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15 July, 2021

Samantha's success heads north

Samantha Munt is one of the unsung literary stars of our region and this week she is winding down after a hugely successful premiere season of Heading North.

By Jacob Cumner

Mackay's Samantha Munt is taking the literary world by storm.

Samantha Munt is one of the unsung literary stars of our region and this week she is winding down after a hugely successful premiere season of Heading North.

The stage production, which she wrote and brought to life in collaboration with Joel Bow, tributes the music of Graeme Connors and played to sell-out audiences at the weekend.

A local girl, this pocket rocket is a talented author and playwright but she is also a devoted mum and family girl – and through the thick of all the rehearsals, preparations, writing marathons, and casually making it onto Amazon's best seller list just last week, she still makes time to watch her kids perform, be there for her husband and remember her priorities.

By the numbers, she is downright impressive: 38 years old and 29 novels. And although she cites hers as being a career akin to riding a roller-coaster, she makes it look easy, with a smile, an incredible warmth and a presence which commands respect.

So, with Mackay Local News journalist Jacob Cumner asking the questions, please make welcome, Sammy Munt!

JC: How long have you been writing?

SM: Unofficially since I was about seven - I still have old notebooks that I filled with stories, and I wrote the senior musical for North Mackay High in 1999. But I began taking my writing seriously around 2010, and I started publishing in 2013.

JC: Did you go to university for your writing experiences?

SM: No, I didn’t. Economically, university was never on the cards for me and back then in the 90s kids weren’t pushed to excel in the way they are now, unless they were already excelling, so I only took my performing arts classes and English seriously.

I did do a correspondence writing course after high school though that took about two years, and I’ve taken a lot of creative writing workshops over the years. I was even lucky enough to do one with John Marsden in the ninth grade, and then Jute Theatre back in 2018-19.

JC: What got you in to writing?

SM: Ghost stories actually- I was obsessed with them and would often gather other kids together at the back of the Bucasia Primary School oval near this storm drain so I could regale them with my latest find.

Pursuing Goosebumps books led to me discovering Stephen King and Richard Laymon, which I started reading in the fourth grade, but I ended up developing an interest in multiple genres and you can see that in my writing- a bit of adventure, a bit of comedy, a bit of fantasy… if I have any craft by this point, it’s the ability to mash-up genres and make something new.

JC: Have you won any awards?

SM: I won the David Bow award through Rotary Club for Outstanding Community service, for how I’ve developed my writing through community theatre, and I made the Amazon Best-Seller list a few times last month, but aside from that I’ve never actually entered anything that leads to those kinds of awards.

I’d love that kind of recognition one day and I suppose anyone would, but for me it’s more of a matter of getting the words out before my brain blows up than anything else.

JC: Do you draw any of your stories from life experiences?

SM: Absolutely. My mermaid series came to mind due to a love of surfing and the fact that I grew up with Kohuna Beach resort practically in my backyard, and my zombie apocalypse series was inspired by driving past those Stop, Revive, Survive stops off the Bruce Highway.

Every character I write is a reflection of someone I know, and half of my books have some version of our region as the backdrop, but the most true-to-life thing I’ve done yet was back in 2017, when I immortalised Mick Pope, my old boss from McGuire’s in a theatre restaurant called The Larrikin.

When I wrote it he was still this larger than life presence, but he sadly passed away before I could produce it so it ended up becoming a tribute to him because he was just such a character.

And, of course, if Heading North, the musical that I just wrote to compliment Graeme Connor’s music with Joel Bow Productions, had a theme, it would have been this region and the people in it.

JC: What has been your most exciting moment as a writer?

SM: God there have been so many.

Seeing the Mayor and his wife show up twice to see Heading North this past weekend was one and getting the biggest hugs from Graeme Connors and his wife Lynne was another, but it’s so rewarding all the time.

Seeing that I’d made the Best-Seller list the other week made me feel like I was dreaming, but honestly, the best it gets is when I get messages from fans saying that they stayed up and read my 160,000-word novel in one night, which blows my mind, especially given how often that happens.

There are theatre rewards, and there are show rewards - seeing Bronwyn Grannall doing the opening monologue from Heading North made me tear up every single time - even in rehearsal.

So I love it when the actors get me and bring that extra level to my story-telling.

JC: Do you have a favourite book or are they all like your children where you can’t pick one?

SM: It’s very much like the children thing. I have a Dystopian series that I’m about to complete and writing that has been amazing because I got to destroy the world and then re-build it in a very high-concept way, but every one of my 29 novels is like an extension of my heart and soul and I wouldn’t be who I am, if I hadn’t had those stories in me.

JC: Some of your stories have Mackay related places, is this a case of writing what you know?

SM: I was taught to write what I know, for sure, but it goes deeper than that for me. I moved here from Brisbane when I was six and I was so resentful of Mackay for so long because of all I’d left behind.

Then around grade 10 I realised it was home and that I loved every single inch of this city, and that’s only grown every year. I’ve travelled a bit, but I never fight to go anywhere else - I want to take my kids up the leap, and to Finch Hatton, and just walk the beautiful alleys downtown and climb the rocks at Shoal point and Lamberts… I honestly believe we live in paradise, and I want the world to know it.

People always assume that when I make it, I’m gonna take off but no way - if I make it, I want people to come here the way they flocked to Forks or Maine or Salem in America, ha ha.

JC: What would you say to encourage young writers?

SM: Being a writer often feels like riding a rollercoaster without a seatbelt. You do it for the love of it, the same way a dancer does, and any success you achieve will come via a combination of luck and an insane amount of hard work and drive after a lot of losing.

If you’re in it for the money and recognition you’re signing up for heartbreak, but if you’re writing because you don’t know any other way to be, then you’ll feel successful, even if you fail. Have a career or a day-job to fall back on, and then invest every spare second you have in your dream.

Also, surround yourself with people who aren’t afraid to give you honest feedback and all the encouragement you need. I would be nothing without my friends and family.

JC: Is there a particular genre that you love to write?

SM: Dystopian-Fantasy. You can fit so many sub-genres into that, from horror to romance to adventure.

JC: Is there anyone that has inspired your writing?

SM: John Marsden, who wrote the Australian series ‘Tomorrow When the War Began’; Caroline B.Cooney and Dean Koontz.

JC: What is your dream for the future or are you already living it?

SM: To a degree I’m already living it, but my ultimate dream is to be able to buy my husband a boat in repayment for the way he has supported me, and I’d definitely love to see an original musical of mine on a real stage - even if it’s just here at the MECC, and I’d be delighted if that production was the full version of Heading North packed with local talent because we have so much of it here.

I guess I have lots of little dreams, like making the Amazon top 100 paid books, or the NYT bestseller list, but being able to support my family is what matters most.

JC; So, what else?

SM: I’ve probably already given you far too many words but that’s me.

Thank you though - this local support has been invaluable to me, and I hope that one day I’m in a position to pay it forward. I cried so hard when the Daily Mercury went out of print, so I’m so grateful to you guys for keeping a newspaper going.

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