Letting Loose with Jeff Apter
by Martin Veres
Jeff Apter is the acclaimed author of over twenty works of nonfiction, and has covered a lot of big names in the music world, including John Farnham, the Gibb Brothers, Silverchair, Gwen Stefani, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. His latest book, High Voltage, tells the story of AC/DC's Angus Young. I hear it's dynamite.
You can catch the rockographer himself at Wollongong Art Gallery on 4 November for his biography writing workshop, presented in conjunction with Tony Mott's What a Life! rock photography exhibition. Jeff will also be holding a discussion on High Voltage on the same day, and you can make a booking for the workshop and/or the talk by emailing us at email@example.com, or by calling the South Coast Writers Centre on 4228 0151.
If you can't wait until November, though, then have I got good news for you: on my way down the highway to hell I bumped into Jeff and got the chance to ask him a few questions.
MV: So, how does someone get into biography writing?
JA: I underwent the usual writing rites of passage: trying my hand at fiction (not good) and criticism (marginally better), before learning that I was best suited to biography, which may have something to do with me having a reasonably well-organised mind and plenty of experience as a journalist. Biography writing is an attempt to assemble the random pieces of a person’s life into some kind of order; it’s like tackling a giant jigsaw without a guarantee that you have all the pieces. It’s a challenge I love. My advice for people starting out? Read as much as you can, write something every day, become your own best critic, and learn what subjects are more likely to garner interest from publishers. Then get to work.
MV: Your writing seems to mainly focus on musicians and sportspeople. Are these personal interests of yours? How did you meet all these people?
JA: I’m always drawn to the story first, regardless of the area in which my subject is best known. It just so happens that music and sport are subjects I’m familiar with and reasonably well-versed in. I guess it proves that old adage to be true: write about what you know. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of people who I’ve gone on to write about, in many cases thanks to the pulling power of a post at Rolling Stone, where I worked for several years.
MV: You've covered a lot of big names in the past – what made you go back to AC/DC?
JA: I’ve ghostwritten two well received books on AC/DC, Dirty Deeds and Dog Eat Dog, and as I worked on them, I realised that it would be great to write my own book about AC/DC. Then a story began to emerge of Angus Young, the band’s co-founder, who by the end of 2016 was the only original member left — the last man standing, quite literally (hence the subtitle of the book). It struck me that the time was right to write a book focusing on Angus, who was the sound, the face, the devil’s horns and exposed pimply backside of perhaps the biggest rock band in the world. I also drew on a lot of my own personal experiences as a teenage music fan growing up in Sydney in the 1970s, when AC/DC was everywhere.
MV: Now, with regard to High Voltage, you've said elsewhere that you didn't have access to Angus Young himself and that he declined an interview. Are there any complications or problems that arise when penning what is – I'm assuming – an unsolicited biography?
JA: In some ways, an unauthorised biography gives me greater freedom as a writer. As long as I play by the rules — am I misrepresenting the subject? Is it fair and balanced? Am I telling the entire story? — unauthorised books can be as valid and, hopefully, readable, as a book in which the subject is directly involved. Sometimes more so, because there’s no hype involved. The only downside is that I have to dig deeper during my research. And ensure I don’t get sued.
MV: Who's next? Do you have any people in mind for any upcoming projects?
JA: In order to make a living as a writer, I need to work all the time, so I always have various projects in different stages of evolution. My next project will be as ghostwriter; that’s all I want to say now for fear of jinxing the book, which is currently at Chapter One.
You can read more about Jeff on his website, where you can also order any of his books. You can also catch an interview he did with the Illawarra Mercury, sharing his advice with upcoming writers, here.
Remember to make a booking for the workshop or the talk by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 4228 0151.
Written by SCWC
Posted on October 03, 2017