on fairly large scales, you get a lot of them. And, you know, the first few you pay attention to and then eventually it’s like whether it’s good or bad, you get to a point where you kind of heard it all.

So it’s sort of like the bad reviews don’t really hurt and the good reviews don’t really make your day anymore. But in my early career, when I was in independent theater, where you might get like 2 reviews for a play that you put on, 2 reviews if you were lucky, when one of those reviews or both of those reviews were bad, that would be enormously crushing and particularly crushing if you knew they were right. You know, if you would read the review and you kind of go, you’ve got a point. And as much as I wanna say, you know, you’re just a jerk and you don’t like my work and you don’t get it and I’m a genius, and how dare you, you know, be so critical of my amazing ability.

More often than not, you’ll read it and you’ll kind of go, if you if you have any self-reflexivity at all, you’ll read it and you’ll go, oh, okay. Damn. That’s actually right. And I’ve put this on in front of a paying audience. And now I have to kind of reconcile that and either give up now and slink away or try to learn from it, try to make it better the next time around. And then I think in some ways, you know, failure is one thing and failure is essential. I mean, you learn more from your failures and your successes, almost always.

But I think the cruelest kind of failure, and I’ve definitely experienced this, is when you’ve had that little taste of success and then things kind of fall over again. And I mean, that was what happened to me in 2015, you know, when I won the Sir Peter Ustinov Award. I’d, until that point in my career, I’d obviously been a very passionate writer, but an extraordinarily unsuccessful one. Like nothing had broken through. Nothing had, you know, I’d never won an award. I never had a short story published. I’d self-published one book, had self-produced a bunch of plays. I’d studied at VCA. That was kind of it. But, you know, I had no real gold stamp on my work to say that my work was worth paying attention to, you know?

And the Ustinov was the first instance of that. And in some ways, that was the most vindicating thing in the world because it is such an enormously prestigious award. You know, it’s run by the International Emmys. If you win, you get flown to America, you walk the red carpet, the Emmys, you mingle with celebrities. I went over and I met the most amazing people. I had incredible meetings in LA, like, in boardrooms overlooking the whole city. I was meeting with some of the biggest producers going around and, like, you know, they’re all saying, oh, we love your work. We love your work. We love your work. And then you get back to Australia and you just never hear from them ever again.

Leah Lambart: That sounds crushing.

Gabriel Bergmoser: It’s a yeah. Well, it was particularly when, you know, you fast forward two years from me getting back from America with this absolute belief that I was about to be on the toast of LA and everything was about to blow up. And two years down the line, it’s like, you know, I was still working in sales. I was still doing independent plays that I’d be lucky if 20 people came and saw. And the woman who won the Ustinov the year after me, who was also Australian, she had just had her first feature film produced. And I’m sitting there in this little office in this shop I was working at in Lilydale, just kind of watching her success skyrocket.

And I’m thinking, what, what is wrong with me? What is what has happened here and everything. And, you know, that time in my life was kind of around the closest I ever came to giving up because not only had nothing come of this and I started thinking, you know, was the award just a fluke? Because that was the only real success I had. So was it just that I happened to accidentally write something good and that got me across the line and nothing else I write is kind of worth it?

And then there was also sort of this period where I had, like, another TV project. I had a book that was with an agent who seemed to be really interested in it. I had a podcast in development and there was this one week around 2017, 2018 where all of those things collapsed at the same time. Like all of those things fell through in the same week. And it’s moments like that where you sit there and you stare at the roof and you’re thinking, you know, it’s one thing to live the broke student lifestyle while you’re trying to make it clear in the arts. But I think a lot of people relate to this.

The closer you get to 30, the less romantic that becomes. And the more you start to look at your friends and your peers and the people you went to school and uni with who are making inroads in their careers and making good money and buying houses and getting married and settling down, and you’re looking at your bank account, and you’re like $2,000 in overdraft and have been for almost a decade.

And you kind of just go, at what point do I give up? And that’s a that’s a really, really hard crossroads to face. And, you know, I would never begrudge anybody reaching that point and saying that this isn’t for me. It’s too hard. And because it is hard, it is really, really hard. But I also believe and maybe this is the optimistic silver lining to all of this, that if you are truly persistent and I’m not saying this in like a hallmark self-help kind of way, when I when I say persistent, I mean, like pathologically, obsessively persistent in the face of all evidence to the contrary that this is worthwhile to pursue.

But if you actually stick to that and find whatever, whether it’s desperation, whether it’s pure necessity, whether it’s just insanely fierce ambition or a combination of all of them, if you find something to fuel that persistence and stick with it, then I truly believe that it is only a matter of time until you find some kind of success. Because the more you do something, the better you’re gonna get. And if you do have what it takes, then eventually you will get over the line.

Leah Lambart: A lot of people, as you say, are warned off creative careers because of the instability. There must have been times where did anyone ever say to you, you know, what are you doing? Why don’t you go and find another job that has more security? Did you ever face that sort of pressure to try and change career into something else?

Gabriel Bergmoser: I look. I think very gently. I mean, I was I was incredibly lucky in that my parents were extraordinarily supportive, you know, from day one. I mean, I came from Mansfield. I was a country kid, and I was lucky enough to get a drama scholarship at Caulfield Grammar, which is what got me there, and I guess is the reason we’re talking today. But, you know, that was because I had kind of expressed to my parents that I wanted to pursue a creative career, and I wanted to sort of seek opportunities that weren’t necessarily available in my hometown at that point in my life.

And so they they were supportive enough to kind of look at the options and everything and sort of say, alright, look, you know, we we probably can’t afford this, but we can look at scholarships, and we can look at all of that. And they really, really got behind me. And I’ll, you know, I’ll forever be grateful for that because a lot of teenagers will express a lot of different, you know, fantasy careers that they want to pursue. But I don’t know what it was.

Like, mom and dad just kind of got behind me doing that. And then there were points over the years where they would kind of say to me, you know, like, have you thought about maybe going into teaching or maybe trying this or maybe trying this and everything? And, you know, I mean, I suppose that was always kind of the direction I could have gone had things not worked out. But honestly, I I don’t think I faced a lot of people telling me, try this, get a real job, do this or whatever, because I think anybody who knew me well knew that anything other than writing wasn’t really an option for me. And that’s not to say that I was preordained to be a writer.

That’s just to say that I was truly just not good at anything else. Like, this was just like the one thing that, you know, I I had the drive and the passion to pursue, and the one thing that I’d kind of gotten good at, and there was nothing else. There were there were no other skills or talents that I had that I could, you know, kind of lead on and rely on. It was kind of this or nothing, you know, at a certain point.

Leah Lambart: Gabriel, can you tell us a bit about your education in writing after you finished studying at Caulfield? And how important do you think it is to get formal training in writing as opposed to someone who feels they just have natural talent?

Gabriel Bergmoser: It’s an insanely good question because it it differs for everyone. And there are really, really strong opinions either way on this one. So for me, I spent most of my university years hating the idea of writing education. Like, I was doing it because I didn’t know what else to do, but I didn’t like it. I didn’t like being told how to write.

I remember doing one creative writing class in my undergrad where every week the tutor would put a play by Samuel Beckett in front of us, who was a playwright I do not enjoy. And she would just say, I want you to write a play in this style. I want you to write a play in this style, like a short play. Like, you know, write a short scene in this, on this, on this style. And then finally, I kind of put my hand up and I was like, so you want us to write like Samuel Beckett, basically?

And she just looked blankly at me and she was like, oh, but that’s what good writing is. And I was like, But that’s not what I want to write. And she didn’t get it. She was like, But but it’s what good writing is. I was like, No, but like Samuel Beckett, for anyone who knows, is like absurdism kind of, you know, what does life matter? Everything’s kind of ridiculous and strange and offbeat. And like, my tastes were, for better or worse, always kind of more commercial than that.

You know? Like, I wanted to write kind of page-turning books and fun stories and everything, and I wasn’t interested in the existential Samuel Beckett type thing. But there were a lot of times during my undergrad that I really felt like, I guess the university or the tutors, they were trying to put us in boxes of what they thought good writing was. And that was immensely frustrating to me. And so in those years, I would have said this is pointless.

This is worthless. But I finished my undergrad, I got into the master of screenwriting at the Victorian College of the Arts. And I don’t want to pretend that my time there was completely smooth, because I think I was in this unfortunate position where by that point, I’d been producing independent theater for a while and writing my own plays and stuff for a while. And when I got into the VCA course and they started really intensively teaching us stuff like structure, like theme, like character development, like all of these things and sort of how to approach it in ways that were really effective, I was kind of forced to confront the fact that I’d potentially been doing it wrong for a long time.

And like, as is often the case when our approach to something or an approach that is so intrinsic to how we’ve been doing things, when that’s challenged, we can get defensive. And so I found myself at VCA getting very kind of like, they just want us to write by numbers and, you know, like I my my art is more like spontaneous and, you know, soulful and everything than that. And I don’t want to be constrained by all these rules and everything. And then I remember my first play after my 1st year at VCA was by far and away my most well received show ever.

You know? Like, suddenly, it was like because I’d whether I liked it or not, I was subconsciously taking in all these ideas about story structure, all these ideas about how to shape a story. And what I came to learn was that, you know, learning those rules of storytelling, and I think rules is the wrong word anyway. I think tools is the correct word. Like if they help you use them, if they don’t, don’t.

But losing those, sorry, learning those tools didn’t constrain my creativity. It actually unleashed it because instead of being this like chaotic mess on the page, I now had a framework in which my ideas and my storytelling could actually really shine. So for me, I say that my time at VCA is something I credit enormously with any success that I’ve had since then. You know, it was it was crucial. Like, I would not be here without it. It’s as simple as that.

However, I also know other writers for whom, you know, who have had immense success, who had no training at all. I was having drinks recently with a director in London who I’m very proud to now call a friend of mine, who’s somebody who was a hero of mine for many, many years. And he’s somebody who has made some award-winning, really fantastic movies. And he had he did not have an ounce of training in his whole life. Like, never went to film school, never studied, never did any of those things. And he kind of laughed a little bit when I said I went to when I went to VCA and everything.

And I wasn’t offended by that or anything, but like, it was just so interesting to me that, like, he clearly didn’t need it. Like, he was already on a level well beyond that. And for some people, you just don’t, you know, for some people I mean, Quentin Tarantino never did any film training. Like, for him, his training was just watching movies over and over and over again. And honestly, that is just as valid as anything else. I think that I think that you just have to really ask yourself the question of being like, Am I turning away from the idea of training out of arrogance or because I genuinely don’t believe I need it?

It’s like you really have to like interrogate that because if you’re just sort of, if you’re 18 years old and you’re coming out of school and you’re saying, I don’t want to go to uni and study because I already know it all, I’m already really good. I’d probably be questioning that. And you might be a prodigy. I don’t know. But chances are, you’re not. And chances are, you know, you’re going to have to go through quite a bit to learn how to get better, whether that’s producing your own theatre, whether that’s writing manuscript after manuscript, whether that’s doing a course, whether that’s just watching and watching every movie under the sun and reading every book under the sun and kind of working out what works from all of them.

The path is truly different for everyone, and you kind of have to go through a bit of a process of trial and error to figure out which path is right for you. And chances are, you’ll start on one path and realize it’s wrong and go back and stumble through eventually. But it’s just one of those careers that does not have a set road to, in inverted commas, making it, whatever that means.

Leah Lambart: It’s interesting, yeah, what you say about the study. I’ve also heard from friends who’ve a friend in particular who was writing a novel about the importance of often being part of a writer’s group to, I guess, it forces you to write regularly, but also get reviews from other people and their feedback. Is that something you’ve ever been a part of?

Gabriel Bergmoser: Yeah. I’ve been part of a few writing groups. None that have been very successful. Like, I’ve I actually it’s funny because I’ve been trying to sort of start some writers groups more recently and sort of get a consistent, I guess, consistent group of people coming week after week after week to sort of build a community. And part of that is because, you know, like, writing is an incredibly solitary profession. I mean, most of the year, you’re locked away by yourself working on whatever manuscript.

But most of the actual, you know, grunt work is you hunched over your laptop alone with no one to share it with. And I’m in a very fortunate position where this is my full-time job. I work from home. I write. That’s what I do for a living. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t crave some kind of community to help with some of those, you know, some of the more confusing parts where you don’t know if a story’s working or if this scene’s landing or if this character’s coming across the way they want to.

So I wouldn’t know very much about how to get a writer’s group started successfully because I haven’t done very well at that so far. But, yeah, I think the value of those groups, if you can get them up and running or if you can join a pre-established existing one that, you know, has been going for a while maybe and is quite solid, then

I think you absolutely should. I think it’s and again, that’s different for everyone. Like, there will be some writers who say, no, I’d rather just, like, focus on my thing until it’s finished. And fair enough, you know, there’s no right or wrong way to do it, really. But personally, I think the value of writer’s groups is enormous.

Leah Lambart: Interested to know, you know, you mentioned you’re you know, spent a lot of time on your own hunched over your computer. How many hours would you spend writing every day?

Gabriel Bergmoser: Look, in terms of actual hours spent typing, probably a lot less than you’d think. Because for me, so much of the process is actually going for the long walk, thinking through the chapter you’re gonna write today, you know, like, really kind of, like, working through it all and sort of, like, thinking, okay. So what do I like? Like, does this work? Does this work? Does this have to say this at this point?

Kind of really kind of almost sculpting it in your head until you’ve got it to a point where it’s ready to go on the page. And that can take however long it takes. You know, sometimes the same falls into place immediately. Sometimes it takes all day walking around, pulling your hair out, and, you know, your dog’s having a great time because they’re getting walks constantly, but, you know, you’re not because you don’t have anything to write. In terms of the actual time I spend writing, it’s usually only a couple of hours because I write really fast.

And so I like to kind of get everything clear in my head and then sit down and write. And a good writing day for me would be about 3,000 words or something. I try to write at least a thousand words every day. If I’ve written a thousand words and I’m not on a really tight deadline, I’m not behind, then I’ll usually kind of say that’s enough. And the reason for that is because I think that the more you try to write in one day, the, I guess, the more diminishing your returns become in some ways. So when I was younger, I used to pride myself on, you know, writing 5,000 words a day, writing 6,000 words a day, in one instance, writing 10,000 words a day, which is absurd because I kind of came out of that being like, look, you wrote 10,000 words.

They look how amazing I am. And then I read the 10,000 words and they were completely unusable because of course they were. Because at a certain point, like, there was no thought that had gone into them. There was no breathing room. I was just typing words for the sake of typing words, trying to get all of this done. And now that’s an exercise I’m glad I did once in my life so that I knew never do it again. But at this point in my life, I would rather have a thousand very considered words that are really good than 5,000 words that are going to have to be almost entirely rewritten because they suck.

So honestly, it varies day to day. You know, there are days when I’m really feeling it, and I will actually hit the 5,000 word mark, and there’ll be there’ll be good words. But mostly for me, I’m happy with 1,000 or 2,000 words as long as they’re, you know, as long as they’re thought through and they work and they’re doing their job.

Leah Lambart: So when you start working on a new novel, do you have a plan for do you know what the storyline’s gonna be and how it’s gonna finish before you start writing, or does it develop as you write?

Gabriel Bergmoser: Well, it’s funny because what you’re asking is it’s a it’s a plotter pantser binary. Right? Like, are you a plotter? Because there the the theory goes there are two different types of writers. And this is not true, by the way. But for context, the theory is that, you know, you’ve got the plotters who map out every little detail of their story and then they start writing. And you’ve got the pantsers who fly by the seat of their pants and basically just make it up as they go along.

They’ll just kind of start writing and let the story go where it goes. Both of those approaches in their purest form sound horrible to me. Like the idea of plotting something so meticulously that you have every little intricate plot point interlinked to a degree that you can’t change it or you’ll ruin the whole story. That sounds incredibly constrictive to me. But the idea of sitting down and writing something without knowing where it’s gonna go, to me, I don’t see how that can’t end in disaster. And I know that because I tried it once with one of my novels or like I started writing something, you know, it was only the vaguest idea of where it was gonna go.

I had no plan. I had no map. I had no nothing. And in about the halfway point, I realized that I just, I didn’t know where it went because I’d gone down a wrong path somewhere along the way. And so for me, I think you need to have those goalposts that you’re aiming for. I don’t like having a really intense plan, but I like to have a rough plan on kind of like, alright, this happens, this happens, this happens. These are the major events in the book. I like to roughly know how it ends, but I want my plan to never be that detailed because I want to be able to change direction if I come up with something better.

And that’s the best thing that ever happens when you’re writing a book, you know, when you’re a horror player or screenplay or anything, when you have a very clear idea of where you think it’s going. And then about halfway through writing it, you go, oh, no. That’s not where it goes at all. It actually wants to go in this direction. And if you’re in tune with the story, and this is gonna sound very hippie dippie, but I think it’s true. I think most writers will nod along to this. If you’re in tune with the story and if you’re following where it’s supposed to go, then the story will actually tell you where it wants to go.

And you kind of will take a turn that could be completely unexpected and you’ll end up with something really magical. And those are usually the parts where people will read the book or the play or whatever. They’ll be like, oh, that’s incredible. How’d you come up with that? And you go, I almost don’t know if I can take credit for it because it kind of just seems to happen organically in the process. Like, it’s not like I sat down and was so clever that I planned it through. It just sort of happened to go that way. And at a certain point, if the story is working for you, you’re just sort of hanging on for dear life hoping for the best.

Leah Lambart: Take us back to your first book, and then think that was quite some time ago, but if someone is out there, you know, they’re keen to write a book, they’ve got a I mean, how do they find out about the editing process, how to publish it? Like, there’s a lot more than just the writing. How did you learn about the process of publishing a book?

Gabriel Bergmoser: It look, it took me a long time, and it took me a lot of mistakes as well. You know? I think when I wrote my first novels when I was in high school, I read over them once, saw that as editing, and then emailed them to agents and publishers and everything and sort of heard nothing back.

Now, you’ve got to bear in mind that agents and publishers get sent a lot of manuscripts every single day from a lot of aspiring writers and not all of them will be terrible. A lot of them will be terrible. But the thing is, not being terrible isn’t enough because I’ve never had this confirmed. But my suspicion, and I think the open secret that all writers in the industry are kind of aware of, is that when agents and managers get sent manuscripts, they will read the first page.

And if the first page interests them or gives away that that person can write, then they might keep reading. That’s not a guarantee that they’ll want to publish it, but that definitely ups your chances. And, you know, if you’re thinking, I mean, one one mistake I’ve always made is that, you know, agents are used to make anyway when I was younger, is that agents will often say, we want three chapters from your book and an outline of where the whole thing goes. And one thing young authors do, and I did definitely when I was younger, is I would choose the three most exciting chapters from later in the book. And it’s like, no, they don’t want that.

They wanna know that you can actually grab the audience from the first few chapters. Like, don’t give them the most exciting things that you think really showcase it because if it’s out of context, it won’t really make sense. And the reasons why they’re exciting and satisfying won’t really come across the readers. So, honestly, it really is just kind of a war of attrition. Like, there isn’t a secret to it.

Like, you need to you need to get good enough to grab somebody’s notice. And even then, it might not be enough because, you know, you might have an intern reading through the slush pile, and they’ve read 50 terrible manuscript openings that day, and they’re not gonna be particularly charitable to yours. I mean, that can happen as well.

There’s, you know, there’s margin of human error there. I mean, how many times was JK Rowling rejected before Bloomfield picked up “Harry Potter?” Like, it happens, you know, and sometimes great things do get passed on. You could be one of those. It’s weird for me because my publication was not smooth. I mean, I think I had in a weird way, I almost had three first book experiences, you know, like I self-published a book in 2012, which was one that I’d written in high school that I’d sort of shaped up a bit. And I think I printed like 200 copies with, like, pixelated covers and badly lumpy spines because the glue had gone wrong and everything.

And I think I maybe sold 30 of them to some friends, and then the rest is still sitting in a box somewhere, like, in a garage of a house I lived in three years ago. You know, I don’t know. That clearly was not the experience that got me over the line. And then in 2016, my novel, “Boone Shepherd,” was published by a friend of mine who was starting a publishing house. So she actually approached me and she wanted to get into publishing and she’d read the manuscripts of this series I was working on. And so she invested a huge amount of time and money in publishing those books. And that was really, really crucial to my career because it was “Boone Shepherd” that actually drew the attention of my agent, who then acquired “The Hunted,” which I then had published with HarperCollins. And that was kind of, you know, the biggest scale sort of internationally published, translated, and, you know, all of that. And based on the book that sort of made my career. But the “Boone Shepherd” experience, you know what I mean? That was, it wasn’t self-publishing, but by a lot of people in the industry, it was seen as self-publishing because it was a first-time publisher. People didn’t know who either of us were. And so a lot of books, a lot of bookstores wouldn’t publish it. They wouldn’t stock it. They wouldn’t take it seriously.

A lot of people just kind of assumed it was sort of this amateurish little project. But, I mean, even “Boone Shepherd” kind of, the only reason it sort of got any notice and went beyond that was because it was shortlisted for the Readings Young Adult Prize in 2017, and that meant the book sold. And then it’s kind of continued to do really well in libraries, continue to sell and everything. And it sort of like earned its own credibility back a little bit. But again, that experience was vastly different to the HarperCollins experience. So, you know, I mean, there’s a few different parts you can get in there. Some people do have success with self-publishing. Some people have wild unexpected success with independent publishing. And for some people, it’s not until you’re in with the big five, you know, whether it’s HarperCollins, Pan Macmillan, Penguin, whoever else it might be, that you really see some kind of explosion in your career. And sometimes even that doesn’t lead to anything, you know.

Like, getting a book published seems like the end goal, but it’s really not. Like, it’s only it really is only the beginning of your career because you get a book published. What you want is to be able to get another book published and another published, and then that’s when you can build a career. There are many, many people who’ve had books published in massive deals with massive publishers, and then the book didn’t sell well. And then next thing they didn’t get another contract and that was it, you know?

Like, the publishing industry is littered with those stories. So, unfortunately, as much as I wish I could say there was some formula to success, there there truly isn’t. Like, you just have to get as good as you can and then do whatever you can to get your work in front of the right people and hope from there and go somewhere, you know?

Leah Lambart:
So it sounds like it’s not just about writing skills, it’s about bit of marketing, influencing, persistence, resilience, lots of other skills required to be a writer.

Gabriel Bergmoser: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, persistence is a big one, but like marketing is part of it as well, you know, like it’s how do you market yourself? Like, that’s difficult, but you need to you really need to find a way to make an agent or a publisher take you seriously. And, you know, for me, part of that was the experience on “Boone Shepherd,” which, you know, happened before I had an agent.

Part of it was the Ustinov, you know, that helped that did actually end up helping me enormously because something like the Ustinov, even though it didn’t directly lead to anything, it was the kind of thing where if you email an agent, you say, look, I won this award, then they’re more likely to say, alright, well, send me what you’ve got.

Let’s have a look at it. Now that doesn’t mean that they’re gonna sign you because what you send them might be bad. They might not like it or anything, but it’s more likely to make them take a chance on you. So either combination when I approach my agent of of the “Boone Shepherd” publication, the reading shortlisting of the Peter Ustinov Award, and of a of a really long stream of theater shows that I’d written over the years, some of which had done reasonably well and got some really good reviews.

So that collectively was enough to make an agent look at me, but it took four manuscripts for her to actually acquire one. Like, she read four different manuscripts of mine before I gave her “The Hunted.”

And each one, she was like, good, but not quite, good, but not quite, good, but not quite. And it wasn’t till the violent, gory Outback slasher story that, you know, was me indulging my teenage horror fan that that it actually got across the line and something happened. So, you know, you just, you just truly never know. There is no formula to this.

Leah Lambart: Wow. And so when you said you read your four manuscripts, that’s four different versions of the same book, is that?

Gabriel Bergmoser: No. Two different versions of the same book and one totally different book.

Leah Lambart: Tell us about you’ve got a new book about to launch this month. I think the front cover has already got me hooked. The empty swinging chairlift, I believe it’s set in a empty ski resort. Is that correct?

Gabriel Bergmoser: Yeah. So basically, “The Caretaker” follows a young woman named Charlotte, and she is on the run from something. We don’t initially know what. We just know that she’s really, really scared. She’s living under a fake name. She’s jumping at shadows. She’s terrified, and she has taken a job as the off-season caretaker of a tiny little ski resort that has like six, you know, six lodges, two chairlifts, like really, really small budget resort.

There’s nobody else there. She’s alone in the mountains. And basically, she’s thinking this is the perfect place for me to just kind of hide out, keep my head down, stay out of trouble. Nobody will think to look for me here. And then one day this guy turns up, claims to have hired one of the lodges. He claims to be a writer, says, look, I’m just like gonna do some writing here in the lodge and everything.

I’ll stay out of your way and stuff. And she’s a bit suspicious, but he seems really friendly and really down to earth. And slowly, she starts to trust him. And then as she does, weird things begin happening around the lodges, like and she starts to realize that all of her escape routes are being cut off one by one. So you kind of have to wonder, is this guy who he says he is? Has her past caught up with her?

Is she imagining this? Or is there something much worse going on? And it kind of erupts from there. So it’s a tense, fun, psychological thriller. There’s lots of mysteries. There’s lots of twists. There’s lots of kind of scary moments. There’s dastardly villains and a hero who I think you can root for, and I’m really, really proud of it.

You know, it’s a very different book to my other ones. You know, it’s not as fast-paced or action-packed or gruesome as “The Hunted” or “The Inheritance.” It’s more of a slow burn kind of psychological type thriller, but I really like it, and I hope readers do as well.

Leah Lambart: Great. Sounds right up my alley. I think I will purchase it for my next holiday.

Gabriel Bergmoser: Well, please do and let me know what you think.

Leah Lambart: Look, Gabriel, it’s been terrific talking to you. Just last question. If there is someone out there listening who would love to build a career as a writer, what would be one key piece of advice that you would give them?

Gabriel Bergmoser: Honestly, write theatre. That’s my biggest one. Because if you write a novel, then to get that published is expensive. Like whether you self-publish it or you sell it to a publisher, either way, it’s going to take a lot of money to do it in a way that’s credible, in a way that’s going to get in front of readers. You know, if you self-publish, you’ll be looking at at least around $10,000 or something to make it happen. And if you get it traditionally published, then you’re asking a publisher to invest that much money.

Making a film is even more expensive. Like, you can write a screenplay and you can make it cheap, but it won’t look good and it won’t get people’s attention, like, unless you’re very, very good at what you do, which most of us are not when we start out. Theatre is different. You can, you can produce theatre in the rooms above pubs if you want to.

You can produce theatre in basements, in car parks, in there are little theatres all around Melbourne, like the place like the Butterfly Club or Club Voltaire where, you know, you don’t have to pay anything upfront. You just split the profits with them 50/50 at the end. If you have four willing actors, a script that is very dialogue heavy, a director is happy to jump in and everything, and, you know, and you make an agreement from those theatres, you can perform a play tomorrow.

And if it’s good, and if you’re good at what you do, you know, who knows what will come from that? You know, reviewers might come along. They’ll see you could get some good reviews, some good quotes and everything. And the other thing that, you know, I don’t know why people don’t talk about this more, is that if you want to get into the film industry, for example, if you send screenplays to producers, they probably aren’t going to read them.

They’ll say, Oh, yeah, cool, whatever. Here’s a screenplay. And that’s just working. They throw it away. If you invite a TV producer to a play that you’re putting on, they’re way more likely to come. And the reason is because you say, hey, look, I’m gonna give you some free tickets. And they say, oh, look, you know what? That’s a night out. It’s one hour of our time. I’ll, you know, bring along a date or a friend or something or, you know, or a partner. They go along, they have a drink, they watch the play. If they like the play and they, you know, think there’s something there, they could they could potentially say, hey, come in and do do an internship. Come in and be a notetaker in a writer’s room. If you’re really good, come in and join the writer’s room. Like, you just never know.

And through theatre, you’ll end up meeting directors, you’ll end up meeting actors, you’ll end up meeting all these people in the industry. And when one of their careers is not taking off, you know, you might be the person who they put forward for that writing job. You might be the person they put forward for this. These are things that have happened to me and things that have been enormously beneficial in my career. So like writing theatre is kind of the easiest and cheapest way to get your stories in front of an audience, and you can do it tomorrow.

And I’m not saying it’s easy because it, you know, like it isn’t easy in totality. There are challenges and there are challenges to doing anything well, but it can have enormous, enormous benefits that I don’t think people talk about enough. So if there was one secret that I would put forward outside of just like passion, persistence, hard work, you know, all of those things, it would be that theatre’s kind of a really effective way to make a career. It worked for me, and it worked for a lot of other people, even if writing plays isn’t something that you particularly want to do or have thought about before. You know? Ultimately, the the rules of telling a story well are the same no matter what the medium are. So think about it.

Leah Lambart: Great tip. Thanks very much, and thanks for your time. Love talking to you. I feel like I could talk to you all day, but we do have to keep this podcast within at least an hour. So thanks, Gabriel. Best of luck, of course, for the launch of the new book. I hope it goes really well.

Gabriel Bergmoser: Thanks so much for having me.

Leah Lambart: Thanks for tuning into today’s episode. Make sure to follow us on socials and update your details to hear all the latest community news and events. Because wherever life takes you, you are never far away.