Who is Carol Baxter?

Internationally-acclaimed author, genealogist, speaker, teacher

 

Greetings

Let me tell you about my own researching and writing journey so you can see how my journey can help you in your writing endeavours.

Genealogy journey

My interest in historical research began when I was 15, when I studied the high school text, The Daughter of Time, a fascinating novel exploring the question of whether Richard III killed the princes in the Tower.  I was a passionate reader and, around the same time, I read books like Chariots of the Gods and The Bermuda Triangle.  

     I became intrigued by the idea of the historical hunt, the search for the truth. But what does a teenager hunt?

     At 17, I started tracing my family history. What a fascinating hobby I had stumbled across!

Genealogy employment

At 24, I saw my dream job advertised: project officer for a bicentennial project called the Australian Biographical and Genealogical Record. The project aimed to generate biographies of colonial Australians and would use transcriptions of early colonial records as their foundation.

    I became the editor of six published volumes of musters (similar to census returns) as well as convict transportation records which were published on CD-ROM. I also wrote articles for genealogical and historical journals and magazines.     

     I still work part-time for the same (now online) project called the Biographical Database of Australia.

Family history writing journey

In 2000, I decided to stop researching all of my ancestral families (and those of my husband), Instead, I would self-publish a single surname-line family history. I chose my First Fleet Nash family, partly because of the Fleet’s involvement in the establishment of British settlement in Australia in 1788 and partly because I knew that there were a lot of descendants who would be interested in purchasing a copy. 

    It took four years to write 29 extremely detailed biographies for everyone in the first three generations of the family. The final volume is 470 pages and contains 380,000 words of main text and 100,000 words of source references. It weighs a hefty 1.6kg (3½ pounds).

"Popular history" writing journey 

While writing the Nash family history, I stumbled across the story of a political sex scandal in 1829, one that contributed to Britain’s decision to recall the Governor of New South Wales (although neither I nor anyone else had realised it's full significance at that time).

     I decided to write the story as "popular history". However, I was a self-trained writer and historian so I hadn’t been taught to write history in the usual dry academic style. Thus, I unwittingly “broke the rules”. I wrote it as narrative nonfiction - that is, history told as a story - although I didn't realise that that's what I was writing as I crafted the story.  

     Eighteen months later, when I’d nearly finished writing the manuscript, I decided to approach one publisher at a time. I figured that when I received the inevitable rejection slip (reportedly six-to-nine months after submission), I might be lucky enough to be told what was wrong with my manuscript. I could then fix it and try another publisher.

     I posted off the first 60 pages as well as the other requested information - as per the submission guidelines - to one of Australia's top publishers, Allen & Unwin. Then I experienced an unexpected and extraordinary emotion. From the very centre of my being, I yearned ...  It was totally unexpected because I'd never thought of myself as someone who wanted to be a writer. 

     Much to my shock, I received a phone call 2½ weeks later from a commissioning editor (now editorial director) at Allen & Unwin. She said that she loved my manuscript and invited me in for a meeting.  Afterwards, she said that she would submit it to the publishing committee for consideration but that it would be a group decision as to whether they chose to publish it.

     A few weeks later, I nearly fell over backwards when they offered me an advance of $10,000 to buy the rights to publish it.     

     A year later, my book was published under the title An Irresistible Temptation: The true story of Jane New and a colonial scandal. It sold thousands of copies and received critical acclaim, even from the academic history community. 

More popular histories followed:

Allen & Unwin, 2008

Allen & Unwin, 2011

          Oneworld (UK), 2013

Allen & Unwin, 2015

Allen & Unwin, 2017

International book reviews 

  • The Times (London): ‘As lively and readable as a crime novel’
  • The Independent (UK): ‘Totally irresistible’
  • Daily Mail (UK): ‘A fascinating history, mystery and portrait of a complex, contradictory man’
  • The Good Book Guide (UK): 'Meticulously researched and entertainingly told, this is a vivid picture of an electrifying age.'
  • Publishers Weekly (USA): ‘A thrilling biography’ (The Fabulous Flying Mrs Miller)
  • Publishers Weekly (USA): 'Fans of Erik Larson’s true-crime thrillers will be pleased by this gripping account …’ (The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable)
  • Library Journal (USA): 'Baxter's latest historical title reads like a novel … This title is easily readable, interesting, and enjoyable.’
  • Maclean’s Magazine (Canada): ‘[A] deftly woven tale of crime, religion and science.’
  • The Australian (Australia): ‘This spellbinding tale of extraordinary woman is one of the best books I’ve read in years.’
  • Sydney Morning Herald (Australia): 'Detailed and deft'
  • Country Style (Australia): '[A] brief period of derring-do captured to perfection by Baxter's well-researched biography.'
  • Melbourne Times (Australia): 'Incredible story of a remarkable woman’
  • ... and dozens more.

Film/television interest

The Fabulous Flying Mrs Miller is being turned into a $10 million budget, internationally-produced TV series by an Academy Award-nominated producer. The pitch was short-listed for a major international drama competition, the pilot screenplay has been written, and one of the world's leading entertainment companies has expressed interest in funding/hosting it. More will be revealed at a later date.

     Meanwhile, Black Widow has been turned into a computer game.

     Captain Thunderbolt and his Lady has been contracted for an 8-part TV series with the potential for future seasons. The "series bible" has been produced and the pilot screenplay written. The producers describe it as an Australian western in the style of the Coen brothers.  

Appointments/Awards

For my services to Australian genealogy, I was made a Fellow of the Society of Australian Genealogists in 2002. For my genealogy contributions and "popular history" publications, I was made an adjunct lecturer at the University of New England (NSW) in 2011. 

     Additionally, Breaking the Bank received first prize in the Society of Womens Writers then bi-annual nonfiction award in 2009, while Captain Thunderbolt and His Lady received tied first place in the same competition (since changed) in 2013. 

Cruise ship enrichment speaker

I was delighted when my Mrs Miller publicity schedule included being the guest speaker at a lunchtime Sydney Harbour cruise. I mentioned to the host, who was a radio and TV personality, that I loved cruising. Indeed, I hoped one day to speak on international cruise ships.  

     It turned out that the host knew the head of a cruise ship speaking agency. A few months later, I had my first gig - on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas - telling my true tales of murder, mystery and mayhem.

     Since then I've prepared more talks and spoken on more cruise ships. The most exciting was Crystal Solstice's 2019 World Cruise on the leg from Los Angeles to Auckland.

Are more books coming?

If my literary agent and publisher had their way, yes. 

     However, after finishing The Fabulous Flying Mrs Miller, I was burnt out. I'd worked seven days a week for a dozen years. Additionally, Mrs Miller had spoilt me. I wanted an equally dramatic and well-documented story, but nothing jumped out at me. 

     Instead, I prepared more cruise ship enrichment talks. It took me two months to research and write a cruise ship talk as compared with 18-24 months to research and write a popular history book, so I was in my element. 

     In mid-2020, my publisher phoned to say that she had the perfect story for me. She sent me an article, I read it, and I phoned my literary agent to say "Let's go for it." Easiest contract I've ever received!

     Just as the advance was about to change hands, I realised that there was a problem. Much of the information included in a self-published biography about the woman proved to be either error-ridden or inaccessible. For example, some of the most important information was supposedly sourced from a diary that's now in the hands of a "Russian oligarch" who allegedly fears being assassinated, so he won't allow anyone to access it. I phoned my publisher and pulled the plug on the project. 

     The contract is still waiting for me in the event that I find another suitable subject. Meanwhile, I've found a new avenue to pursue ...

Writing teacher

I was already well-known in the genealogy community when I became a mainstream author, so researchers asked if I’d help them write interesting family histories.

     As a result, I've been giving seminars, workshops and webinars on the subject for the last dozen years. Among my speaking engagements were four Unlock the Past genealogy conferences on international cruise ships. 

     I also teach writing skills to general audiences. In 2017 I was a guest lecturer at Sydney University teaching writing skills to their Master's Degree students who were studying Creative Nonfiction.    

Books on writing 

Since I was giving lectures on writing and since I was also a writer, I decided to write some books on writing. 

     Writing Interesting Family Histories was first published in 2009 and a third edition was published in 2016. 

     A companion volume, Writing and Publishing Gripping Family Histories, was published in 2016.

     Readers are advised to read Writing Interesting Family Histories first, then follow that with Writing & Publishing Gripping Family HIstories. Only two chapters at the end are devoted to publishing. 

Legacy Family Tree Webinars

(a subsidiary of MyHeritage)

 

In the last few years, I've given a number of Legacy Family Tree Webinars on researching and writing skills.

     In July 2020, my webinar Turning Dry Facts into Exciting Narrative was viewed 15,000 times in a week. Review comments are attached. You can click on the link below to read more. 

     Attendees urged me to give more writing sessions and to consider preparing writing courses.

     And so the seeds of the Writing Fabulous Family Histories series were sown.     

Why am I telling you this?

So you can be confident that I can indeed write and that I can indeed teach, and that the writing skills I’ll be teaching you genuinely work in the real world. They really do produce exciting biographies, which is what family histories and memoirs and profile pieces essentially are.

 

 

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