It didn’t take long to find the rest of the crew that would be filming today’s events, with a group of suitably equipped people, led by Guy, soon making their way through the crowd and finding us at the spot where he suggested we wait.
Apart from Guy there was a long-haired camera-toting man, a well presented and smartly dressed young woman, who was carrying a microphone, along with a second young man, who was carrying several aluminium boxes slung from his shoulder with black webbing straps.
‘Wow, all this just for me,’ I joked.
‘It was all we could muster on short notice,’ the woman said. ‘I’m Carol Granger, and it’s so nice to finally meet you,’ she added, while offering me her hand.
‘The pleasure is all mine,’ I replied, before also introducing her to Luke.
‘And these two are Joel, the camera man, and Kieran, our sound and lights man,’ Guy added. Luke and I reached out and shook their hands as well.
‘So, what’s the plan, boss?’ Joel asked, while turning toward Guy. I cocked an eyebrow in his direction and saw just the hint of a smile come across his face.
‘Well, first things first … I need to introduce Tony to the Mayor and the other heavyweights, so if we can get some shots of that it would be a good start. Then we need a short one-on-one interview between Carol and Tony, followed, I think, with some shots of him mingling, walking through the crowds and taking a look at things, talking to a few people and the like. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of folks here that I know who we can get to help out with that.’
‘Too easy,’ Joel replied.
‘After that there’ll be the speeches and presentations, so we’ll need some footage of at least part of that, before Tony then has to head off for another engagement. Then, if you guys can hang around and get some footage after Tony leaves, just some stock sort of stuff that we can use on the news if they want it, that would be handy.’
‘All right. That all sounds like a plan,’ Carol remarked. ‘Where do we find the Mayor?’
Guy pulled out his phone once more and flicked through his list of contacts, before finally pressing a few buttons and putting the phone to his ear.
‘Hello, Rick,’ I heard him say. ‘Yes, we’re all here. Where can we find you?’
We all listened for a few moments, to a conversation that didn’t seem to sound all that positive, before Guy finally said, ‘Okay, call me when you’re here and we’ll meet you,’ before eventually he disconnected.
‘Problems?’ I asked.
‘He’s running late, which is nothing unusual for him though, so we better go to Plan B.’
‘Which is?’ Joel asked.
‘Interview first. Then the crowd shots and mingling. Hopefully Mr. Mayor will be here by then.’
‘Okay then. Where do we start?’ Carol asked. ‘I think we need the crowd and the whole carnival thing in the background if we can.’
‘I agree,’ Guy replied. ‘There’s a picnic table just a little way up the hill there, beneath those Moreton Bay Figs,’ he added, while pointing to the spot just along the edge of the lake where we had all hung out for so many years. ‘If we head up there we should be able to get some shots of everything we need, looking back down over all the activities and the lake.’
‘That sounds perfect,’ Carol replied.
With Joel and Kieran carrying their equipment we trudged the short distance up the hill to the familiar picnic table, then they started to set up, ready for the shoot. I watched as they went about their business. It was obvious that each of them was quite familiar with what they were doing, and while the two guys fiddled with switches and plugged in leads and set up some lights, all of which were extracted from the boxes they carried, I noticed Carol walking a short distance away from us, studying a notepad.
Guy noticed me studying her, with what must have been a questioning expression on my face, and said, ‘She’s learning her lines?’
‘What? I thought she was just going to ask a few questions?’
‘Yes, she is, but she needs to have them memorised first, so that it all looks and sounds as natural as possible.’
‘Do I get a peek at them?’
‘You can always ask, but I’m pretty sure I know what the answer will be. Again, it all needs to look natural, and the only way we can get spontaneous answers is if you don’t know what the questions are.’
‘Bastard!’ I spat at him. He only grinned, as did Luke, who seemed quite happy to be staying in the background.
A few moments later Joel announced that they were ready, after which Carol came back to us, while at the same time smoothing out her smart business suit. She was an attractive lady and I couldn’t help but grin at her.
‘Okay then,’ she said. ‘How about we both sit on this side of the table, with the guys shooting back down toward the crowd?’
‘Whatever you would like,’ I said.
We sat down and then had to move a couple of times, at Joel’s request, but eventually we were settled onto just the right spots on the seat and both Guy and Joel gave the thumbs up, saying it all looked good.
Carol reached over and patted my leg, saying, ‘You’ve got nothing to worry about. It’ll all be fine.’
‘Do I look that nervous?’ I asked.
‘Maybe not nervous. Perhaps … wary, might be a better term.’
‘It all feels the same to me.’ I had done enough interviews in the past few years to know that whatever comes out of my mouth isn’t always interpreted in they way I had said it, or how I meant it to sound, so the term wary was probably an apt description of just how I was feeling right now. I also knew that the camera is always rolling before the interview starts, and usually for a little while after it is finished, so it always pays to be on your toes for more than just the interview itself.
‘Just relax. I’ll ask a question, then you just say whatever comes naturally to mind. Don’t try to think about your answers too much, okay? That just makes things look awkward,’ she then said, and before I’d had a chance to respond she turned and looked straight into the camera, while Kieran started a count down using his fingers.
Five … four … three … two … one … zero … then when he finished she paused for just a moment longer before starting to talk into the microphone, all the while looking directly at the camera.
‘Hello, I’m Carol Granger, and with me today, at the Australia Day celebrations in the small north coast town of Thompsonville, is one of their favourite sons, none other than the renowned best-selling author, Tony Scott. Hello Tony, and welcome home.’
‘Thank you Carol. It’s so nice to be back here.’
‘So, how long has it been since you were last in Thompsonville?’
‘About five years.’
‘And what brings you back after all this time?’
‘Well, firstly, I was invited by the Macquarie Harbour Writer’s Centre to talk at one of their events this week, then I figured it would be a great opportunity to spend a few days and catch up with some family and friends while I was here.’
‘So, is it good to be home?’
‘Oh, absolutely. I didn’t realise that I had missed the place so much.’
‘And has the town changed very much in the time you’ve been away?’
‘More than I had ever imagined it would,’ I replied. ‘In just a few years it has gone from a sleepy, some would say almost dead, or dying town, to one with a real buzz and energy about it. I’m really impressed.’
‘Some would say that you can take some of the credit for that, by helping to put the place on the map. What do you say to that?’
‘Yes, I have heard those rumours too,’ I laughed. ‘But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The credit can only go to those who have made the effort to showcase what this little town has to offer. I may have raised the profile a little, but it’s the locals who have put in the effort to tidy up and rejuvenate the town; they’re the ones who deserve all the credit.’
‘And so, what has kept you away for so long? What have you been up to?’
‘Well, I’ve been keeping quite busy. My third novel in the Sands series is being released shortly, while the second movie isn’t far away either. I’ve also just started work on my next novel as well, although it will be some time before that is finished and released.’
‘Any hints as to what that one is about?’
‘No, it’s still a bit early for that. All I can really say is that it will be a little different to what most people will be expecting,’ I teased, while glancing quickly at Guy and receiving a thumbs up sign from behind the camera.
‘That sounds intriguing. But are you sure you can’t tell us more?’
‘No, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a little while yet, just like everyone else.’
‘Now, a little birdie also told me that you also have another special project on the go, one that is quite close to your heart. Would you like to share anything about that one with our viewers?’
I wasn’t quite sure that I was ready to tell the world about my philanthropic adventures just yet, especially given that we had only just started talking to those concerned, but then I recalled just what the purpose of this whole PR exercise was, so I had to think quickly.
‘Yes, there is another project that I’ve just started looking into, and while it is early days yet and we’re not really ready to make any announcements, I can tell you this much. Now, as many folks already know, my own life hasn’t exactly been a bed of roses. Just like many thousands of LGBT kids out there, I too was kicked out onto the street in my teenage years. I was one of the lucky ones, however, as I was taken in by other family members, but for the vast majority of these kids their reality is a much more dangerous one, with the streets often being their only option. Sadly many are forced into doing unpleasant things just in order to survive, and what is even sadder is that many don’t survive.’
‘That is so upsetting to hear. Is there anything that can be done to help these kids?’
‘Yes, I believe there is. That is why I’m working on helping to set up some programs to offer support and refuge for these kids. As I said a moment ago, it’s still early days yet, but if I can make a difference to the lives of just a few of these kids, then it will have been worth it. Once we have some of the details sorted out I’ll be only too happy to share the news, and hopefully, once we get started, we’ll be able to get quite a few other individuals and even businesses and corporations to pitch in as well and really make a difference.’
‘That sounds incredible. Maybe I can get our people to talk to your people and when you’re ready to make the big announcement we can come and talk to you again?’
‘You can count on it!’ I replied with a smile. ‘The exclusive is all yours.’
‘Well, there you have it,’ she said, while turning and smiling directly into the camera. ‘It looks like there will be a few big announcements coming our way from this very talented, and apparently very generous man. Thank you so much for talking to us today, Tony. We’ll let you get back to enjoying the celebrations here in your old home town.’
‘The pleasure has been all mine, Carol.’
There was a few moments silence then, as Carol and I continued to stare into the camera, before Joel finally said, ‘Got it! You can all breathe again now!’
I laughed. That sounded so much better than, ‘It’s a wrap!’
* * *
With that part of the proceedings out of the way we decided to venture back down the hill and into the crowd, apparently to try and get some shots of me mingling, as Guy had so eloquently put it.
Luke excused himself and said he would catch up with us again soon, while Joel and Kieran scurried ahead, finding a high spot to set up the camera, so that it would be looking down on Carol and me as we strolled along the walkway between all the stands, continuing to chat as if we were old friends. Guy had also scurried off after them, with his parting words being, ‘Whatever you do, just don’t spend all your time looking at the camera, okay? There’s nothing worse than celebrities who love getting in shot.’
‘And screw you too!’ I said as he scampered away, which only caused Carol to giggle.
‘So, it was Guy who took you in, wasn’t it? she asked a few moments later, as we began to stroll through the growing crowds.
‘Kind of,’ I replied. ‘Guy and his partner, Tim, were living with my cousin, Luke, and his partner, Matt. I was sixteen, had no place to go, so I hitched all the way up here from Sydney and plonked myself on their doorstep in the middle of the night, looking for Luke. If it wasn’t for him and Matt, and of course Tim and Guy, I honestly don’t know where I would have ended up.’
‘Amazing. But you both seem like you’re about the same age?’
‘There’s only two or three years difference between us. The guys were all eighteen or nineteen when I landed here.’
‘It almost sounds like one of your novels.’
‘Oh, there’s a fair bit of me – and all the other guys – in those stories. The names have just been changed to protect the guilty,’ I joked.
It was just then that we were stopped for the first time by some of the locals, a couple of school-aged girls, who had apparently recognised one, or both of us. We chatted for a few minutes and allowed them to take a couple of photos using their phones, then they cheerily went on their way.
‘So, now that the camera isn’t rolling, can you tell me anything more about what you’re planning? Strictly, off the record, of course.’
‘Well, to be honest, there’s not a lot I can say, and that’s not because I don’t want to, it’s simply because I don’t know it myself. The bottom line is that there’s a facility in Sydney for homeless gay youth, which is being run by a lady who lost her son following a hate inflamed bashing. He had been thrown out of their home and he was living on the streets when it happened.’
‘Thrown out? What, by her?’
‘Her husband, to be exact, although she still blames herself every day for what happened. They are really struggling and could do with some financial and moral support, so that’s what I want to do. Or, I should say, that’s a part of what I want to do. My manager is looking into just how we can help out in some way, especially now that, for me at least, this whole writing thing is just starting to really take off. What I want is to give something back, and if my good fortune can mean that I can help out a few others along the way, then it’s the least I can do.’
‘That’s so sad. But I have to admire your willingness to help out. Do you really think you can make a difference, though?’
‘Like I said earlier, if I can make a difference for even just a couple of these kids, then it will have been worth it. I don’t know how much Guy or your bosses have told you, but that’s what this is all about. We’re hoping this interview, even though the details are still sketchy, will just be the start, so we can then try and raise awareness about the plight of not just this one centre that I want to help, but about the whole issue of homeless gay youth.’
As we continued on our way through the crowds, chatting between ourselves and stopping occasionally to look at a stand, it was obvious that we were being recognised, although I suspect that it was Carol, more than me, who was the centre of attention, seeing as she was quite often on the local television station.
It was while we were chatting to a young couple that I noticed a boy of about thirteen standing a short distance away from us and watching our every move. There was nothing that I could say was remarkable, or distinctive, about him, apart from his being a typical skinny teenager, with hair that was too long, but he did look vaguely familiar. He was wearing faded jeans and an old white t-shirt, with an equally faded image on the front of it. He wasn’t what you would call handsome, yet with his messy, sun-bleached brown hair, there was, all the same, something about him that made me take a second look.
When he noticed me staring at him he glanced quickly away, only to furtively look back at my face a few moments later, and this time holding my gaze.
When the young couple we had been talking to excused themselves and wandered off, I turned to Carol and said, ‘Just give me a minute, will you please,’ then headed in the direction of the lad, who eyed my approach with something that resembled caution.
‘Hi there,’ I said to him, as casually as I could.
‘Hey,’ he coolly replied, his arms crossed in front of his chest as he looked out at me from beneath his shaggy fringe.
‘Looks like they’ve got a good crowd today.’
‘Yeah, I guess so,’ he said, then after a brief hesitation, which he partially spent chewing his bottom lip he asked, ‘You’re that writer bloke, aren’t you?’
‘Well, I’m a writer, yes. I’m just not sure which one you think I am.’
‘The one who used to live here, who wrote the story about them gays.’
‘Ahhh … yes. I guess that would be me.’
He only nodded, then started chewing his bottom lip once more, before eventually asking, ‘Is it true then? That story, and what I read about you? Did you really get kicked out, or did you just make it all up?’
‘Well, parts of the story are certainly true, but there’s lots of it that I made up. That is what story writing is usually about. And as for me, yes, I did get kicked out of home. It was when I was about your age.’
‘I thought so. You made it sound like you knew what it was all about.’
‘Is that so?’
‘Yeah,’ he replied, while avoiding my gaze and looking at the tatty sneakers on his feet instead. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was trying to tell me something.
‘And what about you? Do you know what it’s all about?’
‘Ummm … yeah,’ he eventually said. ‘I know …’
He looked up at me, his poker face seemingly impossible to read, but I could tell that this kid had been through it all. We belonged to the same club, and my heart went out for him.
‘If they don’t want us kids when we don’t turn out how they would like, why do they even have us at all?’
‘Surely you don’t mean that. No matter how rough life sometimes gets, you’re still alive and there are still people who care about you.’
‘Yeah? Name one?’
‘Well, there’s me, for one. I may not know you, or all of your story, but I’ve lived at least part of it myself, and have probably seen the rest of it as well, one way or another. I know what you’ve had to go through, and I hate seeing anyone having to do the same. Anyhow, what’s your name?’
‘And where are you living?’
‘Around,’ he replied.
‘Is someone taking care of you?’
‘I’m gettin’ by.’
‘That’s not what I asked.’
‘I know,’ he replied, giving me a cheeky grin. ‘Anyhow, I’m lookin’ for someone, so maybe I’ll see you around, eh? Or maybe I’ll see you and your lady friend on the telly.’
He nodded in the direction of Carol, who I had almost forgotten about. When I glanced in her direction she was standing there looking at the pair of us, her face etched with concern.
When I looked back at Zack, all I saw was the back of him disappearing through the crowd.
‘Hey, Zack,’ I called after him, before he’d had the chance to get too far away from me.
He stopped and turned around, while looking at me curiously.
‘Just be careful, won’t you?’
‘I always am,’ he replied.
‘If you ever need anything, or want to get in touch with me, just go to Mrs Hamilton’s corner store, up the road, okay. Do you know it?’
‘A friend of yours, is she?’
‘Yeah. She’ll know how to get hold of me if you need me.’
‘What? Are you like some super-hero or something?’
‘What can I say … my cape is at the cleaners,’ I shrugged.
At that he laughed, then after a moments thought he gave me a nod, then said a simple, ‘Thanks, man.’ Then he was gone.