Last night I had the pleasure of popping along to the Fitzroy Town Hall to hear Graeme Simsion talk about his worldwide bestseller, The Rosie Project.
As I have mentioned, The Rosie Project is the only book I’ve read this year that I’d recommend to everybody – it’s very funny, it’s romantic (but certainly not in a schmaltzy way) and there’s a few twists to keep you reading right until the very last page.
Simsion’s path to publishing The Rosie Project was unusual. Although he had always harbored a secret desire to write a novel (and in fact read Hemingway and Miller in his twenties and thought, ‘Okay, I can do that!’, only to discover that it was not so simple), he embarked on a career in IT. And then he read a life-changing book – The Unkindest Cut by Joe Queenan. It’s a true account of trying to make a movie on a $7000 budget. Simsion, excited by the thought of doing the same, persuaded his wife (who is an author) to make one of her stories into a movie. Simsion set about writing the screenplay, filming it and eventually showing it in Melbourne’s Kino cinema. The exercise cost more than $7000…
Part of Simsion’s ‘production team’ was a friend studying film at university. She showed her class the film and the lecturer made the comment that “…hiring a professional to write the screenplay was money well spent…”. The seed was planted. Simsion went on to enroll in a screenwriting course and develop his own script which, in the early days was known as The Face of God and was about two physicists, with some lessons on quantum physics thrown in. Simsion made progress with his script, despite the fact that his lecturer, Ian Pringle (of Romper Stomper fame) was not really into romantic comedies – if you’ve seen Romper Stomper and read The Rosie Project you will understand why this is HILARIOUS. When he asked whether it would be useful to have the script turned into a novel the response was “Only if it’s a bestseller.”
So Simsion enrolled in a writing course (at this point, I’m loving his ability to enroll in courses left, right and centre and wondering how he negotiated that with his family… My hints at wanting to return to study have not been greeted enthusiastically by those who would be funding my indulgence!). He wrote The Rosie Project in six weeks. And it won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. And it was taken to the Frankfurt Book Fair where it was sold to twelve countries. The sum involved three figures.
The book has now been sold to 39 countries and is unquestionably an international bestseller.
It wasn’t until question time that Simsion got down to tin tacks on one of the most important elements of the book – Aspergers. Simsion had already mentioned that the character of Don was loosely based on a friend of his – two scenes in the book (the jacket-at-the-restaurant and the scarf-buying scenes) were based on real life incidents. But Simsion was clear about one thing – he will never say that his character has Aspergers. He didn’t want Don’s story to be based around a ‘disability’, particularly as it is funny. Instead, he wanted it to be about the person and so, using a favourite phrase of the autism community “If you’ve met one Aspie… You’ve met one Aspie”, he avoided a direct reference. In doing so, he creates a character that you laugh both with and at – no mean feat.
When asked what research he did into Aspergers for the book, Simsion answered honestly “I worked in IT for thirty years.”
There’s more Don Tillman to come – possibly two books more. In the meantime, Simsion uses Twitter to keep Don’s voice in his head, tweeting at @ProfDonTillman.
And the wonderful postscript to this story? Sony have bought the film rights and so The Rosie Project will be made into a movie, as it was first intended.