REVIEW and INTERVIEW
The Wilton Bay Chronicles
by Ian MacRae
The Wilton Bay Chronicles is the first work of fiction by Australian radio personality, Ian MacRae. The author joins me today for an interview and to share an excerpt from the book. You can also read my review.
Among those who read a preview copy of this new book ... some felt offended ... some felt provoked ... some felt challenged ... but most had a damn good laugh!
The provocative and rollicking story is based on two competing radio stations in an idyllic beachside resort town. One has a format like no other and the other is a network station playing "The Music of Your Life".
The story also involves ...
A housing development with a dark secret.
An accident-prone broadcasting executive and his illicit affair leading to serious, and sometimes hilarious, drug situations.
A local eccentric who claims he astral travels.
The establishment of a new church set up as a tax-exempt business.
An opportunist televangelist.
A romance frustrated by politics and religion.
The young "feral" with the voice of an angel.
Some "comedy" terrorists with serious intent.
The devil himself coming to town.
The Wilton Bay Chronicles is about religion, hypocrisy, spirituality, sex, drugs, comedy, drama and the end of the world.
Waves shattered onto the rocks below bursting clouds of white spray then retreated to allow the next ones to take their place. It occurred to Roman this was pretty much a turbulent metaphor for the path his life had taken of recent.
There was nothing to stop him making the jump. He wondered how long it would take between the cliff top and the big splash into the frothing foam. And would it hurt? Would he feel anything before it ended? And, would he really go straight to hell like his Catholic ex-wife believed of suicides?
It couldn’t be much worse than the drugged out nightmare he’d found himself in. Perhaps there was time for just one more quick suck on the weed to deaden the pain.
Damn! He couldn’t find his lighter. His shaking hands weren’t helping. How had it bloody well come to this anyway? What had been the precise point in time that a well-ordered life had begun falling apart?
It had probably been in his 28th year. The day he arrived in Wilton Bay. A serious looking man with close-cropped blonded hair. Son of the media-baron, Barry Craze, of the far-reaching Craze Radio Network. On a simple mission that should have taken no more than two days then back to the airport and the comforts of head office. If only he’d known it wasn’t going to be that easy. But he hadn’t. And so that, more than likely, was where and when his personal nightmare began.
The main street of Wilton Bay is called Main Street. Activity and energy in the air but neither locals nor tourists seem to be in any particular hurry. Shorts, t-shirts, sandals and saris. Flyers, notices and posters stuck up in shop windows and in cafes and pubs position the town as a new ager’s heaven.
On a typical late afternoon a cab weaved its way through the traffic, bikes and people. The air-conditioning wasn’t working so the windows were open. In the passenger seat, beads of perspiration glistening on his pallid face, Roman, wearing a suit and tie and in this environment looking like a Mormon elder at a Metallica concert.
The flight itself, in a cramped commuter plane, had been bad enough. Most of the passengers were wearing garish holiday gear and engaged in animated conversation all the way. Except for the orange-robed Buddhist monk contemplating. Roman had whiled away the time on his laptop flicking through business reports and profit and loss statements, each page headed “WBFM-Wilton Bay”.
‘Would sir like something to eat?’ the cabin attendant had asked, her trolley just clearing the narrow aisle.
‘What are my choices?’
‘Yes or no,’ came the straight-faced reply.
The aircraft had shuddered as the pilot pulled back the throttles to begin descent making all except the monk jumpy. Roman had grabbed the armrest and peered out the window.
Below - a rainforest. Beyond that, lush, rolling pastures. The occasional farmhouse bordered by clusters of trees. On the horizon, a pocket-sized smudge which had to be Wilton Bay on the coast with a lighthouse standing erect. A white, phallic exclamation mark on a headland.
In the cab an announcer was saying something on the radio but it had been turned down and difficult to hear. Which annoyed Roman because he had an uneasy feeling all was not as it should be. He wound up the window to shut out the street noise. Now he could hear the presenter a little better. ‘...and this is WBFM Sport. Don’t forget it’s the Wilton Bay Surf Carnival on Saturday and we’ll be live from the beach all day brought to you by Bay Bongs. That’s the place to get off your face!’
Roman pointed at the radio.
‘Driver. Would you mind turning it up a little?’
With a ‘heh-heh-heh!’ laugh, the driver, in his early 20s, hair in a pony tail, one earring and a crooked grin, pressed the volume button. The laugh segued into a hacking cough.
The maniac on the radio continued. ‘And, how could you forget? Midday today is time for The Psychic Show with Wendy and what she calls “Survival Evidence”. Is there life after death? You betcha! And she proves it. She’ll put you in touch with your departed loved ones. But first, is there life before death? We cross to the Wilton Bay Lawn Bowling Club for an update on the action there.’
Then followed a sound effect of people snoring.
‘Oh, shit, it’s happened again! There’s been an outbreak of boredom! Only kidding. Mind you, there’s been a bit of it going around lately. I wonder who’s spreading it? I betcha Charlie at the Grosvenor knows. Charlie and his god-botherer mates want to shut us up.’
‘That’s our radio station.’ The cabbie said this with a touch of pride.
‘You obviously listen, Roman said.
‘Yeah bro. Everyone does. It’s radical, you know?’
‘No, I don’t know. Radical?’
The cabbie turned his head and smiled conspiratorially. Roman realised there was every possibility the guy was stoned.
A national chain owned The Grosvenor Family Motel managed by the bloke everyone knew as Charlie. Not that many people did want to know the wizened man with a bad haircut and annoying attitude.
Charlie staggered into room six pulling Roman’s suitcase which he maneuvered onto a stand that promptly fell over. Charlie pretended not to notice the case on the floor and started to point out the various switches, lights and attractions of the normal, unexceptional, standard motel room.
There was an aerosol can of insect killer on the bedside table and Roman had a sudden urge to spray Charlie with it. Resisting this, he went to the window, which gave a stunning view of - the main street. He recoiled as Charlie’s voice rattled in his right ear.
‘Look at ‘em!’ Charlie spat indicating the passing parade, ‘Bloody iniquity and Gomorrah out there!’
‘Sodom,’ Roman corrected him.
I agree. I try to ignore ‘em. It is a veritable pit of evil this place. For the devil walks abroad.’
Roman, not a natural humorous type, couldn’t resist.
Really? Who’s the broad? I’d like to meet her.’
Charlie missed that and continued his rave. ‘This is a town of the godless. Where false idols are worshipped. Where superstitions and pagan practices rule.’
His face was centimetres away as ‘pagan practices’ landed some spit in Roman’s eye. Roman moved away. Charlie moved closer. ‘And do you know who it is who leads the population down this path of degration?
Roman wiped his eye. ‘Er...that’s probably “degradation”.’
Charlie nodded like one of those novelty toy dogs that sit in the back windows of cars.
‘It certainly is. And its mouthpiece...the devil’s mouthpiece is...our very own radio station! WBFM!’
He emphasised the call letters in such a disparaging way it took Roman a moment to come to grips with this startling claim.
Charlie continued nodding to confirm what he’d just said and darted over to a wall print that seemed sort of religious and straightened it.
‘So what brings you to Wilton Bay, Mr. Craze? I can see you’re not wearing your holiday clobber. What sort of work are you in?’
Roman found himself tempted to say he came here to fight the devil but thought better of it.
‘I’m in...er...commun...communications. Look, I’m sorry, what’s your name?’
Charlie bowed low. He’d had a visiting Japanese businessman who had bowed a lot. It had impressed him. He thought he’d try it out.
‘Charlie. That is Charles, sir. I am the manager of this establishment.’
‘Oh yes. Charlie. Your name got mentioned. In the cab. On WBFM. The devil’s mouthpiece.’
A flush across Charlie’s face indicated an anger which he, just as quickly, managed to control.
‘Right.’ Roman became businesslike. ‘Well, thank you for your help, er, Charles, but now I have work to do.’
‘Of course. Of course.’ Charlie backed toward the door. ‘God bless you. Anything you need just...’ He indicated the phone. ‘We do have a small room service menu. That is to say it’s not just a menu for the small rooms, but...’
Roman herded him to the door and, with a sing-song inflection, signaled the conversation to be over. ‘Thank you.’
At this point Charlie tumbled backwards over the fallen stand and suitcase. Confusion followed as he attempted to get up but he caught a foot in the overhanging bedspread and, arms flailing, brought down the standard lamp. Scrambling to his feet and with an embarrassed smile and mumbled apology, he left the room, accidentally slamming the door behind him. Which he re-opened and popped his head through the opening.
‘Whoops. Sorry. Didn’t mean to slam it. Sorry, sir.’ He slammed the door again. From the other side Roman heard his muffled voice say: ‘Oh, shit! Whoops, I said shit. Forgive me Lord.’
Disregarding a “No Smoking” sign Roman reached for a cigarette and turned on the inbuilt bedside radio set on WBFM.
The music on-air came across as an eclectic mix of rock, modern country, folk and jazz-rock. To a certain audience it would be quite listenable. That didn’t include Roman. And, to make things worse, between the songs there were long blocks of talk from someone who referred to himself as “The Man in the Morning.”
A female caller was saying: ‘...that’s why I come here every year with the kids. It’s about the only real time I get with them.’
The Man asked: ‘How come?’
‘Oh, trying to run a business. You know. Long hours. Tired all the time.’
‘Yeah. Is it work or worry that makes you tired?’
‘Oh fuck it’s both.’
The presenter showed no reaction to the language but Roman did. There was no place for the F-bomb on the family-friendly Craze Radio Network.
The caller continued: ‘And I feel kinda guilty too.’
‘Oh...(heavy sigh)...the past. I guess I let my ambitions bugger up my marriage, you know? Now I’m on my own with the kids and shit scared about the future.’
‘For yesterday is but a memory and tomorrow is only a vision but today, well lived, makes every yesterday a memory of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well therefore to this day. That’s an old Sanskrit poem. Get it?’
Roman raised his eyes to the ceiling. ‘Bloody wanker!’
Tomorrow was not going to be easy. And there would be a certain amount of local opposition to the change of format. Still, “The Music of Your Life” was working fine in other markets, so why not here?
The best thing, he thought, would be to take a walk around town and get a feel for the place, grab a bite to eat, have a good night’s sleep and face the next day ready for anything.
He swallowed a double dose of his hypertension pills and lit another cigarette. White cinder from previous smokes had already spilled from a saucer onto the fake leather folder embossed with the words: “Grosvenor Family Motel. Information for Guests”.
Another caller came on air. The unmistakable whine of the motel manager.
‘I thought you’d call, Charlie,’ said The Man. Never miss an opportunity, eh?’
Charlie replied: ‘I know you were slandering me again, Man in the Morning. I’ve got a pertition to kick you people off the air! I’m sending it to the bloke what owns your station!’
In the motel reception area, Charlie was on a roll.
‘Besides which, the evil and sin which lurks in evil and...er...sinful corners of this town will be...um...you cannot mock the Lord for long before the almighty weight of his anger will fall upon you!’
A squeal of brakes and screeching tyres announced a beat up old car losing control in the driveway. Charlie watched from the window, horrified, as the vehicle came straight at him and smashed into the office windows.
This exclamation coincided with bricks tumbling and glass shattering over him and on the radio The Man saying: ‘Charlie, are you there? Wow! Has Jesus turned up at last then? Checking in is he?’
The driver of the car climbed out of the wreck. Seeing Charlie standing there amongst the rubble, covered in dust and holding the phone, caused him to break out in uncontrollable giggles.
‘Cripes, mate, I’m sorry. I had the sun in my eyes. I thought this was the bloody drive-in bottle shop!’
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]
Praise for the Book
"One thing I hate about most books and movies is how predictable they are, but that most certainly was NOT the case with The Wilton Bay Chronicles ... I didn't see any of the twists and turns coming and I just LOVE that." ~ DeanO
"When radio suits meets the partial hippy town of Wilton Bay head on, what an array of oddball characters await your imagination as they wind their way towards a variety of goals." ~ William Farran
"... incorporating drama, comedy, frustration, religion, sex, love and surprise. Its good light reading and I thoroughly enjoyed it." ~ George Symons
"Suggest you grab a glass of wine, and find a cosy spot for a comfortable, enjoyable read." ~ Tony James
"The characters kept me laughing, which my wife often didn't appreciate as she was trying to get some sleep. I found myself reading "just one more chapter" to see how it was going to pan out. Highly recommended." ~ Damo J
Roman Craze, son of the Barry Craze, head of Craze Radio Network (CRN), visits Wilton Bay, a coastal holiday town. His mission: to sort out WBFM - currently featuring an eclectic mixture of music genres, talk-back full of swearing, and a series of "special guests" - and bring it in line with their network philosophy of "The Music of Your Life". Roman faces fierce opposition from the townspeople as well as station manager, Lola. But when the radio station accidentally burns down, Barry makes Roman stay and rebuild WBFM. Meanwhile, a disheartened Lola decides to start up her own community radio station, The Seventh Wave, with the financial backing of the wealthy Doc Rock. This leads to outright war between the rival radio stations, the god-fearing WBFM and the new-age Seventh Wave. In the meantime, another war is brewing between the rival churches, leading to the foundation of a new church, The World Crusade for God, with Roman as its spokesperson. Then the devil himself starts terrorising the town, and all signs point to the end of days. It all culminates in an epic battle which will be fought on the summer solstice.
The book features a cast of eccentric characters, including: Charlie, the God-fearing manager of the Grosvenor Family Motel; Chyna, the fashion-challenged receptionist at WBFM; Lloyd Harrington, the pompous editor of The Wilton Bay News; Mrs Heffernan, his the buxom mistress; Jim Heffernan, property developer and Mayor of Wilton Bay; Andy Jindal, junior reporter for The Wilton Bay News; Hades, the King of the feral street kids; Doc Rock, the wealthy painter and benefactor; Jenny Wu, his profane, hippie partner; Les and Beryl, Chyna's parents; Matt Harrington, the charming theology student and son of Lloyd; Vera Hardy, resident witch; Father O'Meally, the mournful Catholic priest; The Right Reverend Lawrence Payne, Anglican minister; Joe, the overly-talkative, would-be Islamic terrorist; Bishop Harold Bishop, the American evangelist; and a host of Hare Krishnas, Jehovah's Witnesses, and even Raelians.
This is an ingenious, cleverly crafted satire on religion, sex, and the end of the world. Every detail is relevant and comes back into the story at some point. As the book progresses, the scenes become shorter, the perspective changes more quickly, and the pace becomes more and more frenetic. We are treated to everybody's point-of-view - sometimes even from one sentence to the next - but it works. American tourists Vernon and Betty Cabot provide a great outsiders' take on the mayhem. Full of typical, laconic Aussie humour, this book would make a great ABC television series (think SeaChange and East of Everything). I can picture Richard Roxburgh as Roman and John Howard as Lloyd, along with a cast of other Aussie favourites.
Warnings: coarse language, drug use, sexual references, sex scenes, violence.
Interview with the Author
Ian MacRae joins me today to discuss his book, The Wilton Bay Chronicles.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
I guess 35+. You would probably need a bit of life experience to appreciate it.
What sparked the idea for this book?
I was on holiday in Byron Bay and out mucking about in the surf. I’m not a surfer so I was just standing there letting the waves crash over me and I looked back at the town and suddenly the idea for the novel came to me.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
The sex scenes. It’s difficult to avoid cheap clichés.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I hope it gives them some laughs and also some stuff to think about.
Well, you succeed on both counts! How long did it take you to write this book?
Would you believe the first draft was 20 years ago? It started as a book ... then I made it a TV series, then a screenplay, both of which went nowhere, and now it’s back where it started as a book.
Oh, it would make a great TV series! What is your writing routine?
How did you get your book published?
Initially, I gave it to an agent who submitted it to various traditional publishers who all rejected it. I’m grateful for that because it was not very well written and, had it have been published, it would have received terrible reviews and that would have been my last book. It was only a few years later, after a total re-write, I went indie and now it’s available on Amazon as a Kindle download or paperback.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Hang in there and don’t give up.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
My main involvement in life has been as a radio broadcaster. But I’ve always enjoyed writing. I used to be Editor of my High School magazine.
What does your family think of your writing?
Haha! Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
I would say my entire life has influenced my writing.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
As a kid, I loved the books about the French police detective Maigret by Georges Simenon. I loved Douglas Adams with books like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Then there’s Frank Herbert with his Dune series. (I had lunch with him once). And, of course, Stephen King. (I didn’t have lunch with him).
Too bad! (About Stephen King.) Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
The most recent comment was from a guy who said he was in big trouble with his wife because he’s been reading the book in bed and she was really annoyed because he kept her awake laughing out loud.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
Next project is to produce a fortnightly podcast based on the book. The podcast is going to be called: "A Radio Station Like No Other".
Great! I see Episode 1 and Episode 2 are available right now! Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, Ian. Best of luck with the podcast.
Message from the Author
If you've read The Wilton Bay Chronicles you'll be aware of the type of controversial radio programs The Seventh Wave broadcast. Everything from sex to religion, spirituality, witchcraft, the occult, astrology, extraterrestrial life and all out fun.
The plan is to replicate these virtual programs with regular real-world podcasts which will be entertaining, informative and thought-provoking. You could well find some episodes will directly help you with problems you may have in your own life.
This is your invitation to sign up to The Wilton Bay Club to receive these podcasts free once they start after we have enough subscribers. They will be downloadable from iTunes.
Having you as a subscriber will also let me tell you when the next Wilton Bay book is coming out.
You have my word this subscriber list is totally secure and confidential and will never be passed on or, even worse, sold. I hate spam as much as you.
About the Author
Ian MacRae has worked in radio for close on 50 years.
Starting as office boy at a radio station in Melbourne, Australia he gained on-air experience in country radio then worked for two years on the off-shore "pirate" radio stations in the U.K.
Returning to Australia he worked in Perth then Sydney where he presented a top-rating breakfast show for 13 years.
He has written two non-fiction books, one a printed hard copy book (The Beginners Guide To Becoming a Radio Star) and the other digital (The Discovery Files).
The Wilton Bay Chronicles is his first work of fiction.