Jesse Fink was born in London, England, in 1973 and raised and educated in Sydney, Australia, by his Australian parents. Fink worked for five years as a senior editor of non-fiction for HarperCollins Publishers Australia. In 2012 Fink released his second book, a memoir titled Laid Bare: One Man’s Story of Sex, Love and Other Disorders. His third book, The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, was published in November 2013 by Random House Australia and broke a story that had been untold for nearly 40 years: that the band had come close to sacking Bon Scott. The story was picked up by media outlets around the world. AC/DC bassist Mark Evans hailed The Youngs as “the best book I’ve ever read about AC/DC”. Catch him here or on his facebook/ twitter page.
NAW- Tell us about your book, The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC. What is it about? For how long have you been an AC/DC fan? At what age did you start listening to their songs?
It’s a critical appreciation of the greatest rock band in the world, told through the stories of 11 classic songs written by the Youngs. So starting with George Young’s “Good Times” (1968) for The Easybeats and ending with AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” (1990), written by Angus and Malcolm Young. It’s not a traditional biography but it has biographical elements to it. I wanted to write a new kind of music biography; one that really focused on the most important thing: the music.
I grew up not far from where Malcolm Young lives in Sydney (the waterside suburb of Balmain) and I’d listened to AC/DC since my teens, but not got into them in a huge way until after my divorce in 2007 (I’m 41 now). One of their songs, “Gimme a Bullet”, changed my life. It rescued me at a very crucial personal moment and I talk about that in the book; in fact the story of my personal connection to their music opens The Youngs. I wanted to explore what it is about their music that affects people in the way it does, all around the world. There’s a good reason why they’re the biggest band on the planet. Their music stirs something very primal in people. It helps a lot of people get through the day. It’s worthy of a serious book.
NAW- Tell us about the research you carried out for AC/DC. What were your primary information sources?
It was a hard slog. I haven’t done much else for the past two years but research, write and promote this book – and, apart from Stevie Young, I’ve done it all without the cooperation of the Young family. But I recently ran into Ross Young, the son of Malcolm, who said his father had read it and Mal’s wife Linda had read it and “loved it”, so I must have done a good job. I interviewed over 75 people and double that amount of people helped in some way, all around the world. They included some really important people who hadn’t spoken about AC/DC before but had really amazing stories to tell. That’s what surprised me most: that after all the books that had been written about AC/DC that there was a whole new story to tell that was profoundly different to anything else.
NAW- You have selected a very novel approach by using their songs to tell their story? How did you get the idea for it? And I must say it works well for the book.
Well, the structure for the book really sprang out of my dissatisfaction with other books about the band. Don’t get me wrong. There are some good ones; I have a lot of respect for any writer who has attempted to tackle the subject of AC/DC as an outsider. It’s not easy. But after reading some works I always felt they were kind of missing a chance to explore what I believe is the key to their success: the way their music works. How it was made. How it was produced. Why an album like Back in Black still sounds so fresh and great even after you’ve listened to it 1000 times. Their music itself is the most fascinating thing about AC/DC.
All the songs I selected as chapters work as signposts, too, of important things that were going on in the Youngs’ lives at the time. So they allowed me to explore biographical elements of the AC/DC story in a new way. A lot of that story had been untold until this book.
NAW- The Youngs are kind of secretive with their lives and don’t really entertain writers or so we’ve heard from media reports. Did you try approaching them?
Naturally. I tried contacting them through their gatekeepers here in Sydney and didn’t get anywhere. One of them, Fifa Riccobono, asked me to send through 20 written questions but the Youngs didn’t want to answer them. I tried again through their management in New York and didn’t get a response. You do what you can but unless someone wants to help you, there’s no point waiting for them to come to the party. You get on with it. I fully expected the Youngs to say no to being interviewed. I told their story from the outside, but worked my way in, and I believe the book actually benefited from their lack of involvement in the end. I told a story they wouldn’t have wanted to be told. And I think the fact that so many people who’d worked the brothers have come up to me after the book came out and said, “Mate, you nailed it” is testament to that.
NAW- Tell us about your latest book, World Party (2014). How did you get the idea for it?
World Party(2014) is an abridged e-book version of my first book, 15 Days in June (2007). It’s the story of Australia’s campaign at the 2006 World Cup in Germany and the significance of the World Cup on a cultural, social, economic and political level. I thought it was a great idea to release it to coincide with Brazil 2014, so I got the rights back, contacted a mate called Rod Morrison who used to be a publisher at Picador to put it together, got a design from my friend Luke Causby at Blue Cork, and approached Tim Cahill and Oliver Fowler of ChangeFIFA to write an introduction and foreword respectively. We priced it at $3.99 in Australia and it went to #1 on iTunes Sports & Recreation in its first week. I think it’s a great example of what you can do with e-books. We had no budget at all. But a lot of the credit has to go to Tim for agreeing to write a foreword. He’s one of the world’s top football players. Look at what he went on to achieve in Brazil. He scored one of the greatest goals of any World Cup against The Netherlands. He’s a champion on the field and off.
NAW- Tell us about your other works. How difficult (or easy) was it getting published?
My second book, Laid Bare (2012), a memoir of my divorce, came out of an article I wrote for marie claire about how it feels to have your heart broken. It got a fantastic response from readers and I got a lot of letters about it. I was fortunate that when I took the idea to Hachette they saw the potential in it straight away and I got signed up pretty much immediately.
I wanted to write a deeply honest book about love, sex and relationships from the male perspective. It addresses a lot of broader themes that I think a lot of people are interested in: divorce, masculinity, emotional struggle, online dating, single parenting, the intrusion of technology into our personal lives and how the internet, social media and iPhones are changing the way we have relationships. At its core, it’s about love and what it means to be in love.
So I had a lot to work with and a lot I wanted to say. And I’m very attached to that book. I’d love to see it published around the world the way The Youngs has been so far (USA, Canada, Argentina, Germany, United Kingdom), but even I can concede AC/DC has far more international appeal than my sex life.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
I jog every day. I go to the gym. I hang out at my local café in Sydney. I lunch with friends. I listen to music a lot. I spend time with and raise my daughter, who’s 11. I teach journalism. I do a lot of work promoting The Youngs on social media to get the word out about the book before its release in the United States and the United Kingdom. I make connections with publishers around the world. I’m very committed to being a successful writer and I’ve realised that you can’t wait for anyone else to do the work for you. You have to do it yourself. Being a writer requires more than just handing in your manuscript to a publisher and waiting for your royalties to arrive. You have to publicise it. You have to market it. You have to promote it. You have to engage with fans in a meaningful way and not pay them lip service. The key to success on social media, I believe, is not the amount of followers you have or the likes you generate but the quality of your relationships with readers. Many readers have gone on to become good friends of mine and I’m constantly amazed by how generous they are to me. I try to give back to them as much as I can.
NAW- Who are your favourite writers?
Richard Russo is a favourite. I loved Nobody’s Fool. David Lodge. Martin Amis. The art criticism of Robert Hughes. But more recently I’ve started to move away from reading fiction and been more engrossed by non-fiction. I think non-fiction is far more interesting.
NAW- How do you write, in fits and starts or in one go? Take us through your writing process.
The best way I can describe it is like making a big pot of soup. You throw ingredients in the pot, you taste. What you don’t like, you take out. Same with writing. You can just throw a whole bunch of words on the page, just let it flow out, then go back, read over what you’ve done, remove what you don’t like and edit or shape what’s left behind. Usually you end up with something that’s good. Writing involves a hell of a lot of editing. You have to be a good editor of your own work. Don’t rely on your desk editor or commissioning editor to do it for you. When you’re not inspired, go for a run. Get your body moving and properly sweat. Inspiration usually follows.
NAW-What are you currently reading?
French Vogue. I’m kidding. I’ve got a pile of books on my bedside table: America America by Ethan Canin, Radio Free Boston: The Rise and Fall of WBCN by Carter Alan, Prague by Arthur Phillips, Bangkok 8 by John Burdett, Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner and Heaven’s Prisoners by James Lee Burke (a great, great writer).
NAW- What will you be working on next?
I want to write another music biography. Something big. My agent in New York is very keen on the idea I have and my publisher here in Australia is also excited about it (we’ve had some informal discussions), so if we can get some deals in the US and Europe I’d love to do it and spend a few years writing it.