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John Flanagan is one of Australia’s biggest selling authors and he’s got one of his Catholic school teachers to thank for it!
With more than 15 million books sold in more than 40 languages, John based one of his leading characters on Brother Desmond Eugenius O’Connor (otherwise known as Brother Luke), his teacher for many years at Waverley. Slightly built, with a permanent 5 o’clock shadow, huge hands, sour face and a menacing demeanor, (Br Luke, not John that is), provided the ideal inspiration for Halt, the highly qualified ranger and nucleus behind the medieval fantasy novels which have taken the world by storm.
So it was an enormous thrill for the author – regularly on the New York Times bestseller list – to visit his old stomping ground at Waverley Junior College and not only reflect on his career but encourage the many budding writers in the room to never give up on their dreams.
“For as long as I can remember I always wanted to be a writer,” he told the school of star-struck students.
“I got a lot of rejection letters and many times wanted to give up but something in me told me to keep going.
“All you need is to have someone around you who believes in you and you’ll be amazed what you can achieve.
“I was an overnight success, if you call being published in my 60s overnight, and never had more fun. No matter what you want to do, whether it’s write or something completely different – keep going.”
John originally worked as a copy writer before turning his talents to television, teaming up with Gary Reilly to create the long-running television series Hey Dad, as well as Hampton Court and My Two Wives.
He began working on what would become Ranger’s Apprentice in the 1990s, originally compiling twenty short stories for his twelve year old son Michael who he wanted to encourage to read. In the characters portrayed, John wanted to show his son that heroes, like the main character, don’t have to be big and strong to achieve success.
With the manuscript having laid dormant in his desk drawer for ten years and on the verge of retirement, it was John’s daughter and popular comedian, Kitty Flanagan, who encouraged him to submit it for publication. Despite many knockbacks, he finally found a publisher.
Twenty-one books later including a companion series, Brotherband Chronicles, and on the verge of a US movie deal, the prolific writer is showing no signs of slowing down.
The unlikely top-selling author who doesn’t like a fuss and rarely does media is busy planning his next book as well as touring the world promoting the latest release, The Red Fox Clan, which for the first time sees a female protagonist as the new ranger’s apprentice.
Interestingly, John said it wasn’t until he was writing book number four that he realised the main character was a carbon copy of Brother Luke.
Losing his dad at age seven and with his mum left as the sole provider, John knew that due to financial reasons, his days at the school were numbered… until an unlikely saviour made themselves known.
“We were all a little frightened of Br Luke, he never smiled, had huge hands despite being slightly built, and had an air about him that we just knew not to mess with him,” John said.
“For all my years at St Charles’ I never saw him smile, we all just thought he was this cold, hard man but as it turned out nothing could have been further from the truth.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. It was our last day at the school and someone banged a desk so Brother Luke made us all stay back. But instead of being in trouble, he sat on the desk with his legs swinging, laughing and telling us jokes. We couldn’t believe it.
“And then just before I left for the final time he pulled me aside and said I had been awarded a bursary and would be attending Waverley College.
“As it turned out he actually had a very soft heart – it was just that he only let the people close to him see it and that is exactly how I devised the character Halt but didn’t realise at the time where the inspiration had come from.
“It just goes to show what an impact he had on my life and helped me achieve success.”
John said he would have loved nothing more than to let Br Luke know that his bursary went to good use however sadly found out he passed away in 2014 at the age of 95.
For John, himself in his mid-70s, he hopes to continue the Ranger’s Apprentice series in the foreseeable future.