About the author:
Todd Alexander has been writing for over twenty years. His work has been published in magazines and periodicals and his first novel, Pictures of Us, was published in 2006, and Tom Houghton was published in 2015. How to Buy and Sell on eBay.com.au has sold in excess of 30,000 copies. In 2010, his advanced guide to eBay, How to Make Money on eBay was published, followed by Why Pay Retail (2011), Get Your Business Online. . . Now! and Every Day Internet at Any Age (both in 2012), The New eBay (2013) and Check 100: Tips for a Successful eBay Business (2014). He lives in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales with his partner where they run a boutique vineyard and accommodation business, Block Eight.
Your memoir Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Called Helga is about your not-so-perfect tree change from the Big Smoke to The Hunter Valley. Can you tell us a bit more about the book?
Ten years ago I thought I had what most people would consider a great life – comfortable job in an excellent company, newly renovated house, stable relationship, great friendships… and yet something felt like it was missing from that life. For my partner Jeff and I, disatisfaction took different forms – for him it was an addiction to buying cushions (I swear they were multiplying while we slept) and running for days on end like Forrest Gump, for me it was buying just about every cookbook on the market but never reading or cooking from them.
A trip to the Barossa Valley gave us a taste of a different kind of life so we decided to turn our back on everything we knew, dive head first off a very high cliff and attempt a life as farmers, B&B hosts and animal handlers. The book chronicles our great highs, extreme lows and the many laughs we’ve had along the way – so you can either live vicariously through us, laugh at our many mistakes or maybe even be inspired to follow your own dreams
What inspired you to write this memoir?
In 2017 I got the most adorable pig in the world, Helga Van Hoggett. Babe and Peppa have nothing on her, believe me. Every time I posted photos of her on social media, people were really drawn to her – she has an inexplicably magnetic personality. This prompted people to want to know more about our lives and years back I’d kept a blog for people to follow our not-so-perfect tree change but had become too busy to keep it up. Now that we host guests on the property, many of them ask us about our story and we love sharing a few laughs (at our expense) so it just seemed to be a story people wanted to read. I sometimes think the subtitle should have been ‘how two guys bought a hundred acres armed with only an Aldi electric mower and a pair of garden shears.’
You have been writing for over twenty years, and have published a number of titles. What was the greatest writing challenge that Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Named Helga presented? And how does it differ to your previous works?
My previous work has been fiction and how-to guides, though I make no secret of the fact that both novels were heavily autobiographical. Still, hiding behind fiction allows you to massage the truth a little, throw deeply flawed characters out into the world and also exlore some of the issues you’ve grappled with in life – writing memoir is very much ‘here I am, you can like me or not’ so there’s no place to hide. I also had to write about my family and friends and present them as real as possible albeit to serve specific roles within the narrative. Writing comedy also presents a whole heap of new challenges – what sounds funny inside your own head doesn’t necessarily work when other people read it so it was a very delicate balance between trying to be funny, and letting the comedy within the situations speak for itself.
What do you want people to take away from your book?
Making a whoelsale lifestyle change requires guts, determination, support, lots of bloody hard work and the ability to laugh at yourself (or make jokes at your partner’s expense!) But if you truly dream of doing something different with your life, you should do everything in your power to make that dream a reality. If you feel like you’re in a rutt, don’t be scared of failing at something else. Life is way too short and though I think we should get to its end without regret, if I have to have any, I’d much prefer to regret giving something a go, than never having tried.
What was your favourite book of 2018, and which book are you most looking forward to reading in 2019?
In 2018 I loved Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am I Am I Am. I’ve read everything of hers and have been a massive fan ever since her debut, After You’d Gone. I Am I Am I Am is the first time she’s released a memoir and I read it at the same time I was editing Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine And A Pig Called Helga. O’Farrell’s voice reminded me to stay true, that it’s okay to show yourself as having flaws, and maintain honesty above all else.
For 2019, I can’t wait to read Matt Howard’s The Time Is Now, Monica Sparrow. I think his voice is unique among Australian writers and I like his quirky characters and refreshing narratives.