Garry Linnell has a Midas touch when it comes to bringing remarkable non-fiction characters to life on a page.
The fascinating figures from Australia’s past are captured with such clarity it is almost impossible to believe the celebrated journalist hasn’t spent hours interviewing them in person.
But, in a strange way, Linnell feels as though his protagonists are right there with him throughout the writing process.
“It’s a weird thing but I become so obsessed with their lives that I often feel as though they are sitting with me, dictating part of the story,” he says.
“In the case of the convict William Buckley I truly felt as though he was looking over my shoulder as I wrote.
“Good thing he was illiterate! I was kind to him but I didn’t hold back on his flaws.”
Linnell, who grew up in Geelong, is a featured guest at next month’s Word for Word National Non-Fiction Festival.
The three-day festival is going online for the first time and the author’s live-streamed conversation with Daniel Marshall will discuss his latest book, Moonlite, which tells the epic tale of notorious bushranger George Scott, AKA Captain Moonlite.
It is both a tragic love story and an exploration of the dying days of the bushranger.
“I first came across his story years ago and, having pored over bushranger books as a kid, was puzzled I had never heard much about him,” Linnell explains.
“I now realise why. He never fitted the stereotypical image of an outlaw.
“He was educated and born into wealth and privilege. He had been a soldier, sailor, preacher and engineer. And he was gay in a time when you definitely didn’t talk about it.”
The meticulously researched book uses captivating novelistic techniques while never straying from stated facts and outright truths.
“In the weeks before his execution Moonlite wrote dozens of letters from his death cell to people across the country and around the world,” Linnell says.
“Many of these were seized by prison authorities and were only uncovered a century later. They are poignant, candid and often beautifully written.
“So, I began with them and then moved on to the journals and diaries of some of the participants – and then began reading thousands of pages of newspapers of the era.”
Linnell’s love of writing was sparked at the age of 12 when he won a short-story writing contest in a local newspaper.
He was hooked and went on to become a Walkley Award-winning journalist, broadcaster and bestselling author.
He now writes a weekly column for The New Daily and is also hard at work on his next book.
“It’s a very dark and gothic true story that took place in Australia and England in the late 19th century,” he hints.
“It looks at a series of murders that shocked the world – and which may have been committed by the real Jack the Ripper.”
Moonlite with Garry Linnell in conversation with Daniel Marshall will be live-streamed at 3pm on November 21. Tickets cost $10. For bookings or to view the full program. go to wordforwordfestival.com.au.