It’s amazing what can be achieved in a ludicrously short time!

Carol Baxter is one of our Unlock the Past speakers. Within 5 weeks of raising the possibility of turning her talks into booklets she has produced her first. Amazing! A 100 page book Writing INTERESTING Family Histories. This book (and others) is available from Carol or from Gould Genealogy. Carol’s Blog is also commended. I don’t think she plans to work at that pace generally and certainly she isn’t suggesting others should. But it is an example of what can be done. Here is her account of how the book came to be and the instant success it was on the day of it’s launch.


For the last 18 months, I have been a guest speaker at many genealogical and historical societies giving a talk “Scandal and Skulduggery in early Sydney”. It covers colonial history and the stories at the heart of my two “popular histories”, An Irresistible Temptation: the true story of Jane New and a colonial scandal and Breaking the Bank: An Extraordinary Colonial Robbery (published by Allen & Unwin in 2006 and 2008 respectively). I discovered Jane New’s story while researching and writing a family history, and as my writing skills were honed by twenty-five years’ experience turning genealogical research into written family histories, a few groups asked me to talk about writing family histories – which became my talk “Turning Dry Facts into Exciting Narrative”. At a talk at Hornsby library on 12 August 2009, a lady remarked that this was all terrific information but how did she actually start writing her family history. I knew that “beginning a family history” was also of interest to some members of every audience but that it was impossible to cover that subject area as well in the limited time available. I also knew that I had even less time than normal at my seminar on the same subject at the NSW and ACT Genealogical Conference on 19 September 2009. How could I possibly cover everything without giving full-day seminars? I had just been invited to join the Unlock My Past speakers and the organiser, Alan Phillips of Gould Genealogy & History, had suggested that we all consider writing booklets about our areas of expertise. So I decided to write a book.

Carol with her book on the day it was launched at WyongFive weeks was all I had available to write, edit and print a book – and I was going away on holidays for a week in the middle! Fortunately, after years of experience writing 100,000-word popular histories, my writing skills were so honed that I could write a good first draft. I called the printer I had used for one of my self-published family histories and, fortunately, they could print it in the short time-frame available. I organised with a friend’s artistic daughter, Laura Wingrove, to draw cartoons (in the midst of seven assignments for her Year 11 studies – what a treasure!). I ordered an ISBN number. And on Saturday 15 August I started writing. Three thousand words a day: day after day after day. One thousand to three thousand words a day is usual for most authors but three thousand words every day is really pushing the envelope. I was so wired I had little sleep. But I managed to reach my goal of 20,000 words in a week. My husband had Publisher 2007 on his work lap-top so the evenings of the second week were spent teaching myself how to use the programme as I edited the manuscript, typeset it, and designed the front and back covers and spine. I had the third week away on holidays which gave me the “distance” I needed to tackle the manuscript afresh. In the day-and-a-half after I arrived home, I re-read and edited the manuscript, and added in the cartoons as well as the corrections/suggestions from my readers. Then, early on Monday 7 September, I e-mailed everything to the printers.

Writing INTERESTING Family Histories was launched during my talk on 19 September. The audience swarmed to the author table afterwards and, astonishingly, I sold 116 copies on the day.  I had hoped to sell 50. As it turns out, another 50 copies have been sold/ordered in the week since. My cautious first print-run of 500 copies looks like it was too cautious! In fact, those two busy weeks of writing/editing/typesetting (backed up, of course, by 30 years of knowledge) will probably prove the most profitable two weeks of my life.

Carol Baxter

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