Red dust of the Gascoyne inspires new author Michael Thomas

Michael Thomas

The Gascoyne is in author Michael Thomas’s blood so it was almost a given that he should focus on the area for his fascinating book, The
Map of William
. At 65 and a retired teacher, Michael says he drew on a lifetime of memories, family history and several years of research for the classic rite-of-passage debut novel.

“I retired from teaching in 2021,” Michael tells Have a Go News from his Perth home. “I had scribblings and writings and research on hand into my family history so The Map of William came about almost by accident.

“I gathered a whole lot of documents, letters, wills and all sorts of things, I sat down in my garden one day and thought: ‘I need to do something about that’, so I wrote my first lines. At that time my main writing had been lots of school reports from teaching days in Perth, Carnarvon, Big Bell, Cue, Day Dawn and Wiluna.

“There is a fair bit of my life contained in The Map of William. I grew up in the Gascoyne. My dad, Roy, who died in 1986, was a shearer. When I was seven or eight I was out with my dad on sheep stations so all that area from Carnarvon, north to Onslow and Roebourne is really in my blood.

“It seemed a natural thing to set my first novel in that part of the world so The Map of William was born. A lot of the blokes featured in the book are from my father’s shearing team, they are blokes I remember who I grew up with and were part of my life. A lot of the core of characters come from my early days and early memories.”

The Map of William focuses on Western Australia 1909, William Watson’s beloved father is set on an expedition to the North-West to map water sources in the Pilbara. Invited along, fifteen-year-old William embarks on the outback journey of a lifetime.

At sea and on land, William will forge lasting friendships with his fellow travellers and transform his relationship with his father as together they face the darkness of some men’s hearts, including the cruel and vengeful Sergeant Jardine.

The Map of William is a gripping, adventurous tale about the triumph of friendship and the price of survival in a land with its own ancient story to tell.

“I was born in Carnarvon, my father Roy’s country was Roebourne, his father was born in Roebourne, his father, my great-grandfather, moved to Roebourne in the late 1880s and married there, so there is a long history of the Thomas family in that part of the world,” Michael says.

“You see a lot of the character of my late mother in the book, she died in the late 1990s. I have siblings, brothers and sisters scattered around, a sister in England and another in Melbourne. I come from a long, extended family so life experiences are contained in the book.”

Michael, who lives in Perth with his wife, has two adult children. He is in the final stages of writing his second novel. He says it has been much more difficult to write.

“The first book is when William is 15 but in the second he is 21. I have taken him from old Fremantle, where he lives with his parents, to war so it has been extremely hard to write but I’m in the last stages with hopes of finding a publisher.

“It has been hard to find the right tone because when you embark on something as huge as a war story about Gallipoli you are on hallowed ground. You are caught up in the story of William and his life but you have to align that life with historical events known and recorded. There is that homage and respect you need to give the men who have been before.

“While it is William’s story and it is a harrowing journey and story like the first book, it follows a pattern. It moves to a place at the end where William has been through something terrible and harrowing but comes to a point which is not quite a happy ending. How could there be?

“This book tracks my own family history of the young Thomas men who went to fight at Gallipoli, two are buried in France and my father was a World War II veteran, so I have drawn on their experiences.”

Michael says he is fortunate that many historical items such as letters have been passed down in his family. 

“I feel privileged and fortunate to be a first published author at 65, I would love my second book to find a publisher.”

Michael says he writes most days. 

“It’s an addiction I didn’t know I had. I have lived up north with memories of landscape, time and place embedded in my childhood and now I can write about it. The red dust gets into you.

“I’m trying to tell as many WA stories as I can and hope to continue my journey as an author.”

The Map of William (rrp $32.99, Fremantle Press) is available from all good bookstores.