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This issue of readersvoice.com takes you on a tour through the life and mind of thriller writer Clinton Smith.His latest book, Exit Alpha (Harper Collins), is about an international spy organisation called Exit which gets up to all sorts of mischief, like stashing Pope John Paul 1 in Antarctica.Also, I visited an amazing library of Victorian-era antiquarian books.So, first cab off the rank, Clinton Smith...

READER’S VOICE: You used to be in the ad biz. How did you get started?

CLINTON SMITH: I began trying to sell things as a schoolboy announcer on 3BA Ballarat, back in 1955. They offered to keep me on but I was too stupid to accept. For years I languished in dead-end jobs, trying to write short stories at night. All unsaleable.

I became a studio-hand at ABN2 just two years after TV started in the country. At the time, videotape was edited with scissors and hour-long dramas went to air live. Back then, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) refused to grant auxiliary staff permanent jobs – a point I made to a young Rupert Murdoch at a media seminar we attended. Satisfyingly, The Mirror exposed the situation in a story that following week. I did many things at ABN, including becoming the studio presentation writer, but kept writing for myself. I sold skits to Gordon Chater for the Phillip Street reviews and began to sell stories. I married and needed a better salary. My new wife was a technical officer in a drug company. I suggested that she should apply for a job as a pharmaceutical copywriter. She said she couldn’t write copy. I said I’d do it for her at night. She got the job and smuggled her work home each night for me to do.

The ruse worked so well that she was promoted to Advertising Manager. She then had to hire me under an alias to handle the job. When she fell pregnant, I took over as Ad Manager. I soon had an ‘escape file’ good enough to land a copywriting job with an international agency.

Over the next thirty years – a long career in the ad game – I worked for various agencies writing on an enormous variety of accounts. But I kept writing short stories and began to win literary awards. The ad game took me everywhere and it helps to have that kind of background. For instance, advertising the Services saw me in RAAF training aircraft during aerobatics displays, on chopper journeys with the RAN or riding over obstacle courses in tanks with the RAAC.

Working on airlines and for car companies took me through African game parks and diamond mines and the major tourist sites of Europe, America, and the middle east. My shoots commandeered the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum and Arc De Triumph, stopped traffic in Times Square and disrupted the Monte Carlo Rally. I made corporate videos in settings from railway subways to vineyards, filmed hang-gliders flying off New Zealand mountains, shot cars towing autogyros and women dangling out of truck doors over cliffs…

For twenty years I wrote the humorous King Gee workwear commercials which won over 30 Australian and international advertising awards, the ones with the slogan, ‘If they were any tougher they’d rust.’ The series was rated as one of the seven best Australian TV campaigns of all time and has appeared in the ‘Worlds Best Commercials’ TV programs. Eventually I became a partner in my own agency, then, in my fifties, hung up my stopwatch to write fiction full time. The fiction writing side was more depressing. Trying to write novels while in a pressure job is a killer. But I doggedly wrote several which got nowhere. After putting three in the garbage one sad day I determined to give it away and to concentrate on bankrolling myself enough to be able to write fiction in my declining years full-time. A dangerous scheme because who says you’ll live long enought to do it?

Finally a MS that most Australian publishers had rejected was accepted by an innovative firm in New Zealand. They took a second and both did well. It’s gone on from there. But the rejection slips never stop. Two this week. Back came the collection of interrelated stories and the humorous book about my first year of marriage.