I dislike writing biographies with a passion, but since you took the trouble to stop by, I suppose I better give you something of substance in return. So, here it is, all about me.
Born in Sydney, I spent my holidays mucking around in boats and surfing on the northern coast. Amidst the chaos and clutter of university life in the 1970s, I managed to acquire a degree, principally because most of the time I was either on a beach, in a boat, or underwater.
In 1981, while writing the final draft of my thesis on sea level rise, I realised I wasn’t temperamentally suited to convincing politicians that climate change was real. I’d been paying my way through uni as an underwater photographer, so instead I packed my bags, and spent the next 20 years sailing around the South Pacific working as a freelance photojournalist. I have no idea how many weekly articles I filed over those pre-Internet years, so as you peruse short stories, articles, Stargate stories, and novels, be aware the list of published works is not comprehensive.
By 2000 my island paradise was changing – fast. The reefs were dying because of rising temperatures and unrestrained development, and I’d gone toe-to-toe with not one but two prime ministers in Vanuatu trying to protect marine mammals. While the dolphins won both times (and are now protected by law), it was time to go home.
A few nights before leaving for Brisbane with my two children, I was sitting on the edge of Yasur volcano sharing a jug of slightly ashy margaritas with a couple of friends, a volcanologist and an epidemiologist. They convinced me to turn my pen from fact to fiction, and the result was my first novel published in 2005, The Rhesus Factor. The novel won a Draco Award and alarmed an Australian MP sufficiently to cite it in Parliament. (For their sins in goading me into this literary lifestyle, my mates later made an appearance in my third novel, Chimera, a bioterrorism thriller).
While my second next novel, Ark Ship was being prepared for publication, I received an offer too good to pass up: to write a novel based on the television series, Stargate SG-1. Three months later the first draft of Stargate SG-1: City of the Gods was born. Soon after, I was offered a scholarship to complete an MA in Creative Writing, the result of which was my thesis, The Attraction of Sloppy Nonsense (if you’re wondering about the title, I’m afraid you’ll have to read the introduction).
By 2008, I’d published a further four Stargate novels – Stargate Atlantis: The Chosen, Stargate Atlantis: Exogenesis, and Stargate SG-1:Roswell, while teaching creative writing and world building in Brisbane.
Now, if you’re wondering about ‘world building’, it’s how to create realistic worlds in fictional settings. It’s geography and ecology, economics and politics and pesky things like what happens when a so-called sentient species messes up the planet’s climate while innocently claiming it couldn’t possibly be their fault.
Which brings me to the reason for what happened next.
My house in Brisbane backed onto a koala sanctuary. After a lengthy battle with developers, the forest was bulldozed, countless animals died, and multi-million dollar homes mushroomed out of the debris. This was back in early 2008 when Brisbane was in the grips of an increasingly devastating drought, yet unchecked development continued to trump ecological common sense. I’d just finished Stargate SG-1: Blood Ties, my third collaborative work with Elizabeth Christensen, and it seemed like the perfect time to leave Brisbane. So, I bought a 5 hectare property in the foothills of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Leaving behind my daughter, an environmental scientist, I moved here (the red arrow in the picture below) with my 13-year old son, quite literally as the global economy collapsed.
We weren’t under any illusions about living off the land, but we wanted a family home that couldn’t be built out and would serve as a base for our respective wanderings. I have to say that it was worth the two years we put in restoring the property. Nothing beats the taste of your own fruit and veggies plus bottles and bottles of yummy jams and preserves. It wasn’t all hammers and chainsaws and mucking out the sheep pens, though. I have an insatiable appetite for learning, and so I completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Environmental Management while writing The Bone Menagerie. I’d almost finished when the first earthquake struck Christchurch. No sooner had we cleaned up after that than the February earthquake struck, this time catastrophically. My beautiful adopted city had been destroyed.
But Kiwis are a resilient bunch, which is one of the reasons I moved here. The other, of course, is that in spite of earthquakes, this country really is as beautiful as Sir Peter Jackson has depicted.
In early 2012 I began teaching again, this time as a tutor for the New Zealand Writers’ College. (I now have some 25 students). Later that year I was offered a chance to research the impacts of the Canterbury earthquakes. With that project completed, I took on the role of biodiversity advisor for the same council, and in April 2015, became the manager of BRaid, a conservation trust. As this involves copious research and writing, all non-fiction, my fiction is currently on hold. As you’ll probably notice, being somewhat lazy, I’m using the same WordPress theme to manage the website. What happens next? Stay tuned. Meanwhile, I’m having a fabulous time.
– Sonny Whitelaw, Oxford New Zealand, February 2017