Journalist & Best Selling Author: Patrick Lindsay

Since 2002, Patrick Lindsay has established himself as one of Australia’s leading non-fiction authors, having written 17 books, including the best-sellers: The Spirit of Kokoda; The Spirit of The Digger; Back from the Dead; The Essence of Kokoda; The Spirit of Gallipoli; the It’s Never Too Late series; Heart of a Champion; Cosgrove – Portrait of a Leader; Fromelles; Kokoda Spirit; The Coast Watchers, The Spirit of the Digger (updated) and Our Darkest Day.

Before taking up writing fulltime in 2001, Patrick was a newspaper reporter and, from 1981, a prominent television all-rounder on the Nine and Seven Networks and Sky News.

He is a founding director and the chairman of the Kokoda Track Foundation. Patrick is married to Lisa Cotton and has three grown-up children, Nathan, Kate and Sarah.

Describe yourself in 3 words: Optimistic, questing, positive.

What is your life motto? “It’s Never Too Late” 

When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? I started, but didn’t finish, law and then moved to journalism when I was 22 – initially in newspapers and later TV. I was always extremely passionate about the work and I felt comfortable very quickly but it took many years before I felt I was as good as my peers. I knew in the back of my mind that I would write books fulltime one day but it took about 30 years for me to finally make the break and actually do it. In both journalism and writing you never stop learning.

How much time and effort did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? I have always tried to do the research. I’m a voracious reader – books and news. I remember reading all of Harold Evans’ (former legendary London Sunday Times editor) books on journalism, including editing, newspaper design, headlines, etc, before I turned up for my first newspaper job. I’ve always believed that if you keep your goals in the back of your mind, you will naturally gravitate toward them. I still read as much background as I can before every meeting or before starting work on a project. I love the way the web makes this so much easier.

What are the challenges in your line of work? The biggest challenges (and, simultaneously, the biggest opportunities) in my work come from the impact of relentless change. Publishing and media are barely recognisable today from when I started working in them. I’ve watched newspapers go from hot metal to digital, searching for a sustainable business plan. Similarly we now talk of pbooks (the traditional print books) and ebooks. I love books but I think I love the iPad and the future’s potential even more. I see a fascinating efuture and I’m confident that once the methods of delivery are sorted out, the storyteller will still have a valued place … just as they’ve had since they worked their magic around pre-historic campfires.

What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? Not ‘the’ mistake, rather the endless progression of mistakes that have taught me invaluable lessons down the years. I don’t mind making mistakes, I just try not to repeat them. If you’re not making mistakes you’re not pushing your boundaries. But I think I’ve learned just as much from watching and listening as others have made their mistakes. 

What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date?
“Don’t assume … cross check!” I worked for a wonderful character in TV who had a brass plaque on his desk: “Assumption is the mother of all fxxx-ups!” It helped me countless times. 

In your mind, is formal training essential? I think it’s an advantage (provided the teachers have had practical experience). Nevertheless, while the formal training gives structure, ultimately it’s determination, common sense, integrity, people skills and a quick and adaptable mind that will set you apart. 

Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? A good mentor is a great gift. Finding one can be difficult but if you show that you’re a good listener and you give respect, one will often find you. Many people find it extremely rewarding to give back by mentoring. Often, the best way to find a mentor is the simplest way: ask them.

What are some steps those starting out can take to start/further their career? Usually, the most important first step is to get into the workplace at whatever level you can. Your starting point is far less important that what you do with the opportunity. So I’d say work pro bono, help out any way you can, so you can get a start and show your potential and then work as hard as you can. Taking the inevitable knocks and bouncing back is also a priceless asset. 

What kept you going when you weren’t at your best? Pride in your work is probably one of the most valuable motivating forces. I’ve always tried to do the best work I could, whatever the time pressures, whatever the difficulties. If you believe you’ve given your best shot, you’ll always sleep soundly.

Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? ‘Making it’ means different things to different people. Today, many people think it has something to do with gaining celebrity. To me it centres on working to achieve your potential and earning respect. I respect those who give their best and have integrity. There’s very little luck associated with that.

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